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Book Review: Max Brooks, World War Z

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Get Ready: They're Coming!

Zombies stalk the streets...
Credit: Tobias M. Ekrich / flickr.com

The living dead stalk the streets of a European city in search of their favorite food: human brains.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (Max Brooks) 2labz 2013-06-25 4.5
4.5/5

They say that "an army always prepares to fight the war it's just finished," which recent history seems to bear out:  think of World War II vs. Korea; Korea vs. Vietnam; Vietnam vs. the Gulf Wars. It just might be that the military mind can only learn the hard way. We should forgive the military's inability to prepare this time, however, for there was never a way to prepare, at least not for a war like World War Z. After all, how do you prepare for an enemy who knows no fear? for an enemy who feels no pain? for an enemy who cannot die, because he's dead already ?

There's the story of World War Z, where "Z" stands  for "zombie."

Yes, zombies: the undead; reanimated, flesh-eating erstwhile humans who will take a lickin' and keep on tickin'; shambling, howling, moaning, blank-eyed ghouls who can be killed only by annihilating their brains. Think about it: your mother, child, lover, neighbor, boss, teacher; every one stone dead but ambulatory and with a single purpose -- to eat the living. No wonder the military, even with their arsenals of smart bombs and remote-controlled drones, proved less successful than farmers with .22 rifles and homeowners with sharp axes.

But let's begin at the beginning, shall we?

Meet My Lovely (Ex-)Wife

Ain't she a charmer?
Credit: Grmisiti / flickr.com

Becoming a zombie makes you ugly - no matter how far it has to go...

In the beginning, people called it the "African Rabies," even though the earliest outbreaks were really in Asia. You didn't need to be a fan of "Dawn of the Dead" (or even of "Shaun of the Dead") to recognize those symptoms: the victims died, woke again, and immediately started trying to bite everyone who chanced to come within reach. Entire cities were infected; even entire countries. Israel slammed shut its borders with the Palestinians inside; the inhabitants of the Caribbean's Windward Islands killed anything and anybody who tried to cross the beaches. Japan evacuated its population in its entirety: everyone headed up north to where the living dead lay frozen six months of the year, which allowed a brief respite. Iran and Pakistan cooked up a local nuclear war; China had a major civil war all its own. The world's climate grew cold from the smoke and ash of billions of campfires, from hundreds of millions of funeral pyres.

Mankind stood on the brink of extinction, humanity's fiercest enemy humanity itself. But mankind has a stubborn will to survive, and survive it did -- at the cost of untold millions of lives and the near complete collapse of world order. Read here the stories of survivors and of heroes -- and of a few villains -- as told in their own voices and in the voices of those who saw them in action.

So Much for Smart Bombs

The weapons of choice
Credit: cohdra / morguefile.com

A well-equipped garden shed may be the best armory for zombie-killers

Post-apocalyptic fiction so often reminds us of crucial truths. One we might learn from World War Z is that those vocations our society rewards so highly would be of little use after such a war: in one case, a former Hollywood deal-maker finds herself reduced to a trainee learning to perform menial labor;  learning from her former downstairs maid, of all people. Stockbrokers and lawyers are a dime a dozen, but mechanics and carpenters are the currency of empire. You might have been the NFL's most valuable player or a rock star, but if you don't know how to honey-dip a septic tank you just ain't diddly-squat.

World War Z is clearly an allegory from which mankind (meaning you and I) might learn a lesson or two. Lessons like "don't depend on technology for every little thing" come to mind immediately, while others are more subtle. The dittohead contingent was incensed by what they perceived as a leftist slant to Brooks's writing, probably mainly because Max Brooks is "from Hollywood," the child of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. Some railed against the statement that the US troops were weary after the latest brushfire war (assuming - apparently because Brooks is "from Hollywood" - that he meant Iraq). Others were annoyed by the rise of Cuba as a post-war economic power. Still others squalled about the solution of "the Palestine problem" or the rise of fundamentalism across the globe in the aftermath of war. Others simply didn't seem to like it that the USA wasno longer the preeminent world power when the fighting was done.

Get over it, folks: it's a post-apocalyptic novel; a work of fiction...

World War Z (Mass Market Movie Tie-In Edition): An Oral History of the Zombie War
Amazon Price: $9.99 $4.96 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 12, 2013)
Before there was a movie... there was a book.

The book's sole weakness has nothing to do with the author's politics or world-view. It's a structural problem: every one of Brooks' characters (except the one with the mind of a four-year-old) speaks with exactly the same voice. Whether the speaker's Iranian, Chinese, Russian, American, Cuban;  the inflections and the speech patterns do not differ. Japanese dung-shoveler, Russian foot soldier, or American cabinet member: the vocabulary and command of the subject do not vary. It becomes a bit monotonous.

Given the popularity of vampire and zombie novels these days, I'll also take a few words to tell you what World War Z is not. There is no sex, very little gore, and no palace intrigue. The reanimated are mindless, so they are not into plotting or politics. If that's your favorite aspect of reading about the undead, then you'll certainly want to look elsewhere. This, my friends, is actually a serious work of fiction.

And a good one.

We'll Be Seeing You...

Next time you hear a knock on your door...
Credit: Grmisiti / flickr.com
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