Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Z is for Zombie

If you're a fan of zombie movies, I strongly recommend World War Z: An Oral History of the First Zombie War by Max Brooks. I just finished this book the other night and found it thoroughly entertaining.

What makes this different from any zombie movie I've ever seen is that whereas most zombie flicks only follow one group of (usually) randomly collected people struggling to survive against the undead onslaught, this book takes a global perspective. The first chapter opens with an outbreak in a remote Chinese village and we follow the story as the "disease" quickly spreads.

While refugees are the fastest cause of the initial spread, the author uses some other interesting scenarios. For example, it's true that China illegally exports organs and the author makes use of this fact when an American businessman visits Brazil to receive a heart transplant. He's given an infected heart and is soon devouring one of his doctors (the other survived to tell the tale). In fact, the entire book is a survivor's story since the war has been over for a decade. (I'm not giving anything away, this is in the prologue when the author reveals his desire to write about the war. Of course, even though the war is over, there are still white zones -- hot spots that,while contained, are completely infected.)

Brooks is also clever in looking at the geopolitical picture. Israel, realizing the impending danger while most countries are still in denial, takes immediate action to build a national fortress, one that results in civil war. Meanwhile, two other nations (I won't say who, but it's not who you would expect) end up in a brief nuclear exchange because of the flood of refugees along the border. South Africa is forced to use a Machiavellian plan that was originally created in the 80s by the Apartheid government in case of a "black uprising." Even the U.S. armed forces are forced to adapt to new weapons and tactics after losing many battles including an infamous one just across the Brooklyn Bridge (they learn machine guns and high explosive rounds aren't very effective against an enemy that can only die by having its brain destroyed).

The bottom line is that this is more than just a book about zombies. It's well written, smart, and while it gives a global perspective, it does so through a series of very personal narratives.

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