When the first trailers for World War Z came out I hadn’t heard of or read the book by Max Brooks. I’ll be frank and say I don’t read books like that. Pop novels I mean. Yeah, yeah I’m a snob. More to the point my time is limited and if I read something I read something good; Hemingway, Steinbeck, Joyce etc. I do dip into pop here and there but only when it’s something significant. Something good.
So it was with a bit of a surprise to me that I liked WWZ so much. And no, I’m not comparing Brooks to the heavyweights above. I’m just saying that for a light dip in the proverbial waters of pop it wasn’t a bad swim at all.
The great thing that stood out to me about the book is its realism. I say that having not read a lot of zombie books in part because realism is something I don’t even remotely expect to find. Brooks book takes the point of view of a man traveling around the globe ten years after the war ended and collecting anecdotal accounts of what happened to people during the war.
In an earlier post I mentioned that Max Brooks’ first book on the topic “The Zombie Survival Guide” brought the elements into play in that the cold weather would have the effect of freezing and preserving a zombie. When the weather warmed up a new outbreak would occur. This theme comes back in WWZ. In this case the would-be survivors tried heading north only to freeze to death without food and ended up either being eaten or eating each other anyway. It’s this focus on the characters and the people, with the zombies as a background element that really makes the book work. Walking around the frozen north where a camp once stood we see the aftermath of a terrible event, starvation, fear, desperation, all very real human experience. What we don’t see are tons of slobbering monsters moping about being grizzly. It brings the characters into sharper focus and grounds the book in a realism the reader can actually identify with.
One thing that did stand out to me as a bit unsatisfying was the sort of sloppy way North Korea was dealt with in the book. Brooks deftly handles things like Israel and Palestine in the course of events but North Korea just sort of gets ignored. The book makes it seem as if everyone just disappeared but that strikes me as rather unrealistic. He even suggests the existence of a giant underground bunker full of people who have turned into zeds and are just waiting for someone to pop the top to let them out. It just seemed like a clumsy way to handle what could have been a simpler country to deal with.
I can’t say it’s the best book I’ve read, but it’s definitely the best zombie book I’ve read. Being the only zombie book I’ve read, that doesn’t say much, but it’s a start.