Max Brooks’ book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War really isn’t about zombies. It’s about people, politics, economics and the conventions we call civilization.
Brooks offers a long series of vignettes from survivors of a global war. This war has its roots in China, which treats a viral outbreak within its borders as just any other limited outbreak of disease. The country’s secrecy nearly causes the undoing of the human race as the so-called African rabies is really a disease that infects, kills and reanimates the host. Thus reanimated, the afflicted roam looking for people to bite or eat. They can only be stopped by destroying the brain.
Brooks turns his powers of perception to the nature of countries throughout the world, projecting his opinions on how they would handle such a crisis. His vignettes feature people from all parts of the globe and all stations in life: a former vice president of the United States, a Japanese gardener, quick-buck shysters hiding out in Antarctica and a menagerie of others. Within pages, Brooks can make the character completely engage the reader. His writing is very succinct and fast-paced. However, he may actually make his interview subjects a tad to articulate to be fully believed. Yes, it makes for a better reading experience, but it seems to sap some of the grittiness from the text.
Many of the entries are scathing commentaries on governmental inflexibility and economic conventions. Basically, he argues that many steps governments could take to be more effective at dealing with problems are derailed by a desire to protect the world’s corporate masters. Cynical, yes – but not without merit.
Many countries have some really odd fates in World War Z. The United States is a shadow of itself – but “gated community” has taken on a whole new and paramilitary meaning. China is virtually unpopulated. And the world watched the population of North Korea disappear within itself, leaving everyone to wonder if the entire country now lives below ground in safety, or as a roiling mass of moaning brain-eaters. Some countries even sacrificed some of their humanity to ensure the survival of at least some of their populations.
World War Z seems to take for granted that readers are already familiar with Brooks’ earlier work, The Zombie Survival Guide. That book discussed the virus in depth, and Brooks doesn’t re-hash many points here. That’s a bit of a strategic oversight that I’d encourage him to correct. Some information supplied by footnotes would be helpful.
That minor quibble aside, World War Z is excellent reading. It’s definitely the best post-apocalypse book since James Kunetka and Whitley Strieber’s epic War Day. It also proves you can write a zombie novel that has intelligent sub-text.