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:  
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Great Silence – Milan Cirkovic ****

The great 20th century physicist Enrico Fermi didn’t say a lot about extraterrestrial life, but his one utterance on the subject has gone down in legend. He said ‘Where is everybody?’ Given the enormous size and age of the universe, and the basic Copernican principle that there’s nothing special about planet Earth, space should be teeming with aliens. Yet we see no evidence of them. That, in a nutshell, is Fermi’s paradox.

Not everyone agrees that Fermi’s paradox is a paradox. To some people, it’s far from obvious that ‘space should be teeming with aliens’, while UFO believers would scoff at the suggestion that ‘we see no evidence of them’. Even people who accept that both statements are true – including  a lot of professional scientists – don’t always lose sleep over Fermi’s paradox. That’s something that makes Milan Cirkovic see red, because he takes it very seriously indeed. In his own words, ‘it is the most complex multidisciplinary problem in contemporary science’.

He points out th…

The Order of Time - Carlo Rovelli ***

There's good news and bad news. The good news is that The Order of Time does what A Brief History of Timeseemed to promise but didn't cover: it attempts to explore what time itself is. The bad news is that Carlo Rovelli does this in such a flowery and hand-waving fashion that, though the reader may get a brief feeling that they understand what he's writing about, any understanding rapidly disappears like the scent of a passing flower (the style is catching).

It doesn't help either that the book is in translation so some scientific terms are mangled, or that Rovelli has a habit of self-contradiction. Time and again (pun intended) he tells us time doesn't exist, then makes use of it. For example, at one point within a page of telling us of time's absence Rovelli writes of events that have duration and a 'when' - both meaningless terms without time. At one point he speaks of a world without time, elsewhere he says 'Time and space are real phenomena.'…

The Happy Brain - Dean Burnett ****

This book was sitting on my desk for some time, and every time I saw it, I read the title as 'The Happy Brian'. The pleasure this gave me was one aspect of the science of happiness that Dean Burnett does not cover in this engaging book.

Burnett's writing style is breezy and sometimes (particularly in footnotes) verging on the whimsical. His approach works best in the parts of the narrative where he is interviewing everyone from Charlotte Church to a stand-up comedian and various professors on aspects of happiness. We get to see the relevance of home and familiarity, other people, love (and sex), humour and more, always tying the observations back to the brain.

In a way, Burnett sets himself up to fail, pointing out fairly early on that everything is far too complex in the brain to really pin down the causes of something as diffuse as happiness. He starts off with the idea of cheekily trying to get time on an MRI scanner to study what his own brain does when he's happy, b…