World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Rameau’s ramblings: Blodeuedd and I had a little discussion about this book and you can find it on her blog later today. 

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 Guidewas adopted as a required text by all of the world’s basic military training programs during the recent global conflict.

Zombies are not my thing. I don’t squee every time I find a decent novel about them nor do I queue to see the horror films about them. Slow-moving rotting flesh in a romance plot is definitely not my thing either.

So it’s a good thing that this book isn’t about zombies at all.

Excuse me what? You splutter.

Yes, you read that right, World War Z isn’t really about zombies. It’s about the world and people in it, namely Americans. No, the citizens of the United States of America would be more accurate. This is an American novel about Americans today, or rather about U.S. and its inhabitants seven or ten years ago. Things don’t change that much in a decade though, so it still applies.

The slow-moving rotting flesh is just an ugly mirror that produces a surprisingly clear image. It allows the characters to look back and explain in gory detail who they were before the Great Panic and how they’ve changed for the better. It allows a suburban mom to explain how she viewed some latinos clean and rational opposed to all the rest. It allows a child who grew up during the ten year zombie war to explain how her materialistic priorities have changed. It allows a jaded young man to explain how he learned to appreciate an outdated institution or how another like him found value in real life as opposed to the cyber reality he’d been hiding in. It allows the foot soldiers to explore in depth how rigid command structures can be a hindrance before they learn to adapt and become a strength.

And that same distorted mirror allows the reader see what the characters themselves fail to understand: How a victory and change can make some things worse even when it fixes other problems. It allows the author to outsource his and the nations greatest fears to other faraway places that they’ve always been afraid of. Or how else do you interpret what Russia becomes after the war?

Brooks takes the reader around world, China, South Africa, a few places in Europe, Australia, Canada, and allows those countries to take responsibility for some of the atrocities and failures that end up dooming and saving the world. Setting it all up in the U.S. would have ignored the realities of travel in the modern world and it would have made the story near claustrophobic. It’s a funny word to use in this context but it applies. The bigger the picture Brooks paints the more specific the message and the intended audience are.

Usually, I detest first person voice storytelling and a step below that are the stories with multiple first person voices mixed in together. Usually. But here it works. Brooks couldn’t possibly make each and every voice distinct enough to stand on their own, but he litters just enough specialised vocabulary to make it palatable. The format does the rest. Because each and every character is telling their part in a larger story, their voices can’t stand out too much. The story needs to be cohesive for the message to get through:

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even through a zombie apocalypse.

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11 Responses to World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

  1. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even through a zombie apocalypse.Now you made me interested, thank you. A lovely review!

  2. Blodeuedd says:

    I do wanna see that movie now

  3. rameau says:

    So do I. As long as I don't have to pay for it.

  4. rameau says:

    You still haven't read it. You must. *nods* I'm going to nag until you do.

  5. I must? Oh. That's unexpected.

  6. Aurian says:

    Okay, still not a book I want to read, but thanks for the explaining.

  7. rameau says:

    If it's not a book for you, it's not a book for you. Thanks for reading the review at least.

  8. rameau says:

    Surely not. I've pestered you about it already.

  9. Those delicate questions you consider pestering? ;p

  10. rameau says:

    I've asked you more than twice. It can be considered pestering since I'm not letting the subject go. Now. Read it 😉

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