Sunday, December 13, 2009

There's gotta be a way to sing "Zombie Nation"...

Book07: "World War Z" by Max Brooks

Though I thoroughly enjoy the subject matter, my "experience" with zombies is pretty limited. As young as I am, it's mostly based around "Resident Evil" and other similar video games, "28 Days Later", "Shaun of the Dead" (an absolute favorite), and the most recent "Zombieland". When I saw the cover of "World War Z"by Max Brooks, it got me thinking. It was dark and a bit desolate, hinting at the rough side of war, the grittiness of it, and there was blood and the word "zombie". It was enough for my imagination to sell the book to me. Unfortunately, my imagination was far more exciting than anything the book had to offer.

The idea of the origin of zombies in "WWZ" wasn't dull. It centered around zombie-ism being a disease of some sort, rather than being born of the sci-fi/supernatural. Of course, it isn't the first time this notion of zombies was pushed out (i.e. Resident Evil, 28 Days Later), and I always found the concept interesting (same with vampirism being a sort of disease). The dull part was the delivery. The story is told through a series of interviews with various people from around the world who experienced WWZ. The characters ranged from doctors and scientists to politicians to members of different forms of military to regular civilians. The interviews were divided into eight "chapters", each chronicling a different time frame or area in the war: Warnings (pre-war), Blame, The Great Panic (when everyone started freaking), Turning The Tide, Home Front USA, Around The World And Above, Total War, and Good-Byes.

Each interview was bland. The characters were not interesting at all. Every chapter, (nearly) every anecdote was like a history lesson of the war, and not the good kind. It was like I was in AP Government again, but instead of watching news documentaries about Vietnam or the Gulf War, it was a fictional count of a war with zombies. I wasn't around for Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, so I cant personally say how effective that "realistic" approach to a sci-fi idea went, but Max Brooks did not have it. The characters were uninteresting; they had no personal voice. Every account sounded like the same person just stating a different view. Brooks' characters had no depth, no emotions or reactions you could believe. Nearly every character's interview sounded staged, like they were reading lines from a play or a really bad monologue. On top of that, they would all say cliche things like, "Who could have been ready for this?" or "Those cries will be with me for the rest of my life." Honestly, it was like a high schooler wrote the dialogue; an unimaginative high schooler. It was like that scene in "X-Men" when Storm was fighting the Toad and delivered the worst line in the movie. The dialogue made "WWZ" feel campy. And for a book using anecdotal interviews as a vehicle for narrating the story, that's the one thing you cannot get wrong.

Another aspect of the book that bothered me had to do with some of the people who were interviewed. It makes sense to interview politicians who ran departments in charge of solving and containing the threat, or the military men and women who had to face the threat head on as part of their duties, but Brooks went a bit off the deep end. Why do I care about an interview with a guy who was scuba diving for zombies? Or a guy who became a dog handler during war because he stopped a couple of random dudes on the side of the street from eating a dog? It was like a slow news day. It was like the Interviewer ran out of good people to get stories from, but he was three thousand words short of a complete story, so he just threw those guys in to meet the criteria. I'll let it be known now: if our world does in fact go into a war with zombies, I do not want to see the news running stories and interviews about guys who went undersea diving for zombies or a guy who became a dog handler during the war.

The only chapter that I did enjoy and felt some emotions with was the final chapter, "Good-Byes". It's basically an epilogue for the story, the interviewer coming back to characters introduced earlier in the book, and their accounts of life after liberation. I think it was by far the shortest chapter, with most interviews lasting no more than a page or so long. I dont know if it was the brevity of the pieces, but Brooks really got to the emotions of the characters, and it wasnt campy or corny; it was real. Maybe it was the hope thanks to survival or the desperation and disgust due to what was lost, but for the first time in the book, the characters felt like real people telling sharing their real feelings.

Despite being a novel approach to telling a story, Brooks wasn't able to hook me and pull me deep into the story. I think a lot of the plot and the events that were described sounded like what would happen to our world if we ever found ourselves battling zombies, but the lack of believable characters and story telling made it all sound like no more than political ponderings rather than a story. That hint of realism may have worked in his "How To" guide due to being a bit ironic and tongue-in-cheek, but it didnt carry over into "WWZ". If you allow me to be equally campy, "World War Z" was a lot like the zombies in the book.....dead! (Right?? Right??? Because the book was boring, and boring things make you seem like you're dead...! And zombies are dead...!)


Jen K said...

I actually really liked this one - not so much because of the characters necessarily but I thought he actually put some thought into how it would affect different nations and the politics. How much longer do you have left on your deployment? My old unit is over there right now but I don't hear too much from them (since they were part of the surge, they've been stuck in some pretty crappy accommodations, and can't even get personal internet).

Anhelo said...

I'm reading this right now too! and boy is it a struggle to get through - it started off interesting, but this thing is poorly written and incredibly boring

I'll read your review after I write mine.. what a weird coincidence!

Jen said...

I liked it. Phooey on both of you (Mike and Twin).

Anhelo said...

I Agree! with the 'no voice' part - I said the SAME EXACT thing in my post.

Oh well, off to the next book