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’?”
World War Z is a tough one to review. I’ve literally just finished it and it was something of a roller coaster ride.
The novel is breathtaking in scope, and it’s definitely refreshing to get a truly Global view of the Zombie Apocalypse instead of the usual US-centric approach. European readers are all too aware that ‘World’ to many Americans means…America, and although Brooks does deal with the US in the main he includes more than enough viewpoints from other countries to make up for it. Something I’ve not seen any other Zombie novel do.
Brooks was hugely ambitious to encompass so many different accounts from so many different cultures, but I’m not entirely convinced he pulled it off if I’m honest. For me, many of the voices within the novel became so similar that they had a tendency to blend into one character as the accounts went on. If you add to this the fact that all the usual drama and tension of a zombie novel that comes from the “will we/won’t we?” survival angle is noticeably lacking here given the nature of the storytelling, there was just a strange almost anti-climatic feel for me throughout. Something just didn’t quite work for me. There’s a lot of repeated and re-hashed information, and by 3/4 way through my attention was wavering.
On the flip side to this, there are some genuinely fascinating parts to the novel, and in places Brooks’ writing is so unbelievably immersive that I had trouble switching back to normality when I put the book down. Reading this at home on a snow day, when the normally frantic world outside was blanketed in bright white silence, with empty roads all around me, Brooks got to me. The trouble was, that with the next switch in voice/location, he tended to lose me again. In fact, now that I’m writing this down, it occurs to me that the reason this one didn’t work for me is that there were just too many attempted voices. The concept of World War Z is brilliant, and the execution in places is outstanding, but it just becomes too diluted. Brooks was, I think, over ambitious for my tastes, and this one would potentially have worked better had he cut back on the repetition and focused for longer spells on fewer individuals. Focus on the unique voices, and cut out the ones that merge and water down the brilliance.
My recommendation would be that this one is a Must Read for the hard core Zombie Apocalypse Crew. The Global Military view Brooks presents is clearly well-researched, and terrifying well considered.
For the more casual Zombie crowd, who enjoy the end-to-end action and stomach churning horror of the sub-genre, this one may well hook you in initially, but I’m not convinced that you won’t be wandering off in search of some Mira Grant before you’re halfway through.
It’s damn near impossible to rate, because I can see the merits, they just didn’t work on all levels for me. Slightly closer to a three than a two, but there wasn’t much in it.