Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

It has been forever since I've done one of these. I have no idea why either since I've been reading just as much lately. Anyhoo, let's jump right in.

Title: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
Author: Max Brooks
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Zombies

Publisher: Crown
Publishing Date: September 12th 2006
Hardcover: 342 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand Alone

Summary: (from goodreads)
The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.

Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, "By excluding the human factor, aren't we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn't the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as 'the living dead'?"

There was never the question of whether or not I would read this book. My love for zombies and post-apocalyptic stories is well known. I am also a big fan of multiple point of views when done right, and this book had POVs up the wazoo. Unfortunately though, I found myself a little disappointed in this book.

Even though the idea of World War Z is really interesting, the "interviews" that made up the story were extremely dry. The voice of these interviews also fell into the bad habit of sounding too similar. While this gave the book a cohesive vibe, it also made the characters being interviewed appear to be pretty much the same. And when writing multiple POVs that is the biggest mistake a writer can make in my opinion. (I've heard some people claim Brooks characterizations are "distinct" and blah blah blah, but I completely disagree.)

Another thing that bothered me about the book's characters was the lack of dimension. Since the story is being told by the people who survived the Zombie war, the book is based entirely on these characters recollections. At first I wasn't too bothered by that writing tactic, but eventually the lack of any character growth started to rub me the wrong way. Nowhere in this book does Brooks make you care about the people he's writing about. You know how people often complain when authors tell readers things that would be better shown to us? Well this entire book is about being told instead of shown. And I didn't really care for it by the end.

I was also annoyed with the books almost completely male dominated point of views. Even though I'm saying it had to be 50/50, the overwhelming amount of male characters compared to the very few, I'm talking about maybe 4 or 5 here, stuck out rather obviously. It bothered me even more because so many of the male characters told basically the same story while procreation is always important after any form of apocalypse. It may seem like a silly thing to comment on, but it really got under my skin.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

It goes by many names: "The Crisis," "The Dark Years," "The Walking Plague," as well as newer and more "hip" titles such as "World War Z" or "Z War One." I personally dislike this last moniker as it implies an inevitable "Z War Two." For me, it will always be "The Zombie War," and while many may protest the scientific accuracy of the word zombie, they will be hardpressed to discover a more globally accepted term for the creatures that almost caused our extinction. Zombie remains a devastating word, unrivaled in its power to conjure up so many memories or emotions, and it is these memories, and emotions, that are the subject of this book.

This record of the greatest conflict in human history owes its genesis to a much smaller, much more personal conflict between me and the chairperson of the United Nation's Postwar Commission Report. My initial work for the Commission could be described as nothing short of a labor of love. My travel stipend, my security access, my battery of translators, both human and electronic, as well as my small, but nearly priceless voice activated transcription "pal" (the greatest gift the world's slowest typist could ask for), all spoke to the respect and value my work was afforded on this project. So, needless to say, it came as a shock when I found almost half of that work deleted from the report's final edition.

"It was all too intimate," the chairperson said during one of our many "animated" discussions. "Too many opinions, too many feelings. That's not what this report is about. We need clear facts and figures, unclouded by the human factor." Of course, she was right. The official report was a collection of cold, hard data, an objective "after-action report" that would allow future generations to study the events of that apocalyptic decade without being influenced by "the human factor." But isn't the human factor what connects us so deeply to our past? Will future generations care as much for chronologies and casualty statistics as they would for the personal accounts of individuals not so different from themselves? By excluding the human factor, aren't we risking the kind of personal detachment from a history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn't the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as "the living dead"? I presented this argument, perhaps less professionally than was appropriate, to my "boss," who after my final exclamation of "we can't let these stories die" responded immediately with, "Then don't. Write a book. You've still got all your notes, and the legal freedom to use them. Who's stopping you from keeping these stories alive in the pages of your own (expletive deleted) book?"

Some critics will, no doubt, take issue with the concept of a personal history book so soon after the end of worldwide hostilities. After all, it has been only twelve years since VA Day was declared in the continental United States, and barely a decade since the last major world power celebrated its deliverance on "Victory in China Day." Given that most people consider VC Day to be the official end, then how can we have real perspective when, in the words of a UN colleague, "We've been at peace about as long as we were at war." This is a valid argument, and one that begs a response. In the case of this generation, those who have fought and suffered to win us this decade of peace, time is as much an enemy as it is an ally. Yes, the coming years will provide hindsight, adding greater wisdom to memories seen through the light of a matured, postwar world. But many of those memories may no longer exist, trapped in bodies and spirits too damaged or infirm to see the fruits of their victory harvested. It is no great secret that global life expectancy is a mere shadow of its former prewar figure. Malnutrition, pollution, the rise of previously eradicated ailments, even in the United States, with its resurgent economy and universal health care are the present reality; there simply are not enough resources to care for all the physical and psychological casualties. It is because of this enemy, the enemy of time, that I have forsaken the luxury of hindsight and published these survivors' accounts. Perhaps decades from now, someone will take up the task of recording the recollections of the much older, much wiser survivors. Perhaps I might even be one of them.

Although this is primarily a book of memories, it includes many of the details, technological, social, economic, and so on, found in the original Commission Report, as they are related to the stories of those voices featured in these pages. This is their book, not mine, and I have tried to maintain as invisible a presence as possible. Those questions included in the text are only there to illustrate those that might have been posed by readers. I have attempted to reserve judgment, or commentary of any kind, and if there is a human factor that should be removed, let it be my own.

If you're like me and want to read every zombie book you come across then give it a shot. But at the end of the day I like my zombies with a bit of horror and suspense. Two things this book did not have.


5. Blah – essentially neutral

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