A choose-your-own-adventure style book is a natural addition to the zombie genre, but Zombocalypse Now is a surprisingly zany entry. Starring a snarky, chainsmoking stuffed bunny, the book pits you against mobsters, toothpaste executives, and zombified zoo animals.
When I first heard about Matt Youngmark's Chooseomatic book, I fully expected I'd get a fairly straightforward (perhaps even perfunctory) take on the zombie apocalypse where the only twist was the multithreaded, Choose Your Own Adventure-inspired storytelling layered over it. It's something we've seen before; last year, a pair of designers released a choose-your-own-ending film, The Outbreak, with a similar premise. But I was pleasantly surprised when the book arrived and I found a pink, chainsaw-wielding bunny on the cover and a note inside warning me to avoid the zombie kitten.
Zombocalypse Now doesn't just feature a pink stuffed rabbit; you are the pink stuffed rabbit, living in a world where stuffed animals walk, talk, and intermarry with the human population. As the book opens, you are waiting on what is sure to be another atrocious online date. And sure enough, when he or she shows up, they're disheveled, glassy-eyed, lacking in hygiene, and mumbling something about brains. You've been on so many bad dates that it takes you a while to figure out that they're undead, but soon enough, you're up to your fuzzy elbows in the walking dead.
From here there are, of course, multiple paths your bunny self could take from here. You could tag along with a renegade cop named Mittens (who, despite the name, is not a stuffed animal). You could visit your conspiracy theorist friend Ernie, who is convinced that the walking dead are powered by fluoride in the water. You could try to strike out on your own and bash in as many zombie brains as you possibly can. You just hope that the choices you make lead to your ultimate survival.
Spoiler alert: you usually end up zombie chow.
To get the full effect of Zombocalypse Now, you have to read through several of the plotlines. Some are, admittedly, stronger than others (there's an oddly rushed one where you go all I Am Legend and start experimenting on the zombies), but taken together, the stories do form a cohesive narrative, and the logic from one plotline still holds true in the others. For example, in several storylines, the zombies are unusually attracted to your car (as in licking the windshields), and in one of threads, we learn exactly why. The chilling and rather amusing cause behind the zombie outbreak is also key; you learn about it in certain storylines, but it plays a significant role in others — including one ending where you mistakenly believe you've survived.
Youngmark packs a lot of strange odds and ends into his zombie adventure, and cherrypicks references from a wide variety of genres: mob movies, cop dramas, the works of Stephen King, and The Postman, to name a few. There's even a moment where you let out the battle cry "Leeeeeeroy Jenkins!" The effect is over-the-top silliness, like someone set a particularly manic children's book in the midst of a zombie outbreak. Sure, it's a bit on the fluffy side, but I found myself eagerly flipping back to try out different plotlines — at first to see if I could survive, then to root out some of the book's more bizarre twists and turns. It's a satisfying way to spend a couple hours here and there, even if you do die most of the time.
And do watch out for that zombie kitten. It's a killer.