Speaking of Zombie Apocalypses…

Well, since Ken offered a perfect intro, I guess I should get off my but and deliver my promised book recommendation. World War Z is a mock-history of the zombie apocalypse. It postulates that some time in the very near future, zombies will rise (probably in China) and begin to devastate the world. Most of our high tech weapons and advantages will be useless against the zombie tide.

The conceit of the book is that the author was commissioned by the UN to deliver a final report (presumably after the war has been won) and the stories in the book are the "deleted scenes" from that UN report. The vignettes are roughly in chronological order, and take you through such things as different cultures different responses to the zombie threat, the environmental impact of the war, the draconian tactics that all countries were forced to use, the unique tactics developed to combat zombies (I particularly liked the "lemmings" plan), some of the turning point battles (including the disastrous Battle of Yonkers), and the larger than life characters that come to the fore.

The book succeeds because it takes itself so seriously. There is no wink and nod here. It also succeeds (for me) because it does more than just tell a horror story, it examines the impact of this event on the entire world. It is as much a thought experiment as The World Without Us. What is the environmental impact of all the fires and explosions that take place, which countries might actually profit from the war (hint: islands and totalitarian regimes) and what affect would this have on the people of the world?

The author has a knack for thinking of things that you would not have considered. For instance, there is a great sequence on what the Zombie War meant to the astronauts on the ISS. They had to watch the whole thing. Sure, there are a few bits that are a little too cute (a wealthy LA agent being "retrained" for useful work by his former cleaning lady, for example) but overall, this is the rare book that combines fantasy with real world implications without dissolving into Harry Turtledove territory.

I think anybody reading this would really enjoy this book, and I recommend it strongly.

Last 5 posts by Ezra


  1. Patrick says

    Ezra, while that's not the first time I've been confused for Ken, the best way to tell us apart is that I'm the fat white guy with hair.

    And I love this book as well. It reminds me of the wonderful interviews with veterans that Studs Terkel assembled into The Good War: An Oral History of World War II, only with zombies. WWZ is by no means parodic. It takes its subject matter, as Romero's best movies do, completely seriously and therein lies the magic behind a book that could, and by all rights should, have been a disaster. WWZ at core isn't about zombies. It's about the ways individual humans and societies face disasters.

  2. says

    This is one of those books that I'd love to recommend to a wider circle of people, but I know that many of them would never crack it because of the genre. "Ewww. Zombies? Are you going to ask me to read a Pokemon novelization next?"

    Yet as you both pointed out, it's great. The oral history approach works beautifully. The author is excellent at a technique of which I am very fond — focusing on the now, and how people are dealing with the central conflict of the book, while allowing only a few glimpses at a time of the backstory. It leaves you eager to read more to figure out how the hell did they get here.

    Ultimately the zombies could be replaced by a war, or a plague, or any other apocalypic event — the zombies are the frame for the storytelling and the narrative technique.

  3. says

    I agree with what Ken said regarding the way it so honors Romero and that the issues at the forefront are human. Patrick is right to praise that oral history technique.

    One example of how the book's just right approach works: Brook's references his previous zombie effort "The Zombie Survival Guide" I believe twice. But never by name, only as "that civilian manual". It's a small touch that really goes a long way, and the book is littered with them. Moments that maybe should have been too maudlin or overwrought never quite are.

    I loved it, and devoured it when I got it from Santa two Christmases ago.

  4. Patrick says

    Ezra, the comment you wrote under the name of "Ken" immediately above this one was caught in our spam filters. That's odd. I read on Megan McArdle's blog that Akismet has been filtering her own comments as spam recently.

  5. says

    Though I think JMS is a good choice to transform the book to a different format, the book would be better off as a mini-series and not a movie. Far, far, far, far better off.

  6. Patrick says

    I pulled this down from the shelf last night for some entertaining browsing before sleep. One thing that I love about the book is that it names real people without naming them. Clues, subtle and unsubtle, are given instead.

    The President at the time of the undead apocalypse (the one who fails to deal with the crisis, the Herbert Hoover of the dead) is the hardest to figure out, but I suspect he's Bill Frist or Macaca or some other Republican airhead who appeared to be a rising star in 2005 when the book was written. He's definitely not George Bush, who is rather explicitly referred to (without being named) as a previous administration. He could be a Democrat airhead, but it doesn't seem likely.

    The President who's sworn in upon the collapse of the administration is so obviously Colin Powell that it's just…obvious. Military background. Check. Unspecified minority. Check. Relatives in Jamaica. Check plus and a gold star. Which is fine. In the event the dead walked I'd prefer for Powell to be running the country than anyone I can think of.

    The new vice president (on a bipartisan compromise emergency administration) is Howard Dean. Who is interviewed (without naming him) in Vermont, and describes himself as a radical loudmouth. Three checks. I actually wouldn't mind Dean as President or VP in the event of something awful like the undead apocalypse. He's painfully honest even when he's wrong.

    The AG in the emergency administration is Rudy Giuliani. Again, a solid choice, because if you're going to curtail civil liberties (as you'll have to do if American humanity is to survive) you might as well have someone doing it who's scary in a charming sort of way.

    Again, this book is better than it has any right to be, just as (the original) Dawn of the Dead is better than it has any right to be.

  7. says

    I missed this the first time through, but to add to Patrick's analysis of the unnamed real people in the books – I'm pretty sure that the two celebrities fornicating on the couch in the "reality-show mansion" are supposed to be Jon Stewart and Ann Coulter. The which is pretty damned funny.