"This is going to get weird." Depending on one's thoughts regarding zombies, Matt Simon's declaration about the chilling scenarios described in Plight of the Living Dead can be good news or bad news. Regardless, there is no denying that his examination of nature's zombifiers is utterly engrossing (no pun intended). A science and tech writer for Wired magazine, Simon's job is to tell the stories of those who dedicate their lives to science in a way that makes sense to the rest of us. Again, fortunately or unfortunately, he plies his trade marvelously.
Tales of emerald wasps performing brain surgery on cockroaches (to use them as incubators, naturally) might freak out mere mortals. Simon, however, gleefully reveals myriad "diabolical and horrifying" ways organisms have evolved to maximize the perpetuation of their species. One fungus subjects ants to mind control as a means to infiltrate more real estate. And a certain worm variety cuts off the oxygen supply in moose; another lives inside crickets, boring a hole in the exoskeleton to check for water.
Assuming control over a host's mind or body feels like a Hollywood screenplay, but the physiology of the truth is almost too bizarre for fiction. One may not want to conjure up what Simon depicts, but his splendid narrative voice can't help but evoke an enthralling documentary. Conversational and engagingly funny ("There is no dying peacefully in sheets with high counts"), Simon captures the reader's mind like a wasp larva virus in a ladybug. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review