Book Review: ‘The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse’ by Steven C. Schlozman, MD

Posted: 12 October 2013 in Book reviews
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So I have a new friend here in Sheffield. I know it sounds silly, but my new best friend is my library card.


I don’t know what it is, but something about having a library card makes me feel so invigorated to read. I got it on monday and have already finished my first book. No, it wasn’t a particularly challenging book, but a book nonetheless.

The amazing thing about libraries is that you can so many books you weren’t looking for. It’s like going shopping and coming with much more than you needed or intended. I really wanted to find and read ‘World War Z’ (which I still plan on reading), one because I loved the movie and wanted to see how different the book was, and two because a friend of mine is also reading it. Of course, it wasn’t there. I believe it was in transit. No idea what that means. Of course I know what the words mean, I just don’t know if it was going elsewhere or coming back there. Anyway. I found this spinning shelf that contained their meagre horror options and happened to find this one and ‘The Woman in Black’ (which most will probably know from the recent film starring Daniel Radcliffe).

I was drawn to this book largely because it had to deal with zombies, but also because it gave a different perspective to them. It wasn’t like the typical zombie stories where people are trying to survive (although yes it does have that element), but more so it is about understanding how they came to be and how to defeat them in a medical approach. But I get ahead of myself. First the synopsis.

The book is essentially broken down into three sections: the intro (a memo which brings the reader up to date), the handwritten journal of Dr. Stanley Bloom, and lastly the appendices.

The intro is a ‘Highly Confidential Memo’ which details the current situation and a short history on how section two was discovered. At this point, only a third of humanity is still uninfected. It has only been three years since the first victim and it is believed to be a short time more before everyone on earth will be infected. A working group made up of members of the UN, WHO and CDC was created to begin work on an offshore site referred to as the United Nations Sanctuary and Study Site (UNSaSS), also known as the Crypt because of the reality that no one comes back alive.

The first team of scientists sent in were Dr. Blanca Gutierrez a microbiologist, Dr. James Pittman an anatomist and medical illustrator, Dr. Anita Gupta a virologist, as well as three military attachés. A few days after receiving a nearly unintelligible message, a recovery team was sent to the Crypt to regain contact with the island. The team consisted of Dr. Sarah Johnson a neurobiologist, Dr. Jose Martinez a forensic pathologist and Dr. Stanley Blum a neurodevelopmental biologist. The three took separate transport to the island and Dr. Blum was the only one to actually arrive there. After the initial transmission signalling his arrival, contact was once again lost with the island.

About two months later, a second team was sent in to find out what was happening. Of the seven that were sent, three died quickly while the other four showed signs of the virus. It was unknown at the time, but stashed in the backpack of one of the seven who died on the island was the handwritten notes of Dr. Blum. In these notes were vital information about the fate of the people there as well as valuable medical information which could help them discover the source of the plague and help them find an antidote.

This leads into the second section: Dr. Blum’s notes.

The notes begin on the 16th of November on the transport to the island. The length of the journal is seven days. While in transit, he takes the time to not the importance of what they are doing as well as the virus itself. He goes into detail describing the four stages as well as the symptoms, characteristics, and other interesting facts about it.

Dr. Blum is shocked at what he finds on the island. Besides the other two in his party not showing up, he was not prepared to find only two of the group still human, Pittman and Gutierrez. The other four had all succumbed to the virus and were in the holding cells. Because the two were so weak, they were not able to conduct tests like before. Now that Blum was there, they were able to use him as their ‘hands.’

Over the course of the week, Blum followed Gutierrez’s directions while Pittman drew what Blum asked him to. As Gutierrez got weaker, she would constantly need to sleep just she could function normally. Pittman seemed alright until later in the week when he was bitten while transporting one of the humanoids (as they are called in the book).

