I am just returned from my most recent trip to the desert southwest. Great visit, had a wonderful trip with Mrs. Axe. En route, I put my new Kindle to the test (wonderful device, more on that later) while reading the novel "World War Z."
Written by Max Brooks (son of legendary comedian Mel Brooks), "World War Z" is written from the point of view of a journalist compiling a report for the United Nations a decade after the end of the Zombie War, comprised of eyewitness testimony from survivors. The blurbs come from various government officials, military members, scientists, and ordinary citizens caught up in a whirlwind plague that spreads to every corner of the globe.
The book covers accounts of everything from the initial contagion in rural China, to the spread of the plague, to the collapse of every society around the world – some (India, Iceland, Japan) more total than others (America, Cuba, Micronesia). The stories are visceral and raw; one character describes (SPOILER ALERT – highlight to read) a swarm of zombies EATING their way up a jam of cars on I-80 between Lincoln and North Platte in Nebraska, where the cars were so tightly packed that the occupants could not drive, or even open their doors to get away. Having driven that stretch of road countless times, the description of that scene left my blood cold. Brooks also wove real geopolitical threads into the story. Countries argued with each other about the way forward, tempers flared, ancient enemies (notably, Jews and Arabs, but there were many others) refused to cooperate, even in the face of annihilation, and weapons of mass destruction flew as often as accusations. The narrative also highlights survivor efforts to fight back, including desperate rear-guard actions, the adaptation of new tactics and weapons to the new threat, grim plans that doomed as many people as they saved, and a desperate three-month battle in the sewers beneath Paris. Bolt-action rifles and training that emphasizes "aim for the head" (re: my title for this entry) replace tanks and bombs as the watchwords of the world's militaries. Needless to say, the human world that emerges as the nations struggle to overcome the zombie menace is radically different in political, economic, and even ecological terms.
It's not perfect, though; the stories of survivors lack distinct voice, to my taste. Sure, dialogue and word choices are varied but I rarely got a feeling of distinct tone from the characters. Also, I had some issues with the basic premises of the world gov'ts using mountain ranges as natural defensive positions. Zombies are humans, after all, and are perfectly capable of wandering across mountains, especially since they are not vulnerable to freezing, disease, or other cold-weather hazards. Finally, the entire book owes its entire heritage to George Romero's ideas on the subject (few recent zombie fictions don't). I don't think it struck any new ground in the genre and was, essentially, very derivative.
Overall, I rather enjoyed the whole thing. It's light, it's a diversion, and there is something about the end of the world – viewed through the lenses of characters no different from the reader, on ground the the reader themselves might have trod upon – is always appealing.
I give it 3.5/5 stars. If you like zombies and don't go into it expecting it to break any ground, then you'll probably like this.