The brain is made up of millions of tiny relatively simple cells. It is also, according to Stephen King, able to be reprogrammed by an encoded message sent via Cellphones. King attempts to mix our fears of cellphone related damage, computer viruses (think young spotty kids in their rooms) with a good old Zombie yarn.
The book focuses on the story of Clay Riddell, a less than successful Graphic Artist on a trip to Boston. The mayhem begins early into the book and seems clunky and badly written. Quick asides and random bits of information serve to throw the story off pace. There is also a total lack of mystery over the cause of the problem which also makes the prose look bad.
Yet as the novel wears on the story builds nicely. The characters are nicely ignorant of the sciences but able to make guesses; especially school kid Jordan. There are plenty of zombie deaths and variations on the zombie themes though at times it does seem a bit George Romero. Especially as the only character-zombie is a black guy (Harvard) much like the intelligent zombie in Day of the Dead.
The book builds to its inevitable climax with a sense of inevitability. This results from the motive-less abilities of the zombies to control normal minds as well as levitate, group think, project music and use telekinesis. These are presented as base abilities encoded within our minds. They are concentrated in the 98% of the brain that remains unused. King projects the idea that a virus that wipes out the mind can regain these abilities as it attempts to reboot itself.
Here comes the science. A wiped clean brain would theoretically loose all abilities, all control of the body and the body would simply die. Therefore the book makes a mistake to differentiate between wiping the consciousness and wiping the brain. If the brain retains base functional commands like existing then the body would not be in a zombified state. This would likely be because natural instincts would take over.
There are certain evidences of this in the book but leaves out many things that would be retained such as self-preservation, reproduction and memory. If the brain is wiped it is like wiping a computer; the computer parts are still functioning but they are without data. For example if the hypothalamus is destroyed then the brain cannot create new memories but might not loose all the old ones which are stored elsewhere in the brain. However, if the brain is wiped clean the hypothalamus is still functioning so while the brain has no memories it will quickly make new ones.
He also neglects the influence of hormones which are directed by the subconscious but affect the conscious parts of the brain. The body and mind, if wiped, would still be human because the DNA coding, wiring and so on are all still human. What would happen would be an erasure of personality, memory and acquired habits. There is a potential for the deletion of genetic habits also.
Overall the book is enjoyable enough with a healthy dose of suspension of belief. It will make you think about the effects of hypnosis, subliminal messaging, viruses and how we would cope in an apocalyptic world. The ending leaves things hanging a bit and was a little frustrating. It would have been nice to know what happened. Whether Clay’s final experiment worked or not.