Last updated: November 28, 2011 2:16 pm
University of Ottawa professor Robert Smith? publishes zombie essay collection
OTTAWA (CUP) — In 2009, University of Ottawa mathematics and statistics professor Robert Smith? and his students wrote a paper When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection. After two years of significant media buzz about his unusual publication, Smith? has returned as the editor of a collection of essays on the undead, Braaaiiinnnsss!: From Academics to Zombies.
“Not long after the first zombie math paper had come about, I had a meeting with the University of Ottawa Press people,” recalled Smith?. “They said, ‘We’d like to see a book. Tell us what you’ve got.’ So I just sent out the call.”
Released on Oct. 8, Braaaiiinnnsss! differs from Smith?’s original paper in that it discusses zombies from using a multi-disciplinary approach, as contributors from various academic fields throughout world authored chapters of the book.
“I think the idea behind Braaaiiinnnsss! was really to extend the idea of having a conversation between academics and non-academics,” explained Smith?. “[I’d] say, ‘Tell me about your academic field using zombies as a fun hook and show me how it works — show me the details, show me the fun stuff, and show me the cool stuff. People really rose to that challenge, and I was very impressed and I learned a lot as well.”
Because the book’s chapters approach zombies from a different academic background, there are many issues brought forth that were previously unconsidered, either by scholars, or by the general public.
“One of my favourites was the idea of how zombies walk,” noted Smith?. “They measured people walking like humans, walking like zombies, and walking like Frankenstein. What they concluded was, definitively, Frankenstein is not a zombie — his walk is very different.”
While the chapter on zombie walks is fairly light-hearted, other sections of the book take on more serious questions.
“Another chapter takes an approach in looking at zombies in society, but says, ‘Do zombies have rights? What’s the age of consent for a zombie? If a mother murders her zombie daughter, is that criminal or is it putting a zombie out of its pain?’” said Smith?. “I think there’s actually some great interaction with stuff that we as humans — not necessarily just academics but we as interested citizens — might encounter via zombies.”
Although the book was released just last month, it has already received a positive response — a response that Smith? attributes, in part, to the fact that reading about zombies allows us to engage with our fears in a way that’s safe.
“There’s [the] specific fear of being eaten by a predator. That’s a terrifying primal fear that we don’t ever really have to engage with on a day-to-day basis,” explained Smith?. “There’s also the fear of being killed by a disease, which I think zombies play into. It’s the idea of the infected, and this is sadly not quite so arbitrary, because we do face diseases all the time.”
With all the hard work that’s gone into the book, Smith? still believes zombies are a topic that provide readers with entertainment.
“Of course zombies are primarily fun, so it’s like you come for the zombies but stay for the interesting stuff in the academic field,” said Smith?.