Monday, 29 September 2008

‘World War Z’ – Max Brooks (Duckworth Publishers)


Those damn zombies eh? They’re just like rats, once you get a couple in the neighbourhood you’re looking at a full blown epidemic and the pest control guy has no idea how to stop it...
A lot of the zombie books and films, that I’ve come across, look at events around an initial zombie outbreak and depict a ‘no hope scenario’ where civilisation breaks down and scattered remnants hole up in shopping malls and underground silos to await the end. Don’t get me wrong, I love this stuff. Hordes of undead corpses outside and the most dysfunctional group of people you will ever meet on the inside, mankind’s worst enemy is himself. However, while this scenario might have been the case twenty or thirty years ago would things necessarily go along the same lines in this day and age? We’ve got the technology and the infra-structure to deal with a zombie outbreak with no problems... haven’t we?
Max Brooks would beg to differ with anyone who’s appraisal of such a situation is overly optimistic...

The author of the United Nation’s Postwar Commission Report (against the zombies) was angered when his immediate superior removed a large number of eye witness accounts from the final report. Her response was that he should consider taking all of these accounts and publishing them as a book. This advice and the end result is ‘World War Z’, an oral history of the zombie war that charts the first examination of ‘Patient Zero’ and the first outbreaks all the way through to the eventual fight back and an aftermath that is still being felt a decade later...

‘World War Z’ was a book that I picked up, off the pile, on a whim and found myself not being able to put it down. It was only the fact that I would have had to get off the train (sooner or later) to go to work that stopped me.

Zombie media is great for a fan of gore, like me, but what’s also great to see is how the survivors deal with the aftermath and I’m a big fan of that as well. ‘World War Z’ gave me the best overview of this (since the extras on the ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remake DVD) by showing the actions of people across the globe, not just America, and in one case what people were up to on the International Space Station. You get the full range of human emotion and not just from the military either, civilians are also interviewed and give harrowing accounts of escaping from the undead and the increasingly desperate military who were prepared to do anything to stop the zombie advance. Chemical weapons strikes, in the Ukraine, and the bombing of roads in the Himalayas’ are good examples of this and the ‘Redeker Plan’ (the withdrawing of essential resources and leaving behind armed groups to hold off the undead) serves as a chilling reminder of how bad things actually were.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. For every harrowing tale there is another that shows the reader humanity’s resilience in the face of overwhelming odds. US Army elements may have been overrun, at Yonkers, by over a million zombies but this was eventually offset by countless small acts of heroism across the globe. Plane crash survivors make it to safety across land swarming with the undead and people take to the seas, in their thousands, to form gigantic floating cities. International relations take on a whole new meaning and Cuba becomes a surprise economic superpower in an unexpected but wholly plausible move.
Russia’s self-inflicted decimation of its own armies was chilling but I could see it happening. What I had real trouble though was the blind Japanese gardener fighting off hordes of zombies armed with a blunt instrument and an enhanced sense of smell and hearing... I mean, come on... What is it about me that can accept the dead coming back to life and eating people but will not accept a blind man taking on the hordes by himself, and winning? I don’t know...

There are many more of these stories and, instead of going on about them all, my recommendation is to read them. Like any short story collection (which is what this book is) they weren’t all to my taste but contributed overall to a grim yet strangely uplifting picture of humanity on the brink of extinction.
If you like your military terminology, and seeing it all go into battle, then you will enjoy large chunks of ‘World War Z’ but this was where it fell down for me. Too much ‘technology speak’ that got in the way of the story...

I’ve also got to mention how Brooks gets things started in terms of the zombie plague’s origins and the way it spreads. In the best traditions of zombies in books and film, we’re never really told exactly how it started but having it spread through illegal organ and people trafficking... That’s genius as far as I’m concerned :o)

‘World War Z’ is a book that left me wondering why I didn’t pick it up a lot sooner. If you’re a fan of zombies then I’d say that this book is a ‘must have’ for your collection.

Nine out of Ten

1 comment:

Plinydogg said...

This is another one that's on my list. I need another brain and set of eyes!!!!!!!