World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Author(s): Max Brooks

Publisher: Duckworth

Publication Date: 2006


World War Z is Brook’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed and successful Zombie Survival Guide but where the later would help provide us with little tips and tricks to avoid the inevitable zombie apocalypse and remain intact the former is set in a world where it has already happened.

Beginning in a small town in China, we follow the horror as the zombie plague sweeps across the globe and grows from an epidemic to a panic to total war.

This book deviates from the typical narrative of many horror books as it uses individual accounts to paint a picture of what was happening in the world both during the war and immediately afterwards with our key protagonist leading each interview.

Through these accounts Brooks is able to weave stories of desperation and humanities despair when faced with the living dead and how quickly survival of the fittest (or should that be richest) takes over our thoughts. However, these stories are laced with social commentary which helps add depth to the stories and differentiate them each other due to differing social backgrounds and ideologies affecting each nations response to the threat.

If you have read the Zombie survival guide, then you will notice how these two books interact (With Brooks following the laws he set out in the ‘Guide’) and complement each other, for example the notion of zombies freezing in the cold Arctic and icy regions of the north or how zombies are able to survive underwater. Due to this I felt that it rewarded readers of his earlier book through consistency (which for me is a big thing, as nothing annoys me more than zombie rules being made up as they go along contradicting the rest of the information) but Brooks is careful to not alienate new readers who are unfamiliar with the survival guide and so one is able to treat this as a separate entity to be enjoyed on its own.

One thing I noticed quickly after starting this book was how it quickly became addictive, in the way that the best tv drama’s do, drawing you into a believable world where you are left wanting more and more information and resolution. This, I feel, is testament to Brooks choice of using individual accounts to tell the story of the war and the (I’m sure) painstaking degree of accurate continuity that runs throughout the stories. This helps build the story throughout the book as well as rewarding us for repeated reading. This level of accuracy does not only refer to his own set laws but also the amount of research he put into the backgrounds and situations of each character and surrounding area, which Brooks states are based on true events (minus the zombies of course). This really comes across when he is discussing military tactics and weaponry, political stances and ideological shifts. Once again, this provides a lot more depth to the story and really does set this book apart from not only other zombie literature but also that of the majority of fiction work.

As a result I didn’t feel that reading through any part of this was a chore or that I had encountered a  filler chapter, as everything worked together to create an immersive environment. In fact I could have happily read this book all in one go if I had the opportunity.

The chapters (and interviews) are structured following a linear time-line of the war and the clean up allowing us to easily follow the events, which due to the high amount of characters being interviewed may get a little confusing for some readers as certain events and people are mentioned in different contexts or are re-interviewed and specific battles are frequently referred to, however as previously mentioned this allows for repeated enjoyment of the book as you start to remember and learn how the events related to each other. A history book for the upcoming zombie apocalypse if you will.

From some online research I have found that this book has been optioned by some Hollywood so-and-so to be turned into a film which is currently in development  and this book is also available on audio-cassette featuring the voices of Henry Rollins and Mark ‘Luke Skywalker’ Hamill amongst others. So even if you’re not a big reader there is no excuse to let this story pass you by.

Zombie Fear Factor: *****

These zombies have already taken over the world once and there is no reason why they cannot again. There is still no proven cure and due to winter freezing them, we still do not know how many of them there are with it only taking one person to get infected for it all to happen again.

Through the recollections we learn that it is ignorance, prejudice and a lack of communication that got the world in this mess and can we honestly say that we will fare better next time.

One thing that this book has that I enjoyed (but also fear, very deeply) is the notion of quislings. These are people who have started acting like zombies, obviously taking the old adage ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ too far. Not only did these give us the false hope that zombies were attacking other zombies (as opposed to humans) but they also would attack and attempt to eat other people. It’s only a matter of time before someone at a zombie walk or film festival snaps and this becomes a nearby reality.

Brooks paints a bleak picture of not only what the zombies have done to society but also what people are capable of in their darkest hour and as such deserves such a high score.

Zombie Behaviour: *****

With Brooks being a self-confessed Romero fan that instantly gives his a high score to start with, although even Bub is a step too far in the evolutionary scale compared to these zombies.

Following his laws set out in the ‘Zombie Survival Guide’, these  zombies are  a slow, shambling and decomposing mess who can only be taken out by destroying the brain and are able to convert the living over to their side through scratches and bites procured before death.

Throughout the book we learn of many poor souls (both civilian and forces) taken down by a ghoul crawling on the ground towards them with no legs or even digestive system. They are able to walk (or float – depending on how gassy) underwater as they do not need their lungs. These zombies have no emotions, no ulterior motives or even collective thought. Unable to communicate with each other with the exception of letting out groans which then attract more to the are there are the perfect, focussed killing machine. Which is why the armies conventional weaponry had little effect at the beginning of the war.

Zombie Threat: *****

As these zombies do not need rest, they do not need substance or even counselling due to the stress of war these zombies will keep going until no one is left alive. As one soldier in the book notes,  when a zombie is killed that is one-off their numbers but often when a human is killed that may be one added to the zombie army.

The ability to grow their ranks whilst the oppositions number dwindle is the ultimate threat.

We must remember that the war is not yet over, it will take decades still until every area is swept clean of zombies as they thaw out of the ice or clamber out of the surf…this threat is still very much alive (for want of a better word).

Gore Content: **

The language used by Brooks is evocative but not gratuitous and as such suits the whole feel of the book and the personalities of those being interviewed.

The vast majority of the recollections do not contain graphic detail on the horrible sight’s the speaker saw, instead it tends to read  more like a historical documentary with many of the speakers talking about their specific experiences or government stances at the time. As a result, the speakers are able to articulate their experiences coherently using quite reserved terms when relaying their stories.

Although skimping on the gore front I feel this was done to add a touch of gravitas to the proceedings and considering the seriousness with which the topic is handled even the traditional gorehound must accept that it is right for this circumstance.

Overall Quality:  *****

What can I say, if you don’t already own this book you should have stopped reading this review halfway through and gone and bought it. As the quote on the front cover by Simon Pegg states ‘An absolute must have’ and who are we to disagree with Shaun of the dead?

As stated in the initial review body, if you are not a keen reader then pick up the audio-book copy, for you wont be disappointed with the sheer scale and detail that has gone into creating this world by Brooks. Through his writing he seems to transcend the general zombie clichés and issues in the way that the original trilogy of the dead films by Romero did, bringing our way of life, interactions and behaviour under the microscope and in this parallel universe we can see how these past ideologies shape the future, with Cuba becoming a capitalist hotspot and the Russians finally finding god.  Brooks has made zombie history quite literally and all within the framework of the classic Romero zombie if this doesn’t appeal to you, then you may just want to grab those Stephenie Meyer books instead.


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