Skip to main content

Zombie Science 1Z – ‘Doctor Austin’ ***

I’ve long been of the opinion that there must be a way to combine effective popular science with fiction to make it easier to digest. It works reasonably well in children’s books, but I’ve yet to seen it done to great effect in a title for older readers. The good news is that this book is the best effort I’ve seen yet.
Set in the form of a ‘course’ on zombieology, the book picks away at the typical movie zombie, removes the impossible aspects (like being dead and alive at the same time) and constructs a near-feasible picture for ‘real’ zombies. Along the way we learn quite a lot about the way corpses decay, and about various potential brain defects that could lead to a zombie-like state. Doctor Austin’s conclusion is that being a zombie may well be a result of a prion induced ailment, giving the opportunity to explore the fascinating, if rather depressing world of rogue prions, responsible for mad cow disease and CJD.
The cover is beautifully produced – it could easily be for a professional adventure game – and it is accompanied by a slick website. Up to this point this is a five star book. It loses one for the subject – in the end, zombies only seem to open up a quite small area of medical science that might not get a wide audience as a popular science subject – and loses another because the writing, while okay has clearly not been subjected to a good edit.
If you get a first edition of the book, the text is laid out very amateurishly (it just screams ‘self published’, although supposedly this has been in the hands of a publisher) with nowhere near enough white space or paragraph formatting. Now this has been significantly improved – the layout is much better. The other problem with the text is that it is desperately crying out for a good professional edit, to bring it up to a traditionally published book. There is some phrasing like: ‘Decomposition is the name given to the biological and chemical changes that occur soon after death. How soon, well approximately four minutes after the death of a human decomposition starts to take hold.’ which is so clumsy it could be taken from a 10-year-old’s essay.
It’s a shame that ‘Doctor Austin’ (I wish the author had a real name and bio somewhere rather than leaving the book in the hands of a fictional character) didn’t have a traditional publisher to sort out his text, or this could have been absolutely brilliant. As it is it’s a good effort and shows promise for the future.

Paperback:  

Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …

The Best of R. A. Lafferty (SF) – R. A. Lafferty ****

Throughout my high school years (1973–76) I carefully kept a list of all the science fiction I read. I’ve just dug it out, and it contains no fewer than 1,291 entries – almost all short stories I found in various SF magazines and multi-author anthologies. Right on the first page, the sixth item is ‘Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne’ by R. A. Lafferty, and his name appears another 32 times before the end of the list. This isn’t a peculiarity of my own tastes. Short stories were much more popular in those days than they are today, and any serious SF fan would have encountered Lafferty – a prolific writer of short fiction – in the same places I did.

But times change, and this Gollancz Masterworks volume has a quote from the Guardian on the back describing Lafferty as ‘the most important science fiction writer you’ve never heard of’. Hopefully this newly assembled collection will go some way to remedying that situation. It contains 22 short stories, mostly dating from the 1960s and 70s, each w…

David Beerling - Four Way Interview

David Beerling is the Sorby Professor of Natural Sciences, and Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation at the University of Sheffield. His book The Emerald Planet (OUP, 2007) formed the basis of a major 3-part BBC TV series ‘How to Grow a Planet’. His latest title is Making Eden.

Why science?

I come from a non-academic background. None of my family, past or present, went to university, which may explain the following. In the final year of my degree in biological sciences at the University of Wales, Cardiff (around 1986), we all participated in a field course in mid-Wales, and I experienced an epiphany. I was undertaking a small research project on the population dynamics of bullheads (Cotus gobio), a common small freshwater fish, with a charismatic distinguished professor, and Fellow of the Royal Society in London. Under his guidance, I discovered the process of learning how nature works through the application of the scientific method. It was the most exciting t…