Monday, 31 October 2011

The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor: Book Review & Competition

Happy Halloween Zombiology Students,

For a wee treat I'm taking a break from the science journals to review an exciting new novel from Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman. He's teamed up with acclaimed thriller writer Jay Bonansinga to tell us the back story of infamous comic book character, the Governor.

They've certainly set themselves a challenge. Can a notoriously nasty man like Philip Blake find his way into reader's hearts?

Rise of the Governor takes us back to the start of zombie outbreak where we find Philip, his daughter Penny, brother Brian and two high school friends fighting for survival.

During the story our band of survivors take a terrifying trip across the country trying to reach Atlanta and the supposed safety of refugee camps. But in true Walking Dead style, anything, and everything, gets in their way.

Personally I adore the Walking Dead world, and would go as far as to say it's the best imagining of a zombie world since my old pal Georgey Romero created Night of the Living Dead. Kirkman has even given the nod that Romero was his inspiration in forming the world.

As a scientist I too think it's better that little is said about the biological cause of the Zombieism in the Walking Dead. It allows you to theorise with your imagination instead of nit picking your way through reams of illogical made up science. Yes, it might not be possible at present for people to rise from the dead, but, maybe it will happen in future...

If you're a fan of the comic books and the epic, movie style-esque dramatic imagery - don't worry, Rise of the Governor doesn't disappoint. The authors have given careful consideration to mis-en-scene with every blow, slice, stab and shot colourfully described from 'a mop head slapping the floor' to 'the two bodies are launched in a cloud of pink mist.'

An ensemble of characters emerge across the journey. A favourite for me was the Chalmers Family Band, led by Father David and his two daughters, Tara and April. The latter of whom forms an almost romantic relationship with Philip. Here Kirkman does what he does best,  give us real hope, only to snatch it away and leave us lower than ever before.

The tale ends with an unexpected twist, one I of course won't reveal here. I read many reviews that have strong feelings on this, but personally, I have no opinion on it. It's the creative path they choose to follow and I was happy with where it led. No doubt these talented writers could write their way down any avenue they want to explore. In part, the ending does help to answer the question I posed at the outset.

The ending does feel like a hard stop, but this novel is but the first of a trilogy from this new deadly duo, something I for one will be eagerly awaiting. So rather than the end, it's more of a to be continued...

Overall The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor successfully brings the concept to its third medium, and unlike it's screen and graphic incarnations the fact it's purely text lets the reader create the visuals. It's fast paced, addictive and often amusing. For me it's essence is summed up by an elderly gentleman met towards the end of the novel:

It ain't the dead things you gotta be mindful of around's the living.

Pan MacMillan have very kindly given us several copies of The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor for you to win. For your chance to get one send an email to with your name, postal address and answer to this question:

You find yourself alone and unarmed on an Atlanta street during the Walking Dead zombie outbreak. Zombie's close in from all sides. The safe house is still a few blocks away. How would you escape?

Whilst this plan might allow you to pull, it might also cost you your face

The most creative answers win, closing date Monday 28th November 2011, at midday.

Good luck and I hope tonight brings you more treats than tricks,

Doctor Austin
Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep, is a Theoretical Zombiologist and Head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Can Zombies Love?

Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening (delete as applicable) Zombiology Students,

This was the most non-explicit image I could find, and I don't recommend typing 'zombie love' into Google Images.
Today's blog is based on a question from John Burns. He asks, 'can zombies fall in love?' I take this to mean with each other, rather than with him, or at least that's what I hope.
This is by no means an easy question. Scientists have been trying for decades to unlock the mysteries of love and, with the exception of Doctor Rohynpnol (whose work is better left unmentioned), they haven't had much luck.

Excluding my ex-wife, the human brain is the most complex thing currently known of in our universe.
Doctor Austin with his ex-wife Mrs Doctor Austin
Many people say it functions like a powerful computer, but even this isn't an accurate comparison, because we can't yet build a computer that works like our brains.
Similarly it is hard to say that one part of the brain is responsible for just one function. Movement for example is controlled and regulated by many different parts of the brain, not just one.

Recent studies of people going through different types of love seems to bear this out as well.
'Brain regions with decidedly unromantic names, like the dorsolateral middle frontal gyrus and the anterior cingulate, as well chemicals like nerve growth factor, dopamine and oxytocin, are all involved in orchestrating these feelings of love.' (Dobson, 2010)

The human brain in love, or playing Call of Duty, I get diagrams easily confused
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter I've nicknamed 'Brain Crack', is thought to be prime player in love. Known for producing a variety of positive feelings dopamine has shown some interesting qualities during animal tests.  

