13 February 2007

World War Z

As some of you know, this semester I'm taking Horror Lit with Dr. Carse. We're studying horror films and fiction through postmodernism,* and we're starting our unit on Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. Films include: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Shaun of the Dead. Books include: The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, both by Max Brooks.

I read our selection from the Survival Guide grinning the whole way through it. Tire irons and crow-bars are the best hand-to-hand weapons. Voodoo zombies are just different. I loved it and I went straight on into WWZ. It's a memoir of a global struggle against a huge zombie outbreak, and it never happened. What, I asked myself, could be more (a) postmodern and (b) hilariously absurd?

The answer is: dead grandmothers. Because the book is absurd, there's no denying that, but it's not funny. It's the most depressing, gruesome, realistic novel I've read in a while. It's horrible; remember the opening sequences of Dawn of the Dead, with the army trying to clear buildings room by room? It's like that, only there are so many zombies that it's more like block by block, and eventually, the humans close themselves off into safe zones and just try to survive. The book is a series of interviews with survivors who never existed, a lot of them important people (the Vice-Prez of the US, the guy who came up with The Plan to Save Humanity, etc.). Most of them, however, are just people, like a girl whose mother tried to strangle her before the zombies got them, a Russian soldier whose entire base was decimated (in the Roman sense, with rocks, by each other, at gunpoint) for trying to abandon their station to reach their families, a girl whose family fled north to the Canadian wilderness where the zombies would freeze in winter, the guy who invented and marketed a placebo vaccine (Brooks' zombies are viral) that he knew did not work, and even the doctor brought to treat Patient Zero.

I do not read war memoirs, and now I remember why. This book is genius -- twisted, soul-crushing genius. Part of its brilliance (and its horror) is that it is so perfectly contemporary. If there were a viral pandemic now, this is how it would happen, how people and the world and various governments would react. When evidence of the zombie virus gets out, Israel quarantines itself instantly, while China (the source of the outbreak) tries to cover up its existence, and the States skeptically deploys a token force to protect against it. The entire world is totally depopulated, especially large population centers like India and the Chinese coasts.

This book is fucking me up, but it's good. Really good. If you don't mind -- or hell, if you enjoy -- war memoirs, read it. It's a piece of dark, depressing, horrible, zombie-filled reality, and it's worth your time.

*I <3 postmodernism. A lot of it is pretentious nonsense, I'll grant you, but it's so playful! So cute, like a kitten with a ball of string theory! Gotta love it.

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