By some means or other, I became under the impression that World War Z would be funny-ha-ha; by the end of the first chapter, it was deathly clear to me that the book wasn’t like that. There would be no Dave Barry humor here, or even McSweeney’s humor1. Rather, the book is satire, and certainly not purposefully funny satire.
World War Z sprang as a sort of side project from Brooks’ earlier book about zombies—the topic is apparently near and dear to him…perhaps he played too much Resident Evil—and its primary occupation seems to be creating a backstory for a zombie uprising. The narrator (some post-apocalyptic version of Max Brooks) goes around interviewing survivors all over the world; the interviews are grouped chronologically, so that the reader learns first of the outbreak, then of the panic, then of methods of survival, and finally of the national response.
I must admit that Brooks’ choice of format—interview—was an excellent way to lend personality to the story. In a way, however, I find it self-defeating, as the ostensible purpose of the book was to show the “human side” of the conflict, but I felt as though the humans’ stories did little more than illustrate logistical concepts. The reader, being largely unaware of the specifics of Brooks’ fantasy, have to understand the facts before they can understand the supposed human side: Max qua Narrator introduces himself by way of saying that he coauthored the official UN report on the zombie war, but wrote this book from the excised interviews because he felt that the report was too dry and unfeeling. Readers do not have the benefit of reading said fictional report, and thus begins the quandary.
For its inconsistencies, however, World War Z is still a good book. It is satire in the sense that it attempts to look at how both governments and their constituents would react to such a horrible event. Brooks’ makes some bold assertions—Russia resorts to shooting 10% of her own troops in order to scare the remainder into fighting; China’s entrenched powerholders hide in a bunker and attempt to hold onto said power; Isolated Cuba, meanwhile, becomes a home base of sorts, and becomes essentially the richest nation in the world… but in the process turns into a free-market economy, and Castro resigns. You can see Brooks’ apparent bias—not that Communist or ex-Communist nations wouldn’t make a logistic butchery of things—though in fairness to him, he also notes that the US rather dropped the ball.
What really interests me—and this is one way in which I don’t mind that the book spent a lot of time talking logistics, despite its stated premise—is how Brooks, as opposed to every other work in the zombie canon, handles the epidemiology of the zombie virus, the zombies’ behavior and physical limits2
Sure, he paints his points with broad strokes, but for all that, I still think World War Z is a good book, and a fun book. That is, as good as it can be while most of humanity perishes in a mass zombification. But if such a thing interests you at all, or if you enjoyed the author’s previous work, I would recommend World War Z
- I can see something like this belonging in one of McSweeney’s collections of lists[↩]
- In Brooks’ book, nothing but obliteration of the brain can stop a zombie: the millions that fall into the oceans survive at the bottom, and sometimes wander onto the shore; those that are above the snowline freeze every winter and then thaw out in the spring, ready to attack again. Brooks’ underlying physical premise is that zombified body contains next to no water, meaning that certain fatal affects of freezing or proximity to explosions doesn’t affect them.[↩]