An Oral History of the Zombie War
Written By: Max Brooks
Published By: Three Rivers Press
Reviewed By: Melissa Minners
Some time ago, I was suffering from a sinus infection and decided that, since I couldn’t really do anything but lay in bed, I would watch a movie all of my friends and co-workers were talking about: World War Z. I really enjoyed the film, so when I discovered that it was based on a novel, I wanted to check it out. I perused it at my local bookstore and realized the book was very different from the film. Sometimes, that can be a good thing. But the price at the time wasn’t, so I passed on the purchase. Recently, I found the book again at a much more manageable price and decided to buy it.
Author Max Brooks has been quoted as saying that the only thing that the movie had in common with his book was the central storyline, that of the zombie virus and the fall of the world as we knew it. I would tend to agree. The book begins with an introduction by the fictitious author of this oral history, a man who worked with the United Nations on the Postwar Commission Report, but whose content was cut to eliminate the emotional side, focusing on a true after-action report of the events of the Zombie War. The author decided to write a novel, including the various individuals he spoke with in an effort to outline just what happened before, during and after this cataclysmic event.
He begins with the warning signs – the rumors of a “rabies” spreading through the human population that reanimates the dead. No one can truly believe this virus exists in the way that the rumor states. When they do finally witness the virus in action, a panic ensues. The various militaries around the world decide to take up arms, many joining forces to fight this re-animated evil spreading through the world. Finally, the author discusses the recovery effort – the losses, the PTSD, the rebuilding effort and more.
First, may I say that if you are having a tough time dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, World War Z may not be for you. There are just too many similarities to the events before and during the zombie outbreak that eerily mirror those of the COVID outbreak. It is truly disturbing. One has to work hard to remind themselves that this book was written decades prior to our own outbreak, especially when we read that the zombie virus outbreak was believed to have started in China and they tried to hide it. We also see similarities with our loss in faith in our government thanks to its response to the virus and the lack of valid information being dispersed to civilians. And then there is the profiteering, such as the man selling a fake vaccine-like pill that is supposed to stop you from getting the zombie virus…much like Remdesivir was supposed to stop you from getting COVID.
Once you get past the disturbing similarities to current events, you start to realize how great it is to read the various aspects of the Zombie War through the differing perspectives offered in this novel. We see things through the eyes of that despicable profiteer who seeks to make money deluding people into thinking he is selling them the cure. We see things through the eyes of Millennials who have always known instant gratification and now have to fend for themselves, cooking, gathering supplies and just trying to survive a zombie horde. We see things through the perspective of soldiers who have never had to fight a war like this – after all, you can’t use propaganda against this enemy, or scare it with numbers or big weapons. The dead have no fear and they have the numbers – infinite amounts of numbers they can create just by biting someone. And then there are the things that these zombies can do. The zombies in the movie are superfast. This is not the case in the novel, but these zombies are just as scary in their abilities – surviving under water at depths that no human can survive, freezing in subzero temps only to reanimate come the thaw, and more.
I also enjoyed the discussion of the ravages of war as we read the words of those who had to do things they never thought they would to survive like heading to colder climates hoping for a zombie freeze, resorting to cannibalism just to eat as the food supply chain dwindles, taking a military submarine out to sea and remaining underwater for months to save your military families and more. Then there are the simple ravages of war to the planet – the pollution, the devastation of land and sea due to bombing, regular and nuclear, the fires and more.
So, to sum things up, Max Brooks was right, the World War Z movie shows very little resemblance to his novel. And in my opinion, that’s just fine. I loved the action and adventure of the film, but I think I loved the novel more. It’s a thinking man’s look at the zombie war from all aspects, not just the action side, but the emotional side. The idea of creating an oral history of a fictional zombie war seen through perspectives of civilians, military personnel, government officials and more is brilliant and Brooks executed it perfectly. World War Z is a terrific read!