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World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
Max Brooks
Crown Publishers, 344 pages

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
Max Brooks
Max Brooks's previous book, The Zombie Survival Guide, formed the core of the world's civilian survival manuals during the Zombie War. Mr. Brooks subsequently spent years traveling to every part of the globe in order to conduct the face-to-face interviews that have been incorporated into this present publication.

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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In 2003, Max Brooks published The Zombie Survival Guide, explaining what to do in case of an attack by zombies. It appeared to be a satirical look at books like the Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht's Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series. Now, Brooks follows it up by publishing World War Z, subtitled "An Oral History of the Zombie Wars." Unlike the previous book, this one is a serious novel.

Brooks uses the format of an oral history to tell the story of the most disastrous world-spanning war the world has ever known. From its beginnings in the remote village of New Dachang, China, his characters chronicle the spread of a strange disease that turns humans into zombies. The only way to stop one is to destroy its brain. The disease, and the threat to humanity, expands exponentially and no place on earth is safe.

While it would have been easy for Brooks to focus on a few areas, such as the United States, his narrative takes him all across the world. Brooks's nameless interviewer travels around the globe ten years after the war has ended, visiting South Africa and Israel, where plans were developed to thwart the disease and invasion, to Canada, where the cold weather exposed a weakness of the Zombies, to the United States and Europe, where there were significant losses.

This decision is one of the strengths of the novel. It gives the book a totally global feel as people remember the way the zombies behaved in warm climates like Canada or tropical places like the tropical island of Manihi. At the same time, Brooks is able to show how different cultures dealt with the zombie menace and how the zombies, who are essentially mindless, react to different environments.

Although told in a short, almost episodic, manner, the novel builds on what has gone before. A battle or technology briefly mentioned by one interviewee in passing becomes a more major component of the tale several interviews further along in the novel Not only does this shed light on the world Brooks has created, but it makes the novel grow in a more natural way than if the reader were to be given all the information the first time an idea is introduced.

The concept of the novel appears at first to be weak and incapable of sustaining a serious novel for 350 pages. As the book progresses, however, Brooks's writing and his coherent world building draws the reader in, allowing the reader to assume an actual physiological cause for the zombification of the world population. Once that premise is dealt with, the reader can fully appreciate the effort going into the world-wide war against an enemy which is not only difficult to destroy, but also carried the emotional baggage of possibly being related to the very enemy you're trying to destroy.

If there is a problem with World War Z, it only becomes apparent near the end of the book. In the final chapter, "Good-Byes," for the first time Brooks reintroduces characters who have had their say earlier in the book. Unfortunately, there are so many characters and they have so few distinguishing characteristics, it isn't always obvious what their earlier stories were, although in most of the cases it isn't really necessary to remember.

World War Z is a much better book and novel than it has any right to be given the premise. In fact, Brooks's world building and story-telling ability makes the novel an easy one to become immersed into and, while his characters may be a little flat, this is a novel more of ideas than about characterization. World War Z is an enjoyable novel that has an uncanny ability to draw the reader into the near future apocalyptic world Brooks has invented.

Copyright © 2006 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a five-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.


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