Review: World War Z by Max Brooks
Published 2011 by Duckworth
World War Z have had a rocky start. Over the course of two years, I picked up this book over three times. I read the first page, got annoyed, put it down. A few months later, I would be like “how can a first page put you off so much?” and I would again, start at the prologue. After doing this dance for a few times, I decided to be smart, don’t read the pseudo-academic crap prologue, and just start the damn book. Apparently this was the magic formula, and I finished the book in a few days.
The world has been overrun with zombies. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is a collection of interviews with zombie war survivors about their experiences with the war. There is no running narrative – just the tiny pieces of introduction to the characters by the interviewer, and sometimes a small interjection of him asking a question.
First things first: the book World War Z is absolutely nothing like the movie called World War Z. They’re not similar in any way. Not in form of narrative, the world building, plot, or even the type of zombie. They’re so unlike each other, I wouldn’t have guessed one was based on the other without the titles being the same.
The interviewees in the book span from the States to Japan, and from France to South-Africa. It does a great job differentiating between different ways in which the zombie crisis effected different countries. In many apocalyptic/dystopian books written by US authors they whip the entire non-American world onto one big pile, and treat us with gems like “the United States of America were the only ones that could withstand the crisis – while the rest of the world crumbles” or “when the USA declared measure X, the entire world from Belgium to India applied it, except maybe in Great-Britain, because everyone knows the Brits are weird”. There is always this kind of undercurrent of America-centrism that Brooks fights hard to avoid, and succeeds at to a great extent. He truly tries to incorporate cultural differences into the reactions to the zombie outbreak, in both positive and negative ways, resulting in a relatively balanced world view.
The interviews selected are overwhelmingly of people with a military affiliation. We have everything from soldiers, commanders, officers, higher-ups, navy people, air-force people… You name the flavour of soldier, World War Z has it. I felt this gave such a one-sided view of events. On one hand, it gave a more comprehensive whole to the book, but on the other I’m left unsatisfied. What happened to the normal people? The ones living in cities, but also the ones living in the countryside. What did those in rural parts of Europe do? Or in Africa? Also pressing, why is there no scientific point of view? Why aren’t scientists doing their absolute hardest to find a cure, or at least a way to incapacitate the undead on a large scale?
Although World War Z has an extensive scope, it’s still rather limited. Not at a single point is there any kind of speculation about where the hell the zombies came from. How can zombies still be walking around after years? Where do they get the energy? It didn’t give any plausible answers on any of those questions. The interview format was interesting, but unsatisfying when the bulk of the interviewees are army people talking about their different guns and tanks and suits, all with hard to keep track of abbreviations. Every time I encountered an interesting part, it was over way too soon.
It began with rumors from China about another pandemic. Then the cases started to multiply and what had looked like the stirrings of a criminal underclass, even the beginnings of a revolution, soon revealed itself to be much, much worse. Faced with a future of mindless, man-eating horror, humanity was forced to accept the logic of world government and face events that tested our sanity and our sense of reality.
Based on extensive interviews with survivors and key players in the 10-year fight-back against the horde, World War Z brings the very finest traditions of American journalism to bear on what is surely the most incredible story in the history of civilisation.
Max Brooks lives in New York City but is ready to move to a more remote and defensible location at a moment’s notice. His Zombie Survival Guide was adopted as a required text by all of the world’s basic military training programs during the recent global conflict.
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