Wednesday, February 19, 2014

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War" A Review

Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, is zombie apocalypse novel that is set out as series of individual intereviews of survivors of a world wide zombie-pandemic.

Max Brooks (1972-) is son of director, producer, writer, and actor Mel Brooks and actress Ann Bancroft.  He is an actor himself, but is most famous for his horror, zombie-horror in particular, fiction. 

World War Z is one of the more influential of the recent zombie genre that are based on the films of , the George A. Romero's Dead Series: the Romero Zombie if you will.  As advanced in this novel, the zombie-plague has a scientific cause (a virus), the life-force of the zombie is contained within the skull, and the plague is spread, much like rabies, by a bite.  That a bunch of shambling monsters could create a mass horde of zombies, as portrayed in this novel, quickly enough to overwhelm the general populace takes a bit of a stretch in logic.  Thus a number of novels have the plague spread through more means than just a simple bite, often with a air born flue-like disease, causing the initial spread.  There is also a common practice of mixing in some fast-zombies, to make the zombies a little bit more difficult to deal with.  In this novel, almost anyone over the age of 13 armed with a heavy club, who maintains their calm, should have no difficulty taking on a zombie one-on-one.  The zombies generally rely on surprise at first, followed by enormous numbers latter.

The novel spans the globe.  The author even finds an excuse to have an interview down in Antarctica.  It runs mostly chronologically through the disaster, but does a reasonable job of mixing in action elements throughout.  It is all laid out in an entirely reasonable mumbo-jumbo deadpan fashion that makes it all seem so reasonable.

Issues of preparation, and post-collapse skills are discussed at length.  The ability to act under pressure is also highlighted at many points.  Preparation without determination does not get you very far.  So for a zombie novel, it has an unusual amount of "realism" to it.  Although most governments collapse, a few isolated areas do reasonably well.  Cuba, who to some extent has already collapsed with the ending of the Soviet oil subsidy, manages to do pretty well.  North Korea seems to have messed up seriously.

There is a fair amount of political polemics mixed within the various interviews.  As the book gets to the recovery stages, a bit of triumphalism starts to creep in.  The neo-new deal patrician bureaucrat (narrated by Alan Alda in the audio book) is so smug as to be nauseating.  That the author also finds something useful for an heroic Hollywood-producer type (propaganda) I guess is to be expected if he doesn't want to be disowned by his parents.

Did I like it?  Truthfully, I was disappointed.  For a classic of the new zombie genre, I was expecting better.  It starts out well enough, but there is an odd bit of triumphalism in the novel, and not a ton of fear.  That the novel is written as a "history" takes out a lot of the suspense of who survives.  Still it has enough good moments, that I would give it a qualified recommendation.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
As zombie novels go, it is relatively realistic.  A lot of the military style combat portions are of so-so plausibility, but that is a rather common failing.  The author greatly underestimates the deadliness of modern firepower, and seems not to realize how much more powerful  modern conventional munitions are over their WW2 predecessors.  As I have noted, previously, zombies, because of their continuing effect on the narrative, are one of the catastrophic causes that I will de-rate for.  So we will call it a six.
Readability was pretty high until the half way point.  It simply went on too long.  Some of the storylines were of limited usefulness, and a bit of trimming could have been done.  The original audio book recognized this and edited out some of them; I was listening to the full length version. To much naval gazing, and issues of unreliable view points, make it a little less than a straight forward read.  It is a 4.


PioneerPreppy said...

Made a good movie though :) One of the better zombie movies in my book.

russell1200 said...

Pioneer: Not my area of expertise. I recall the reviews saying that is wasn't particularly gruesome as z-movies go.

The Angry Lurker said...

His survival guide is good, the movie is nothing like the book!

russell1200 said...

Francis: Survival guides always seem intriguing, but most of them wind up being repetitive and not terribly original. But I have not read his.