Hard to go wrong commercially these days with zombies or (especially) vampires; it's the rare book in the "undead genre" that doesn't feel like it was put out to capitalize on the trend. Max Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide
, an entertaining and delightfully thorough novelty book, nonetheless felt that way. His followup, World War Z
, stands apart from other hopeful cash-ins and would be a classic even if nobody else were writing about undead catastrophes (and romances).
Narrated as though the author were interviewing survivors of, and firsthand witnesses to, the great zombie war, the events "retold" in the book are fascinating and chillingly realistic. The potential limitations of the narrative style aren't apparent. Instead, Brooks uses the gimmick to imbue the story with an aura of realism that is so critical to a good catastrophe story. We meet brave survivors, cowardly ones, lucky ones, and while all share a profound experience, all are changed in different, moving, realistic ways. It's as much the story of the world changed by a zombie plague as of the effort to quell it.
Students of geopolitics will find Brooks' explanation of how different countries and cultures respond to the "outbreak" realistic and rewarding. North Korea essentially disappears, for example, its population sequestered presumably where they were meant to go in the event of a nuclear attack or invasion. For all anyone knows, millions of Korean zombies still squirm around underground bunkers. Nobody wants to go check. Israel predictably responds the quickest and most decisively to the crisis. Possibly imagining what would really happen in America, or possibly making a political point (it really doesn't matter), Brooks has America try overwhelming military force agaisnt the armies of the undead with catastrophic results, leaving the area west of the Rockies the only relatively safe place to be. Its second effort to wipe out the plague bears more fruit.
My only quibble with this fascinating book does have to do with a limitation imposed by the narrative style. We meet a survivor who successfully extracted herself from a hopeless situation with the aid of an ally on shortwave radio. In an "interview" style it's difficult to get across that the woman imagined the voice on the radio, but rather than subtly lead the reader to the conclusion, Brooks pummels us with a blunt instrument. If that's the one fault I could find with the narrative style — and it is — Brooks is successful indeed.
World War Z is chilling, engrossing, moving and deftly told through a difficult narrative structure. It's a book you'll enjoy and appreciate.