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World War Z

by Rob Friesel

World War Z by Max BrooksWhere to begin?

I would be willing to say that Max Brooks has given us a “new classic” of zombie literature in World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. The novel is well-structured, is well-paced, and seems so … plausible.

And when I say “plausible”, I mean the Brooks has tried to carefully — though not necessarily exhaustively — look at the current geopolitical climate and imagine what a sudden “zombie” outbreak scenario would look like today or in some tenable near-future. Brooks makes what seems to me to be a sincere effort to leave no logistical stone uncovered: how does the plague spread? what are the consequences of a government cover-up? what about the navies and submarines? what about satellites and GPS? how do you “quartermaster” an army that is on foot going up against “the undead”? He tried to cover all the bases in as realistic a way as possible. Considering such an unrealistic scenario. Again: Brooks is not trying to be exhaustive but considering where he puts his focus, he certainly comes across as inventive. He gives us some sadistic twists throughout the narrative; for every up-lifting deus ex machina near-miss (e.g., Col. Eliopolis and “Mets Fan”) there is some grim and ironic counterpoint (e.g., the slaughter at Alang’s ship breaking yard). Wisely, Brooks tries to keep these stories diverse: military and civilian; American and Chinese; young and old; optimistic and jaded. He does not waste a great deal of energy discussing “Zack”; there is no in depth technical discussion of the virus — just a few allusions to methods of transmission (those bites) and then we move on to what matters. That is where Brooks keeps the focus: it’s on how people — be they individuals or entire governments — react to these extreme scenarios. And he does a decent job peeling the peach of the technological modernity while he’s catapulting us through this tale.

Two closing points:

  1. Brooks is also graciously humble. He cites George Romero in the acknowledgments; can’t get far with your zombie mythos without giving the right credit.
  2. This novel had but one thing keeping it from a full five star rating: many of the voices are not really distinct. We are presented with the novel as if it were a historical document — the transcripts of interviews with survivors from “World War Z”. But reading it, you can’t help but think that the government official sounds an awful lot like the feral child that sounds a lot like the retired Indian army grunt… But don’t let that stop you: there is plenty else in this novel to warrant reading it.

Review originally posted on

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day. Science fiction writer by night. Weekend homebrewer, beer educator at Black Flannel, and Certified Cicerone. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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