World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks, might be seen as one of the next logical steps in the current boom of fiction and film about zombies. The book is written as a series of interviews with survivors of a global zombie apocalypse , taking us from the initial outbreak through the ‘Great Panic’ and ultimately through the gradual retaking of the world by the living. The narrator’s voice is minimal, and the book reads as a series of oral histories.
Image from Aevin on flickr, CC licensed.
None of the characters have a major role in the story, and while a few appear repeatedly, many only have a single story to tell. The author does a masterful job of weaving together all the individual stories into an overarching tale of apocalypse that is both gripping, exciting and utterly horrifying. There are no Hollywood archetypal zombie killers, but rather a collection of very believable individuals trying to stay alive in the face of horror.
I enjoyed the book immensely, despite my growing weariness with the current zombie madness. The bleakness of a zombie apocalypse story seems to have strong mass appeal in the current zeitgeist, as many of our closely held assumptions of security and comfort are crumbling.
The best of the book was the gripping, terrifying retelling of individual survival in the Great Panic. The author did an excellent job of portraying the moments when each person realized the extent of what was happening, and the sheer chaos and horror around them. He also did an excellent job of actually coming up with a way that people and states might survive such an apocalypse.
The book did have a few characters that were a distorted reflection of contemporary political leaders and celebrities, a touch that was sometimes gratifying and often a little annoying. One of my least favourite parts included the collapse of a celebrity fortress, a bit that seemed somehow petty and beside the point of the story. Your mileage may vary of course, as I tend to find anything that involves pointless celebrities annoying.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good, scary thought experiment. What would you do in the face of a true apocalyptic disaster? I suspect I would be one of the first to be eaten, but perhaps I would rise to the occasion in the same way as many of the characters in World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. If you like a good zombie story, and you have not yet succumbed to zombie exhaustion, then this might be the best book you will find for the purpose.