H.'s Reviews > World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z by Max Brooks
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's review
Jun 09, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: modern-sf
Read in January, 2011

World War Z is a different kind of zombie novel. Instead of telling a story in a traditional narrative, Brooks has structured the book as a faux oral history (of the zombie apocalypse, also known as World War Z, amongst other names) in the vein of the works of journalist Studs Terkel. That is, each chapter of the book is ostensibly the edited transcript of an interview, with the narrator occasionally piping in to ask a question.

The rather narrow sub-genre of zombie apocalypse novels tends to suffer from a lack of originality, so World War Z is a breath of fresh air. The chosen conceit works, and it allows the author to explore questions seldom addressed in traditional zombie novels, for example, how a communist regime would react to a zombie infestation (if a communist regime is better suited than a democratic one for anything, it is the disposal of dead bodies) or how a retooled military would win back an “occupied” America.

The book is structured chronologically, while the interviews jump between locations and interviewees. The interviews cover the zombie war from early on in the outbreaks that eventually spread worldwide to efforts to root out remaining pockets of zombies after the war has been won. A few of the countries covered include the U.S., China, Brazil, and Israel. Soldiers, politicians, and regular citizens are all interviewed.

Brooks is generally quite effective at maintaining the requisite subtlety for effective satire. The sole exception is organized religion; it is shown in a uniformly negative light that rings untrue. The social and political commentary is otherwise incisive (your mileage may vary, but good satire still works even if you do not agree with the point being made). Part of the fun is trying to parse out the "real" story from the biases and misconceptions of the various interviewees and the interviewer, none of whom can be regarded as reliable.

There is a high payoff for educated and current readers. For example, 1984 is alluded to and two politicians are never named but have uncanny similarities to Howard Dean and Colin Powell, respectively. A lot of the humor springs from the actions of these unnamed characters viewed in light of who they are actually intended to represent.

Unfortunately, the format saps the book of the action and tension a book like this really needs. But overall, World War Z is a welcome addition to the speculative fiction tradition of examining the outer bounds of human nature.

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