I love science fiction. I think that it gives us a view into what could be, where our civilization could go if we continue down certain paths. Science fiction has opened ideas in our collective consciousness that every now and then, become reality.
I also tend to enjoy a good zombie story. There are many psychological theories out there about why zombies have become such a pop culture idea in the last few decades. What is America’s fascination? Where does it spring from? I think it is an extension of our fear of the diseases and pandemics that we hear about in the news all the time. Most mythical creatures such as vampires or werewolves are selective in how they are propagated. One of those creatures picks a particular individual to join in their select group. Not so with zombies. The scary thing about zombies is that they can get anyone. They aren’t selective. They are all encompassing. They are mindless and unending. They spread like a disease until everyone is infected. I think that is something that reaches a basic fear for many.
Enough waxing philosophical though. About this book. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks is one of the best pieces of science fiction that I have come across in a long time. For me, I saw it and said, oh another book about zombies. It didn’t really inspire a lot of excitement, but I was about to get on a plane and thought it would be a entertaining read. Having read such trendy zombie books as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which was awful) made me go into this book with very low expectations. However, I was more than pleased. It is well written, thoughtful, and incredibly engaging. In fact, I’ve read it twice since purchasing. I never got around to writing this post after reading it the first time. I decided last week that I should go back and do a review and thought I would read a chapter or two before starting so that I could get the feel for the book again. I couldn’t put it down. Four days later, I had completed it all over and enjoyed it just as much the second time.
The premise for the book is that after the zombie war, the writer is working for the UN to collect data from all over the world. He is supposed to get statistics and figures of losses and gains made over the ten year battle. What he comes back with are stories, interviews with people all over the world. He gives the UN the statistics and puts the stories into this book. It is not told in a typical narrative, but through dozens of first person interviews. We talk to military commanders, veterans, common people, children, politicians, and scientists about their experiences with the zombie apocalypse. The one thing they all have in common is that they are survivors. The stories are graphic, tragic, shocking, and feel very, very real. You hear about the extreme things that people did to survive as well as what civilization has to do to rebuild. The stories from “The Great Panic”, when the news first broke and misinformation ruled are tragic. By the end of the Panic, the world is decimated. But it is also a story of hope, for humanity eventually takes back the planet. We learn, we adapt, we survive.
I really think this is one of the better scifi things I’ve read in a long time. One of the quotes on the book jacket is perfect: “Probably the most topical and literate scare since Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds radio broadcast.” Another person refers to him as “The Studs Terkel of zombie journalism”. I just love that comparison. The book is well written. It is hard to go so far as to say this book is fun, since it is dark and often disturbing, but it is entertaining. It feels real and makes you relate to the characters and experiences. It is certainly worth a read. I have not seen the movie yet, but read that it has very little to do with the book. So, think of them as two separate things. I can’t speak for the movie, but this book is sure to rock your world.