World War Z

There’s so much content jam-packed into this novel, partially due to its unique style. World War Z is a nontraditional novel, written as a series of vignettes from survivors of the “Zombie War” that takes place at some undetermined point in a world very similar to our own. It’s gripping and realistic, and most of the excitement comes due to the geopolitical tensions that arise from the unlikely scenario of a world teeming with a zombie parasite that somehow resists almost all forms of destruction except a shot to the brain.

Max Brooks takes us on a chronological journey through the way that probably over 30 countries deal with the crisis on every level of society; we see oil miners, people on the ISS, regular Joes in America, military officials in India, the secretive North Korea, and the catacombs of Paris. Every individual’s story fits into the larger picture of a world dealing with a crisis of never-before-seen proportions, and the failures at every point that prevent humanity from nipping the problem in the bud.

A few stories in particular really stuck with me. I loved the portrayal of North Korea just going silent, with no explanation otherwise. The grisly horror of 23 million underground zombies waiting to be unleashed was pretty frightening. In addition, I liked the story of the guy hiding out in Antarctica after selling a fake cure for the zombie pandemic and his brutal capitalist take on it. The fright and horror of the novel is pretty on-point to what I expected from seeing the movie.

Something Brooks handles particularly well is the portrayal of fictitious elements in a primarily realistic universe. It’s clear that the zombies are not meant to be realistic characters, and this is something that the author establishes multiple times. For instance, zombies (or “Zack”, as Americans in the book call them) are almost entirely immune to ocean floor water pressure, decapitation, fire, being frozen for years, lack of air, or hunger. Characters in the story express confusion on these fantastical attributes, but in the end it’s just a clever usage of the axioms of science fiction: fix the fantasy and work on the world around it.

I remember watching the movie when I was a kid and getting nightmares from the mindless horror of the zombie portrayal. The novel version shows that it isn’t the zombies to be afraid of, but humans in crisis themselves.


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