Today I want to talk to you about World War Z. This is a novel by Max Brooks, published by Crown Publisher in 2006. It was also made into a film that starred Brad Pitt and was released in 2013.
The book takes place during a zombie apocalypse and is broken down into five chapters. It’s an interesting book to read, not just for its content but for how it is presented, the five-chapter structure is interesting as is how information is relayed to the reader. The book has a narrator but is a collection of individual accounts which take place across the globe. I particularly enjoyed how the accounts don’t just focus on the ‘ahh’ factor of the zombies but other ramifications including social, political, religious, economic, and environmental changes.
The book is a sequel of sorts to Brooks’ other novel the Zombie Survival Guide. The audio version of the story is performed by a cast rather than a single narrator.
The story begins approx. 20 years post the start of the zombie ‘pandemic’ and 10 years post the end, we won. The story follows Max, the book’s narrator ad agent of the USA’s post-war commission as he travels the world interviewing other survivors.
The book establishes that the pandemic began in China and is an old disease that has had a resurgence due to a geological incident. The disease spread (despite cover-up attempts) via the black market, human trafficking, and refugees. The disease was acknowledged globally when it hit Africa, but nothing was done, and it was dismissed as it was seen to only be affecting poorer countries. Israel however took it seriously and withdrew behind its borders and built a wall.
However, eventually, it does become a global problem despite downplaying by many governments and the Great Panic begins. The panic kills more people than the zombies. There’s even a nuclear exchange between Iran and Pakistan. Nerve gas is used and basically, people are utter dicks to each other, while we all freak out. The US tries to restore order with a show of military strength, but this fails terribly, mostly because zombies can’t be scared by injury. For weeks civilisation wobbles on the edge of destruction.
South Africa starts establishing safe ones through a ‘distraction’ technique involving sacrificing small communities. Everyone else starts copying this. In the USA those small, abandoned communities are encouraged to go North as zombies don’t do well in cold. Hundreds die from exposure and starvation. In the UK we retreated to Scotland and Ireland. In Europe, safe zones are set up on peninsulas, the Alps and Denmark. All over the globe, everyone retreats to colder areas or easily defensible places. China however is the exception resulting in it becoming the worst-hit country. Their military mutinies and uses nukes on its leaders and then carries out a retreat.
The world slowly rebuilds over seven years, though in a much more limited space. Some countries are content to simply let the zombies decay naturally but the USA insist on going on an offensive to retake the land lost. The USA build zombie-specific weapons and training before starting a three-year-long effort to retake the USA (from both zombies and cheesed-off survivors they left to die).
Russia and France also carry out a similar effort, though theirs is more costly as they rely on brute force. The UK goes slower but more carefully and takes five years to retake England.
Ten years after the war the world is still badly damaged, millions of zombies are still wandering about but there are under the sea, in mountains and more isolated areas. The political landscape is drastically different as well. With an ongoing nuclear winter and poor access to running water and electricity, the world kind of sucks but the book ends on a somewhat hopeful note.
My Thoughts – General
I like that the story takes place after the zombie apocalypse rather than during it. It put me in mind of the Last of Us at first, which is more about surviving the new world.
I liked that the book explored how the governments would react, and how the political landscapes would change. The ending in particular I found interesting with Cuba & Tibet becoming democracies and thriving. Russia going super religious and adopting a sexist repopulation programme where women are used as cattle to breed more people, due to fertility being low. North Korea is empty, and no one seems sure if it’s because everyone died or if they are in bunkers. Lastly, Iceland suffering terribly due to infected refugees.
It was an interesting take on the zombie genre, a wider look at something that usually focuses on a small group of survivors. It’s a different way of telling a very people-focused story,
My thoughts – Characters
I had no issue with the characters, mostly because the story seems to focus on wider-reaching ramifications to the point where Countries feel like characters more than individuals. Again, I loved the different way of telling a people-focused story. Things hit differently due to this approach, still on a personal level but also much wider.
My Thoughts – Setting
The setting is the whole world. But I will say that I like how the zombies interact with it, the fact that they end up under the sea caught my imagination, like a zombie apocalypse the little mermaid edition.
My Thoughts – Plot
The plot is well structured and easy to follow. The interview framework allows us to experience the same global catastrophe from multiple viewpoints which could be confusing but manages not to be.
As said before I enjoyed the fact that the plot was a bit different to most zombie stories, focusing on the wider-reaching global issues humanity would face as opposed to the intimate small group stories I’m more used to.
My Thoughts – Theme
I enjoyed, in a depressing kind of way, how the book focused on our reaction on a global scale to the zombie pandemic. It felt pretty accurate having just lived through a pandemic and seeing how some people could be mind-bendingly foolish, while others were coldly selfish. I mean look at what happened with loo roll for crying out loud, it isn’t unbelievable to think a mass panic would happen and more people would die from that panic than the zombie problem. The cold decision made to sacrifice parts of the community to save other parts was horrible but frighteningly realistic. Not to mention the initial ignoring of the problem, lying about it and faffing about until it was too damn late to sort it out.
I think it says a lot about society and that we need to take a damn good look at ourselves.
The story taps into two main fears, the obvious monster fear, which should go without saying, and the fear it focuses more on, the breakdown of society. How we ignore things until it becomes our problem ad then try to kill each other in an attempt to ensure our survival.
Overall this book left me feeling a little odd. It was nice that it ended on something of a hopeful note but also didn’t shy away from the ongoing problems. But it made me think a lot about our recent pandemic issue and how a lot of people behaved very poorly. It brings to light a lot about humanity’s inherent selfishness. So I needed to go find some wholesome stuff to remember that there are a lot of damn decent people there too.
So while I’d recommend this book, I’d also recommend having something nice to ‘palate cleanse’ your brain afterwards.