World War Z by Max Brooks

While they most commonly appear in movies, Max Brooks takes on where most films leave off to create an amazing story of a world clawing itself back from the hell of an undead apocalypse.

With The Walking Dead back on TV and a seemingly never-ending slew of low-budget zombie movies appearing both in cinemas and on DVD it is interesting to find ‘Zacks’ appearing in the form of prose, an area they are not most famous for.

What Brooks does with his exploration of a world ravaged by apocalypse is something that no film could ever hope to do, in that it paints a picture of a world-wide zombie pandemic while still doing the thing that all the best horror movies do of being socially relevant to today.

Set in a very near future that could be tomorrow, World War Z commences with a note from ‘the author’ which sets the scene perfectly explaining we are in a post apocalyptic world that is rebuilding and that the person writing these words is doing his best to chronicle what could otherwise be a lost period of, seemingly, more than a decade of ‘war’.

From there we get a first hand account of the first recorded zombie outbreak in China and the book hits a tempo that it never drops as we are given a series of vignettes from around the world, all delivered in the form of interviews by the author.

At first I worried that this format, where we only meet characters for one chapter and then never hear from them again, might make it hard to identify with the story being told. However, once I was into the swing of the book (and it does swing, in the same way as the best music) this did not matter as I began to gain a general connection with all the characters and their tales (ranging from extreme military situations to very personal family moments).

One such tale that struck most is told by a young woman whose family headed north from the USA into Canada to escape the Z’s only to become trapped in a frozen winter with hints of the huge scale of lawlessness and barbarism growing as the pandemic worsened that has, simply put, haunted me ever since, but for all its its horror story feeling seems to strike amazingly close to home.

As the book goes on we get the story of the military fight back and some more insights into people from all corners of the globe.

What I think works best about World War Z, beyond the gripping story, is how it clearly draws on elements of the international situation of the mid-2000s to make its point about our society, and it has to be said that in many places the picture it paints isn’t all that flattering.

Despite this it still manages to be a brilliantly entertaining book with a very visual edge to it as it paints its picture of a world gone mad. I just hope the upcoming film can live up to this in some way, though I can’t see it working as a direct translation in a major motion picture…

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