World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
by Max Brooks
Reviewed by David Hannon
It goes by many names: "The Crisis," "The Dark Years," "The Walking Plague," as well as newer and more "hip" titles such as "World War Z" or "Z War One." I personally dislike this last moniker as it implies an inevitable "Z War Two." For me it will always be "The Zombie War," and while many may protest the scientific accuracy of the term Zombie, they will be hard pressed to discover a more globally accepted term for the creature that almost caused our extinction.
Thus begins Max Brooks's addictive World War Z. Ten years after the Zombie War has ended, a nameless narrator travels the world talking to different people about their experiences and chronicling just how they were able to survive the event that almost exterminated the populace. Interviewing more than 40 survivors from all over the globe the tale unfolds through each person's short telling of their own story making it more of a literate affair than one might expect. This broad perspective of the effect on the entire world, as different peoples and cultures address an enemy that can't be scared, doesn't feel pain or back down, and has torn apart their communities, is downright thrilling.
Brooks does a masterful job of telling each person's history, explaining some small part of how the uprising occurred and how it was ultimately dealt with, from simple stories of people running and escaping to remembrances of a soldier in Yonkers, New York, where the first major stand against the undead ends in a "complete victory" for the Zombies -- the result being that the American public watched the U.S. military being eaten alive on television.
The book speeds along at a nice pace and the explanations of the Zombies' origins make sense and, in some cases, are truly unique and inventive (in comparison to other zombie novels), making World War Z much more than just a good scare. Plus, Brooks isn't afraid to tackle current events -- modern politics, terrorism, environmentalism, and universal healthcare -- and does so through the eyes of both the humans and the Zombies. Taking the time to engage the reader fully in the world he's created helps make these ideas grow naturally within the framework of the story. The concept that the survivors may become the enemy they're fighting against doesn't hurt either.
When you get right down to it World War Z is frightening as hell. The individual vignettes lend a more genuine and spooky feel to the proceedings. While reading it I kept admiring the fact that it was both a scary story and an intelligent one: a rare treat for a horror fan.