Tuesday, February 6, 2007

World War Z Wrapup

About a week ago, I finally got around to finishing Max Brooks' zombie fest, World War Z. Initially, I was really blown away by the book. It's unique in its structure as well as in its subject matter. As I discussed earlier, the author's depth of knowledge on the subject was impressive. Brooks literally thought of every zombie related situation imaginable and found a way to work it into the book. Because of its unique, interview-based structure, World War Z easily incorporates even the most bizarre or esoteric zombie hijinks.

Looking back, it's obvious that this structure--in many ways the books biggest strength--was also its greatest flaw. While Brooks spends a great deal of time on some parts of the war effort, specifically the US's early struggles and eventual victory, he spends few words describing others. Some elements like the descriptions of zombies emerging from the oceans to attack unsuspecting vacationers were cool, but never should have been fleshed out into whole interviews. Others probably could have shouldered a lot more of the effort.

In total, World War Z really stands as an encyclopedia of sorts, relating to all things undead. Brooks took such a massive scope with this work that its hard to imagine what he might have overlooked. But beyond simply rehashing zombie lore, Brooks' global spin also saw the creation of many new conventions and themes: ferals, quislings, chain swarms, etc. The scope of his vision also allowed for a followthrough with regards to how a zombie outbreak would effect the world that would be virtually impossible in film. Romero's Land of the Dead tackled the idea of a world beset with zombies, but still kept its focus fairly tight. It will be very interesting to see how Plan B Entertainment, Brad Pitt's production house that won the rights to the book in a healthy bidding war, will bring WWZ to the screen as Brooks did the screenwriters few favors.

Brooks' novel ends on something of a positive note. Unlike many of the films that draw on zombie conventions, the survivors of World War Z have reached the end of the tunnel. Each speaker is sure to point out that there is a ways to go and that they are irreparably scarred, but Brooks allows readers a sense of hope for the future. He also never positions the zombies as any sort of deus ex machina that brings about world peace. Instead, we see the zombies as just another challenge that faces humanity, in some cases bringing out the best, while in others, the worst. Brooks illuminates both in a prose that varies with his speakers, but never falters. And like many genre texts that have come before it, be they movies, games or books, World War Z provides much fodder for analysis for any who pick it up in the future.

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