Wednesday, November 18, 2015


World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”The book of war, the one we’ve been writing since one ape slapped another was completely useless in this situation. We had to write a new one from scratch.”

With most apocalyptic situations, I think the hardest part to deal with is that there are no wrong decisions or right decisions. There are simply too many variables to consider if your ultimate goal is to survive. The most meticulously planned strategies can still result in failure. You make the best decisions you can and then hope for a bit of luck. Should we barricade ourselves hoping to be saved, or go North hoping the zombies will eventually become popsicles when winter hits? Are we safer in the underground tunnels of Paris or on a cruise ship or living in the woods by ourselves? Whatever decision you make, you must think long game and short game. The short game, the immediate concerns, involve food, water, and shelter. The short and long game both come into play when trying to figure out how to avoid becoming zombie chow.

Once you survive the first wave of contagion, then what?

This book is written as an investigative report, collecting all the experiences of survivors from around the world. Different cultures reacted differently to the apocalypse. Some were more successful than others. The learning curve, unfortunately, has to be short with apocalyptic situations, especially if the hope is to actually salvage civilisation. The lights go out, and many of the comforts we’ve become accustomed to are gone instantly, and the possessions that have come to define us, such as electronic devices, suddenly become useless.

If the whole idea of a zombie apocalypse is too wild a concept for you to grasp, you might be relieved that for the most part the zombies are really just part of the background. What Max Brooks is really dealing with goes well beyond the concept of zombies and focuses more on how people survived the collapse of civilisation. He could have used microbes or conventional war or a devastating meteorite hitting the earth or any of the other fascinating concepts that people have come up with as ways to end the world. It reads like books of a similar nature that collect the stories of people who survived World War Two. The scope is huge and impressive. Brooks addresses aspects about a zombie apocalypse that I have never thought about before.

Quislings ”Yeah, you know, the people that went nutballs and started acting like zombies.” Ok, I’ve read a handful of zombie books, not enough to make myself an expert, but certainly enough to have some background on the lore of a zombie apocalypse. WTH? Now Brooks didn’t just make this term up. It is a term from WW2. ”A quisling is a person who collaborates with an enemy occupying force. The word originates from the Norwegian war-time leader Vidkun Quisling, who headed a domestic Nazi collaborationist regime during the Second World War.”

The minds of survivors, I’m sure, snapped in all kinds of strange and wonderful and terrifying ways, but unfortunately pretending to be a zombie was a quick way to find yourself...well...dead. First, any reasonably sane human who notices you lurching toward them, performing your very best mimicry of the undead, will smash your brain. Second, you don’t blend with the zombies. They know you are alive. You become a zombie delight!

People also just went to sleep perfectly healthy and didn’t wake up. This was called ADS, short for Asymptomatic Demise Syndrome or Apocalyptic Despair Syndrome. ”It killed as many people in those early stalemate months as hunger, disease, interhuman violence, or the living dead.” I’ve heard of things like this happening to people who experience long term stress situations. The body just reaches a point where the brain decides to just shut down the power to the spacecraft and let the mind drift away.


People will put up with a lot as long as there is hope that someday their situation will improve. Babies die when they are not held. People die when things become hopeless.

Brooks also told stories about zombies underwater. WTH? Yeah, people reanimated as the living dead on ships and eventually managed to fall off the ship in the water. It wasn’t unusual for zombies to just walk out of the water onto beaches or grab divers or attack fishermen in boats. Somehow they are more scary underwater than on land. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it. I’m having a Jaws flashback.

During and after WWZ, people had to relearn things that our grandparents and great grandparents knew.

A chimney sweep. ”I help keep my neighbors warm.” he said proudly.

A cobbler. ”You see those shoes. I made them.”

A shepherd. ”That sweater, that’s my sheep’s wool.”

A gardener/farmer. ” Like that corn? My garden.”

”That was the upshot of a more localized system. It gave people the opportunity to see the fruits of their labor, it gave them a sense of individual pride to know they were making a clear, concrete contribution to victory, and it gave me a wonderful feeling that I was part of that. I needed that feeling. It kept me sane for the other part of my job.”

The other part of his job?...killing zombies. Several of the survivors talked about how important it was not to think of them as people or of who they were or of who they might have become. They couldn’t see them as people or what they were doing was genocide.

This is by far the most serious zombie book I’ve ever read. The stories are compelling. This is a panoramic view of a society in crises. The observations are thoughtful. The writing is convincing. By the end I had the feeling I’d just read a history book, not a speculative zombie apocalyptic book.

The book is unfilmable, but the movie industry knew a catchy title when they saw one. They certainly borrowed aspects from the book, but really the movie should be considered a completely different entity. The zombies in Brooks book are the George Romero lurching, yucky living dead. In the movie, they are super charged, fast moving, aggressive, nasty creatures. The virus in the movie is fast acting. Someone bitten is transformed within seconds. In the book, the virus takes much longer to take effect.

Did it bother me that the director Marc Forster took such liberties?

Not one bite bit.

I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I was thoroughly entertained. I certainly intend to watch the movie again. So read the book to discover new depths to an overly exploited genre, and watch the movie to experience a whirlwind of fear and dread. Just a suggestion, have someone else hold the popcorn.

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