World War Z
|World War Z|
The cover of World War Z
|Genre(s)||Horror, post-apocalyptic fiction|
|Publication date||September 12, 2006|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback), e-book, audiobook|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.6 22|
|LC Classification||PS3602.R6445 W67 2006|
|Preceded by||The Zombie Survival Guide|
World War Z is a 2006 apocalyptic horror novel by Max Brooks. It is a follow-up to his 2003 book, The Zombie Survival Guide. Rather than a grand overview or narrative, World War Z is a collection of individual accounts, wherein Brooks plays the role of an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission one decade after the story's Zombie War. Other passages record a decade-long war against zombies, as experienced by people of various nationalities. The personal accounts also describe the religious, geo-political, and environmental changes that resulted from the Zombie War.
Similar in style to Warday by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka, World War Z was inspired by The Good War, an oral history of World War II by Studs Terkel, and by the zombie films of George A. Romero. Brooks used World War Z to comment on government ineptitude and American isolationism, while also examining survivalism and uncertainty. Critics have praised the novel for reinventing the zombie genre; the audiobook version, performed by a full cast including Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, and John Turturro, won an Audie Award in 2007.
Brooks designed World War Z to follow the "laws" set up in The Zombie Survival Guide, and explained that the guide may exist in the novel's fictional universe. The zombies of The Zombie Survival Guide are human bodies reanimated by an incurable virus, devoid of intelligence and desirous solely to consume living flesh, and immortal unless the brain is destroyed. Although zombies do not tire and are as strong as the humans they infect, they are slow-moving and incapable of planning or cooperation in their attacks. Zombies usually reveal their presence by moaning.
Brooks conducted copious research while writing World War Z to make the novel as realistic as possible: "Everything in World War Z (as in The Zombie Survival Guide) is based in reality... well, except the zombies. But seriously, everything else in the book is either taken from reality or 100% real. The technology, politics, economics, culture, military tactics... it was a lot of homework." Brooks used a variety of reference books and consulted with friends who were experts in several fields when writing the novel. He also cites the U.S. Army as a reference on firearm statistics.
Through a series of oral interviews, Brooks, as an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission, describes the history of 'World War Z'. Although the origin of the zombie pandemic is unknown, the story begins in China where a young boy becomes the pandemic's "patient zero"—(it is implied that the boy was not the first victim chronologically), at which point the Chinese government attempts to contain the infection and concocts a crisis involving Taiwan to mask their activities. The infection is spread to other countries by the black market organ trade and by refugees, before an outbreak brings the plague to public attention.
As the infection spreads, Israel abandons the Palestinian territories and initiates a nationwide quarantine, closing its borders to everyone except uninfected Jews and Palestinians. It then puts down an ultra-Orthodox uprising, which is later referred to as a civil war. Pakistan and Iran destroy each other in a nuclear war after the Iranian government attempts to stem the flow of refugees fleeing through Pakistan and into Iran. The United States of America does little to prepare because it is over-confident in its ability to suppress any threat. Although special forces teams contain initial outbreaks, a widespread effort never starts as the nation is deprived of political will by several "brushfire wars", and because a rabies vaccine, marketed as effective, creates a false sense of security.
When the world recognizes the true extent of the problem, a period known as the "Great Panic" begins. Following the loss of New York City, the U.S. Army sets up a high-profile defense at Yonkers, New York. The U.S. military uses cold war tactics, such as anti-tank weapons and demoralization through wounding; but these prove ineffective against zombies, which "can't be shocked and awed", have no self-preservation instincts, and can only be stopped if shot through the head. The soldiers are routed on live television, while other countries suffer similarly disastrous defeats, and human civilization teeters on the brink of destruction.
In South Africa, the government adopts a plan drafted by ex-apartheid government official Paul Redeker, which calls for the establishment of small sanctuaries, and leaves large groups of refugees abandoned and alive in special zones in order to distract the undead, allowing those within the main safe zone time to regroup and recuperate. Governments worldwide assume similar plans or relocate the populace to safer foreign territory, such as the complete evacuation of the Japanese Home Islands. Because zombies freeze solid in the cold, many civilians in North America flee to the wildernesses of northern Canada and the Arctic, where some 11 million people die of starvation and hypothermia. The three remaining astronauts in the International Space Station survive the war by salvaging supplies from the abandoned Chinese space station, and maintain some military and civilian satellites using the various pods attached to the ISS and the orbital fuel station.
