Saturday, October 19, 2013

World War Z

World War Z, Max Brooks
Read: 5 to 8 October 2011
4.5 / 5 stars 

Like The Road, I bought World War Z so people would stop recommending it to me; also like The Road, a few years passed between purchasing and finally reading the book, the latter effort being choked with innumerable moments of vivid déjà vu wherein I wondered why the hell it took me so long to delve into such a disturbingly awesome novel (and so indulging myself in Halloween-appropriate reads already proves to be a brilliant move).

The most immediate success of WWZ is Brooks's ability to write believably in dozens of unique voices. No two survivors -- not even the military personnel -- have the same story, so it stands to reason that none of them should sound the same in their interviews: The only commonality in the various personal accounts is their palpable humanity. Each survivor's pre-war life and wartime experiences shape their narratives, and it's impressive how one character's ongoing internal battles can be so well hidden while others still are visibly dealing with their own psychological demons. Taking on the international element and offering the reader a global perspective only makes the zombie scourge more believable.

It is the worldwide perspective that makes WWZ an ambitious undertaking. Seeing each country's response, how national identities affected individual responses and how global relations played a role in every stage of the war offered an unsettlingly realistic look at a hypothetical tragedy.

Brooks really doesn't leave a stone unturned, and his impeccable attention to detail is another one of the book's strongest assets. He addresses everything from seeking refuge in a nuclear sub to some nations' return to isolation tactics to the environmental devastation of attempting to blast the undead back to the hell from whence they shuffled (OH HAI NUCLEAR AUTUMN) to the failure of standard wartime tactics in the face of an unconventional enemy to even the biologic composition of zombies, which becomes creepily relevant upon revealing the "quisling" phenomenon. Though, given that a staggering number of survivors AND undead have taken to the oceans, I'm kind of curious about the possibility of zombie sharks. Yeah, it sucks that the whale population is a notch below extinction by the end of the book but.... c'mon. Zombie sharks. Let's entertain that doubly insatiable flight of fancy, please.

The scariest part of this novel? How much it assured me that neither my country's government nor its people are even close to being adequately prepared for anything more traumatizing than a really bad week at work. The events that unfolded in these 342 pages had me wondering if the rise of the undead might be the bite in the ass that society needs to get its priorities in order. My fellow Americans worry me more than zombies do (but that's no recent development), which was more than enough inspiration to make sure that the zombie-apocalypse go-bag is up-to-date before heading to the range for target practice.

In the end, I came for the zombies; I stayed for the authenticity of the book's various human reactions.

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