Friday, July 19, 2013

Cannonball Read V: CBR Unchained - Entry 2: "World War Z" by Max Brooks

When we think of zombie stories, we think of limited groups of survivors roving through huge, desolate landscapes, fighting moderate pockets of undead resistance for survival. They do so heroically, and with great regard at times for sacrificing themselves for the greater good; particularly when there's a group larger than their party at hand. This is how it's been done, for the most part, since George A. Romero brought Zombies onto our screens in the 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead. I can honestly say that after reading Max Brooks' tour de force, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, I will from now on think of that school of thought as charming and quaint.

The book takes place about a decade or so after "The Zombie War", or "World War Z" has been won by
humanity. A long, hard scrabble effort that has many faces of both victory and defeat; World War Z has changed the world irrevocably. Some of the modern conveniences we have now have become distant memories in this new "post Zeke" world. While not completely eradicated, the zombie menace still exists, although in much smaller numbers. The world is more educated on the ways of the zombie, how to stop or prevent it from taking power once more, and it is through the stories of the survivors that we learn how the world ultimately won its survival. Stories that are being compiled by "The Interviewer", a man whose work for the United Nations lead him to compiling a ton of data from worldwide sources that experienced the outbreak first hand.

What's probably the most exciting part of Brooks' masterpiece isn't the hitherto unimaginable scales of undead combat he's painted portraits of in this book, but moreso the homework he did to re-imagine a world that has been brought to its knees and the way it would start to find its way back up. Most zombie stories end when the survivors make it to some sort of safe haven that's always been sitting there, waiting for their arrival. In World War Z, there is no safe haven. There's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and even just holing up and waiting for the end will either get you killed or turn you into someone you never thought you'd become. The answers aren't easy in Mr. Brooks' dystopic future, but they're earned. Better still, the interview format allows for a rewarding narrative structure that puts together all of the pieces to the story through the numerous lenses of persons from all across the world.

But, naturally, what's a zombie book without...zombies! Max Brooks prefers to use the slow, creeping zombies that we're all used to seeing in a traditional zombie movie. In a world of "fast zombies", this might not impress the average entertainment seeker. However, Brooks' zombie terror doesn't come from their movement, but rather through their drive and insurmountable numbers. If this book's universe were a logical, modern universe, the zombie plague would have probably ended as soon as it started. However, Brooks uses plausible characters making plausibly shady judgement calls (and ultimately turning to plausible solutions) to provide us with a believable zombie outbreak. His fiction is so deeply rooted in reality, that the lines are blurred and a person could find themselves believing that this sort of thing could happen if we weren't careful.

Unlike the dim witted film that bears its name, World War Z is a rich reading experience that uses detailed oriented thinking grounded in reality to tell a story that's as fictional as they come. Mr. Brooks' talents as a writer are as proficient as his father's talent for comedy; and make no mistake about it, his father has plenty of reasons to be proud of his work! One final note, if you can get your hands on it, the "Complete Edition"* audiobook that's been released to tie in with the new film's release is a required buy. Even if you choose to read the book in print (which you totally should, simply because the audiobook is abridged), the all star cast brought in to give live to the stories is phenomenal.

* The "Complete Edition" compiles the original release of "World War Z" on audiobook, as well as the subsequent release "World War Z: The Lost Files". The Lost Files are just more of the book's stories adapted for audiobook, so it's best if you just buy them all in one shot.