EG’s Review: World War Z

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Alright, peoples, you’ve waited long enough to hear about this one! The Steve Austin Book Club is back, and more extreme than ever! Or, perhaps that is Xtreme! Mayhaps we should rename ourselves The Xteve AuXtin BooX Club, as an indicator of our new hip and happenin’ ways!

Or, not.

Anyway, this is the review of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. This review is apt to spoil the book, so if you haven’t read it and want to, you may want to skip this. There will be SPOILERS-A-PLENTY! If you have read the book, feel free to leave a comment!

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Now with the preliminaries out of the way, sit back and enjoy!

World War Z is a collection of the post-Zombie War rememberances of indidual survivors throughout the world. It is ten years after the official end of the war… a time to look back. The book is presented in a series of personal stories/interviews with individuals discussing their roles and reactions as the world was plunged into a panic and near extinction of the human race. Using these personal stories, the audience follows as the events of the Zombie War are revealed in pieces, from its start within the borders of China, to the various steps taken by governments throughout the world in attempts to protect their borders, through battlefields where traditional tactics are found lacking, to the eventual steps toward survival, which rely on plans for each nation to virtually abandon most of their citizens. The stories come from average individuals, politicians, military personnel, corporate leaders, slackers, etc., etc., etc.

And… that’s about the sum of it.

Let me start this by saying that the concept of this book is genius. I loved the premise and the style used. As an avid fan of the History Channel, I could really see this story being told through the account of eye witnesses just as much of their programming does. If there is any downside to that, it is that I think that this is one of those few occassions where the upcoming film based on this book may surpass the book in effectiveness. Why? Because the biggest complaint I have about the book seems to be a near universal complaint about it – while we are told that the stories come from various individuals, the vast majority of the stories are very much in the same voice, seemingly from the same individual. That is why I think the movie has the advantage. The various actors will lend their own spin to each vignette, allowing the audience to see a greater variance than what was afforded in the book.

I did appreciate the fact that the author knew his audience. Very little time was spent dwelling on what zombies are and trying to explain them away. Instead, he worked from a standpoint of “the people that pick this book up know what these creatures are.” It was nice to not have the lodestone of origin dragging the book down.

Now, the downside. Without an establishing of the specifics of the zombie of this book, we don’t have a firm enough idea of what these zombies are really like. And, it seems that the author forgets as well. There are times when we are told that zombies eventually decompose, and yet we are confronted with zombies in several instances that seem to have survived locked up in abandoned homes for years, no worse for wear. We are told that frozen weather will freeze zombies, yet they can walk unencumbered along the ocean floor, which rests at right about 32 degrees. (Fun science fact: the ocean, being salty, doesn’t freeze until the water hits about 28.5 degrees. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.)

There also seems to be a real lack of knowledge about military weaponry. The idea that modern weapons would be less than effective against the undead is really hard to believe. The shrapnel described in the book always somehow managed to avoid hitting the zombies in the head. There is a reason that the militaries of the world issue metal helmets to their soldiers.

I can go along, to some extent, with the laughable actions of government during a situation like this, but the overall political commentary in the book is hack-kneed and blunt to the point of near rhetoric. Everything is too surface, no depth.

I was also unimpressed with the two types of people that we were presented with in the book: the noble hero and the scummy opportunist. There didn’t seem to be any other degrees of personality. I understand that a tragedy can be a polarizing event, but there are more shades to people than this, and not having those shades made almost all the characters boring and relatively two-dimensional.

Which, now that I think about it and re-read my last complaint, is the problem I have with the book as a whole. For all the supposed individuals “interviewed” in the book, there just isn’t enough to any of them. The characters are flat, which is really what makes them all sound the same. Perhaps if the author had focused on fewer stories, we could have had a more in depth character study of each. People aren’t simply noble or evil… they are far more complicated than that.

The book wasn’t terrible, but I expected and wanted so much more from it. As I mentioned, I’m really hoping that the actors in the planned film are able to bring that little extra to this project that is sorely missing in the book. For the potential of this book and the concept, I’m giving it two and a half Running Steves.

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And, here’s to hoping that the film gets moving from development limbo and into actual production!

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