John Wiswell's Reviews > World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z by Max Brooks
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's review
Jan 08, 2010

it was amazing
Recommended for: Sci fi readers, horror readers, fans of oral history
Read in January, 2007

There are reasons to be wary of this book. The title is a little silly, and Max Brooks's Zombie Survival Guide was tongue in cheek. Hell, he's the son of legendary comedy director Mel Brooks. And zombies are creatures that gained popularity thanks to film, which is contrary to the nature of most good creatures. Vampires, ghosts, wizards, witches, dragons, orcs, goblins, angels, werewolves and even Frankenstein's undead abomination came from literature first, and entered film later. Film seldom contributes originality to prose. Fortunately Max Brooks pulled off a minor miracle in adapting the largely theatrical terror into the written word, by use of the literary apocalypse convention and oral stories. Our familiarity with the outlines of a zombie outbreak (or any plague outbreak) from so many films helps fill in the gaps between his various storytellers' accounts.

Brooks has a remarkable sense of voice, and places the various interviewees well, such that they sound all the more distinct in contrast to the preceeding and following speaker. We get a lot of interesting subjects, from the country doctor in China who treated the first "bite," to a hitman hired to protect a millionaire mogul, to a blind man who somehow managed to survive in the most infested parts of Japan - Hiroshima. Thus we also get a total sense of the rise and fall of the outbreak, with each arc illustrated by brilliant personal narratives of "true" stories from those periods that give us a sense of not just the plot, but how culture changed in this fictional earth. The narrative is unified by the interviewer who visits them and directs parts of their story, but only enough so that we can both enjoy the overarching plot and the survivors' stories.

Like the best science fiction the outlandish premise allows us to get a fresh view of real human issues. Brooks approaches such issues on multiple levels, from simple human interests like base selfishness and how we act in desperation, to political crises, such as early on in the book when the Israelis and Palestinians blame each other for the plague, and even claim it is a hoax perpetrated by their enemies. Many of the characters are inspired by people from real life, like Howard Dean, Karl Rove and Nelson Mandela - but rather than coming off as cheesy, they lend an air of authenticity to the tale. There is just enough real tension, both base and topical, to lend it the right aura for a great exercise in modern fantasy/sci fi - it's easily one of the best fantasy/sci fi books set in the modern world I've read in quite some time.

The quality of Brooks's book was totally unexpected. This was supposed to be a spin-off from an impulse-buy. But by the time you finish World War Z I think you'll hope along with me that this, his first work of fiction, won't be his last.
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06/11 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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Michael this was a great review! good insights.

John Wiswell Thank you, Michael!

Margarida A great review, indeed!

Just like you said, the quality of this book was really unexpected. I was expecting something more silly and funny, but it turned out to be really, really good and deserving of 5 stars.

Susan Dickson Could not say it better!

Vanessa Ven The teenage climbing down the building still brings me thoughts of terror!

Quinn Great job!

John Wiswell Quinn wrote: "Great job!"

Thank you!

message 8: by Nikki (new) - added it

Nikki This review has given me interest to try & read this again. I had trouble getting into at first, thanks!

message 9: by Shelby (new) - added it

Shelby Amazing review!!

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