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#29 – World War Z

July 8, 2007

we are awakened with the axe; night of the living dead, at lastLast Friday night at the Taproom, I learned an important lesson. If you try to bring up zombies during a political discussion, people are going to look at you like you’re crazy. And I can kind of see why they might think that, but I know better, because I’ve read World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. While Max Brooks’ previous book The Zombie Survival Guide was intelligent and entertaining, World War Z is a goddamn masterpiece; a story about a global zombie invasion that manages to address the Iraq war, the Bush administration, the Middle East, theocracies, communism, the Western consumer culture, North Korean paranoia, Cuban-American relations, and many other topics, while still being scary. Christ, it’s scary.

What makes World War Z so great is the fact that it just feels real, like all the greatest science fiction and fantasy. Books like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are so well loved because they draw you in, their universes are very convincing because you believe that Tolkien and Rowling know everything about the worlds they’ve created. Well, no offence to George Romero, but Max Brooks literally wrote the book on zombies. There’s no one who knows more about the subject than he does. Here, he brings that knowledge into a chillingly realistic portrayal of the real world; political climate, public reactions and all. Reading World War Z, you’re convinced that this is how it would actually go down if zombies really did invade tomorrow. And now that I sound crazy all over again, let’s continue.

The book is set 10 years after the end of the decade-long Zombie War. Max Brooks, as the author of the invaluable Zombie Survival Guide, is asked to gather testimonials by the UN Postwar Commission to prepare a final report on the war. World War Z is the byproduct of these testimonials, a collection of interviews which allow Brooks to include the personal stories which the UN deleted from his official report. Where Chuck Palahniuk failed in his oral history Rant to accurately portray various characters’ voices, Brooks excels. He interviews American soldiers, Chinese sailors, Palestinian civilians and feral children recovered after the war, and they all sound exactly as they should. The character of Max Brooks the interviewer remains an impartial journalist, allowing all of his fictional characters to speak for themselves, to great effect. I just keep sounding crazier and crazier the further I go here.

While Max Brooks never mentions any real-world figures by name (except for one soldier who insists that Michael Stipe was one of the civilians who volunteered to serve), he drops enough hints to let the reader fill in the blanks. Brooks interviews Karl Rove about how the White House participated in a cover-up of zombie attacks to placate the post-Iraq American public; Howard Dean, who was elected Vice President with Colin Powell as President after Bush and Cheney proved useless in crisis; and a security guard hired to protect a celebrity stronghold even mentions Paris Hilton, described here as “that little rich, spoiled, tired-looking whore who was famous for just being a rich, spoiled, tired-little whore.” It’s the touches of reality that elevate this book to brilliance. Romero’s zombie movies have always been about social commentary and horror, but never to this degree.

I’m not even getting across how much I loved World War Z, I can’t express it. The vernacular that builds up over the course of the book, soldiers referring to the enemy as “Zack”, and the new shovel/battle axe they are issued for combat as the “Lobotomizer” (or “Lobo” for short), is just more of the twisted alternate reality Brooks created: this is exactly what would happen in the real world. Okay, now I’m certifiable, but just read World War Z and you’ll sound the same as me. This is the best book I’ve read yet this summer, and an instant favourite. Cannot recommend highly enough.

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8 comments

  1. in fact come to think of it calum I think I was in your place bumbling through an explaination of this book at the disasterous Split Crow night not long after I read the book back over christmas break… I feel your pain


  2. […] shares, and surpasses, my love of zombies, so when I read his ecstatic praise of a book called World War Z it immediately got added to my reading list. Having spent the last two […]


  3. That’s funny…I was thinking Obama, not Colin Powell. And Anna Nicole Smith, not Paris Hilton. In some ways that’s what’s so great about World War Z–it paints a clear and totally realistic picture, yet leaves you space to fill in the blanks. Anyway, it’s an absolutely fantastic book, for all the reasons you described. I only hope that the movie will be half as good–Brad Pitt just bought the rights last year; it should be out in 2010.


  4. …You just blew my mind, Kara. When I read it it seemed like it had to be Colin Powell, but if I read it today, I definitely would have pictured Obama, which would give the end of the book an entirely different feel, I bet. And yeah, those celebrities at the party could be anybody – I couldn’t figure out if the left-wing pundit he talked about was Jon Stewart or Bill Maher, or even somebody else. Such a cool touch.

    I’m so optimistic about the movie – I’ve probably built it up way too much in my head; if it’s not the movie of the year it’s going to be a colossal failure as far as I’m concerned. I should back off a bit. But apparently the script by the guy who created Babylon 5 is really solid, this review I read described it as “Children of Men with zombies”, which is a promising comparison.


  5. Callum, it was most definitely Bill Maher (he’s vehemently against high fructose corn syrup which is mentioned) and at the end of that interview Maher makes out with Ann Coulter.


  6. What a relief. The thought of Jon Stewart making out with Coulter is somehow completely perverse.


  7. It’s definitely Colin Powell and not Obama. Not that Obama wouldn’t be a great leader in the zombie apocalypse. There is a reference to the president’s Jamaican relatives. Powell is of Jamaican descent. There is also a reference to military background(which led me to think McCain and Obama for a while). Howard Dean is from Vermont as is the VP. The VP is supposed to be from a different(more liberal) party.


  8. Dean’s President is black, of Jamaican descent, served in the military, and of a different party than him. Very clearly Powell (Obama is alluded to as an alternate choice to Dean). I wonder who the ailing president was that Powell took over from, though. Another Republican, at any rate.



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