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Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Max Brooks At an impressionable age, I was traumatized by a double feature of “Evil Dead” and Romero's “Night of the Living Dead.” I was at a slumber party, so I couldn't very well go into another room and fall asleep, lest I wake up surrounding by clippings of my own hair and cuss words written on my face, backwards, so they would read forwards in the mirror. (Teen-aged girls man, worse than zombies.) So stuff about zombies is all shiny and sparkly for me, running with currents of terrifying electricity. I'm reminded of a family rabbit we had, who had a predilection for chewing on the wires of things so she could get a jolt. You'd catch her there, getting zapped, slightly, and then lolling about with her big, rabbit eyes kind of rolled into her head. Then she'd go back for more. I guess I just compared myself to a rabbit, and maybe we weren't the best rabbit-owners, but she did die of old age and not electric shock.

Of course, because of my zombiphobia, I received no less than three copies of World War Z when it came out, from caring friends and family members who think pushing my buttons is funny. And it is! Ask me about several hundred topics that I fell strongly about and watch the cussing ensue! Or don't; I'm sure you have better things to do. I took my sweet time reading the book, as I know I'm usually in for a week of nightmares about being trapped and chased. What's up, Freud, you old coot? Read any good books lately?

Books about monsters tend to fall into two camps, and they're not mutually exclusive. One is the action movie camp, about running and shooting and wearing sweet outfits and posing heroically. The other is more introspective, about society and the individual, musing on the boundaries between Us and Them and all that. In some ways I was lucky that I saw the best the genre had to offer, at the time, when I saw “Evil Dead” and “The Night of the Living Dead,” although maybe that's a weird way to put it. I have a feeling that zombies wouldn't have frightened me as much if it hadn't been Romero's nasty take on society and social order and all that. The little girl devouring her bickering parents? Seen right after my parents (admittedly non-rancorous) divorce? Thanks Romero, you should call Freud and hang out.

World War Z falls into the latter camp, although there are some nice chase-and-shotgut scenes if you're into that sort of thing. The whole end-of-the-world thing is slightly dampened by the structure of the book. It's really a collection of first-person narratives about the Zombie Wars, which begin right about now, and continue for about ten years. Then the tide turns, and humanity begins to reclaim the world from the undead hordes. The narratives are ostensibly recorded ten years after the last zombie has been cleared from American soil, although there continue to be “white zones” all over the world: Iceland, Siberia. God knows what happened in North Korea. But because the stories are recorded at all, you know that the tellers don't end up as snacks.

The best thing about the book is its international viewpoint. It's a sad truism that when the monsters start their invasion, it almost always happens in Southern California, because that's where the movies are made. I guess there's a secondary landing point in London or Cardiff, if you've been watching a lot of Dr Who, but that's neither here or there, because the viewpoint is still limited. Brooks is clearly taking aim at international politics, national and social norms, even global economics. I mean, the outbreak begins in China, for chrissake. He martials characters from all over, and manages to tell a pretty coherent story from mostly seen-from-the-ground perspectives. (The exception being the Australian astronaut who watched the whole thing from space. Ba-dump-tss.)

Brooks doesn't have the best ear for how different people talk, so the narratives have a kind of sameness that's disappointing. He clearly loves, and has read, a lot of military history and the like, and the jar-head soldier monologues are the best in the book: filled with fake military slang (the zombies are Zack, natch), loving descriptions of invented weaponry, and good-natured grousing about the Tough but Caring Sarge. The worst are from parts of the world that I suspect Brooks doesn't know as well, like Russia or Cuba, and the commentary ends up being pretty on-the-nose. Weirdly, so is the American housewife's commentary, although she may be an animal more mythical than zombies.

So, anyway, I just read this again because I was looking for something mindless and consumable, and I got Brooks' hot, tasty brain as a bonus.