Blum constantly was feeling lost and unsure. Gutierrez had ideas about their being an additional virus and that the overall infection was manmade rather than naturally occurring. If this was the case, then Blum was emphatic that whoever finds his notes find the people responsible for it. Maybe then they could find an antidote to save humanity. But until then, they needed to keep running the experiments to find how the humanoids function. This was done by dissecting the brain while the humanoids were alive and conscious. This would normally be a problem, but with the outbreak of ANSD humanity had to be defined. From this assembly, humanoids fell outside of the characteristics of a human and were thus deemed No Longer Human (NLH). Because of this, it was understood that the humanoids do not feel pain and thus the only effective way to run tests was when they were alive and conscious.

There were only four subjects to test so they had to be as thorough as possible and not make any mistakes. Gutierrez had Blum open the cranium and work through all the rotted brain material. Most of the stuff he did was stuff she already knew. She was working with ideas she wasn’t sharing completely with him. He constantly noted how he wasn’t sure how there (mentally) she was. But since she was the expert, he followed her commands. With each discovery, the revelation that some separate virus was present preserving various parts of the brain resulting in the actions of the humanoids.

Before the tests could be completed and confirmed, tragedy struck and Blum found himself alone until he could no longer coherently write.

The third section of the book contains seven appendices. Appendix I is a glossary of the terms. Appendix II is an essay entitled ‘Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome: Natural History and Early Therapeutic Maneuvers.’ This gives the reader the background to the discovery of the virus as well as a basic understanding to what it is and does and what had started to be done about it. The point of the paper was to expose the need to better detailed understanding on all aspects of the virus. Appendix III is the detailed charter defining humanity. Appendix IV is material from Dr. Blum found on his personal laptop left in his quarters at the UN bunkers. Appendix V is e-mails believed to be linked with the virus. Appendix VI is notes from Gutierrez. Appendix VII is a flowchart detailing the possible outcomes when treating patients with ANSD.

So there we go. I tried to be vague when writing the part about Dr. Blum’s notes to not give away some of their discoveries. This book isn’t like a typical book. There is no real beginning, middle and end. They are already at the end looking back at the middle while referencing the beginning. It is already known what happens to everyone on the island, so the only way to leave some sort of surprise when you read the book was to vaguely describe important passages. That being said, here is my review.

THe most important aspect of this book is the writing and the language. The characters only play a minor role as this is not a character drive story like most books. This is a study, albeit a fictional study of zombies, but a study nonetheless. The characters will have not needed any major development and for such we do not need to worry about caring for them. They serve a purpose to conduct the experiments necessary to conduct the study and then relay the information. Their deaths were already made clear from the beginning. Any information we did receive was detailed when needed as the story progressed.

What amazed me most with this book was that I was enjoyed a book with highly specialised language. Like one of my favourite authors Robin Cook, Schlozman is a doctor and his writing conveys that. This book is a medical study about the virus that causes zombiism and how it affects the body. He uses tons of technical terms throughout the book, but I never once got lost. He was able to write it in a way that was still understandable by the average knucklehead (me). I was intrigued by his study, especially when describing the dissections. They were gruesome while at the same time fascinating. It is quite possible that I was drawn in simply because it was all about zombies, but regardless, I was drawn in. I really liked how everything made sense and what didn’t make sense was noted to have a place in the appendices to explain it. It was very cleverly constructed and wonderfully executed.

The one thing that slightly bothered me was the use of handwriting script for Dr. Blum. I understand why he did it because even I used a handwriting font when writing certain parts of my book. It was needed because the notes were ‘handwritten.’ My only qualm with it was that sometimes the ‘u’ and the ‘n’ looked very similar so at times I was a bit confused and thankfully the word made enough sense to figure it out without much difficult. Most of the time. I’d say 99% of the time. There were still a couple words near the beginning I struggled with. Otherwise it was fine.

I really loved this book. I’m very glad to have discovered it. If you love zombies, then this book will fascinate you as well. No, it is not a blood fest like the George Romero films, but it gives a completely different perspective on the zombie genre that does not disappoint. Go find it at your local library or follow the link at the bottom where you can buy it. Enjoy 😉

To buy from Amazon

To buy from Barnes and Noble


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