Phil: World War Z, written by Max Brooks, is a very clever book. Written entirely in the past tense, it describes the ten-year long Zombie war as a series of individual accounts related to the author, a UN executive who has previously written the official report on the war. The idea is that these would have been in this report but were instead published in book form as they were too casual for an “official” publication.
Starting with a doctor who treats “Patient Zero” at the start of the outbreak, we hear from an ordinary soldier who fought in the failed American “Last Stand” at Yonkers, a South African who comes up with a practical but horrifying strategy to fight the zombies, the US general who takes control of the reconfiguring of society to fight back and survive along with many others.
Being an oral history, we don’t get to know everything. For example, no one explains where the virus that caused the zombies to rise up comes from. There are hints that it originated in China as a military programme but that’s never explicitly stated. There’s also an event called “the great panic” where it is hinted that a US newsreader finally tells the truth about the zombies on air – previously news had been suppressed – but while it’s alluded to, we never get any details, just the results.
Along the way, different countries handle things in their own way. Israel abandons the Palestinian territories and shuts the rest of the world out. The US goes typically gun-ho in a completely ineffective way initially. This is truly multi-national story.
Now, you might suggest that zombies are a stupid enemy – completely preposterous in fact, but that doesn’t make them any less entertaining. There’s also an allegory with current events. Were Ebola or SARS to spread dramatically, how would nations react to the threat? More to the point, how would society react? How would you handle such a threat?
The book plays everything straight and works well because of it. Fastidious research and realistic assumptions from the author make a fundamentally silly idea work brilliantly. The idea of a series of verbal accounts from different points of view is inspired. Maybe it’s been done before, but I don’t recall it. A fascinating read.