WORLD WAR Z by Max Brooks

world_war_z_poster.jpgYes, this is a novel about zombies. Yes, the author did a stint writing for SNL and happens to be the son of Mel Brooks. And, yes, one of the characters is an old, blind Japanese man who survives alone in the wilderness for years killing zombies with a “monk’s shovel” before teaming up with an otaku-turned-samurai-badass-motherfucker. It’s still a good novel, even if you’re not generally a fan of the undead.

It’s worth reading because it’s not really about zombies — or, rather, it uses zombies to talk about one possible way a lethal and easily-spread virus might spread and disrupt global society in a spectacularly clusterfucky manner. Zombies are more fun than ebola (well, in a manner of speaking), but the principle is the same.

World War Z was published in 2006, and the zombie pandemic with which the novel deals seems to begin (in China, of course) sometime around then. The novel is composed of a series of interviews (or excerpts therefrom) conducted toward the end of the decade of “peace” which followed humanity’s decade-long struggle for survival; the interviews are arranged chronologically according to which part of WWZ they address, from the initial outbreaks, through the “Great Panic” and humanity’s return from the brink of extinction, to the decade of rebuilding after “victory” is officially declared.

Though Brooks acknowledges his debt to George Romero, the novel is far different from Romero’s films in that it posits humanity’s survival; the humans win, and the zombies are contained, though not eradicated (some spend their winters frozen and thaw out in the spring, millions and millions wander around on the oceans’ floors, and, hilariously, Iceland is still completely overrun). Humanity survives, but the cost is high: not only are there significant (catastrophic, even) ecological consequences – the extinction of the whales, for example – but the survival of some humans means the sacrifice of many more. Israel totally isolates itself for the duration; South Africa adopts the Redeker Plan, which calls for the establishment of safe zones by simultaneously establishing “live bait” zones (and guess where most people end up?); and there are plenty of smaller instances of military units abandoning civilians, or civilians abandoning each other, or resorting to theft, rape, murder, cannibalism, &c. Good times.

The fact that this is a novel about zombies will, I think, keep it from being widely read, which is a shame; it deals intelligently with the issues that arise during and after a catastrophic disruption of society, and such things happen on a local (and not-so-local) level all the time. Reading the novel (or anything else, fiction or otherwise) won’t prevent such disasters, obviously, but being forced to think about the ways our choices and behaviors can exacerbate or alleviate the suffering of those affected by such disasters is a good thing – or, at least, a thing that’s good for us.

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One Comment on “WORLD WAR Z by Max Brooks”

  1. […] into thinking that “things can go back to how the used to be” (as they do in World War Z), and therefore they all die—or they might as well all die, because Mark Spitz is alone at the […]


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