An Oral History of the Zombie War
by Max Brooks
Monterey, California is an insanely beautiful place — perfect weather, blue ocean, barking sea lions — and when I was there recently, I kept thinking about zombies. Such is the fascinatingly creepy power of World War Z.
The book is a collection of stories that didn’t make it into the final cut of the United Nations official report, because they were “all too intimate” and had “too many feelings” which were not fit for an official document. They are the stories of the doctor who examined the first case, of bodyguards, soldiers, scammers, pilots, priests, and “regular” people who managed to survive the conflict. Each story comes from a unique perspective — sometimes wrenching, sometimes infuriating — and above all, each one is convincing.
That is because Brooks never cracks, never lets on, not even once, that this book is anything but what it says it is: stories collected in the aftermath of an apocalyptic conflict with zombies. In the world Brooks created, a world that looks and acts much like our own, a plague erupts that transforms the infected into zombies. Yes, the classic horror movie slow-shuffling, moaning, flesh- and brain-eating zombies. On a global scale.
The true eeriness doesn’t come so much from the survivor descriptions of their encounters (though many are harrowing) but in thinking about how realistic the documented responses and failures are. What would governments really do if a rapidly infectious but previously unknown to science plague emerged? Would they understand what was happening fast enough to take action, or would bureaucracy and disbelief it was that serious get in the way? Would global travel, not to mention the rumored international organ trade, be complicit in the spread of disease? Would the United States government approve an essentially useless but psychologically pacifying medication for distribution? Could a country effectively quarantine itself if it understood what was happening before others did? Could governments enact plans that called for sacrificing many so that some would survive?
In this way, reading this book is a lot like getting caught up in Battlestar Galactica or the Harry Potter novels: you get so sucked in to the world being created, you find yourself having discussions about what will happen next, analogies to present-day political realities, and what it really means. Brooks managed to create this feeling by having his stories masquerade as modern history, as nonfiction, and it is a genius move.
If you are the kind of person who thinks you can’t possibly read or enjoy a book with zombies in it, this book will surprise you. (On the other hand, if zombies are your thing, well, you’ve probably already picked this one up, and you loved it. Highly recommended for fans of alternate history, fiction-as-nonfiction, and readers who enjoy being a bit scared. Highly recommended — just not as bedtime reading.