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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.
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Review by Brian Clegg

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