Wednesday, July 31, 2013

MArooned Book Review: "World War Z"

Okay, so a few weeks ago I picked up "World War Z" by Max Brooks. The premise is simple: after the great zombie outbreak, a survivor is tasked with interviewing other survivors to document the extent of the outbreak, how groups dealt with it, and the aftermath. The novel takes us to all seven continents, exploring how first, second, and third world countries dealt with the zombie outbreaks. Along the way, we explore military responses, both good and bad; civilian responses, also good and bad; and in general explore how different facets of humanity might deal with the undead menace.

I liked "World War Z". I liked it a lot. Heck, I read it three times just to make sure I didn't miss anything. It's very well-presented, with the various major - and not so major - countries represented. Brooks does an excellent job portraying how various nations and ideologies would theoretically handle an outbreak of the undead, and the novel really does give the reader much to think about.

The zombie archetype is really a stand-in for "anything bad that happens that's out of our control". Nuclear war. Pandemic sickness. Drought. You can substitute "zombie" for any of these and really not lose much in the translation, either in the human response to the threat or in the aftermath. It's a convenient substitute for [INSERT BAD THING HERE] that doesn't rely on socio-political norms or stereotypes. It's a "safe" bad guy. To the best of my knowledge, there's no "Zombie Defamation League" working to improve the image of the zombie.

There's a lot that Brooks gets right - or, more precisely, that I agree with the way he's presented. Major cities - US or worldwide - would have serious hardships dealing with a zombie outbreak. They're dependent on outside sources for power and food; remove those (through zombie outbreaks outside of the city or internal zombie outbreaks that keep shipments out) and the thin veneer of humanity is quickly stripped away.

One of the points that Brooks wanted to make in this novel was that the United States was too isolationist, too arrogant, and that this mindset would contribute to the many failures that we would face. In some ways, I think he portrayed it correctly; the bigshot Hollywood director that wanted a survival compound for reality TV, in particular, was especially poignant. I can totally see "Survivor: Yonkers" as a zombie reality show. The portions about re-educating people to do manual labor, while in some small ways possible, seemed rather forced.

On the other hand, though, I think that there was serious overlook of what is often derisively called "flyover country". Not everyone in the US holds an office job - and even those that do hold office jobs often have skills outside of the cubicle. One of the fundamental issues I had with the book was the depiction of folks as needing to be re-trained: if they were that useless (i.e. they couldn't sweep a floor or scrub a toilet), how in blue blazes did they escape the rampaging zombie hordes?

The response of the US Armed Forces as proposed by Brooks was interesting. The logistical challenges faced by this type of foe - they don't eat, they have no command, etc. - are certainly different than any we've faced previous. However, thinking that adaptation wouldn't happen instantly ignores the reality of what we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they were up-armoring Humvees after pretty much the first IED. I suspect that the military's response would not have been as lacking.

Another response that, IMHO, was given perilously short shift was the US civilian response. They derisively refer to "LMOE" - Last Man On Earth - types who planned for catastrophic events and survived the zombie attack, even though the decision had been made to abandon whole areas of the United States. In a way, I guess, Brooks got the government response precisely correct - rather than be impressed that they managed to survive, there's contempt that they don't welcome the US troops retaking the area as conquering heroes.

The firearms content is laughable - just overlook it, really - and the disdain for the middle and upper class is also off-putting. It's explained that we don't need movie producers or lawyers - except when we do - and that knowing how to fix machines and build stuff is some magic that white collar workers can't perform. While I'd wager that a good portion are exactly as useless as those portrayed, I know more than a few white collar folks that'd survive just fine. It's also never explained how these patently useless people managed to survive the zombie apocalypse. I'd have thought they'd have been food from day one.

All in all, though, it's an excellent read, well worth your time. There are many points to think about, not from just a ZOMG zombies perspective, but from a general "what would you do" sort of thing. There's a segment I mentioned above where some Hollywood mogul had a huge mansion completely outfitted with years worth of survival gear and invited the "best and brightest" to stay with him. Partway through, they are overrun - not by zombies, but from other humans seeking shelter from the zombie menace. Not necessarily something I'd have thought about from a survival standpoint, but definitely something to think about...

Two thumbs up for WWZ!

That is all.


Anonymous said...

It's in the "to be read" stack

Daniel in Brookline said...

I haven't read it, nor have I seen the movie.

I've read a review of the movie, though, claiming that it's being boycotted by some... for portraying Israel in a positive light. So perhaps I will go see it!

Jay: in re the Hollywood mogul whose mansion is overrun by other survivors -- uh, isn't that the secondary reason why survivalist bunkers are supposed to have well-stocked armories? Guns give the survivalist the luxury of deciding who gets to stay with him, and who gets kept out. So does the book get that wrong?

Ferret said...

I also highly recommend the audio book of World War Z. It has a full cast reading the parts of the characters from the book, all of whom did a fantastic job.

Tommy said...

There's no Zombie Dafamation League? Reg Shoe will have something to say about that. Undead Yes! Unperson NO!

Jeff the Baptist said...

Yeah a lot of the military equipment in the book doesn't work. .223 is too small for any sort of effective incendiary like the PIE round. Jumpsuits make for bad field uniforms. But the book itself is fun if you don't think too hard.