The United States eventually establishes safe zones west of the Rocky Mountains, and spends much of the next decade eradicating the pandemic in that region. All aspects of civilian life are devoted to supporting the war effort against the pandemic. Much of it resembles total war strategies: rationing of fuel and food, cultivation of private gardens, and civilian neighborhood patrols. The U.S. government also initiate a "Re-education Act" to train the civilian population for the war effort and public humiliation as punishment for criminals in order to restore order.
Seven years after the start of the zombie pandemic, a conference is held off the coast of Honolulu, Hawaii, aboard the USS Saratoga, where most of the world's leaders argue that they can outlast the zombie plague if they stay in their safe zones, but the U.S. President argues for going on the offensive. Determined to lead by example, the U.S. military reinvents itself to meet the specific strategic requirements of fighting the undead: using semi-automatic, high-power rifles and formation and volley firing; focusing on head shots and slow, steady rates of fire; and devises a multipurpose hand tool, the "Lobotomizer" or "Lobo" (described as a combination of a shovel and a battle axe), for close-quarters combat. In three groups (north, central, and south), the U.S. Army traverses the continent in a three-year campaign, systematically destroying the zombies and reclaiming outposts of survivors. Fully automatic weapons, tanks and mobility only return for urban combat or to retake secessionist zones, such as those in the Black Hills.
Ten years after the official end of the zombie war, millions of zombies are still active, mainly on the ocean floor or on snow line islands. A democratic Cuba has become the world's most thriving economy and the international banking capital. China has also become a democracy, following a civil war sparked by the collapse of the Three Gorges Dam and ending after a mutinying Chinese Navy submarine destroys the Communist leadership with submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Tibet, freed from Chinese rule, hosts the world's most populated city. Following a religious revolution, Russia is now an expansionist theocracy. Owing to the lack of fertile women, the Russian government have initiated a "breeding" program, with the remaining healthy, fertile women impregnated to increase the population. North Korea is completely empty, with the entire population presumed to have disappeared into underground bunkers. Iceland has been completely depopulated, and is the world's most heavily infested country.
There is some confusion about the British Isles. It is strongly implied that Ireland has avoided any major outbreaks and that it has also been reunified, due to the lack of distinction between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic. However the United Kingdom is described as intact, and now exports oil from a reserve under Windsor Castle. Further confusion surrounds Wales (also part of the UK) which is described as now including Ludlow, England. It is unclear whether this is an intentional plot point - several other countries are more clearly described as having revised borders - or a lack of understanding about the real-world geopolitics of the British Isles by the author. One interviewee character, David Allen Forbes, is described as English and spending the war in England, yet carries a Claymore, a Scottish weapon that would be very difficult to find in England (especially in Windsor, five hundred miles from the Scottish border); the variant in England being called the Longsword. The book is somewhat more realistic when it comes to differentiating between castles, palaces and their defensive capabilities (or lack thereof).
The Israelis and Palestinians have made peace. Israel and its former occupied territories have been renamed "Unified Palestine". The oil fields in Saudi Arabia have been destroyed by the Saudi Royal Family. Mexico has changed, from being known as Mexico before the war, and Aztlan after World War Z. It is unknown whether it is just a change in name alone, or whether any land has been added. There is also mention of a "Pacific Continent," which appears to encompass previously uninhabited islands as well as ships rendered immobile due to lack of fuel. The United Nations fields a large military force to eliminate the remaining zombies from overrun areas, defeat hordes that surface from the ocean floor, and kill frozen zombies before they thaw. The human population is hinted to have neared extinction, and many animal species have been devastated, as much by humans as by zombies.
Reviewers have noted that Brooks uses World War Z as a platform to criticize government ineptitude, corporate corruption, and human short-sightedness. At one point in the book, a Palestinian refugee living in Kuwait refuses to believe that the dead are rising, fearing it is a trick by Israel. Many American characters blame the United States' inability to counter the zombie threat on low confidence in the government due to conflicts in the Middle East. Brooks also shows his particular dislike of government bureaucracy. One character in the novel tries to justify lying about the zombie outbreak to avoid widespread panic, while at the same time failing to develop a solution for fear of arousing public ire. Alden Utter, a reviewer for The Eagle, notes similarities between the government's response in the novel and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: "Early warnings are missed, crucial reports go unheeded, profiteers make millions selling placebos, the army equips itself with tools perfect for the last war they fought and populations ignore the extent of threat until it is staring them in the face — this is, surprisingly, a post-Katrina zombie tale."
