World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
By Max Brooks
Following up on his pseudo-survival guide, The Zombie Survival Guide, television screenwriter Max Brooks authored this account of the War Against the Zombies that takes place sometime in the near future. The book is a series of short stories based on oral accounts of the war taken by an agent of a global postwar commission conducting a post-mortem analysis of the war.
The book opens with an account from a Chinese doctor who discovered the first documented case of a person turning into a zombie in rural China. It follows the spread of the disease to the development of war against the undead and its resolution.
After emerging in China, the disease spreads with the help of the Chinese black market for human organs and soon manifested itself in South America. It soon spreads worldwide and global chaos erupts.
Israel closes its borders to all visitors to prevent any more infected from entering its country. Iran and Pakistan nuke each other. Cuba establishes itself as a safe haven. The United States government markets a vaccine for the “African Rabies” that they know is ineffective. Before long, the zombies have mankind on their heels.
Japan undertakes an evacuation of their home islands. South Africa’s government abandons many civilians in establishing safe zones for hand selected citizens.
In the United States, the government claimed it had a vaccine for a zombie bite and the medicine is distributed to the public. But it quickly becomes clear that the vaccine is a farce. Not taking the threat seriously, the government allows the disease to spread quickly throughout the population.
The American government mounts a high profile assault on New York City to take back the city from the Zombies. But the Battle of Yonkers turns into a route as the military was ill equipped with the weaponry to kill zombies. Americans are eventually forced to flee west of the Rockies to establish a foothold on the continent.
Some people in the U.S. decide to flee north, figuring the cold will kill the zombies. They try to wait out the crisis in the bitter cold of northern Canada. The zombies do indeed freeze, but so do most of the people who headed north with little food and nothing to protect them from the elements.
American society is turned on its head. The wealthy and the middle class find that their skills are no longer in demand in the fortified area behind the Rockies. The immediate need is for laborers to manufacture and for farmers to farm. White collar workers are instructed in the skills of farming and heavy labor by the manual laborers.
Russia, once a nation that forbade all religion, emerges from the crisis as a theocratic state. China and Tibet are reunited. Iceland is completely decimated and Cuba becomes the paragon of capitalism and freedom.
A war council is called in Honolulu and the major nations able to send delegates do. The United States makes a strong push for war to retake the globe. Many nations resist, but the U.S. is determined to take back their country.
A newly equipped army with the weapons and equipment necessary to fight the zombies moves eastward. Battle after battle is fought in the cities and across the countryside. Small pockets of human survivors who have managed to hold out are rescued. Eventually, the American military liberates the continent.
Other countries fight similar wars of liberation. Soon, the lands are retaken. Zombies still exist and show up every now and then. They still wander about the waters of the world and going near water is still dangerous at war’s end. The ultimate result of the war is a dramatic social, political, and environmental upheaval that dramatically alters the world order.
I generally do not favor the vignette style of storytelling. Reading Daniel Wilson's Robopacalypse, I could not help but be disappointed with all of the story he left on the table utilizing this method of storytelling. However, Brooks pulls it off to tell a compelling story that has a central narrative thread.
What I enjoyed the most was the balance Brooks struck between action stories that were entirely plot driven, and the examination of the social and political effects which are more illustrative of devastation and displacement.
There is way too much being written about zombies today. The entire genre – books, movies and television – is dominated by zombies. Much, if not most of it is bad. Horrible books such as Joe McKinney’s Flesh Eaters win Stoker Awards because zombies are the in thing. However, Brooks rises above the average and also rans to deliver the finest zombie novel this side of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.