I just finished reading World War Z by Max Brooks for the second time. I had mixed feelings when I sat down with my copy of the book. My unsigned copy of the book. You see, I first read it about a year ago, for my undergraduate monster class. That November, Max Brooks came to our college to give a talk…and I stayed home. I was fine with that until the next class, when everyone was talking about how great it was, and realized how much I regretted not going.
I’ll never get to see that talk, but at least my college uploaded videos of their hour-long interview with Max Brooks. There’s a lot of great stuff in that interview–he discusses his interest in zombies, his inspirations for the novel, his feelings about the movie, the Walking Dead, and more. Since I know you’re going to go watch the interview after you read this, I won’t rehash all of that. I won’t keep ranting about how I should have gone to his talk, either.
Instead, let me start with a brief word about zombies in general.
I don’t like zombies nearly as much as people think I do. I have friends who are all, “Hey, Sam, check this out! I bet you’ll love it!” and I go see whatever it is and say, “Okay, so there are zombies. I need to see more than that to be interested.” When I became a Resident Evil fan, it let me to many other enjoyable zombie stories, and I wrote my own zombie fiction. And from then on, people had the idea that I’m a huge zombie fan, which isn’t quite true. Survival horror gameplay and mad scientist stories are more likely to draw me in, and those often come with zombies. I don’t dislike zombies, either. They can be fine monsters. I just wanted to make it clear from the start that I wasn’t automatically drooling over this book because it involved zombies.
Okay, I’ve rambled enough. Back to the topic at hand, World War Z. I liked this book, I really did. It just felt a little too long. I’m not entirely secure saying that, because most of my favorite stories are in the second half. (And that’s really how this book feels to me–not a novel so much as a book of many interconnected short stories, with each interview being an individual story.) The beginning of the book is cool. I love that creepy set-up, with the mounting realization among people that things are really bad. But then there are a lot of interviews that mainly serve to set up the political situation, emphasize how dangerous the zombies are, and demonstrate how a zombie apocalypse would bring out the worst in a lot of people. That’s a common theme in zombie fiction. Your fellow survivors are often scarier than the monsters. A little bit of that stuff is fantastic. Too much, and I feel like I’m being beaten over the head with cynicism. That’s one of the main reasons I stopped reading Karen Traviss’s Wess’Har series. Whenever I get partway through that section of World War Z, I think that I dislike it and that it’s too long…but then I eventually get past that.
What are my favorite parts of World War Z? It might raise some eyebrows since I just complained about the cynicism (but remember, I also said a little bit is fantastic), but I love the Paul Redeker story. From the cold-hearted line “The first casualty of the conflict must be our own sentimentality” (Brooks 107), to the twist at the end, I really love that section. On the other end of the spectrum, I really enjoy the parts about movies giving people hope. Then, about halfway through the book, I have a string of favorites–the pilot saved by Mets, who may or may not exist. The castle defense. Kondo Tatsumi and Tomonago Ijiro. Captain Chen’s submarine. The International Space Station–I love learning things about outer space, and it would never have occurred to me to think about people on the space station during a zombie apocalypse. That might be my favorite interview overall. On the other hand, I can’t forget to mention the interview with Father Sergei Ryzhkov, the chaplain who decides it’s his duty to kill the infected, that priests “were the only ones who should bear the cross of releasing trapped souls from infected bodies” (297). That section fascinates me.
I think the greatest strength of World War Z is that it makes you ask yourself, “How would people really react to a zombie apocalypse?” and “What would I do in that situation? Which of these people would I be like?”
I should talk about the zombies themselves, but I’m not sure what to say. They’re zombies. If they bite you, you’re infected and you’ll become a zombie too. The only way to kill them is to blow their brains out. And even though you can trick them into running off rooftops or running into your lines of fire, you can’t fool them into thinking you’re a zombie. Actually, since you know due to the format that all of the interviewees survive the zombie war, that takes away a lot of the tension the undead normally cause. It’s the other humans, and their solutions, that are the scariest part of this book, from the Redeker Plan to the quislings.
I may not have been very interested in the zombies, but I found the quislings very creepy. Quislings are more or less people who would have defected to the invading army, except you can’t defect or surrender to zombies, so “they started moving like zombies, sounding like them, even attacking and trying to eat other people” (156). But it doesn’t work. It just made things worse for everyone else, and the zombies would attack the quislings anyway. In other words, to end on a lighter note, do NOT try this against Brooks’s zombies:
Brooks, Max. World War Z. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006. Print.---
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