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November 21, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | November 21, 2008 |

World War Z by Max Brooks is a book that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s perpetually checked out at the library, and there’s always a long waiting list for requests on it. I’ve heard many good things, but it still took me two years to finally get my hands on a copy.

Let’s back up a moment and preface everything by pointing out that I really like zombie fiction. I mean, really like it. There’s something about a relentless, nearly unstoppable army that just really gives me the shivers. It consumes a fair amount of my speculative fiction time. I’m not ashamed to say that were I ever to get back on track with my writing, I would absolutely write a zombie-related novel. I’ve been planning it for years, but when I start putting to paper/pixels, I want to be sure that it’s something fresh and original.

Max Brooks has managed to do this and then some. Being the son of Mel Brooks, you’d expect to find a lot of humour in this book. Instead, you find almost none. This book manages to be both extremely dark and hopeful at the same time. He manages to hit all of the standard zombie cliches and still keep the entire story completely new.

The format is that of a documentary. Taking place about ten years after the end of the “Zombie War,” the world of this near future is still a scary place. Max takes on the role of historian, visiting various parts of the world to collect the oral histories of people who survived. As the book progresses, each small story by individuals add up to tell the larger story of how the war began, what went wrong, what people did to survive, how humanity turned the tide and what they learned from the experience. Each individual, although they only had a few pages each, felt like they were fully formed characters, each speaking in a strong, very believable voice. You could feel the anguish, anger, frustration, exhaustion, and triumph in every page.

In my estimation, the events that occurred as the War progressed all seemed very realistic and representative of the agencies involved. From the United States attempt to take on the millions of “Zach” flowing out of New York City in a media-fueled military encounter that highlighted the inefficiency of using conventional war tactics against an army that can be neither shocked nor awed, to a nuclear war between Iran and Pakistan started over a simple misunderstanding about what to do with potentially infected refugees, to the fortress mansion full of rappers, reality tv stars and actors who thought that they could sit just off the coast of NYC and ride the whole thing while broadcasting their activities via webcam to the world. (Hint: It doesn’t end well for them, and not because of the Z’s.) The different voices and relation to real-life events helped cement in my mind the perception that I was reading a real history book and not a work of fiction.

I know some of my fellow undead-o-philes maybe wondering, “What kind of zombies were they? The Romero shufflers, the Rage-virus variants, the crazed Dawn of the Dead-remake runners?.” These were your typical shufflers, I’m happy to report. Brooks covers all of the usual stuff, and answers questions that most movies/books never seem to get to. For example, even though 10 years has passed since the end of the war, people still do not play near water, for fear that hands may reach out at any time. Swarms of thousands still roam the bottoms of the oceans, undaunted by pressure and lack of warmth or light, randomly wandering up onto beaches, or climbing anchor chains. Some nations (notably Iceland) are still overwhelmed, and countries above the snow line still have a few thawed bodies come shuffling out every springtime.

There’s so much awesome here, even for a non-zombie fan, that I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading. Alternately, I’m presently waiting for the audiobook version as well. The cast list of people reading the individual parts is amazing, including such greats as Mark Hamill, John Turturro, Alan Alda, Jurgen Prochnow, Rob and Carl Reiner, and Henry Fucking Rollins. There’s also a movie in the works by Brad Pitt’s “Plan B Studios” with the script being written by J. Michael “Babylon 5” Straczynski.

I can’t wait!

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here. And check here for more of Drayke’s reviews.

Cannonball Read / Drayke

Books | November 21, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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