Max Brooks’s apocalyptic World War Z successfully fuses a key player in the horror genre with our modern world. Forget what you think you know about zombies, here the threat they pose humanity is brought into very real focus.
Presented as a compilation of accounts about the zombie war, World War Z explores the struggle for life against the onslaught of the undead. Brooks has the confidence to write as if writing a non-fiction work and as such the book reads as a terrifying account rather than simply an absorbing piece of fiction.
In a book so full of characters it’s easy to assume that some of them will inevitably fall from focus. Whilst this is true for a handful of the characters, Brooks has managed to create a vibrant cast of believable people. These aren’t just people with whom the protagonist converses and then simply moves on from; these people are rounded and have lives outside of those they describe in the book. They are flawed, but they also have the capacity to be heroes. Not everybody embraces such a capacity, but those who do are the ones who are most memorable.
We meet lost military personnel, wheelchair-bound volunteers, blind veterans, evacuees, internet hackers as well as the American canine strike force, all apparently unrelated, but all so instrumental in how well the book works. In being a neutral investigator, Brooks is able to explore all walks of life. The fact that the people he speaks with have a common history and shared terminology, such as “The Great Panic”, helps ground the book in reality whilst the fear apparent in each account aids the menace posed by the “zed heads”. All aspects of the zombie plague are covered, resulting in some interesting pieces about beach clear-up crews who scout for zombies emerging from the seas of the Earth as well as descriptions of the terrifying ‘quisling’ problem.
What’s most intriguing about Brooks’s work, apart from the vivid reality of the zombie threat, is the international reaction to the appearance of zombies. The ‘good guys’ aren’t necessarily who you would think they’d be whilst the fact that uncomfortable truths face many of the world’s governments brings a political edge to the fore. Some may baulk at the idea of a zombie story taking the form of interviews but it works well and reveals elements of the was in question in new ways.
Even if you wouldn’t usually touch the horror genre with a baseball bat there’s a great deal to recommend about World War Z. It is a story that explores the morbid truth of an epidemic of extreme proportions and it tells of characters who exhibit very real characteristics as well as very real suffering… there just happens to be zombies everywhere. Lots of them.