Feb 21, 2012

[Books] World War Z

Zombies, zombies, zombies!

It's hard to pinpoint how the recent resurgence of zombie popularity came to be or even how far it's going to go, but for now we can't seem to get enough. And with any major fad, it seems that we're going to end up exploring the entire spectrum of possibilities in terms of what story genre we can somehow add zombies to. And you have to admit there have been some pretty crazy mash-ups, the least of which includes adding zombies to Jane Austin novels.

But this was an interesting spin that opted not to go too far in terms of imagining obscure genres to revive but instead focused on the seemingly mundane and conventional. Instead of going far back into the past or into the worlds of fantasy, this book instead focuses on what is more normal and familiar.

And in that sense, I think it really helped things alone and to give the book a unique voice. What makes it so powerful is that it speaks to us in terms that are familiar and commonplace. And that gives it a wee bit of a edge to make it just a tad scary - but not without losing its ability to laugh at itself when needed.


World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is a fictional historical piece depicting life in a world after a zombie apocalypse. Some describe it as a horror novel, but I'm not sure how accurate a tag that is. The tone just didn't quite feel that way to me, but I suppose it's the closest classification that has a chance of sticking. The book was written by Max Brooks, who has gone on to write a few more novels about zombies.

The book is told from the perspective of a historian who has gone on to interview various figures who played key roles in the war against the zombies. These individual interviews slowly tell the narrative in more or less chronological sequence but from different points of view. And it's not just a sequence of characters that we visit over and over again. For the most part the book makes an effort not to go back to characters that had already been interviewed before and we are constantly brought to different points around the world as we see how various countries dealt with the zombie threat.

The book lacks a central hero figure, which makes sense since this is in fact a global war. We do repeatedly visit the perspective of one Todd Wainio in Denver, Colorado. He was a soldier in the US Army and thus he was on the front lines for many of the conflicts. Otherwise, we generally follow the story as a third party privy to various stories of people around the world. And they really factor in a lot of possibilities such as the renewed usefulness of castles as defensible locations, the need to develop new weapons that rely on less forms of industrialization and even what astronauts end up doing knowing that the world is being overrun by zombies.

The lack of a traditional protagonist really helped make this story feel very different. In fact, it did give the reader a sense of actually watching a documentary feature with the occasional dramatized reenactment of pivotal moments in the conflict. And it's quite the gripping story to boot - one that logically explains how a few isolated incidents eventually escalated into a full-blown global epidemic. Plus they continue on to present how simply having a well-armed military force isn't enough to deal with a zombie horde no matter how advanced current weapons technology is.

English: Asbury Park zombies await the annual ...
Image via Wikipedia
I really appreciated the thought that Brooks put into the differences between conventional warfare and how this war against the zombies would go. Calling this also a world war was a key point and one that drove many of the analysis and comparison made by the fictional "experts" in the book. And it shows that Brooks has a pretty good grasp of the principles of conventional warfare in order to come up with a genre mash-up book like this. And that's what this really is - a war novel with zombies in it.

As I was reading the book, I couldn't help but wonder how they might turn this book into a movie. And with a big name star like Brad Pitt attached to the project, you know that they're going to re-write the story to give the movie a central protagonist that can help give Mr. Pitt more screen time. And I fear going down that route will change the narrative flow of the story greatly and instead will turn it into a completely different n narrative all together.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is a great book that certainly adds a nice twist to the zombie genre. And while not every single story in the book is one that will be all that rewarding, much like any other anthology you're free to like some segments and dislike others without taking too much away from the whole experience. Thus the book rates 4 crazy zombie scenarios out of a possible 5.





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