World War Z, an Oral History of the Zombie War (Audio Book version)
First, the author. Max Brooks is the son of Mel Brooks, and I guess I had expectations. After all, wasn’t the monster in Young Frankenstein one of the finest examples of the walking dead ever created? It only took me a few minutes to stop waiting for the zombies to start singing Putting on the Ritz, and to realize that Max didn’t get where he is because of his father. Second, I am not a huge fan of zombie fiction. Zombies are mindless, hideous, an animated disease. I like my monsters beautiful and thoughtful obviously I find the vampire your superior evil entity. So I was ready to be convinced by World War Z.
And I was, many times over. By the end of the author’s introduction he sounds a bit like a young Richard Dreyfuss I knew this was going to be different.
The narrator tells us that the zombie war is almost over; it’s been ten years since humans declared a victory of sorts, with probably close to 900 million casualties. Parts of the world are still uninhabitable, most places are nearly deserted. But humanity is on its way back, and with the newly-won peace comes the eternal human impulse to tell a story. Everyone wants to talk about what happened to them, their families, and their communities, to remember those that were lost, and marvel at how the survivors managed to make it through. So the UN has sent our narrator out for an oral record of how we almost lost the planet. It follows the outline you might expect from the Chinese doctor who saw the first patient a young boy with an odd bite on his foot to the soldier of fortune hired to protect celebrities on Long Island, to the young Palestinian who found an unexpected refuge in Israel. By the way, because of their long history of expecting to be attacked at any moment, it seems the Israelis were the first to take the plague seriously and acted at once to save their country. Not so the US, where the Great Panic, as it was called, sent millions fleeing to the Canadian north see, the undead freeze solid above the snowline.
Unfortunately, so do living humans. We go from Ireland to South Africa, from Cuba to Kyoto, hear from ex-military, ex-lawyers, ex-smugglers, children, even a soccer mom, all with their own story to tell. A couple of standouts a hair-raising escape through the zombie infested Louisiana bayou by a female soldier, helped by a mysterious voice on the radio, and the tragic story of the Battle of Yonkers, where we almost lost the whole thing. How did humanity survive? What was the turning point in the war? It surely wasn’t what I was expecting. Would it have worked? I shudder to think we’ll ever have to find out. (No spoilers here, you have to listen or read it.)
The great, great thing about World Was Z is its unironic tone. The trend in fiction about zombies is towards the tongue in cheek; even the master George Romero, who practically invented the form, has turned winkingly self aware with his new movie-within-a-movie Diary of the Dead. World War Z is not camp, the zombies are not played for laughs. It’s deadly serious and often deeply disturbing. The zombies do serve as a nice stand-in for a whole world full of contemporary trouble our 21st century fears are faceless, implacable, they can’t be reasoned with, they are around every corner and they want to eat us alive. But by contrast, one can’t help but feel a great sense of hope at the sacrifice, bravery, sheer cleverness and the humanity of the survivors and the narrator, who keeps trying to stay out of it, but his kind hearted fingerprints of course are all over this story.
World War Z was recorded with a full cast, including Alan Alda, Henry Rollins, Rob Reiner, John Turturro, Mark Hamill and many, many others, and very well served by the narration of the author, Max Brooks.
World War Z by Max Brooks,read by Max Brooks, Alan Alda, John Turturro, Rob Reiner, Mark Hamill, Henry Rollins, and more. I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.