World War Z by Max Brooks
Duckworth Publishers: paperback published 2007: 342 pages
It began with rumours from China about another pandemic. Then the cases started to multiply and what had looked like the stirrings of a criminal underclass, even the beginnings of a revolution, soon revealed itself to be much, much worse. Faced with a future of mindless, man-eating horror, humanity was forced to accept the logic of world government and face events that tested our sanity and our sense of reality.
Based on extensive interviews with survivors and key players in the 10-year fight-back against the horde, World War Z brings the very finest traditions of American journalism to bear on what is surely the most incredible story in the history of civilisation.
A zombie novel? I’m in.
Written as if it were true accounts of a real event – 10 years after the fact – World War Z is a clever take on the zombie story.
There are only so many ways you can write about the undead, right? Well, the undead might not be a new thing (they still shuffle, moan, and want to eat you), but World War Z gives a new insight in to how humanity just might react to an attack of corpses. There’s no great insight in to how the dead ended up coming back (though it seems to have originated in China), and not really any great insight into how quickly it spreads (though it seems to be pretty damned fast). Instead, it’s the human interest stories – accounts from the military on the front line, those who profited from the outbreak and those who didn’t, stories of ordinary people surviving the extraordinary, and looking at the psychological effects of such a scenario.
There is a lot of talk about how it’s affected each character you meet – doctor, civilian, military, politician, priest – but no greater depth is given. The zombies have taken their toll mentally on every beleaguered person, but who would admit fully the extent of it in an interview?
The advantage of writing a novel from the perspective of a journalist gathering the details is that you can have a birdseye view of the plot – you’re not pinned to one person or place, and you can tell a multitude of stories with relative ease. However, you also have to accept that you will lose some character depth – and that’s what happens here. All the characters fell short of totally believable. They were enjoyable to brush shoulders with in the brief interviews they were given, but you had no great interest in them afterwards – they didn’t linger.
In a relatively short novel (342 pages), you have a swift overview from outbreak to the fight back. It’s fast-paced and punchy and there are moments you wonder what could possibly happen next (and I’m even more afraid of swimming in open water than ever before). It’s a clever story about something that isn’t particularly new – you get the impression that this really IS how people will react should the zombie apocalypse ever come. Not always heroes, not always doing the right thing, but fundamentally humane and honest.
The only encounters with zombies previously have been in the form of TV/film and graphic novels. To experience this novel is something else – a novel that screams for sequels. I love the slightly new aspects Brooks introduces (underwater zombies and dogs trained to find zombies) and the fact that the military aren’t just decimated in the first chapter, but last and end up forming the attack later on (how many apocalypse stories have you read where the military have just disappeared? How realistic is it?) I love the fact that there is a global story being told, and how each country reacts strengthens the stories we are reading.
The only reason this gets a four star and not five, is because I wanted more. I wanted to get to know the characters and feel invested in their wellbeing, and I wanted to read more interviews!