When the undead rise from the grave, adequate preparation will mean the difference between life and death.

Recognizing these concerns, the University of Ottawa Science Students Association hosted author Max Brooks at the Mayfair Theatre on Wednesday for a riveting discussion on movies, writing, and what will happen when the dead walk the earth.

University of Ottawa professor Robert Smith? opened the presentation explaining his mathematical model for predicting the outcome of a zombie apocalypse. Smith? determined that direct attack is the only way of defeating the undead scourge  – logistically, a quarantine or cure would only buy humanity a few extra days. Afterwards Max Brooks took the stage with speculations on the zombie pandemic and insider explanations of the writing process and film industry.

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Madison with Max Brooks. Photo credit: Kristian McKesey

The inspiration for The Zombie Survival Guide was the Y2K scare, during which Brooks noticed a significant lack of zombie literature amongst the more conventional survival guides that permeated the market. “I thought, what about zombies? I’m scared of them,” he recalls. Brooks credited “obsessive compulsive disorder and copious amounts of unemployment” for enabling him to complete the book that launched his career.

His guide differs from other literature of the undead because it assumes that most post-apocalypse deaths would be from natural causes – disease, accidents, malnutrition – as opposed to attacks; “I have never seen a zombie movie where someone drank from a puddle and crapped themselves to death.”

He continued his realistic approach with the geopolitically-focused World War Z.  “I didn’t want to write just another zombie adventure book,” he explained. “I write for one reason – to answer my own questions.”

His next project is the WWI graphic novel The Harlem Hellfighters, which he doesn’t expect to be very profitable.

Throughout his stand-up comedy-esque presentation, Brooks dispersed his trademark survival tips. “Guns don’t kill zombies, bullets kill zombies…If I was going to write a zombie story were somebody was only armed with guns, I would just call it ‘Click.’ Because that’s the sound you’d hear before getting eaten.” He recommended hand weapons which require no reloading, but cautioned against display weapons that are more useful for impressing women than actual combat. “If you go out to fight zombies with the Sword of Gryffindor, you’re going to die.”

Brooks couldn’t resist taking some shots at the controversial World War Z adaptation, calling it “28 Days Later on crack.” He admitted taking a risk and relinquishing creative control, saying he “felt nothing” when he saw the movie. “Anger comes from watching your characters being mangled. They didn’t mangle my book. They ignored it.”

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In the autograph line, I asked Brooks his thoughts on Shaun of the Dead, which he called one of the best zombie movies of all time.

Brooks also reflected on Dawn of the Dead (“the greatest zombie movie ever made and the greatest social commentary”) and Zombieland (“I liked the book better. Did you read it? It’s called The Zombie Survival Guide”).

According to Brooks, the resurgence in zombie fiction is a result of the current political climate. “I think we’re living in a time of unprecedented social anxieties…[political tensions] “fuel the zombie craze because it’s still apocalyptic.”

Originally published in The Fulcrum as “Surviving the evening with Max Brooks,” March 13, 2014

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