Z is for Zombie and for ‘The Zombie Book’

[2 September 2014]

By Gregory L. Reece

I’m sick of zombies, sick of their deteriorating and exfoliated complexions, their receding gums, their tattered clothes and ambling gait. I’m sick of them. They have had their moment in the sun and, unlike their more religiously inclined vampire cousins, they have thrived there. Books, movies, comic books, television… Enough is enough.

I had hoped the rotting things would have crawled back in their graves after Apocalypse 2012 turned out to be such a disappointment. Weren’t the zombies supposed to stumble awake as a part of some ancient Mayan, asteroid-related, world-wide catastrophe at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve of that year? Weren’t we all supposed to be zombified by now, brainless things existing only to fill the void of our insatiable hunger?

But you can’t keep zombies down, not without a gunshot or axe to the head. They keep coming back, clawing their way out of the grave, time and time again.

Nick Redfern has a new book. This isn’t news. Redfern always has a new book. A cataloguer of Bigfoot, UFOs and conspiracy theories, Redfern is as prolific as the human imagination whose oddities, hallucinations and absurdities he has so frequently chronicled. Like zombies, Redfern sometimes seems to be everywhere.

Like his co-author, Brad Steiger, over the course of some 30-odd books Redfern has delved into every corner of contemporary folklore and mass-media mythology. He is a contemporary John Keel, a cool Charles Fort, a chronicler of absurdities and oddities for the digital age.

It’s certainly not surprising that he would turn his attention to zombies. It’s just a little surprising that he would do so now. Though, perhaps it is only me who is convinced that the zombie craze is dead and buried and six-feet under.

The result, The Zombie Book, is a pleasant read. Just as the subtitle indicates, it offers an encyclopedic look at all things zombie. Listed alphabetically, and therefore without any thematically consistent order, the entries cover just about everything. Some of the entries are better than others.

It begins with an entry on AIDS, an unfortunate choice on the part of the authors. While a bit of time is spent exploring the ways in which the zombie outbreak storyline seems to have drawn many of its features from the AIDS epidemic, including the paranoia, misinformation and fear that was associated with the disease’s early days, the bulk of the entry is devoted to a discussion of Cold War conspiracy theories. What could have been a literate discussion of the social and viral sources of zombie mania turned out to be something far less interesting.

But things get better fast. The second entry is about Giovanni Aldini, an 18th century scientist and nephew of Luigi Galvani, who used electrical current to cause movement in corpses. I had never heard of Aldini before and had never seen the cool period illustration of Aldini with a “Galvanized Corpse” that accompanies the article. It makes me want to read more, to research the subject on my own, to exhume Aldini and subject his story to the galvanic current of my own imagination.

This is just what an encyclopedia should do. If only there were footnotes to complement the expansive bibliography and tell me where to begin my quest, other than with a search engine, of course.

In an effort to be encyclopedic, Redfern and Steiger have included a little bit of everything. Some entries are clearly related to zombies, others only tangentially so. Some entries offer interesting information that hasn’t already been covered exhaustively by basic cable documentaries; others offer tired retreads. The A’s alone contain entries on alien abductions, the Andes cannibals, zombie ants, Ascelpius, the mythical Aswang creature from the Phillipines, and the Apocalypse, the latter followed immediately by a rather redundant entry on Armageddon.

The book is up and down. Like a zombie that won’t stay dead, just when you think it’s lost your interest it stands right back up again and demands your attention.

Indeed, there’s a lot here, perhaps too much: movies, books, folkore, ancient mythology, conspiracy theories, cryptozoology, Voodo, Ufology. I found myself longing for some organizing principle, some overarching theme other than a loose association with the living dead. All of the facts and fancies contained here are, finally, disorganized and undigested, like the contents of some zombie gut. Here is the tip of someone’s nose. Over there is a bit of liver. A touch of spleen is in this corner.

There are brains here, for sure, interesting tidbits that make you think. But they’re scattered all over the place, matter without thought, without movement, without electricity.

But what do I know? I thought this zombie thing was over.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/185018-the-zombie-book-the-encyclopedia-of-the-living-dead/