Zombies are the new vampires. By that I mean that zombies seem to be (pardon the expression) coming back to life and taking the place of vampires as the premiere monster of horror fiction. I don't know about you, but to me there's something about zombies that really reaches down deep into my hindbrain and creeps the frack out of me. Zombies don't think. They don't feel fear. They won't stop. Ever. And they want to eat you.
Sounds delightful, doesn't it? Since "Dawn of the Dead," George A. Romero's midnight-movie masterpiece, zombies have simmered at the bottom of the horror genre. Recently, though, that's started to change. With Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, we get what I think is one of the best zombie books ever written.
Drawing on the form made famous by such luminaries as Studs Terkel, who popularized the oral history, Brooks traces a Zombie Apocalypse from beginning through to the end. The conceit of the book is that the Earth has recently survived an outbreak of the living dead and the narrator of the book traveled throughout the world, talking to survivors and hearing their stories.
We, the readers, get to hear the survivors' stories in their own voices and Brooks does an excellent job of making the different oral histories actually sound like they come from different people. From the Chinese doctor present for one of the first outbreaks, to the downed Air Force pilot trying to survive after her plane went down in a storm, to the Naval diver who is tasked with destroying zombies on the ocean floor, we are taken through the very worst humanity will ever face. Once we've faced the worst, Brooks takes us to the end.
Now, most zombie books that I've read lately have, to put it kindly, a nihilistic bent. That is, the most you can ever hope for is a temporary peace. In the end, we're told, the zombies will win. Brooks, however, takes a completely different tack. It's obvious Brooks really thought this out. His scenario really delves into what it would take to roll back a tide of the living dead, a tide that will only get larger as each member of your army falls.
If you have even a passing interest in horror fiction or zombies, you need to get World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. You won't regret it.
Reviewed by Richard Jones
Copyright © October 2006