World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z is a 342 page oral history of the stories behind some major events of an outbreak of and war against zombies in our hypothetical future by Max Brooks. It has been made into a film starring Brad Pitt, which I have not seen yet.

The basic plot of the novel was the narrator recounting his interviews that were geared towards finding information for the government. He interviews people worldwide–people from Russia, South Africa, Japan, and China, where a doctor explains his experience in discovering his “patient zero.”

This book was scary. Frightening, because of its possibility. The government actions and peoples’ reactions seem completely, and horrifyingly, realistic. It had some beautifully disturbing ideas. This quote is a fantastic example of how realistic the characters and their motivations were:

[Narrator:] “So you never really tried to solve the problem.”

[Grover Carlson, former White House chief of staff:] “Oh, c’mon. Can you ever ‘solve’ poverty? Can you ever ‘solve’ crime? Can you ever ‘solve’ disease, unemployment, war, or any other societal herpes? Hell no. All you can hope for is to make them manageable enough to allow people to get on with their lives. That’s not cynicism, that’s maturity. You can’t stop the rain. All you can do is just build a roof that you hope won’t leak, or at least won’t leak on the people who are gonna vote for you.”

Even with all the realistic dialogue from the characters, one thing I had a qualm with was the offset descriptions of the interviewees from the narrator. Some of them were enlightening, but most felt like stage directions, or poorly written “wrylies” (one of my favorite words!) in a screen play:

“[He attempts to mimic their moan but collapses into uncontrolled coughs. He holds his handkerchief up to his face. It comes away bloody.]”

That one really made me chuckle. So, while some of the writing was brilliant, I believe it was actually the idea behind each interviewee that really sold World War Z for me. Humanity seems so predictable in the face of danger, and Brooks captures the panic and military action (or inaction) in a brutally realistic way. He also utilizes solid historical facts, existing international tensions, and culture differences to enhance the reality of the story. These details were amazing, and it made me glad to have taken a class on Chinese history, in order to understand at least one facet of the origin of the outbreak (SARS epidemic, anyone?).

However, in the spirit of zombie stories, while the book thought to incredible lengths about political ramifications, I don’t think it considered ecological ones enough. The scope of this zombie problem is global, which includes plenty of dead Zeds in the ocean. Now, surely some fishies would eat their flesh, become diseased, and spread the infection to other sea life. How would the food chain recover from the death of nearly all sea life? This, of course, relies on whether it is transmitted inter-species… which is beyond the scope of the point of this book, I suppose, considering the fictional government information basis for the interviews. I did like that they mentioned how the whales were dying off and suffering from human interactions still, but I would have loved some discussion about how the zombie infection affected other animals specifically.

Overall, this book is a relatively quick read, due to the nature of the “oral” interview writing style. It was enjoyable in a horrifying way. If you like realistic hypotheticals about human future failures, or zombie stories, or international ones (including humorous/frustrating stories about Americans), this book is definitely for you.

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