'When a female prairie vole was paired with a male, dopamine levels went up 50 per cent. Levels of oxytocin, (the so-called "cuddle hormone", released in response to stimuli including skin-to-skin contact) likewise go up, as do levels of vasopressin, both promoting relationship bonding. When the female vole was injected with a drug that blocks the activity of dopamine, she lost interest in him.' (Dobson, 2010)

Now we know a little more about what love is doing in the brain, let's apply it to our zombies. Here at the Institute we think zombies will most likely be caused by a new type of prion disease, similar to human mad cow disease (vCJD). All prion diseases cause a unique form of 'spongiform' damage to the brain giving it the appearance of a sponge, or block of Swiss cheese. We also predict that Zombieism prion disease will cause a loss of memory and human personality, giving zombies their trademark absentminded attitude and vacant persona.
Spongiformity in the brain, looks like an Aero, but my gosh it doesn't taste like one.
If we combine these assertions together it doesn't paint a very promising picture for zombies falling in love with each other. Ultimately they won't remember what love is nor have the capacity to make it.

So the answer to John's question, 'can zombies fall in love' is no. No they cannot.

The android Data, from Star Trek, also cannot love. Well except in that one episode, but I never saw it.
Rather than leave on a negative I'll instead share with you some more hopeful lyric's from the Zombie Institute's resident songwriter, Aaron Stoquert:

''cause I don't care, I don't care what you look like tonight
I don't care, I don't care, what you feel like tonight
I don't care, I don't care if we're alive tonight
can you stay here throughout the night--be right next to me?' - (Stoquert, 2011)    

Thanks again for your question John, and everyone else keep yours coming in to:  

Best wishes,

Doctor Austin

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep, is a Theoretical Zombiologist and Head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK.

See the Zombie Science 1Z lecture live at:

Manchester Science Festival 2011
Tuesday 25th October 2011
International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Engine House, 3 Cambridge St, Manchester, M1 5BY
Times: 11:00, 14:00, 16:00 (11/2/4pm)
Price: Free (must be booked in advance) Ages 13+

Blackwell's Bookshop Oxford
Wednesday 26th October 2011
Info: Doctor Austin will be delivering a public lecture before signing copies of his book alongside Zombie Handbook UK author Sean T Page.
Blackwells Bookshop, Broad St, Oxford, England, OX1 3BQ
Times: 1900 (7pm) Ages 13+

British & European Society for Gene Therapy Conference - Public Engagement Day
Thursday 27th October 2011
Info: Doctor Austin delivers an all new Zombie Science 1G: Gene Therapy lecture on genetics and gene therapy.
The Brighton Centre, Brighton, England
Times: 1300 (1pm)
Price: Free (Just turn up) Ages 13+

Dundee Science Festival 2011
Saturday 29th October 2011
Venue: 13+ Show: Dalhousie Building,          
             University of Dundee, DD1 4HN
             18+ Show: Dundee University              
             Students Union, Carnegie Suite,
             Airlie Place, DD1 4HP
Times: 13+ Show: 1400 (2pm)
            18+ Show: 1900 (7pm)
Price: Free (must be booked in advance)
Click here for the official Festival website & Click here for the Official Site or call (01382) 38 44 13

London Horror Festival 2011
Tuesday 15th November – Thursday 17th November 1930 (7.30pm)
The Courtyard Studio, Bowling Green Walk, 40 Pitfield Street, London, N1 6EU
Booking line:  +44 (0) 844 477 1000


Anon. (2011) Dopamine, Psychology Today, accessed on 02/10/2011

Dobson, Roger. (2010) Love on the Brain, Independent on Sunday, accessed on 02/10/2011

Fischetti, Mark. (2011) Your Brain in Love, Scientific American, accessed on 02/10/2011

Fisher, Helen. (2004) Biology: Your Brain in Love, Time Magazine,,9171,993160-1,00.html accessed on 02/10/2011

Ortigue, Stephanie, et al. (2010) Neuroimaging of Love: fMRI Meta-Analysis Evidence toward New Perspectives in Sexual Medicine, The Journal of Sexual Medicine, Volume 7, Issue 11, p.3541 - 3552,

Stoquert, Aaron. (2011) I'll See You Again, Run for your Life EP, FiveOhfour Entertainment,  [Music Recording]