Monday, 8 November 2010

Book Review: World War Z

When we try to conceive World War III, Hollywood pretty much made it clear that it will be against that nefarious cliche in the East, Russia. But what if it wasn't the Russians, who would it be? China? Iran? North Korea? Sure, their regimes may share certain qualities inherent in the zombies of pop-culture, but what if the next world war was against zombies themselves? What would happen? How would it be fought? Will humanity prevail? If, like me, you've ever wondered the answers to these burning questions, then Max Brooks probably has the closest answer to the unthinkable "what if?".

World War Z is a fascinating fictional account of a possible global war between humans and zombies. It charts the events of the seemingly isolated outbreak of a strange disease in China which spreads across the globe, turning the people afflicted into quite literally the living dead. The book starts with an unnamed narrator whose task in a post-war world is to collect and collate personal accounts from around the globe of individual's experiences during the conflict. They range from politicians to military personnel and civilians, charting how they survived humanity's near extinction and the geo-political events that unfolded during the zombie outbreak.

Brooks paints a thoroughly absorbing picture of humanity's struggle against the swarm as they are pushed to the brink of extinction, forced to shelter in 'secure' zones as the rest of the world goes up in flames and the zombie plague engulfs most of the Earth. For all our technological prowess and military might, modern weapons and tactics are found to be ineffective at halting the zombies as the only way to kill them is through decapitation. Through each individual's testimony in the book, there is a definite tone of hardship and grizzled attitude as the reader can tell by their world view that the characters have faced some form of trauma. Whilst this is done to reasonably good effect, I couldn't help but notice a lack of variety among many of the characters. It is understandable on the one hand that someone who has been through such stress might come out embittered, but it was somewhat tedious garnering the same grumpy bastard tone from the majority of the characters.

What Brooks does incredibly well however is to create a story of plausibility which is set in our reality, as a sort of 'alternate future'. Indeed, he has certainly done his research with regards to the current geo-political status of the world and accordingly slots them in seamlessly within this realm of fantasy as the two worlds blend into a believable and harrowing narrative. If one is interested in politics, they will notice some incredibly astute observations based on the regions and countries he covers and some possible scenarios that arise from the crisis which could equally, and perhaps in some cases quite scarily, be transferred to the real world. However, there were a couple of anal niggles that I did pick out. The first, that while humanity does figure out a way to halt the zombie infestation, nowhere in the book is there mention of a biological solution. New weapons and shiz is all very good, but if I were like, the President or something, I would be looking to my chemists and biologists for some type of bio-weapon or cure to this plague. Secondly, and not really an issue but more a curiosity, at the end of the book it is mentioned that there are barely any working DVD players left on the planet. I want an explanation as to why. Did the zombies eat them all or something?

World War Z is a fantastically enjoyable read, and it is certainly not a requirement to be 'that into zombies' to enjoy it. It is a human story foremost and endeavours to pass some commentary on human nature and behaviour. It is interesting as a story in itself, regardless of perhaps the sillyness of rotting corpses roaming the Earth. Even then, it is presented in such a way that you can't help but take it seriously. If you're spooked about the inevitability of our impending zombie apocalypse, you can also check out Brooks' other work; 'The Zombie Survival Guide', telling you everything you need to know to survive.