Tuesday, February 27, 2007

It's the same old theme since nineteen-sixteen

World War Z is a pure delight of a book. It has great scenes of action and pathos but manages to tell the story of an entire zombie war. The book is written as if it were an oral history of a global war against zombies, that starts in 2010 or so. At the end, author Max Brooks thanks his three influences, George Romero, Studs Terkel and Sir John Hackett. I am ashamed I didn't see the tie to Hackett's future histories of the Third World War in Europe, as this was one of my fave books of the 80s.

The overall war plays a bit like the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, with ignorance of intelligence, surprise, rout, turning the tide and then total war and final victory. The war is global and he reports it as such. He has vignettes from the US, Canada, the UK, Central Europe, Israel, South Africa, Chile, the Pacific Islands, China, Japan, India, Iran, Russia and even low earth orbit. A lot of thrillers try the multiple narrator approach while developing a few core characters. By eschewing any core characters, the author creates a series of tales that tell the overall story. Some work really well, like a pilot crashed in Zombie (or Zack in US military parlance) territory and trying to get out. Others are less effective, but who cares? The next one is only a few pages away.

The author works in a few jokes on celebrities and politicians. In a Masque of the Red Death like scene, wealthy New Yorkers debauch while the tide of death advances. While their sanctuary collapses, a thinly veiled Ann Coulter and Bill Maher get some just-about-too-die nookie. Illustrating the mass call up in the push to retake the Eastern US from the zombies, one character reports that he suspected Michael Stipe was in his unit.

The book pays more attention to how people react to the zombies than to the zombie attack, which is fine with me. There are only so many ways that you can write about attacking zombies. He does add a few new surprises to the mix, including zombies in the water.

While the book is about zombies nearly taking over the planet, it is also a critique of how the world would respond to a major problem like bird flu. The attack starts in China, where the government tries to suppress it. Refugees spread the virus. Profiteers take advantage of the situation and the rest of the world dithers until it is almost too late.

The book's website has a few points of interests. Some of the stories are available in abridged audio form. You can also calculate your chances of survival in the coming zombie war (only 40% for me.)

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