Bookworm Sez: ‘Plight of the Living Dead’ — Zombies meet science in an unsettling read

Bookworm Sez: ‘Plight of the Living Dead’ — Zombies meet science in an unsettling read

What’s bugging you today?

Poli-ticks making you want to flea? Ant Doris on your case about the holidays already? It’s tough, really, especially when you’re swarmed both at work and back at the nest. As you’ll see in “Plight of the Living Dead” by Matt Simon, it can be enough to make you lose your mind.

Raggedy clothes, sunken eyes, grey skin, and a foot-dragging limp. You know it well: it’s a zombie, probably from Hollywood “because yeah sure why not,” says science writer Matt Simon. Still, you know zombies are fictional creatures — or are they?

Reanimating a body, Simon says, is “unreasonable” but zombies are seriously a thing. Worse, they are “far more incredible and diabolical and horrifying… than a screenwriter could ever dream up.”

Take, for instance, the jewel wasp which paralyzes cockroaches, injects venom into the roach’s brain and lays its eggs near the roach so that the roach happily becomes a sort of living nursery-slash-buffet for the wasp’s young’uns. Or a worm that takes control of ants in order to make them more willing to be eaten by sheep that carries the worm’s eggs to a snail that the worm ultimately needs for propagation of the species.

Confusing? Yes, and it gets worse: though it’s hard to sympathize with a cockroach or a worm, the blame doesn’t lie with the zombifier, but with a thing called “umwelt,” which is loosely defined as the construct of an environment that an individual perceives. Simply put: if an individual ant seems to think that being eaten by a sheep is fine, then it is.

So what does this all have to do with you?

Well, aside from the fact that you now know some really cool cocktail chatter, consider this: you can be zombified by your own brain and “free will is a lie.” You can, for example, get Mad Cow Disease or rabies. You can get toxoplasmosis (a surprising number of people have). And if you’re instructed to think of something, anything — who told you what to think about?

If this book were written by anybody other than author Matt Simon, it probably wouldn’t be recommended.

But it is, and that’s good: Simon is a funny guy and he makes this very scientific subject interesting to read about. Yes, it’s true that information sometimes races off on a side road before it’s reeled in and explained better, but Simon brings it back with humor that practically demands readers forgive him for, well, for scrambling brains.

Indeed, be prepared: this is the kind of book filled with sentences you may have to read two or even three times to completely understand. Simon is obviously fascinated with this subject and he brings readers along for the ride but just beware that the book’s science-philosophy-horror-novel basis goes deep as an ocean cavern.

And yet — zombies! How can you resist a book like that, a book about the real-life undead? You can’t, which is why “Plight of the Living Dead” should bee your next bedside read.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at

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