Townhouse Books

Friday, September 21, 2007

World War Z by Max Brooks

Go read this right now! You'll never look at your house, government, or military the same way.

World War Z was presented to me as a "quick sci-fi read about when zombies take over". The book is much, much more. It's structured as an oral history, with short (1-4 pages) interviews of people from all over the world, describing the near take-over of the planet by zombies (infected with a virus that reanimates the dead). The story arcs from the first outbreak in China through the insidious spread of infection, botched government responses, and humanity's eventual breakdown into the Great Panic and subsequent retreat.

What struck me, repeatedly, was the truly spectacular world-building Brooks performs. When I say interviewees are from all over the world, I mean from Brazil to China to Cuba to Australia to Russia to India to Iran to... everywhere. Not only does Brooks trace the spread of this virus, but also the social and economic fallout particular to each area of the world. In other worlds, he illustrates, via his tapestry of interviewees, the vastly different experiences in each part of the world.

I'd be curious what someone with more of a military background than I thinks of the book. As the story goes on, you learn more and more about the successful (and unsuccessful!) planning and tactics employed by various countries around the world. You learn about the different strategies necessary for different environments. You learn about the effects of psychological stress on exhausted soldiers. And so on.

Also impressive is Brooks' development of different voices for each interviewee. His prose isn't flashy, but it's effective, and makes an effort to vary the vacabulary and pacing with each character. The structure is also impressive. While the book is a tad choppy at times (as a globe-spanning narrative might be), there is a general, unifying chronological thread. Events brought up in one interview are touched and sometimes even expanded upon in subsequent interviews.

So... whew! I really loved this book. Not sure why it's so compelling for me right now, but partially because I can just see events unfolding the way they do in the book. Because we, as a people, suck.


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  • From various other commentary, I think I'm going to hold off on this book. It sounds like it stayed with most people for a longer than expected time.

    On a similar note however, I'm reading through the "30 Days of Night" graphic novel series. Good, but not so good it's messing me up.

    By evt1618, at 8:22 PM  

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