Sunday, November 19, 2006

REVIEW: "World War Z" - The PC Version of the End of the World

Max Brooks has written a must-have history for Romero (or just Zombie) fans every where - World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Unfortunately, while the story starts off strong, it soon dribbles into a series of disjointed and, occasionally, pointless vignettes.

It would be a difficult tale for anyone to carry, given the format that Brooks has chosen to use: a large number of first person accounts of the near take over of the world by the stumbling zombie hordes. There's no single narrative string for the audience to follow and no heroes with which the reader can identify. I found myself eventually becoming bored with the different ways that Max's characters described the zombies - there's only so many ways to say "undead."

To make up for the essential sameness of the story line in every individual short story, Max begins to increasingly rely on overblown rhetoric. For example, a chain-smoking military veteran, recovering in a psychiatric ward, breaks out of semi-literate street-slang to describe zombie heads popping like "Kristal corks." Far from being effectively descriptive, it becomes a distraction that made me start looking for more examples of excessive hyperbole.

I think the book would have held up better if, in addition to the large number of independent accounts, Max had found a way to weave a single unifying thread, giving his audience some one to root for and a reason to keep reading. A difficult, but not impossible task and Max Brooks appears to have the talent needed to pull such a task off; but the lack of heroes, or even characters most readers can identify with, makes this a book with no compelling reason to finish. You can stop on one page, flip at random through the book, start reading again and never feel like you've lost your place.

And speaking of heroes - this is really a minor complaint, but once you've figured it out it begins to annoy - Max's characters are all of a type: a PC type.

That is, such heroes as the various stories allow, are divided into sympathetic and non-sympathetic groupings. The sympathetic, most effective, characters are all minorities, women, or handicapped. The non-sympathetic, least effective, characters are all white and male. His bias goes so far that there's not a single heroic cop, survivalist NRA member, or even effective military unit. The president of the United States (sympathetic-minority) is contrasted against the vice-president (unsympathetic-white) by citing many instances of the great president's wise guidance, while the vice president is simply described as "the wacko."

I'm not saying that it's impossible for the world to be saved by any particular group. It's Max's book and he can take the tale where ever he wants. But it's so transparently obvious a bias that, once you figure it out, you find yourself mentally forecasting the characters entirely independently of their stories. It's a stretch and distracts from what could have been a more balanced (and more interesting) tale as a result.

All that said, I started out by saying that tome is a "must-have" for Romero loving Dead-heads like me and I stand by that statement. For all it's rambling plot and hyper-kinetic speech, it's still the best new installment in the zombie pantheon for many a day. I predict great success in it's admittedly limited demographic.

No comments: