Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Zombie Appreciation: The New Standard

World War Z (WWZ) falls short in only one aspect: it's not a novel. Novels have character arcs, development, and differentiated voices. WWZ serves as a documented retelling of a zombie apocalypse, which leaves the novel-like characteristics at the wayside. I'd compare it to The Things They Carried, which was a collection of short war stories, but those short stories had a focal character that developed and grew from the experiences; WWZ has no such character (unless you consider humanity as a whole a character). However, the book succeeds in so many other aspects and makes no false promises of being a novel. From the start it declares itself to be a documented retelling of the zombie apocalypse, and those familiar with Max Brooks know the this book's predecessor, The Zombie Survival Guide, which was neither a novel nor a collection of stories. So, if readers don't expect a traditional novel and don't mind some monotony in character voices, they can expect one of the best zombie books ever from WWZ.
Brooks knows his stuff. Only a handful of times did I think to myself certain details seemed implausible. One tale I disagreed with spoke of the French trying to reclaim tunnels under cities. I've been in the tunnels under Paris, and they are extremely creepy, but I still cannot see any strategic advantage of reclaiming them. Much like the sentiments regarding the North Korean population disappearing into a mountain, I believe the general concept would be to seal up the caves and only open them after a hundred years, after the zombies had deteriorated to a more manageable state.  If reclaiming the caves was a necessary feat and they were filled with poisonous, explosive gas--I can't think of a reason to torch every inch of the caverns, incinerating all zombies quickly. Maybe it was a structure issue, but I never considered that as a worry.
While I read, a few important details really stuck out to me because I thought Brooks was ingenious to think of telling them. One regarded populations heading north, then freezing to death. Most modernized nation have grown to a stage that renders basic wilderness survival skills unnecessary. When modern humans attempt to jump back into a primal survival lifestyle, evolution and the survival of the fittest would spring into effect--most everyone would freeze and starve to death. It's truly terrifying to think if the world were to change tomorrow how few of us would be able to manage. I honestly don't think I could cut it. I'd give it a good shot, but I don't think I could pull my weight.
Two other ingenious details Brooks mentions include the zombies under the ocean and a global strategy of dealing with zombies. Ocean life freaks me out, so imagining naked zombies roaming the ocean floor side by side with giant squids really chills me. As for the battle plan, Brooks makes several great points that zombies are not the real problem. Survivors have to deal with ferals, mutants, crazed individuals, rebels, and the psychological battles of putting friends down that have turned. The problem isn't killing a zombie, it's convincing your neighbor it's time to kill his wife when she's ready to eat him. Or your husband when he's ready to eat you. It would take a slow, steady plan that consists of what could only be described as heartlessness to survive, but I agree that humanity would survive.
I appreciate that Brooks wrote a book in which humans survive because I really don't think humanity is so fragile to succumb to a plague. Although I'd probably die, I know that, in the very least, there are humans much more adept at living on nothing in the middle of nowhere, and they would keep the species alive, destroy all zombies, and repopulate the earth.
Although Brooks does not have a novel here, he tells one of the best zombie accounts I know of. His realistic details of politics, war, strategy, and global workings allows this  work to excel. His zombies work because even though they're explained realistically through pseudoscientific details, enough mystery allows them to remain unpredictable and scary. At the heart of is book, Brooks has the telling of a global plague, which just so happens to be a plague of zombies, and plague tales are one of the few things that terrify me. Even though this book has monstrous details of how zombies act, this story will stick with me because it gives such a realistic account of one of my greatest fears: a widespread epidemic. With WWZ, Brooks has set a new precedent for zombie stories, and it's a high bar to meet.


  1. I loved the book too, and actually liked that it was a retelling of the war through interviews. I think it gave snippets of information on how the world reacted to the plague. I think your point of Brooks’ point about people heading north and dying from exposure is an accurate assumption. You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that outdoor survival skills have fallen to the wayside. People have become too comfortable with their cozy lifestyles, and have forgotten how to live off of the land. It’s actually pretty scary to think that a number of things could happen that would send us back a hundred years technology wise, and we’d be faced with similar survival issues.

  2. I'll agree that it's good that humans survive, in the end. What I really like about the story, though, is how close they actually get to being wiped out. Humanity's eventual push back was inevitable--they just needed to organize and plan enough--but the stories do a really good job of conveying the blind panic in the early years of the war, which is so expected from Zombie media.