Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection offers a detailed account of the zombie outbreak, recording the behavior and anatomy of the undead. It's a survival story, but one in which the dead are more interesting than the living.
Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection, actually written by Don Roff and illustrated by Chris Lane, purports to be the account of Dr. Robert Twombly, a physician who was working in a hospital during the first wave of the zombie outbreak. In addition to chronicling his weeks of improbably survival, Twombly also tries to understand the zombies, keeping careful records of their decay, behavior, and abilities, while trying to figure out what caused the outbreak in the first place.
The back of the book bills Twombly's diary as "a unique record of the time of infection in that its author sought to understand the undead by living among them." It's not entirely true, and it probably would have made for a better book. Twombly could have easily been an obsessive enough researcher that he would be willing to sacrifice his life in the hopes of leaving behind a helpful account of the outbreak.
For the zombie aficionado, the most fascinating parts of Twombly's diary are the most clinical. Twombly describes the symptoms infected people experience before turning, describes the gradual decay of zombies he observes over a period of several days, compares the behavior of zombies he once knew to that of their living selves, and observes anomalies in their behavior such as self-cannibalization. They're fantastic little moments of world-building, and Roff successfully tweaks traditional zombie characteristics enough to make the usually one-note undead mysterious and intriguing. Why do the zombies occasionally eat their own body parts? Why do some zombies group with the same people they knew in life while others follow their own path? And Lane's pencil and watercolor illustrations — which are lovely even when they depict decaying and mutilated bodies — become, in those clinical instances, more than mere corpse porn, and are almost more horrifying than his depictions of zombie attacks.
Unfortunately, much of A Record of the Year of Infection is a survival story, and one that we've seen before. Once Twombly escapes the hospital where he had been making so many wonderful and insightful observations on undead anatomy, he attempts to find safe haven from the brain chewers. We encounter plenty of the stock characters these sorts of apocalypses bring on: the average Joe who thinks his gun will save him, the outdoorsy girl and her dog, the sadistic zombie hunters, the survivalist you prefers the quiet of the undead world to the chattering of people. We never meet any of these folks long enough to get much of a sense of them. They simply slip into Twombly's life until they part ways or end up zombie chow. Despite their abilities to walk, talk, and wield a machete, the living are simply never as interesting as Roff's undead. It's only at the end that we get the hint of something truly intriguing and sinister, and characters with shades of dimension, that we are abruptly cut off, as if at an especially riveting part of a ghost story that hinges on suspense.
Hardcore zombie fans will probably appreciate the occasional in-depth looks into zombie life, as well as Roff's eerily plausible explanation for what caused the zombie plague (it's not your typical rage virus or biological weapon, though corporate greed is certainly involved). But those looking for a novel take on zombie survivalism will find that this ultimately feels more like a supplement to a larger story than a stand-alone work.
Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection hits stores in October. A preview is available at Chronicle Books.