Max Brooks has written a sharp, compelling, and innovative book that examines that which no other work of successful fiction has ever had the temerity to explore: what a global zombie apocalypse would be like. Whereas most films, video games and books have contented themselves with the small town or shopping mall under siege, Brooks has widened his scope so as to include the entire globe. In World War Z, we follow the course of the zombie apocalypse from inception to close, and it is awesome.
Now, Brooks could easily have bitten off more than he could chew with this project. Think about it–writing about a truly global war forces an author to consider the political/economic systems in place on both international and national levels, demands at least a passing knowledge of each country involved, and requires an almost heroic amount of imagination and creativity when it comes to marshaling all this data and crafting a compelling narrative from it all. Luckily, Brooks is more than up to the challenge.
What’s particularly brilliant about his approach is how he jumps from different POV to different POV as he follows the apocalypse’s development. Rather than selecting a group of individuals who’s experiences form the book’s core, he creates a cast of dozens upon dozens of narrators, ranging from the sympathetic to the despicable, the traumatized to the heroic, the bitter and broken to the resilient and triumphant. We jump from China to the US, from South Africa to Brazil, from Micronesia to the Antarctic, and every step and interview furthers the development of the book in subtle and delightful ways.
This also marks a fundamental understanding on Brooks’ part as to what is terrifying and fascinating about the zombie–in the end, it’s not about the zombie itself, but how people react to it that holds your attention. A zombie attack, like any good horror scenario, forces people to act under pressure, to examine the nature of mortality and terror, to band together or turn on each other. As such, Brooks focuses on the reactions of nations and people, showing us the gamut of plausible reactions. With the whole globe as his canvas, Brooks has ample room in which to let his imagination run free.
And finally, it’s the sheer versatility of his imagination which blows me away. From describing the nightmarish experience of men tasked with clearing the flooded catacombs beneath Paris to a downed pilot’s the quest for survival in the swamps of Louisiana, from the madness that engulfs an Indian port as people fight to board departing ships to the US army’s first entanglements with the zombie hordes, there is no end to the fascinating scenarios Brooks’ envisions and explores. And the verisimilitude! He considers angles and repercussions that I had never envisioned, and which make his world all that more believable and complex. How human trafficking and organ smuggling on the international black market can be especially pernicious when the people and organs in question are infected; how the vast majority of conventional military might is useless against zombies who can ignore terrible wounds and keep on coming; it goes on and on, and any attempt to list them here would be fruitless.
So in summary: brilliant. Well written, endlessly creative, chilling and thrilling both. Whether you like zombies or not, this is a book well worth the read, if only to experience a premier author crafting an alternative reality as powerfully envisioned as any other I’ve read to date.