Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review - World War Z by Max Brooks

When I first saw World War Z listed on NPR's top 100 Sci-fi and Fantasy Books, I told myself, "One of those zombie gore-fests?  Really?  I'll never read that."  But this changed when my "zombie" friend convinced me it was more story than gore, much like The Walking Dead on AMC.  He lent me the book and I promised to read it.

It turns out that Max Brooks is a great story teller.  He tells the story of mankind's ten year war against the zombies, presented as a series of interviews compiled by some unnamed character.  Rather than concentrate on the gore and the gotta-kill-em as most zombie movies do, Max explores how humans react to the disaster.

It begins with the story of a doctor who first came in contact with the disease.  At first he's skeptical of the villagers' superstitious stories, but when he sees firsthand a boy's arm falling off without the boy screaming, he realizes this isn't an ordinary disease.

As the epidemic expands, each country reacts differently.  Some make stupid decisions, resulting in more casualties, while others are wiser.  Some people shine as heroes, while others try to take advantage and earn money or power in creative ways.

It's clear that Brooks has thought out what one should do in a zombie attack, but sometimes the science and logistics don't quite work out.  For example, how is it the zombies only exist east of the Rockies in the USA?  How exactly can one person survive the roads of a busy city full of zombies?  But the story telling is so good, it's so easy to overlook these details.

Each individual story is hit or miss.  Most of them are hits involving an individual's story of survival.  The misses usually cover something logistical and are usually short.  One funny miss appears to exist only to jokingly refer to Brooks' own Survival Guide.

Brooks does a decent job in speaking in different voices, though the tone of each interview is similar.  He makes use of a lot of country-specific cliches.  For example, a Korean story talks about some secret the North is hiding.  A Japanese story talks about honor and involves one of those swords.  The military people tend to drop F bombs, while scientists apologize for even getting close to cussing.  These cliches are noticeable, but they work.

My biggest complaint about the book is that the identity of each interviewee is withheld in the beginning and each time the reader must figure out who the person is.  Sometimes this requires going back to reread earlier paragraphs.  At the beginning of each interview, we're only given the place (not necessarily where the events occurred) and a short blurb from the interviewer describing the scenery.  Had this been a real account of a real event, each interview heading would have included the person's name, and save the reader time spent on rereading.

But I can see what drove Brooks' decision.  There are a couple of stories that hinge on the interviewee's  identity being revealed at the very end.  But Max, did you really have to torture us through all the other stories where it would have really helped to know who was talking?

Overall, I highly recommend this book.  If you like The Walking Dead, you'll like this book.  And just like me, you'll probably choose your favorite story.  Mine is the Chinese submarine one.

Note: I dedicate this review to my zombie friend, Gary, who lent me the book.  Shortly after I finished reading it, Gary's cancer returned in full force and claimed his life in a matter of days.  I never got to return the book and tell him how much I liked it.

Gary, if you're reading this from the netherworld, and if you ever turn into a zombie, look me up and I'd be happy to hit the town with you.  You will always be my zombie friend.

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