"World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War," Max Brooks

Pros: Characters well-crafted, good use of pacing
Cons: Can get a little technical in places

 

From the back of the book:

We survived the zombie apocalypse, but how many of us are still haunted by that terrible time? We have (temporarily?) defeated the living dead, but at what cost? Told in the haunting and riveting voices of the men and women who witnessed the horror firsthand, World War Z is the only record of the plague years.

 

One of the first things that struck me about this book was the way the author chose to handle the plot. Instead of a linear plot focusing on one character’s journey, we instead have a collection of viewpoints that through their observations paint a picture of the overall plot of what is happening in the world at that time. This isn’t an easy format to follow without losing the thread of the narrative, but Brooks gets around that quite handily by paring down each character’s contribution so that the details provided are details that advance the story.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the characters are mere plot devices to forward the overall story. Instead, when a military perspective is needed, we hear from a general or a foot soldier. Other times we see doctors, pilots, and even a young child who was four years old when the zombies attacked her town. That was one of the most memorable vignettes for me, seeing other people’s terror through the eyes of one so young she doesn’t know why she should be afraid.

Another thing that is impressive is the range of characters. Over forty appear in the novel, each with their own set of experiences and their own perspective on the war. Despite all of the variety, I felt as if there was an element of each story that I could connect to, whether it was a feeling of hope, of fear, or even of desperation in the face of destruction. Brooks doesn’t paint idealistic heroes, he paints people trying to survive, trying to help others, trying to retain their humanity in the face of something completely inhuman.

Which brings me to another important element: the zombies. I spent a while trying to pin down exactly what it was that creeped me out so badly. (I spent the night before listening for the sounds of moaning and shuffling outside my window). What I finally realized was that I couldn’t understand them. We aren’t told the mechanics of how the virus spreads, only that it is transmitted through bites. We also aren’t given any understanding of why they behave the way that they do, why they swarm, why they are so strong, or why they are able to move along the ocean floor well beyond the human crush depth. The characters don’t know, and so neither do we. Uncertainty is a large part of fear.

The only thing that broke the flow of the story occurred during some of the military oriented stories. A lot of abbreviations and slang were used, and every once in a while I would have to backtrack among the text looking for the meaning of the abbreviation I had just encountered. A little nitpicky, but it did slow down reading.

The more I read, the more I started wondering, “What would I do? How would I feel?” It made it so easy to relate to these characters, struggling for their very survival. I became involved with the book on a personal level  that not many stories engage me at. Even after the book was done, I kept wondering what I would do, how I would handle situations. Or would I just give up? This book hasn’t just made me think, it’s made me think about myself, something books don’t often do.

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