I just finished World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. It was hugely entertaining! Written by Max Brooks, son of legends Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, the work is obviously modeled after Studs Terkel’s The Good War: An Oral History of World War II. The book is a series of “interviews” done by a UN researcher ten years after humanity’s victory in the Zombie War.
Clearly, there is a great risk that the book will be pure genre blood and gore with little or no compelling narrative, or it could become so tongue and cheek that it loses all meaning. Brooks manages to avoid both of those potential pitfalls, creating a really engaging read. It is in turns hilarious and moving and there is real humanity to be found within the gore.
Brooks did some amazing research, and thus his narrative is tight. WWZ works really well as an imaginative exercise in how actual global socioeconomic and political realities would shape a real zombie apocalypse. Brooks also does a great job keeping his zombies consistent. Often, a book like this can grow to have too many moving parts and the zombies would manifest whatever traits needed for the story at a given moment. This happens constantly in film, television and fiction. Brooks seemed to set a clear physiology of his zombies first, did loads of research about various nations, economies and governments of the world, and then imagined what would happen if Z-Day were to arrive.
Each of his interviewees, from scattered locales all over the world, told stories that felt like genuine fragments of the larger story he had created outside of our view. Brooks did the work so well that many reviewers have favorably compared it Orson Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” Much of what Brooks did worked as a skewering of bureaucracy, militarism and institutions, showing how each was practically organized to fail at any attempts to prevent letting the zombie outbreak turning into a worldwide apocalypse. The fact that he never left the ground level, always letting the characters truly tell their own stories, was what kept it from feeling like there was an agenda.
If I would make a critique it would be that there were times where characters seemed to lose an individual voice, instead sounding more like Brooks himself. This was especially true in that all of his true heroes shared his disregard for faith of any kind, something that would simply be impossible in the actual religious make-up of the world, thus it comes across as a short-sighted misunderstanding of the reality that not all people of faith are extremist Muslim terrorists and lunatic Pat Robertsons or Glenn Becks. Most likely, as it has been for every single calamity in world history, faith would be a part of the problem and a part of the solution in responding to WWZ. Yet, as I write that, understand that this is a tiny critique of a book which truly was a genuine pleasure to read.
The zombie genre can be quite a bit of fun, and this book would be a great introduction for those interested in entering the zombie milieu. It is a remarkably unique sub-genre in which we can explore our fears of the end of the world, can wrestle with the reality that when the world ends it will probably be humanity that pulls down our own curtain, and where we can engage in a hodgepodge of other fun little mental games. I could go on talking about how much I love the zombie genre for a while, so I will end that conversation here… for now.
This book is a fast, engaging read, and I recommend it to all you great folks out there in the internets.