I know that was a weird tangent to start out with, but I wanted to get into that before I went into my review of World War Z to offer some context. You see, I used to love reading zombie stories back in the day, and after the first half-dozen or so stories you realize they all roughly had the same formula: the world's either going to hell or has already gone to hell, a group of survivors rallies together, they find a hideaway, they barricade in, they start infighting, zombies overwhelm the defenses, a small portion of survivors manage to escape into an uncertain world. Sure, there's a lot of variety to be had if you really go looking, but at their core most zombie stories are small, personal stories with very little sense of scope beyond the boarded up windows of whatever novelty shelter our survivors are in. World War Z is anything but a standard zombie story. Brooks takes on the zombie apocalypse at a truly global scale, told as an after-action collection of interviews, featuring dozens of stories from people of all walks of life from all different parts of the world, all of whom offer unique horror stories of what happened to them in the days leading up to, during and after a zombie apocalypse that humanity barely won (and in some countries, won may not exactly be the right word).
His stories and characters are truly all over the place. We hear a lot from politicians and military commanders who either tried to prevent this from getting out of hand, or never believed it was a problem in the first place. A long time is spent with a schizophrenic South African war criminal who just so happens to be a messiah of sorts, whose Apartheid-inspired plan may very well have saved the world. Even more time is spent with people on the ground, from soldiers to civilians to even the odd celebrity who managed to make it through the undead apocalypse and tried to find some way to use their skills. We hear stories of true cowardice and moral decay, like the pharmaceutical executive who profits off of a fake cure at the begin of the plague, and stories of inspiration and bravery, like the defenders of Paris, fighting in the submerged catacombs with limited supplies and the astronauts who stayed behind on the International Space Station so they could keep the crucial satellite network working, even though it probably meant starving to death.
Max Brooks' study of history and technical detail is extensive, and offers perhaps the most realistic tale of what would happen to a world besieged by the living dead. It isn't a pretty picture, with cruelty and borderline (and sometimes not-so-borderline) fascism being necessary means to an end for most countries to pull themselves up and defeat the living dead. It isn't a fun book, though it is fun in places, and it takes some dedication to get through at points. I won't call all the stories within classics, as there are a few that run on a little too long, and others I'd like to hear more of are a bit on the short side.
A few truly minor, trivial complaints aside, I cannot speak highly of this book enough. World War Z is the zombie novel. Read it if you love history, global politics, or just a good old-fashioned zombie story.
The World War Z movie comes out this week, and though it appears to be based on the novel in name only, I intend to go in with an open mind. It could be awesome, it could be terrible, but for the most part I am just hoping to be entertained and call it a day, knowing that sometime in the next 20 years or so someone else will get the rights to the property and might make a more faithful adaptation. (Note: I wrote this review days before actually seeing the movie. Please excuse my late posting on it.)
So any other WWZ fans out there? Are you looking forward to, or dreading, the movie? As always, please take the time to like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter! I’m big into liking/following back, so just drop me a line!