Friday, March 07, 2008

Ex Libris: World War Z by Max Brooks

(For something different this year, I've foregone the monthly short book reviews and going back to the individual more in-depth reviews themselves. And first off for this year is something am highly recommending to anyone who reads this blog...)

It's been a long time since I've done this but it was a great feeling again to find a book that I managed to read in a single day-- or even less. (Yep, I started around evening and finished the book around 4 a.m. the next day.)

Not that Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006; reprint 2007), is anything but a simple read. Rather, it's a complicated tapestry of personal accounts of a fictional worldwide disaster: the rise of undead, the mass panic that ensues, and how the global governments work to take the world back. That's the book in a nutshell.

But it's more than this, obviously and more than zombies attacking people and lots of blood and gore. Using an interview method one normally finds in Stephen Ambrose's World War 2 books, Brooks chronicles the zombie uprising and the world's response (or almost non-response) to this. He also manages to fill in the political, economic and social details in between, information one would never know from watching the usual zombie movie.

“Two hundred million zombies. Who can even visualize that type of number, let alone combat it? . . . For the first time in history, we faced an enemy that was actively waging total war. They had no limits of endurance. They would never negotiate, never surrender. They would fight until the very end because, unlike us, every single one of them, every second of every day, was devoted to consuming all life on Earth.” —General Travis D’Ambrosia, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

For example, personal accounts relate how profiteers would try to cash in on the fear of the disaster via placebo drugs, or how current military strategy would fail against a massive zombie tide, or how the governments' ignorance and cover-up would fail to stem the initial outbreak. It also details how such a disaster would affect people would relate to other people: ranging from a low-level nuclear war between Iran and Pakistan because of lack of diplomatic ties, to the failed Russian uprising against their military officers and the decimation of their ranks.

But there are also the accounts detailing against the zombie monster itself: how some parents would try to save their children from being eaten alive (they kill them themselves), how the paranoia of North Korea would save-- and ultimately doom them, and a US pilot being downed "behind enemy lines".

“I found ‘Patient Zero’ behind the locked door of an abandoned apartment across own. . . . His wrists and feet were bound with plastic packing twine. Although he’d rubbed off the skin around his bonds, there was no blood. There was also no blood on his other wounds. . . . He was writhing like an animal; a gag muffled his growls. At first the villagers tried to hold me back. They warned me not to touch him, that he was ‘cursed.’ I shrugged them off and reached for my mask and gloves. The boy’s skin was . . . cold and gray . . . I could find neither his heartbeat nor his pulse.” —Dr. Kwang Jingshu, Greater Chongqing, United Federation of China

Brooks' narrative use of interviews of people who have survived the onslaught ten years after is quite effective, giving the fictional apocalypse a real feeling. Likewise, his interviews of a wide-range of people-- from a Chinese doctor who first comes into contact with Patient Zero, to a Japanese otaku who has to face the real world after being cut off from the Internet, and to the breakdown of a South African genius after coming up with a chilling way to save the human race-- shows how the disaster would span the globe,

If ever, my only nitpick of the book is Brooks' portrayal of the US government's response and leadership in a global action to retake the world from the zombie conquerors. In a way, it reminds me of Bill Pullman as president in the movie Independence Day and his rousing speech that is supposed to unite the whole world against the alien invaders.

But despite this, Brooks' book rings true-- more chilling because one won't have a hard time to imagine similar government response in this book-- and this would be my pick of top read for the year.

“‘Shock and Awe’? Perfect name. . . . But what if the enemy can’t be shocked and awed? Not just won’t, but biologically can’t! That’s what happened that day outside New York City, that’s the failure that almost lost us the whole damn war. The fact that we couldn’t shock and awe Zack boomeranged right back in our faces and actually allowed Zack to shock and awe us! They’re not afraid! No matter what we do, no matter how many we kill, they will never, ever be afraid!” —Todd Wainio, former U.S. Army infantryman and veteran of the Battle of Yonkers

Ironically, after reading this book, I now feel justified about my paranoia of zombies. So don't mind me if I start stocking up on canned foods and guns. (Rating: 4 paws out 4)


Charles said...

Pffft. You're just saying that because you didn't survive last year's zombie uprising. =P

banzai cat said...

Hey! I took the e-quiz on that and it said I would! ;-)