Written by Max Brooks, 2006
Determining the launching point for a review of Max Brooks’ newest zombie masterwork, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, is hard. It’s an odd, but welcome challenge to chose where exactly the praise should be heaped first on this fictional journalistic recount of a global undead uprising. The timeless realism? The cold logic of it all? The sweeping brutality? The fact that Brooks’ never misses the mark, never passes up a chance to introduce a bit of history so cohesive that it could just as easily be fact as it is fiction?
Regardless of the starting point, the end result is a brilliant labor of love. The same man who wrote the Zombie Survival Guide has hence crafted a thesis of boundless credibility that reads more like prophecy than make believe.
What allows for World War Z’s resonance is Brooks narrative set up. To compare the two seems somewhat inappropriate, but the comparison is undeniable – Brooks’ style directly emulates Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. As with Gourevitch’s must read piece of journalism, WWZ is an earnest, albeit fictitious, zombie filled, flesh eating, penetration into the the psyche of humans forced into the desperate clutches of survival. Told from beginning to end in the voice of those who were there, Brooks uses cultures across the globe to illuminate the epidemic in its entire, blood soaked, shameful glory.
No stone is left unturned and in the process Brooks introduces more than a few undead concepts that are, quite possibly, unprecedented in their originality. A personal favorite is the invention that outbreaks spread globally with an unseen quickness due to black market organs harvested from infected Chinese and transplanted into rich businessmen in shady operating rooms in third world countries.
Not to back burner the horror side of things, but another of the novel’s winning elements is Brooks’ political guile. While the author takes no partisan side, the novel constantly references governments of the world whose fumbled responses to the situation are directly related to our own current events. The zombie factor may as well be any number of variables from contemporary times. Hurricanes, tsunamis, mid-eastern turmoil. They’re all seen in the cause and effect of this new world war. And quite frankly, Brooks’ management of all these different factors is more thoughtful, more analytical and more reflective of real world politics than the reporting of most news outlets these days.
But one wouldn’t be at this site if they weren’t interested in some zombiefied throat bitting. And WWZ has its lions shares of epic battles. Interviews with conflict survivors are all nightmarishly imaginative and wholly thrilling. There isn’t a single instance of struggle in this book that isn’t horrific to its core. Many are ambitious to the point of being damn near impossible to pull off on film. This is a tremendous compliment toward Max Brook’s ability to construct scenarios of absolute chaos, but a tough burden for whatever filmmaker is handed directorial duty over the pending film adaptation. While all of this could work on the big screen, the scale is so massive that its proper representation would require a herculean effort Hollywood so rarely exerts these days.
While a good end cinematic adaptation isn’t guaranteed, a good time spent reading World War Z is.
Grab a copy, this is one of the year’s smartest genre treats.