Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review: World War Z

I picked this book up from my local library on the slightest of whims.

I'm not a fan of zombie films (never even seen Dawn of the Dead) or zombie comics (I like Robert Kirkman but have never read any parts of his zombie opus The Walking Dead) or even zombie roleplaying games (I own the Angel and Buffy games from Eden Studios, but have never been interested in their flagship product, All Flesh Must Be Eaten). I'm not even a big fan of postapocalyptic settings.

On the other hand, I do like alternate histories and oral histories, and World War Z is a surprisingly well-done combination of the two. It's presented as a collection of interviews with survivors of the great zombie war, conducted on behalf of the United Nations as part of its efforts to record the history of that horrific event.

The interviews move all around the globe, talking to people at every level of society who had some role, large or small, in the unfolding of the conflict and the desperate attempts to fight back the zombie threat. The international scope of the story is one of the strong points for me, giving the reader glimpses of very different reactions to the zombie threat in different corners of the globe, as well as insights into the different societies themselves.

Another impressive aspect to the book is the level of thought Brooks has given to all aspects of the zombie threat. He deals with people trying to escape to the mountains, to the frozen north, to islands, to the open sea, and underground. There's even a glimpse of what happened to the crew aboard the International Space Station. Every possible manner in which people might be expected to react to the rise of the walking dead, both rational and emotional, seems to be covered at some point. There are unexpected reactions as well.

Many of the vignettes are powerful little stories in their own right. There are several recurring characters, but many one-shot glimpses into the horrible trials that people endured.

It was the thoroughness with which the topic was explored, combined with the diverse and interesting cast of characters portrayed, that made this book a wholly unanticipated good read for me. Interestingly, Brooks spends basically no time explaining how the zombie threat even arose in the first place. Most books would spend a lot of time belaboring this point. I guess zombie afficionadoes are supposed to know this sort of thing already.

I found this absence of explanation somewhat refreshing, because (a) no rational explanation is ever going to arise in a modern-day setting sans magic and (b) it puts the emphasis squarely upon the individual stories.

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