I have to start with the admission that I did not know what World War Z by Max Brooks was about until I read it. I’d completely ignored the label on the book that indicated it was horror fiction. I didn’t read any of the reviews. I’d heard and seen it mentioned in horror discussions, but had no thoughts on the book. By the time I sat down to begin reading, I got as far as the cover and saw, “An oral history of the zombie war” (Brooks). Still, I imagined the book to be a comprehensive guide to the history of zombies in fiction and movies, or something. But then I read the introduction and understood that this was something…different.
Just how different became apparent as I read on. The approach Brooks took was reminiscent of movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, where the creators’ ideas are presented as true events. For Goodness’ sake, the book even had footnotes, which I was sucked into reading, even though the little voice in the back of my head was telling me, “It’s pretend. Do you really need to know that?”
I did need to know that. World War Z was engaging in the same way some documentaries are. You feel like you’re learning things you need to know, so you keep watching (reading) to get all the info. But underneath it all, you still know it’s a Learning Thing. This is not necessarily bad. I think the overall tone of the book was more political and militaristic than I usually care for. I realize the narrator stated up front in the introduction that he “…attempted to reserve judgment, or commentary of any kind, and if there is a human factor that should be removed, let it be [his] own” (Brooks, 3). I think the narrator was successful in that removal, and that’s why the book read a little dryly to me.
However, the execution was very interesting, in that each of the interviews carried a unique feel that made them fit together well. And the planning that had to go into this novel. I can’t even begin to imagine how that went. The picture I conjure up of a plot chart for this book looks like a convergence of one hundred spider webs from different spiders. Maybe it was not that complicated for Brooks. The writer inside me hopes it wasn’t.
Besides the footnotes, two main things jumped out at me from the book. First, the point of individuals and government making decisions about who would be allowed to survive the war was one that has been covered in various works, and used here to display what would probably happen if there really was a zombie war. Paul Redeker in South Africa came up with a plan that was entitled “Orange Eighty-Four”, which made, “the determination of which Afrikaners would be saved and which had to be sacrificed” (Brooks, 134). This was not the only nation to develop such a plan. The thing that amazes me is how anyone gives him or herself the authority to decide any lives are more valuable than others. While it is true that under the circumstances, somebody has to perish, it’s pretty terrible that the people don’t have any voice in the matter.
I was also fascinated with the role the weather played in the war. During the interview with Jesika Hendricks, the interviewer notes, “A zombie is half buried, frozen from the waist down in the ice. The head, arms, and upper torso are very much alive, thrashing and moaning, and trying to claw toward us” (Brooks, 163). The people who escaped to areas where the winter froze the zombies were in much more danger than those survivors in warmer places because once spring came, they faced the monsters all over again. And in areas where the snow and ice piled thickest, there were likely still zombies buried underneath, just waiting to be thawed. This thought was quite terrifying. It’s almost like the war would never completely end for those people.
Brooks, Max. World War Z. New York: Crown Publishers, 2006. Print.