Monday, October 17, 2011

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, written by Max Brooks

It was only a matter of time before I got the idea to combine my love of literature with two great factors in my life- my ever-handy smart phone, and my long commute to and from work. Having downloaded the "Audible" app that allows the purchase and download of audio books through, I was granted a credit with which to download one of many advertised books. One of them was the subject of this post, and I was immediately drawn to the inclusion of the words "War" and "Zombies", as a firm supporter of team human in the imagined Zombie Apocolypse. Further appealing was the author- the son of Mel Brooks, of whom I am a fan.

The premise of 'World War Z' is that a virus or sickness of sorts is spread through contact with saliva of an infected person, largely in the form of a bite, that kills a victim and reanimates them as a zombie. Contributing to the spread of the virus is the disbelief of the majority of humanity, and decisive inaction at first. As the virus spreads, initially unchecked, each nation is forced to evaluate how to best combat an enemy that doesn't need to eat, drink, breathe, rest or interact strategically in order to operate on the offensive. This isn't exactly an original idea. Zombie stories have been done over and over again. What lends a refreshing quality to this piece is, I believe, best exemplified in audio-book format. I am glad it's the direction I took, because I fear that there would be a lot lost in reading this rather than listening to it.

The story is a collection of firsthand recollections and testimonies from people involved in the Zombie War, or World War Z, in some manner or another. It reads like a collection of interviews, which could be boring in writing, but is very much brought to life by the AMAZING voice actors in the audiobook. Contributors such as Max Brooks, Alan Alda and John Turturro- to name a few- make this a hugely believable and entertaining read. I mentioned to a friend during the time I spent listening to this that I was almost convinced World War Z had actually happened. It begins in China with an interview of a physician called in to evaluate several early victims in the spread of the virus. When he shares his concerns with others about the lack of infection surrounding the bites on the sickly victims, and their appearance to be from a human assailant, we are given the impression that this isn't the first time something like this has happened. China, from apparent reluctance to take credit for the beginnings of the virus, stay tight-lipped about the problem and do their best to isolate it. However, their efforts fail and it begins to spread elsewhere in Asia and into Europe, eventually further reaching.

Throughout the course of the book, you hear the fictional stories first-hand from members of the military, from criminals, fugitives, doctors. You hear the story of a hardened woman who grew from childhood during the Zombie War, having to witness things a child shouldn't, and close herself to her natural empathies in order to survive. The most fascinating, to me, are the accounts of the military personnel and their descriptions of the horror that seized them all when they realized that they had no idea how to fight the unstoppable mass that fell upon them, wave after wave. Hearing about the terrible and destructive forces that were brought out to combat the animated dead and their reasonably small effect was chilling.

My only complaint with the audiobook is this: Because of the way the book is written, my enjoyment of it depended a lot upon the believability and authenticity of the voice actors in their ability to make the writing sound like their natural and first-hand account. I cannot stress enough how amazing most of them were at doing this, but there were one or two readers that sounded like just that- readers, rather than 'becoming' the character the way the others did. Max Brooks himself sounded almost unbelievably flippant at times. His role is that of the interviewer that drives the stories and its players along, and his voice almost betrays a happiness at times that doesn't fit with the grave atmosphere of the book.

Overall, however, I found it a very entertaining and well done piece and would definitely recommend it, even for those that aren't horror buffs the way I am. It got me excited to continue my adventure into audiobooks.

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