BBR: World War Z, by Max Brooks

I know, I know, I’m officially the last girl to the party. Better late than never, I suppose, and besides, I can’t stay long–just dashing through to toss my two cents onto the table.

Today I finished reading Max Brooks’ World War Z, a book I’d been meaning to get around to for an embarrassingly long time–I mean, c’mon, they had time to make an entire massive-budget movie while the book sat on my shelf and waited for love.

Speaking of which, for the record, the version I read has this cover:


…and I would like to note that when I’m President of the World, people printing those damnable “movie tie-in” covers with the Famous Celebrity Du Jour on the front will be summarily executed. UGH.

Anyway, the book. World War Z, for the eight of you who haven’t read it (probably because you’re just now getting old enough to read it without parental permission) is a fictional oral history of humanity’s war against the Zombie outbreak–basically, it’s a collection of conversations with fictional folk, all of whom lived through the war and each of whom tells their version of their part of the story with their own unique perspective and voice.

This is not a linear narrative sort of novel; instead, it’s a bit like sitting at a party with a bunch of people and having them all talk about a shared experience at once–for instance, a startling percentage of my friends work at Renaissance Festivals during “Faire Season”, but all in different roles and areas of the various Faires; so when you put them together at a party, sooner or later they all start talking about Rennie life, and you just kinda sit back and absorb the gestalt by listening to the fragments. World War Z works the same way–the oral histories are arranged more-or-less chronologically, and you just kind of pick up the overarching trend of the narrative as you go.

One of the things I found most fascinating about the book is how thorough it is. If  this were a real history, people would probably call it “exhaustive”–nearly every major figure (you know how wars have key people whose names come up on the news over and over) gets interviewed at some point, and in between are the stories of folks whose contributions to the war you might never have thought of. For instance, there’s an entire interview about cleaning up the zombies on the ocean floor. There’s another about dealing with zombies in the tunnels beneath Paris. And one interview talks all about raft people, evacuees and refugees who climbed into/onto whatever would float and launched themselves out to sea–with mixed results, including one particularly chilling image of an overrun cruise ship with bloody handprints on the windows.

The tales take us all over the globe, include men and women and the very old and the really rather young, have some discussion of the first outbreaks and postwar life, and take cultures and social norms and local customs into account…and they return again and again to the theme that as humans we are more alike than we think, we are more resilient than we believe, and when our backs are against the wall we will come out fightin’.

…Granted, this is in among a general sense of “we brought this on ourselves”, “petty infighting let it get way out of hand before we actually started getting anywhere”, and “we might not actually be the best species to have running this particular show–we’re really pretty destructive and kinda awful”. So, y’know, take it with a grain of salt. But it’s nice to think about the idea of people working together when they have to, even if it requires an apocalypse to jump-start that process (man, what a bleak thing to say).

Now here’s the negative part of the review: this book has been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years because each time I’ve tried to read it before now–and I’ve tried several times–I made it about five pages in before getting bored out of my skull and tossing it down to try again later. It is not the Great Book for All Times. It is not the Perfect Book for Any Mood. You have to be in the right headspace to read this book–you’ll know you’re there if you pick it up and start reading and suddenly discover that you’re 50 pages in and have no memory of the last hour of your life. So it’s a mighty fine piece o’ writin’…but you may have to take a running stab at it once or twice before it really hooks you. Be prepared to forgive yourself if you don’t fall head over heels immediately, is all I’m sayin’, and let it have another few dates before you write it off as being unlovable.

I suppose I can sum up my entire experience by saying that Max Brooks is not my friend, in the same way that the guy on the corner telling you that “the first hit is free” is not your friend. He’s written several zombie-related things (The Zombie Survival Guide, for instance), but none of them is a sequel to World War Z. And that’s just mean. There are a lot of characters in here that I think would make for fascinating spinoffs, sequels, prequels, and follow-ups–I’m personally prepared to pre-order every single one of the bio-novels of these various folks, right here, right now, shut up and take my money–but there aren’t any. And I can’t seem to find any indication that Brooks intends to change that. So I suppose I’ll have to be content with this for now; but so help me god, if he ever starts releasing sequels, I will permanently rent a sidewalk square in front of the local bookstore so I can always, always be first in line.

TL;DR: The fictional oral history of the human war against global zombie outbreak, World War Z is thorough, clever, fascinating, grimly humorous, and occasionally heartbreaking. It addresses questions you wouldn’t have thought to ask, and does so in a way that makes you strangely proud to be a part of a species who has accomplished a monumental–and utterly fictional–feat.

Rating: 8.5/10 Muddy Hoofprints. This book is just plain good. However, it took me a few tries to get started with it, and yes, I am in fact holding at least an additional half-star hostage until Brooks writes some sequels. I’m a big meaniehead that way, and I’m not even sorry.



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