Tuesday, January 29, 2008

World War Z

It is rare-- rare I say-- that a modern sci-fi novel grabs my attention. In the case of World War Z, the damn thing gripped me in a vice. It is an astoundingly good read, addictive and fascinating. Scary as all fuck.

Max Brooks, author of the those-who-laugh-now-will-die-later Zombie Survival Guide, takes the concept of zombie survival an evolutionary step forward in World War Z: An oral History of the Zombie War. The book is set after the undead have wreaked havok and nearly extinguished the human race, and we were easy fodder. It is the story humanity's recovery from the brink of annihilation where truth and fact are the only laws of the land, Along with the lessons of constant vigilance with the dead still roaming.

The format of the storytelling fuels the page-turning-- it's done by almost completely anecdotal evidence as told by the survivors of Earth's collective nightmare. Compiled by a researcher for the new world government's official report, interviewees run the gamut of military generals, world leaders, scientists, soccer moms, monks, and the unlikely walks of life in-between. A theme that hits home throughout the book is that the threat was global, it affected everyone, no matter the class, race, or sociality. As witness accounts bring the reader through the opening suspicions, realized outbreaks, mass panic, devastation, and eventual offense, you can't help but take both tragedies and breakthroughs very, very personal.

The clincher is the detail that is employed in the narrative. Constantly I found myself thinking how the domino effect of destruction need not be triggered by the undead. Brooks spills out in front of us all of our modern life dependancies with hardly a hint of smugness but lets us know how easily it can all come tumbling down. The details... soon the abstract gives way to thoughts that the zombie phenomenon is less a construct of fiction and more a matter of time. And oh, the details... Each witness account includes a smattering of concepts grown from the teller's dire situation that feeds into the zombie mythology little by little. Some are trinkets of science, others give a hint to the backstory. Other concepts let forth a deluge of thoughts and wonderings that are so fascinating you are compelled to read on, praying the source will give up just one more piece to the puzzle. It is a puzzle, too, even though large areas are covered there are a few key ingredients left solely up to the reader to discern. Combined with the abject nature of the zombie scourge, an enemy to mankind who is infinite and wholly without conscience, the combined experience is surprisingly unsettling and outright creepy.

There are so many points of views covered across cultures and battlefields, the struggle hits a level of reality I've not read before. I think partially because this is speaking directly to us, right here, right now. If the book proves anything it is that should something even remotely akin to a global threat upset our delicate modern balance, we are boned. This small excerpt from the early American regrouping after the initial "Great Panic" should be enough to question one's complacence:

You should have seen some of the "careers" listed on our first employment census; everyone was some version of an "executive," a "representative," an "analyst," or a "consultant," all perfectly suited to the prewar world, but all totally inadequate for the present crisis. We needed carpenters, masons, machinists, gunsmiths. We had those people, to be sure, but not nearly as many as were necessary. The first labor survey stated clearly that over 65 percent of the present civilian workforce were classified F-6, possessing no valued vocation.

That doesn't even scratch the surface, and it's well after the outbreak and only the beginning of a full on zombie assault to reclaim the planet. Combining the personal stories with the details of unexpected terror, civilization's hubris, and the desperation of being faced with extinction really gets one to think. Even as the human race rallies to fight back, the hard choices made to survive are ones you never thought possible and are often cause to shudder. The book rides a wavy line between escapism and morality play, and damned if along the way you don't start freaking out about zombies.

Whether or not you're into zombies, sci-fi, history, economics, or what have you, if you read you owe it to yourself to pick up World War Z. Seriously, read this book.

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