Monday, August 4, 2014

World War Z: Max Brooks

I do not like zombies. I do not like books or movies about zombies. So why did I read World War Z? Mainly because my husband recommended it, and based on his description, I was curious. The subtitle is "An Oral History of the Zombie War," and that describes the book pretty well.

This is the first paragraph in the book, which introduces us to the catastrophic events that have happened:
It goes by many names: “The Crisis,” “The Dark Years,” “The Walking Plague,” as well as newer and more “hip” titles such as “World War Z” or “Z War One.”  I personally dislike this last moniker as it implies an inevitable “Z War Two.”  For me, it will always be “The Zombie War,” and while many may protest the scientific accuracy of the word zombie, they will be hard pressed to discover a more globally accepted term for the creatures that almost caused our extinction. Zombie remains a devastating word, unrivaled in its power to conjure up so many memories or emotions, and it is these memories, and emotions, that are the subject of this book.
The book is presented as a compilation of interviews with survivors of the Zombie War. It is divided into sections covering different time periods in the conflict, starting with Warnings. That section has interviews with people from China, Tibet, Greece, Brazil, the West Indies, Israel and Palestine, all talking about first occurrences or encounters with the zombies.

Although each section covers some time frame in the Zombie War, what the reader really sees is what life is like in the present, ten years after the population of earth has been largely destroyed. It is clear that the threat is not totally gone, just under control enough to allow people to return to some semblance of a normal life.

Some reviewers found this book unsatisfactory because there is no continuing story, with characters that you can get to know. That is a valid point, but my take was that was what made the book so fresh and engrossing. It is true that each section was fairly short and just as you were getting into the story, it was over and I wanted to know more, to hang around.

This is my husband's review from Goodreads:
Zombies are the perfect nightmare villain. They are relentless, they can't be influenced, and in the case of this book, they number in the tens of millions.
This work, consisting entirely of interviews with survivors of the Zombie War, is so engrossing that it could have gone on for twice its length and never lost my interest.
Maps would have been a welcome addition (as in any history of any war) but that is a very minor quibble.
You can see that we both enjoyed the book, even though he likes zombies and I don't.

I haven't included many facts about the book other than the structure. I prefer to let the reader discover for themselves the good and the bad. However, I will point you to a good review at SF Site, if you want more details.  Also, another useful review at Atomic Spud.

And how was the movie?

The movie adaptation of World War Z stars Brad Pitt as a former employee of the United Nations who gets called back to his old job when the world is overrun with zombies. The movie bears little resemblance to the book. The movie is an action thriller, with zombies invading all countries of the world. In the movie, the zombies move very fast (different from most zombie movies I have seen, although I am far from an expert). In the book, the zombies are slow. That does not prevent them from overrunning the world, however. There are many, many other differences between book and movie and it is pretty safe to say that they basically just used the same title.

Brad Pitt's character, Gerry Lane, is a reluctant hero; he has left his job to spend time with his family and has no desire to go on expeditions to find a cure for the zombie problem. When it is clear that he and his family will lose their protected status if he does not cooperate, he gives in. And a plus is that he is not a superhero with no vulnerabilities. He is pretty much a normal guy, just clever and motivated to find some solution to the problem.

We watched the movie twice. The first time was before I had read the book, the second was after. The movie was enjoyable both times, but I liked it even better the second time. It has its flaws, but whether you will like it or not depends on what you are looking for. It is not a typical zombie movie, and that is what the viewer wants, it could be disappointing. It is a decent action flick.

I said at the beginning that I don't like zombie movies. I have watched and enjoyed two silly, humorous takes on zombie movies, Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. I don't like the blood and gore in those movies, but they are fun movies if you can get beyond that. I did appreciate in this movie that there was no blood and little gore. The concept of zombies with no blood does agree with the book.

In this interview, Max Brooks talks about the book and the film.


