Saturday, August 6, 2011

World War Z by Max Brooks - Zombies Done Right


Pros: Strong enough that it got me thinking: how I would handle a zombie apocalypse
Cons: The format may turn off some; no idea *when* this takes place
The Bottom Line: It's definitely a different sort of book, one that may or may not give you the willies, but will likely make you wonder - would you survive a zombie outbreak?
The July book for Calico Reaction's 2011 ABC Book Club. I'd been meaning to read this for a long time. Brooks is the creator of the Zombie Survival Guide - a big seller in the store.
We've seen it all before.  In movies.  In other books.  Tales of people trying to survive during a zombie apocalypse.  There are so many takes on zombies now, too.  Do they walk?  Can they run?  Do they think?  So many questions - let's hope we never found out.
But Max Brooks seems to have taken the idea of zombies and thought it out in a very real way.  He's considered all sorts of possibilities, such as mass evacuations, wintertime and frozen zombies, survival methods, rebuilding afterwards, and much more.  Brooks has built his story upon the zombies we're all used to; the slow, stumbling types that need a shot to the brain to kill them.  The kind that can be cut in half and still function.  The kind that moan and groan and keep going like the Energizer Bunny from beyond the grave until they die or find more suitable prey.  And what happens when they go fall into water like rivers and oceans?  Brooks has an answer for that too.
World War Z isn't your typical story.  There is no central protagonist.  Instead, the book is a series of interviews that the author has with survivors of the war.  That can actually make it difficult for some readers who need or would rather have a traditional style story.  This was actually the July choice for the ABC Book Club, and a few people actually didn't finish it, something I found interesting in itself.  But that aside, there were times when even I got impatient.  Sometimes I found the stories, well, a little boring.
The author takes us across the globe to different people, from the former Vice President of the United States to a blind man in Japan who survived in a forest alone.  He speaks with owners of dogs trained to deal with zombies, and a young woman out killing zombies half frozen in the ice.  It's a wide array of characters, and because of this sometimes I got confused when people would reference others.  I'd wonder, "Was that person interviewed?  Am I supposed to know who that is?"  He takes you from the very beginning of the zombie war to some of its final stages.
I can understand why this is housed in the fiction section of the store rather than the science fiction or horror section (though Barnes & Noble doesn't actually have a horror section).  It's not so much about the zombie war as it is humanity's reaction to it.  How we panicked.  Why millions of people died.  How the pandemic spread.  How we fought back.  How we grew innovative and resourceful.  How we survived.  Brooks brings in the psychological aspect of it for soldiers fighting against zombies.  Points out how politicians and bureaucrats can completely screw things up (though that's not really anything new).  Oh, and by the way, the zombie attack is China's fault. Thanks China.
The biggest issue I had with this book was that I had no idea when the war took place.  I had no sense of time, and the things Brooks tossed out didn't help.  People would reference past events that we're used to, like Vietnam and past presidents.  This made it sound like the war took place either in the 1990s or in the 2000s.  And yet the technology that some of the soldiers had when they started to fight back was well beyond what we have now.  It was cool, to be sure, but it threw me off completely.  Their gear was more like 2030s than now.  Was the zombie war to have taken place in an alternate universe?  I never understood, and anytime Brooks threw out a token of time, it only served to throw me off again.
It was engaging.  It didn't have the sort of interviews - or perhaps it was style I was looking for - that I thought it would have, but it made for a pretty good read.  The creepiest part was that it got me thinking: What if there was some kind of zombie apocalypse?  Would my family and I survive?  I knew if we could get into the woods, particularly Colorado's Rockies where we were most comfortable, we probably could.  The biggest problem I foresaw was actually getting to that location.  Too many cars on the roads trying to go somewhere.  I thought about it a lot and started freaking myself out.  Especially because of my sister and how she lives across the state.  How would she be able to get to us?  Would we have to abandon her?  It gives me the willies to even think of stuff like that.  And that's what makes this book creepy.
Of course, if you don't start getting paranoid and thinking like Forrest Griffin, you'll just enjoy it for what it is.  It's good stuff.  Definitely different, and one of the driving forces behind the zombie revival (pun not initially intended, but hey, it works doesn't it?) in the publishing world.

Notes from the playlist: "Secrets (Matrick Lightning Edit)" by OneRepublic & DjMatrick

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