Day 139-- World War Z

Max Brooks's first book, the Zombie Survival Handbook, was very deadpan and straight-faced; as a faux survival field guide, it provided practical information on how to weather an eventual undead attack or--heaven forbid--a world-wide undead infestation. It's quite funny in a weird, overly serious way.

Taking the earth-covering zombie invasion idea to its logical extreme, Brooks creates an entire false history about the rise of seemingly unstoppable zombie hordes, the near-destruction of the world at their rotting hands, and the eventual, desperate human victory. And this time it's not something that can be filed in the humor section, like his last book.

World War Z is a very serious book, despite the ludicrous premise, one that floored me repeatedly. It's a novel, in a sense, but written as a collection of oral interviews put together by "Max Brooks" after the zombie war--interviewees include an American soldier involved in the disastrous battle in Yonkers, NY;
a Chinese doctor who found "Patient Zero," the small boy
who started the entire plague; a rebellious Russian soldier who saw her fellows gunned down for questioning orders; a young Japanese hacker who managed to escape one of the worst infestations; the former U.S. vice president; an Iranian pilot who saw a limited nuclear exchange between several countries; and an American Air Force member who managed to weed her way through zombie-infested bayous after a plane crash. There are a few dozen more interviews, and Brooks does a fantastic job of creating multiple first-person narratives that feel realistic; the characters all have different, nuanced voices, and know of what they speak. Brooks obviously did a ton of research before writing this.

Having created an entire near-future history, Brooks adds minor details that make it believable (through context clues, you can guess that the events take place around five to ten years from now). The characters, everyone "interviewed" over the course of the novel, talk about the zombie war with such passion and vigor and pain and memories that it feels real. It's utterly captivating; if I had to applaud Brooks for one thing, this would be it. Fantasy authors often flesh out fairly complex worlds, but creating a detail-jammed world that's very similar (yet not at all) to our own is probably harder, since you're working with a template that's harder to change.

But the book's best moments are the little things. A young man wondering what happened to his parents. Someone reflecting how--during the zombie war--farmers and people with trade skills became the real heroes, not football stars or famous actors. A defecting Chinese submarine commander terrified that he'd have to kill his son, a sub commander possibly loyal to China. People dealing with fear, people learning to trust and love one another, people putting everything into perspective because of the dead coming back to life. Zombie narratives have always been great platforms for social commentary, which this is (it's filled with little references to tons of current events), but Brooks takes it one step further and focuses on the people--not the zombies--at the core of it all. And that human factor is what makes this better than just a good read; it's a fantastic read.

PS-- (Yes, Max Brooks is definitely Mel Brooks's son.)

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 1/22/2007 07:59:00 PM,


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