Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Reflections: World War Z

World War Z by Max Brooks is much better than a book about zombies should be. Although zombies have been a large part of our cultural zeitgeist for years, I have largely ignored their many incarnations, iterations, and versions. I was able to stomach two episodes of The Walking Dead and promptly gave it up because I found it gruesome and gratuitous. Furthermore, the many films and video games which have zombies as the primary antagonists have gone mostly unnoticed by me. (One exception is the original Resident Evil, which remake I recently got for my PS4 and have been having an absolute blast playing again; I played the original game on the original Playstation).   As you can imagine, World War Z had a lot going against it in my mind, but it subverted my expectations, and I found it to be smart, tense, scary, and, ironically, very, very human.

World War Z abandons the normal narrative structure and instead presents a series of vignettes (normally not my favorite storytelling method) that highlights the human impact of the arrival of the undead. The diversity of experiences presented in the vignettes is the most impressive aspect of the book. The reader is presented with devastating scenarios and situations in China, then South Africa, then India, then Japan, and so on and so forth. It's really quite impressive how convincing each experience is. Max Brooks writes with confidence from each perspective, whether it be on a Chinese nuclear sub or on the International Space Station. If the dead did start to re-animate, then how would people in all of these places and cultures react? It's a fun thought experience, but it's also extremely unsettling.

World War Z presents nightmare scenarios, but it doesn't require zombies to be a nightmare. In fact, the scariest aspects of the book are in the epidemic consequences of the story rather than the undead. In so many ways, any civilization's peace and tranquility hovers precariously on a very thin line between order and chaos. It's not difficult to see the chaos which can result when law and order breaks down; it's currently happening in many places around the world and always has. It doesn't take zombies to do that. World War Z smartly reminds the reader of the realities of our modern world and then tears it all to pieces. Having said that, of all of the end of the world type stories I've read, World War Z is possibly the most hopeful. It showcases devastation, yes, but it also showcases the triumph of human reason and adaptation.

Max Brooks has written a truly human tale, even though it doesn't focus on one protagonist or even several. Brooks has exposed the common human emotions expressed in the midst of tragedy and desolation. World War Z is much, much more than a zombie book. In some vignettes, zombies are almost an afterthought. The living, not the undead, are the focus of this book, and for that reason I found it extremely troubling, engaging, and entertaining. I still don't have much interest in zombies, but World War Z is well worth a recommendation.

 Notable Quotes:
  • "The monsters that rose from the dead, they are nothing compared to the ones we carry in our hearts."
  • "The UN is a bureaucratic masterpiece, so many nuggets of valuable data buried in mountains of unread reports."
  • "Lies are neither bad nor good. Like a fire they can either keep you warm or burn you to death, depending on how they're used."
Books to Movies: I had watched the film adaptation of World War Z with Brad Pitt and directed by Marc Forster before reading the book; however, the film adaptation is an adaptation in name only. Although I enjoyed the film—especially the first half—the book is much smarter and more interesting than the film.

Other Topics of Interest
Reflections: Guns, Germs, and Steel
Reflections: Good Omens
Reflections: Dracula

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