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CULTURE

They're dead and he's not loving it

Max Brooks, son of Anne Bancroft and Mel, has quite a thing about zombies.

October 30, 2003|James Verini | Special to The Times

Max BROOKS, son of the mildly successful writer and director Mel Brooks and an actress named Anne Bancroft, has just written a very odd book but, sadly, it is not of the "Mommie Dearest" variety. There is nary a wire hanger.

Brooks' book tells us next to nothing about what it was like to grow up in the bosom of fame and genius (excruciating as tell-alls usually are, his would be tolerable enough if it had any chapters that took place on the set of "Blazing Saddles"), and even less about the trauma of watching your mom seduce Dustin Hoffman.

Perhaps as a satirical wink to the children of celebrities who do "write" such books -- an obliquely thumbed nose to Nancy Sinatra? -- Brooks has chosen, instead, to write a book about zombies.

It does not seem to be figurative. "The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead," in bookstores now, is just what it bills itself as: a guide to protecting oneself from zombies.

With 250 pages of instructions on where to go and what weapons to use in the event of a zombie attack, a logbook of all known zombie attacks since prehistoric times, detailed scenarios and battle plans, even a speculative chapter on what the world after a class-4 zombie attack would look like (class 4 being the worst class of zombie attack, of course), Brooks' book is either one of the most painstaking exercises in deadpan ever undertaken or -- or what?

The book's back flap, after all, does instruct store clerks to file it under "Humor."

But Brooks, who recently finished a two-season writing stint on "Saturday Night Live" ("I just didn't fit in -- that happens a lot," he said of the show), insists that there is nothing funny about the book..

"I take this very seriously," he said over the phone from New York.

Zombies? Really?

"Yes," he said.

By the way, Brooks advocates the unremorseful annihilation of all zombies.

And indeed, there is not a hint of humor in the book's presentation.

If, in fact, "The Zombie Survival Guide" is meant to be funny, it has failed on a grand scale, a scale so grand it's funny to just think of it (perhaps that's the joke? Mel Brooks' Son Writes Colossally Unfunny Zombie Book!), except for inadvertent moments, as when he suggests an offshore oil rig as an ideal spot to hide from zombies.

Or when he points out: "Unfortunately for our society but fortunately for a zombie siege, inner-city schools have taken on a fortress-like atmosphere."

The 1950s-style diagrams are good for a few chuckles too.

And if the book is meant to be serious? Well, then, it would seem Brooks has done an admirable job.

So, is Max Brooks a confoundingly patient comic of the literal, or is he just not as talented as his father?

Does he really believe in zombies (did we really just ask that?), or is "The Zombie Survival Guide" the modern-day equivalent of one of Andy Warhol's eight-hour factory films, or one of Andy Kaufman's soporific "Great Gatsby" recitations?

In an effort to find out, The Times asked Brooks the following questions:

Times: Why do you hate zombies so much? Do you have no sympathy for them at all?

Brooks: I have neither sympathy nor hate for the undead. Hate and sympathy are emotions. Emotions hinder combat efficiency. Zombies have no emotions. Why should we?

Times: Is there no way for humans and zombies to coexist?

Brooks: If someone could invent a serum to make zombies live peacefully, I would be the first to stand up and applaud.

Times: Aren't there any undead corpses you'd like to meet? Winston Churchill, say, or Einstein?

Brooks: Both men were famous for their brains. If those brains were infected and mutated into simplistic, carnivorous, undead brains, they would have to be destroyed.

Times: Let's say the front office of the Los Angeles Clippers fielded an all-zombie team. Could they beat the Lakers?

Brooks: I don't know if they could beat them, but they would certainly try to eat them.

Times: Do you ever suspect that zombies are masquerading as certain members of the press? Larry King, for instance? Or Joan Rivers?

Brooks: Sadly, zombies aren't the only crisis we as humans have to face.

Times: Is it possible that there are already whole nations of zombies? Norway, for instance. What do we really know about them?

Brooks: I'm not a fan of "undead jingoism." Zombies are all created equal and must be annihilated equally.

Times: You wrote for "Saturday Night Live." Who would make the funnier zombie -- Dan Aykroyd or Bill Murray?

Brooks: There's only one thing harder than fighting zombies, and that's trying to compare comedic legends.

Times: Let's say you became a zombie. Who would you most want to decapitate you?

Brooks: George Romero. I've always wanted to meet him.

*

Excerpt from 'The Zombie Survival Guide'

From Chapter 6, "Living in an Undead World"

What if the unthinkable happened? If zombie hordes grew large enough to dominate the entire planet? This would be a Class 4 or doomsday outbreak, in which humanity is driven to the brink of extinction. Improbable? Yes. Impossible? No. Governments of any type are nothing more than collections of human beings -- human beings as fearful, short-sighted, arrogant, close-minded and generally incompetent as the rest of us. Why should they be willing to recognize and deal with an attack of walking, bloodthirsty corpses when most of humanity isn't?

*

'The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead'

Author: Max Brooks

Publisher: Three Rivers Press:

256 pp., $12.95

Where: Major bookstores or www.crownpublishing.com

James Verini can be contacted at weekend@latimes.com.

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