World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Apocalypse – Max Brooks
Have you ever played a game like ‘What if…?’ You start with a scenario and then each person spins a different take on the original scenario until you cover all eventualities? This is what the book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Apocalypse does.
Would you be safe behind a locked door? Nope. If a zombie knows you’re there, he’ll get his friends to force it open.
Would you be safe behind a locked door made of reinforced steel? Nope. They’ll find a window.
Would you be safe behind a locked door made of reinforced steel that was the only entrance to a bunker? Only as long as your supplies last.
Things look grim for humanity in this fine addition to the horror genre. It is to the credit of Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks) that this is a convincing look at just what would happen to contemporary societies around the world if a zombie apocalypse ever did occur.
The framework is a collection of stories being collected by a UN official. What I enjoyed about the book is the global reach of the scenario. Although most of the tales are from Americans, Brooks has tales from most major countries, including Brazil, China, South Africa and India.
He does it by tackling national stereotypes: Stiff-upper lipped British, French resistance, Russian/Chinese state control, Japanese otaku. These stereotypes are both a way into the characters and a critique of nations.
It would feel like artifice in place of characterisation but the use of colloquialisms and dialect, the different references to places, people and demotic unique to various regions of the world helps to cover the artifice. It gives each narrator an individuality that is fitting.
The best stories are the self-contained ones – the downed pilot, the South African going home after work, the starter in China where a doctor meets patient zero – all have a chilling verisimilitude and believable horrific outcomes.
Each tale has subtle topic management that leads to different aspects of the world but the reader is invited to bring their own subtext to it, adding the finer social details with the nuance that their own knowledge of history and various countries’ politics would bring. It is smart enough to acknowledge that in the events would be censored by the various governments still around.
Max Brooks manages to have an uncanny ability to get under the stereotypes to hit the problems societies face. Would the Chinese be open? How would mass media cover it? How would a modern western military force fight? I wasn’t entirely convinced of the outcome (just stay in the tanks and run them over!) but it is a clever critique of the technological reliance.
Here’s one assumption I’ve always held – You should get on a boat. Safest place. Is it? Read on and enjoy a great collection of horror tales!
All eventualities are covered.