Sunday, June 23, 2013

World War Z, Max Brooks

No. I'm not reading it because of the movie. It's been on my list for a while, though the movie was an impetus not to wait anymore. The book is always better than the movie, and I find I'm not as excited to read something after I've seen the movie.

I did enjoy this book, though I found it to be a tad depressing. Not surprising, given the subject matter. What I did not expect was the format. I didn't realize until I bought it that it was an "oral history." It's written like a history book, a collection of survivor accounts, not a novel. Now, this is not really my thing. As you've gathered if you've read my other posts, I like characters and character development. That doesn't really work with this format. That being said, I was still riveted.

Plus, I think the format makes it more possible the movie will stand up against the book. See, there's no one Brad Pitt character that carries through the whole book. There is one person who gets 3 entries in the book, but nothing as consistent at what appears to be in the movie – if previews can be believed. And the name on IMBD is not one I recognize from the book. But I think that's going to make it better for the movie. There are fewer expectations for the character and the plot. They'll be too different to compare them. 

The book is divided into several chapters taking the reader through the war from patient zero to the reestablishment of society. The timeline is never specified, but the reader is informed the war lasted 10-12 years, depending on which part of the world you're talking about, and there has been peace for about 10 years. Given some other info about political leaders and pre-war events, and the copyright date (2006), I'm going to guess the book is "written" in about 2025. Honestly it doesn't really matter. I imagine the decision to leave out any kind if identifying time info was a conscious decision to make the book relevant in the long term.

The second chapter, Blame, was the most difficult for me. I could really imagine things going to hell in exactly that way; people putting profit and politics above everything else to the detriment of the world. See, the zombie outbreak was not entirely unexpected – the warnings were just ignored. Or straight up exploited. Only one country takes advance action – though, come to think of this, you're never really told if it helped in the long run or was a failed attempt. I think it was successful. That's the impression I got.

I say Blame was the hardest chapter, and that's true, but generally, the decisions that must be made once the threat is overwhelming is heartbreaking as well. Yes, if people had done what was needed in the first place, there wouldn't have been a global crisis. But they didn't and it was. And so terrible choices had to be made. You really (well, I did) feel the anguish of those who carry those decisions. Ironically (or completely predictably), the people who fucked up in the first place don't carry any burdens, don't feel any anguish. Sounds about right.

Anyway, my one complaint, and it's not really a complaint, given that it's probably more realistic, was the ending. I had hoped for an optimistic ending; a "the world changed" or a "perseverance of the human spirit" kind of ending. Instead, it felt more…"and we're still a bunch of assholes."

A couple of parts stood out for me. One was very early on, like within the first 50 pages. There was a section about the CIA. How it's not all powerful. Another was about the war in the UK. Specifically how old castles had become the saviors of many of citizens of Europe. The interviewee for that one talks about how the monarchy, specifically the Queen, reacted. How she stayed in the castle, with the masses she had invited to take sanctuary with her. How she thought it was her duty and what it meant to the people of her country. I found it very moving. As an American, I see the royals as more celebrities than leaders, but this was a different perspective. I'd like to think they would really behave so honorably IRL.

One other thing I want to point out is the international aspect of the book. Most of the time, these kinds of disaster plots are isolated to the country that's writing them. For example, I'm a fan of Falling Skies on TNT, about alien invasion. The world beyond the US is entirely ignored. It's true for most shows/movies/books in the genre. Independence Day briefly looks at the world as a whole, though even that puts the US at the center. (I'm just using examples off the top of my head.) This isn't exactly a criticism. It's only natural to write an ethnocentric plot, whatever the medium. Everyone does it. If your characters come from Zimbabwe, it makes sense they'll focus on the events in Zimbabwe. WWZ, on the other had is about a world war and discusses it as such. No one lives in a vacuum.

I'm a nerd so, obviously, reading this book made me think about how I would survive the zombie apocalypse. However, I seem to have a general inability to understand the abilities of zombies. That makes me sound like an idiot. I know. I obviously get the easy stuff, the generalities; it's the specifics I'm unclear about. I kind of thought living in an apartment building would be a good thing; 3rd floor or above. The doors are typically fairly strong, though, admittedly not impenetrable. If you have decent sound proofing, you don't have to worry about being heard moving around. But…can they climb or not? Stairs specifically. In some parts, it seems people are safe on roof tops, etc, which would indicate they cannot. In other parts, it seems apartment buildings were very dangerous. It was especially confusing in the section where a kid was both safe and unsafe in an apartment building. He was left alone for days, and it's not till he tries to leave and draws attention to himself that he becomes unsafe. It seemed odd to me because I would think you would be ok in a secure apartment – provided no one was already infected. (see, nerd)

Another was frozen zombies. Apparently they freeze solid. This is a new idea for me. I'd never considered that. They freeze, then thaw. In some parts it seemed you had to wait for them to thaw, at least partially, before you could "kill" them. In others it seems like they shatter like something dipped in liquid nitrogen.

I guess I need to read Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide.

Finally, I like this new trend we seem to be having in the Zombie genre. Up to this point (generally), I feel like all the movies etc have been about surviving. Getting to a location that was "safe." That sort of thing. Now, it seems more and more that zombie movies are about the aftermath. This was written 10 years after the war "ended." It's a retrospective. I really noticed this while watching the BBCs miniseries In the Flesh, about the reintroduction of the "partially dead" into society. Yup, that's right, medically treated zombies. It's really excellent, I would highly recommend it. Netflix that shit. Another is (what looks like an absolutely terrible movie) Warm Bodies, about zombie who falls in love and comes back to life. I like this trend. I'm an art imitates life kind of person. I think we talk about difficult subjects through art. In the Flesh focuses on themes of acceptance and prejudice. I think WWZ focuses on the necessity of human cooperation and interdependence. Warm Bodies is up in the air (because I have not watched that shit). I think it matters. I have no idea what, if anything this trend really indicates. I'm not a sociologist or an anthropologist, but I like to think it means we're evolving as a society. That we're looking less at how to survive and more at what I means to our collective consciousness to survive.

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