World War Z by Max Brooks
Genre: Science Fiction
Maturity Level: 5
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The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.
Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.
Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, “By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”
It’s been years since I read this book, so while I remembered that it was brilliant, I admit that I had forgotten how brilliant it is and why. Guys, this book is SO WELL CRAFTED. It’s not at all what you would expect, and the things that make it good aren’t the things you might typically look for in a zombie book. In fact, I’ll come right out and say that I actually don’t like zombies. At all. I don’t think they’re scary or interesting. But this book is gripping and fascinating anyway.
Most of the brilliance about this book is that Brooks has thought the zombie apocalypse all the way through in incredible detail. There’s world building, because this is a sort of alternate universe, but I don’t think that’s even the right word for what he’s done. It’s true speculative fiction. He’s looked at it from every angle. How would a plauge start? What mechanisms would cause it to spread? How would it affect international politics? How and why would the panic eventually start? How would we stop the spread of disease? How would people survive? When would we go on the offensive and what would that look like?
This isn’t your typical zombie story where Average-Joe single-handedly battles across the country to survive, losing everyone he loves along the way. Instead different narrators, witnesses really, share what was they saw and experienced, and how it affected or represented the global zombie crisis. It gives a unique kind of outside, overall look at the zombie apocalypse that is truly fascinating and gave Brooks the opportunity to showcase his speculative chops. I bet you never saw a movie where the fires of the zombie apocalypse generated so much smoke that it created a snowball effect in the atmosphere and created a mini-ice-age. But now that I’ve read it, it’s so incredibly obvious that that’s what would happen. It’s just so much detail, but also so much big picture. Gah. So good!
Yet Brooks still managed to make the individual stories compelling. Even though many of them are only a few pages long, they have good plot arcs and character development. The “voice” didn’t change very convincingly, but honestly I didn’t much care because I was so engrossed.
I saw several people label this book as Horror. I’m hesitant to do so, because it wasn’t particularly scary. Since it’s presented as an oral history, as interviews, it doesn’t have that terrifying, fast-paced action/adventure feel of a horror novel. That being said, there is some extremely disturbing content. Zombies are disgusting, and the end of the world is not awesome. I was especially disturbed by the idea of zombie babies and children, and have had nightmares about it before as a result of reading this book. So it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, but I don’t think that it’s too scary for weenies like me either.
Honestly, this is just one of the most creative books I’ve ever read. The format is interesting, the research is there, the premise is thought through so completely. Definitely some of the highest caliber speculative fiction I’ve ever read, even if it is about zombies. If you enjoy alternate history or speculative fiction, you HAVE to give this book a try. It’s brilliant.