Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Brunch: World War Z

I have (another) confession to make. I am a huge geek. Yep, hundreds of Star Wars viewings, midnight showings of every Harry Potter movie, I own a corset and I’ve actually worn it to Renaissance fairs, and I stood in line at a sci-fi convention to meet Wil Wheaton. I have worn a Jedi knight costume, and not on Halloween. I have sat around tables with other geeks at midnight, eating pizza and Twizzlers and rolling dice and pretending to kill orcs and dire wolves. I also read like a geek.

I first discovered Max Brooks and his zombies a couple of years ago. We had some friends over to watch the Night of the Living Dead remake, and... well, basically, zombies are my Thing. That thing that really, really scares the (un)living daylights out of me. Vampires... meh! Demons... meh! Toothy aliens... meh! I've been reading Stephen King since the 5th grade, so there isn't much that gets to me, you see. Except zombies.

So, after a nervous night with the nightlight on, I come home from work to find my beloved had gotten me a gift: Max Brooks' first book, The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead. Since then I have found my zombie-bashing courage and have been able to enjoy a range of zombie-related entertainment. You can imagine my excitement when I heard that Brooks had released a new book. It is World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.

Okay, ready for the review? This book is SO GOOD. Need I say more? All right: I stayed up reading until I fell asleep from exhaustion two nights in a row because I didn't want to stop reading. I foisted this book off on everyone I knew - B read it just after I did, and next it went to co-workers. I kept sneaking back to the book to read the bits before and after B’s bookmark, so that I could see where he was in the tale.

The concept of the book is that it is a series of interviews with people who survived the zombie apocalypse, organized in a way which tell the tale from the first known zombie infections to the ultimate all out war against the zombie horde. Yes, the typical zombie tropes are there, there's no new or innovative zombie lore (except for perhaps a description of the mechanism that causes the undead to assemble). And the reader already knows the outcome of the war from the very first page, or the description on the back of the book. None of these things are surprising. What is wonderful is that Brooks manages to take a slew of stock characters and stereotypes and turn them into living, fascinating characters with merely a paragraph long introduction and three to five pages of dialogue. Just dialogue. He transmits everything through the character's speech, the words they choose, when they pause, what they choose to talk about. It's just brilliant.

A movie is being made of this book (possibly due July 2013) but, unlike the Hunger Games movie, I'm not so much looking forward to it. It seems that they might be turning it into a single point-of-view story with Brad Pitt as the dashing hero who saves the world. Okay fine, I like Brad and that's typical zombie movie plotting, but that's not WWZ. If you think you might see the movie, I really recommend reading the book first.

(On a side note, often you CAN watch the movie first and try the book later, when both are well done. I saw the movie for Eat, Pray, Love first and thoroughly enjoyed it, and then thought the book was even better. I watched Water for Elephants first, which seemed like the better way to go, because my sister groused at the screen the entire time about how they were doing it wrong... but I liked the movie well enough, and then enjoyed the book too, shortly thereafter. I just don't see this being the case with WWZ. The book is so varied and deep, and it's the individual characters that make the book shine. Focusing on one “hero” and making the others into supporting characters seems a real shame to me.

If you give it a try, come back and let me know what you think!

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