Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z

Written by: Max brooks

Published: 2006

Synopsis: The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.

"Ignorance was the real enemy, and cold, hard facts were the weapons"

So remember in my WWZ film review when I said;
Zombies don't sell. What sells is the story that the zombies facilitate, a story about people surviving, solving problems, dealing with their shit and looking badass while they do it.
This is that story. And even though there are probably a few (*ahem* a lot *ahem*) of you going "yeah but no, zombies blechhh", this is still one of those books that I suggest to everyone. Because it isn't about the zombies, they factor in of course and there are definitely some tense and scary scenes, but it's really about how the world survives an attack of proportions we'd never imagined possible. And it's brilliant, like really truly undeniably brilliant.

Over the course of 8 sections (Warnings, The Great Panic, Around the World and Above etc), Brooks tells the story from the early days of the infection to the final fights to take back our planet. Each section is made up of a series of recollections, eye witness accounts from  doctors and scientists, generals and soldiers, politicians and filmmakers, conscripts and families. People who were there, were integral to the events, and who have their own personal story to tell. But best of all, this story is universal. It's not just told from the American perspective (although a large portion of it is), you read accounts from people in China, Australia, Cuba, Canada, India, Iran and Israel, and you get to see how each country reacts to the threat and deals with the aftermath. The result is a rich and complex story.

Brooks clearly did a great deal of research about the politics, culture and history of each country in WWZ, and so the unfolding of each story reflects the characteristics which make up that country's national identity. North Korea, unsurprisingly, disappears off the map completely. Cuba's lengthy history of civil tension and difficult relations with America becomes a strength when faced with the zombie threat and the influx of American immigrants escaping the zombie-infested US. Parts of Europe returned to the middle ages, choosing ancient battle weapons and the safety of castles over modern technology. And America's recent involvement in a different war weighs heavily on the political and social reaction to the early zombie reports.

The result is a very realistic story. When you hear that Russia returned to a theocracy and is using the weakness of the rest of the world to try and return themselves to their former strength you don't blink twice. When you read that Israel was one of the first to accept the early reports and initialise a self-quarantine, and that the reasoning is that their past made them cautious and unlikely to discount any report no matter how unlikely, you can accept it. Everything is connected to actual historical events and cultural perspectives, so you can't help but wonder whether that's actually how it would happen if we woke up to an influx of zombies tomorrow.

This carries over into the human interest side of the story as well. From the way the zombie infection likely spread from the first reported case in China;
 "China used to be the largest exporter of human organs on the world market. Who knows how many infected corneas, infected pituitary glands...Mother of god, who knows how many infected kidneys they pumped into the global market. And that's just the organs! You want to talk about the "donated" eggs from political prisoners, the sperm, the blood? You think immigration was the only way the infection swept the planet? Not all the initial outbreaks were Chinese nationals."

To the role politicians and public figures, such as the English royal family, played in encouraging hope;
 "They were viewed very much like castles, I suppose: as crumbling, obsolete relics, with no real modern function other than as tourist attractions. But when the skies darkened and the nation called, both re-awoke to the meaning of their existence. One shielded our bodies, the other shielded our souls"

 To the reaction of soldiers in this new war-zone;
"It's fear dude, just fear and you don't have to be Sun freakin Tzu to know that real fighting isn't about killing or even hurting the other guy, it's about scaring him enough to call it a day. Break their spirit, that's what every successful army goes for, from tribal face pain to the "blitzkrieg" to...what did we call the first round of Gulf War Two, 'shock and awe'? Perfect name, 'Shock and Awe'! But what if the enemy can't be shocked and awed? Not just won't, but biologically can't?"

Sorry to just pull-quote at you, but I find it all so fascinating that I just can't help myself. Plus, I think it does a pretty good job (especially the last one) of showing how it's more about the people and less about the zombies. Instead of the soldiers being scared of undead monsters, they're confused and terrified by the fact that all of their training is now for naught. The pilots are grounded because the zombies can't launch air attacks, missiles aren't as effective on the undead, and strategies and formations have to be redesigned to best target an enemy that can only be taken done by a shot to the brain. Every system is shaken up and no one is confident or sure of themselves. And this is a big part in why the world is overrun so quickly. Sure new conflicts and wars come up now and again, but everything is so formulaic, they hit them, they hit them back, they use drones, they use drones back etc etc ad infinitum. Any time the rules aren't followed, like with the terrorist attack on the world trade centres or in this case of a zombie infection, we're met with chaos and panic.

Though the book is made up of a selection of eye-witness accounts loosely formulated into a chronological order, it's not just a chaotic or academic form of storytelling. Early accounts will be acknowledged or built upon by interviewees later in the book or facts from one stories are discounted as fiction in another. Basically it's a living document, full of rumours and fears and anger but most of all there's a sense of hope and of our perseverance as a species. There's a lot of stuff in this book which is pretty cynical and it's clear Max Brooks has a pretty low opinion on the bureaucratic aspects of government, banking, big Pharma, the Hollywood elite etc, but it's just as clear that he has a great deal of respect for actual people and the strength of constitution which is inherent in all of us. So while it's a book about the (almost) end of the world, it's also pretty damn uplifting.

So yes, this is a zombie novel and there are some terrifying stories that had me twitching in fright but those sections are small and not worth passing on such a fantastic and illuminating book. Max Brooks touches on so much of what makes up our modern culture - racism, reality TV, politics, scams, scepticism, and weaves it into a book which tells us as much about ourselves as it does about a zombie threat. So go and read this already, or get hold of the audiobook because it's read by the most amazing people (Check out Alley's review for details), but don't watch the film. Or don't only watch the film. And don't even think about passing on it just because it's a zombie book or I'll be forced to sick my zombies on you Michonne* style.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...