Publisher:  Crown Publishers, 2006
Length:      342 pages
Format:      hardcover
Setting:       worldwide
Genre:        science fiction, apocalyptic
Source:       Borrowed from my husband

Max Brooks wrote an earlier book about zombies in 2003, The Zombie Survival Guide. I have not read that book, but I understand that it is a parody of survival guides. He is the son of director and producer Mel Brooks and actress Anne Bancroft. I did not know this until after I read the book and watched the movie twice, so it had no bearing on my decision to give the book a try.  The author only mentions his father in the acknowledgments to World War Z in this way: "and Dad, for 'the human factor'." His website does not mention his parents, so he is not trading on their fame. The acknowledgments also include "a final thank-you to the three men whose inspiration made this book possible: Studs Terkel, the late General Sir John Hackett, and, of course, the genius and terror of George A. Romero."


Yvette said...

I began watching the movie but chickened out before too much had occurred. I'm not a fan of zombie-dom and was afraid of blood splatter. But now that I read in your review that there's little of it, I'm going back to Netflix and resume watching. Why? Well, I don't know. I'm not even a big Brad Pitt fan. So maybe I was just curious.

Didn't know about the book but it does sound intriguing. I like the whole idea of interviews with survivors and such. I think I'll take a look. Thanks.

TracyK said...

I do hope you give the book a try sometime, Yvette. I would like to know your reaction. It really was inspired by the Studs Terkel type of interviews, and gives a lot of food for thought. I liked the movie but I won't say it is a great movie, just good entertainment.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I find myself utterly perplexed by the zombie phenomenon - even my nieces are into it and they're not even 10 yet! Thsi sounds great though (and hey, I'm a long time fan of his Dad, Mel Brooks too) so I really will have to get this - thanks TracyK, I wasn't sure I would want to pick this up but now I really will. In your debt, as ever :)

col2910 said...

Hmm, I initially dismissed it, but reading on I'm kind of liking it........what is wrong with me? One to think about at least.

Anonymous said...

Tracy - I know exactly what you mean about a book that has a fresh take on presenting a story. Like you, I don't like zombies. I don't like reading about them or watching films about. They just don't engage me at all. But it is good to know that this author is innovating; that's good for the genre.

TracyK said...

I know, Sergio. Zombies. Vampires. I don't get it. But the book is very interesting, a very fast read.

TracyK said...

Not your ordinary zombie literature, Col, although I don't know what that would be.

TracyK said...

The focus here is on the survivors, Margot. (In the book.) The zombies are not pleasant but no dwelling on that aspect. A good read.

Anonymous said...

This is why you stay happily married despite the tremendous differences over zombies!

It's great that you were able to enjoy the book and the movie as well as other movies.

In my family, this gap would have been grounds for some hefty arguments, but good will prevails here. So nice to see.

TracyK said...

You may be right, Kathy, and we do learn a lot from each other.

Clothes In Books said...

Kathy's response made me laugh! I am one of the 'don't do zombies' team, although I do remember a strange zombie drama on English TV, called Dead Set I think, which I thought was very good. One day I might try some more...

TracyK said...

Moira, I am more the "don't do vampires" type. Especially books. I have seen a few vampire movies, of course, including Interview with a Vampire. Disgusting, but had some good acting.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, I skimmed through your review as I have this in ebook form and intend to read it soonish. However, I didn't know there was a film version starring Brad Pitt. It makes the whole package interesting.

TracyK said...

It is fun to read the book and watch the movie, Prashant, even though they are totally different.

Anonymous said...

I admire the way you tackle something that really isn't your 'cup of tea'. I have to join you and others when I say I am not a fan of 'zombie-dom'. You say 'give the book a chance' I ask it better than Helen Tursten Detective Inspector Huss?.....then I'll read it!

TracyK said...

Nancy, I did answer this yesterday, but somehow blogger did not take it and I did not notice. Sorry about that.

Well, to compare the Tursten book and this one is hard, because the formats are so different. But actually, yes, I did like this one better. Not sure you would like it though. I more or less ignored the zombies and was just taking in the interview format as a look back at dealing with a world overrun but a plague. It worked for me.