World War Z by Max Brooks, or zombies: the documentary

World War Z
Recommended for: if you want your brain challenged, then eaten
Read from October 29 to 31, 2012
Audio and written versions

Thoughtful and thought-provoking. Not at all the typical zombie book, and not at all what I expected. Published in 2006, the issues and underlying plot points are as pertinent today as then. What would happen in a real zombie apocalypse? Given current politics, economics, cultural trends, and geography, I’d be willing to bet it happens closely to Brooks’ vision.

World War Z is structured along the lines of a documentary, a collection of remembrances about the world-wide zombie war. Divided by chronological order, one can get the feel of the evolution from chapter headings: “Warnings,” “Blame,” “The Great Panic,” “Turning the Tide” “Home Front USA,” “Around the World and Above,” “Total War,” and “Good-byes.”

“Warnings” begins with a doctor in China responding to a remote village to a request for help. His tale lures the reader in, giving an intimate view of the initial confusion, the fear, the drastic response by the state, and the systemic holes that lead to ultimate break down. From there, the interviewer talks to a human smuggler in Tibet, drug war agents in Greece, a black-market surgeon in Brazil, a laborer from South Africa, a member of Israeli intelligence, and a repatrioted Palestinian. It’s a brilliant idea for a narrative about a global issue, because each culture group frames the problem in terms of its own narrow focus (how could it not?), giving the reader insight into how confronting any issue takes place in a morass of history–but also how similar we are at the individual level. And, unfortunately, the degree to which personal selfishness, both altruistic (saving loved ones) and greedy, pave the way for worsening disaster.

Further interviews include the ordinary survivor (who was anything but), soldiers, an astronaut, and various government officials including the vice-president and a diplomat. It makes for an extremely interesting analysis, because it covers both the personal, private story and the larger, world arc.

Ultimately, it was a sobering and satisfying commentary on humanity and the current state of the world. While that sounds potentially dull and analytical, structuring the story around a zombie war is frosting on the vegan cupcake. While it possibly could have been as strong of a narrative if Brooks was imagining a virulent and lethal virus, zombies gave it a flash factor that draws dystopia fans in. Besides, reanimated dead do create challenges of their own that would be unique in warfare. One general talks about how traditional warfare centers around people that are “bred, led and fed.” Zombies require none of those things–their ranks grow with death, they require no leaders, so it is not possible to remove key strategists in a campaign, and they don’t require any sort of supplies or rest, so there is no possibility of destroying a supply line. Underwater environments prove to be the long-term zombie reservoir, presenting unique challenges to world-wide eradication.

Minor quibbles include a lack of some of the science behind the outbreak, as well as that of the lone survivors. And, while it is a thought-provoking story over all, it’s not exactly a gripping one that kept me up at night. That’s actually okay, as it proved more satisfying in the long run. Just temper your expectations.

In some ways, this was the complete antithesis of Zone One, (review:…) which examines the zombie post-apocalypse through the individual and humanity’s slide downward. This looks at zombie wars through multiple viewpoints on a world-wide scale, and it’s ultimate message is hope with cost.

I highly recommend to zombie or science-dabbling fans. Four flesh-eaten stars.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Apocalypse & dystopia, Book reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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