What better place to start our undead reading than Max Brooks’s World War Z, recommended to the Headline Zombies by fellow book lover RobAroundBooks. After all, this is a book that was described as “like George Romero’s Dead trilogy… another milestone in the zombie mythos”. This review does contain a summary of the plot - so spoiler alert!
World War Z is not your typical novel. It has no overarching narrative and is instead multi-voiced – a collection of interviews with different characters that follow a rough chronological order. This is docu-fiction and reads scarily like real life reports from a warzone. These disparate individual accounts document the worldwide reaction to a decade long zombie war, from the initial outbreak to the devastating aftermath.
We hear about the start of the outbreak through an account by a Chinese scientist, as he encounters an infected child in a remote village in The United Federation of China. The government quickly try and conceal this incident and subsequent isolated outbreaks amongst its population. The virus spreads through infected refugees and infected organs on the black market, spreading to Africa (where it is mistaken for African Rabies) and South America.
Through these accounts from a wide variety of individuals including military officials, soldiers and intelligence officers, as well as smugglers and traffickers we see a culture of denial from world leaders particularly in the US. By the time the threat to humanity is fully comprehended by the politicians, it is of course too late and a global zombie pandemic is the result.
It is terrifying to witnesses how governments, militaries and other institutions fail to deal with this worst-case scenario and to see civilisation brought to its knees. The battle to survive that follows is desperate, dirty and degrading and rendered with disturbing yet effective detail – we see mass suicides, cannibalism, a feral generation of lost children and those that simply give up the fight to survive and imitate the zombies.
At the end of the novel, the world’s political, environmental and religious landscape has completely changed - Cuba is the thriving economic capital of the world whilst Russia has become a religious dictatorship, harkening back to the Soviet era. Zombies still walk the ocean floor and every winter, they thaw from the ice and descend on Iceland and the Northern territories.
This is frightening stuff – and frightening in part due to its plausibility. A film is currently in production, and I will mostly be watching it from behind the sofa!
Thanks to the lovely RobAroundBooks again for the recommendation - check out his brilliant blog post on his personal zombie infatuation (what you thought it was just us?!). Like us, he is very much looking forward to the release of The Living Dead this July.