Sunday, September 19, 2010

World War Z

Zombie movies have always been something of a guilty pleasure of mine. I don’t watch them very often, but I do watch a couple each year. Most are disposable “so bad it’s good” type movies, while others are well-crafted comedies, such as Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead. A rare few, like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later are something really special. I almost never have nightmares, but I had one after seeing that particular vision of hell.

But the novel World War Z puts them all in the shade. Written by Max Brooks and published in 2006, it is done as an oral history. I like reading oral histories, and Brooks was partly inspired by his experience of reading The Good War by Studs Terkel. I haven’t read The Good War, but I have read Japan at War, written by Haruko and Theodore Cook. It consists of interviews with Japanese people from all walks of life, talking about their experiences before, during, and after the Second World War. It was an incredibly moving book, and it is to Brooks’ credit that he manages to conjure up something of the same spirit in a book about a zombie apocalypse.

The plague starts in China, which tries to cover it up. Refugees flee the country, and gradually the contagion spreads all over the globe. Government inaction and incompetence, apathetic populations, and opportunistic businesspeople all contribute to the situation gradually worsening until the future of the human race itself is threatened.

The world Brooks depicts is scarily believable. China’s cover-up is reminiscent of what happened with SARS, American military mistakes bring Iraq to mind, and Russia gradually lapsing into Tsarist theocracy does not seem a stretch at all.

But the true power of his book is in the memorable characters he creates. WWZ contains the stories of soldiers, doctors, politicians and many more giving their experiences of the war. An American veteran angrily explains the military disaster that was the battle of Yonkers, a Cuban businessman relates with irony how American refugees fled to his country, and an Australian astronaut tells of watching the world go to hell from the International Space Station.

Also, stories of how some great leaders were killed, not by hostile action, but by the awesome responsibilities of their positions, really ring true, bringing to mind the US president FDR and Australian prime minister John Curtin, both of whom led their countries during world war two and died just as victory was in sight.

A movie will be made of the book, and I am very curious to see what happens with it. If done right, I think it has the potential to be the best zombie film ever made. With WWZ Brooks created a real work of art, and I truly hope that the film lives up to it.


  1. "Shaun of the Dead" is one of my fave. movies so I also share a "guilty pleasure" for the undead ;) This book, sounds like a higher quality version of "The Stand." I love apocalyptic stories esp. when they're tied into real world crisis'. Thanks for the review, I'll have to check it out.

  2. Hi Wendy,
    Shaun of the Dead is a great film, I'm glad you've seen it! I wasn't sure if it was very well known in the US. WWZ has some similarities to The Stand, especially the first half, but as you say, it is much higher quality. If you get a chance to read WWZ, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

    As for The Stand, I always felt that it went off the rails towards the end when it became more and more religious in its content. The earlier parts of the book where much more believable, and scarier as a consequence.

  3. I just bought this for my Kindle and am really looking forward to reading it. Guilty pleasure? lol...Nothing to be guilty about! ;)

  4. Cool! I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of it!