Thursday, May 30, 2013

The zombie war, through the eyes of the people who lived it

The world has risen from the ashes, and our narrator has gone out to collect the memories of those who lived through the collapse in Max Brooks' World War Z.

The origin of the infection is hazy, mainly due to the world's refusal to acknowledge what is now impossible to ignore: the dead have risen. At first attributed to a new form of rabies, those bitten have all the attributes of a classic literary zombie: dead, rotting flesh; no apparent consciousness, no reaction to pain, and an insatiable hunger for living flesh. Only the destruction of the brain stops them. Decapitation leaves a biting severed head, drowning creates an underwater menace and freezing only delays them until springtime when they thaw.

Due to this lack of early response, along with the globalization of trade and travel, not to mention human smuggling, the outbreak becomes out of control before anyone can get a handle on it. Even a decade after victory is declared in the US and China, more northern countries like Iceland are still considered a loss. Every so often, especially near bodies of water and in the springtime, a few zombie bites happen, but it's nowhere as bad as during the height of the fighting.

Our narrator works for the United Nations Postwar Commission. He traveled the world, getting first-hand accounts of how the war was fought from India to Cuba and everywhere in between. Unhappy with the dry presentation that the UN published, he publishes this account to tell the stories of the people who lived through the worst disaster to befall the human race. From a feral child who watched every adult she'd ever known be killed, to a hikikomori in Japan who has to face a real life full of infecteds, to the speculation about what the hell happened to North Korea, every group of people responded to the crisis in different ways.

Well known for his Zombie Survival Guide, Max Brooks already has a well thought out zombie apocalypse universe to work from and this planning shows in World War Z. Neatly sidestepping the scientific explanations by having the outbreak happen too fast for groups like the CDC to get a firm grasp on it, and letting the reader know quickly and clearly exactly what these zombies can and cannot do, Brooks never surprises the reader with information he should have had earlier or contradicts himself. While some of the stories work better than others, overall World War Z is a fun 'what if?' book that is more analytical than scary.

Highs: The responses that each country makes is completely in line with that place's culture and self-identity

Lows: Another author might have used this as a treatment for a series of novels, each focusing on one or two groups for the duration of the War, and perhaps that would have been a more satisfying format

Verdict: A fun read that is longer than it seems, and a must for the zombie enthusiast

Further Reading: Under a Graveyard Sky, Feed

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