Brooks has also criticized American isolationism:
I love my country enough to admit that one of our national flaws is isolationism. I wanted to combat that in World War Z and maybe give my fellow Americans a window into the political and cultural workings of other nations. Yes, in World War Z some nations come out as winners and some as losers, but isn't that the case in real life as well? I wanted to base my stories on the historical actions of the countries in question, and if it offends some individuals, then maybe they should reexamine their own nation's history.
Survivalism and disaster preparation are other prevalent themes in the novel. Several interviews, especially those from the United States, focus on policy changes designed to train the surviving Americans to fight the zombies and rebuild the country. For example, when cities were made to be as efficient as possible in order to fight the zombies, the plumber could hold a higher status than the former C.E.O. Throughout the novel, characters demonstrate the physical and mental requirements needed to survive a disaster. Brooks described the large amount of research needed to find optimal methods for fighting a worldwide zombie outbreak. He also pointed out that Americans like the zombie genre because they believe they can survive anything with the right tools and talent.
Fear and uncertainty
Brooks considers the theme of uncertainty central to the zombie genre. He believes that zombies allow people to deal with their own anxiety about the end of the world. Brooks has expressed a deep fear of zombies:
They scare me more than any other fictional creature out there because they break all the rules. Werewolves and vampires and mummies and giant sharks, you have to go look for them. My attitude is if you go looking for them, no sympathy. But zombies come to you. Zombies don't act like a predator; they act like a virus, and that is the core of my terror. A predator is intelligent by nature, and knows not to overhunt its feeding ground. A virus will just continue to spread, infect and consume, no matter what happens. It's the mindlessness behind it.
This mindlessness is connected to the context in which Brooks was writing. He declared: "at this point we're pretty much living in an irrational time", full of human suffering and lacking reason or logic. When asked in a subsequent interview about how he would compare terrorists with zombies, Brooks said:
The lack of rational thought has always scared me when it came to zombies, the idea that there is no middle ground, no room for negotiation. That has always terrified me. Of course that applies to terrorists, but it can also apply to a hurricane, or flu pandemic, or the potential earthquake that I grew up with living in L.A. Any kind of mindless extremism scares me, and we're living in some pretty extreme times.
Reviews for the novel have been generally positive. Steven H. Silver identified Brooks' international focus as the novel's greatest strength. He also commented favorably on Brooks' ability to create an appreciation for the work needed to combat a global zombie outbreak. Silver's only complaint was with "Good-Byes" –the final chapter– in which characters get a chance to give a final closing statement. Silver felt that it was not always apparent who the sundry, undifferentiated characters were.
Gilbert Cruz of Entertainment Weekly gave the novel an "A" rating, commenting that the novel shared with great zombie stories the use of a central metaphor, describing it as "an addictively readable oral history." The Eagle described the book as being "unlike any other zombie tale", "sufficiently terrifying for most readers, and not always in a blood-and-guts way, either." Keith Phipps of The Onion's The A.V. Club stated that the format of the novel makes it difficult for it to develop momentum, but found the novel's individual episodes gripping. In his review for Time Out Chicago, Pete Coco declared that "[b]ending horror to the form of alternative history would have been novel in and of itself. Doing so in the mode of Studs Terkel might constitute brilliance."
Ron Currie Jr. named World War Z one of his favorite apocalyptic novels and praised Brooks for illustrating "the tacit agreement between writer and reader that is essential to the success of stories about the end of the world ... [both] agree to pretend that this is not fiction, that in fact the horrific tales of a war between humans and zombies are based in reality". Patrick Daily of the Chicago Reader said the novel transcends the "silliness" of The Zombie Survival Guide by "touching on deeper, more somber aspects of the human condition". Drew Taylor of the Fairfield County Weekly credits World War Z with making zombies more popular in mainstream society. The hardcover version of World War Z spent four weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, peaking at number nine. In 2009, according to Publishers Weekly, World War Z has sold 600,000 copies in all formats.
References to other works
Brooks discussed the cultural influences on the novel. He claimed inspiration from The Good War by Studs Terkel. Brooks stated: "[Terkel's book is] an oral history of World War II. I read when I was a teenager and it's sat with me ever since. When I sat down to write World War Z, I wanted it to be in the vein of an oral history." Brooks also cited renowned zombie film director George A. Romero as an influence, and criticized The Return of the Living Dead films: "They cheapen zombies, make them silly and campy. They've done for the living dead what the old Batman TV show did for the Dark Knight." Brooks acknowledged making several references to popular culture in the novel, including one to alien robot franchise Transformers, but declined to identify the others so that readers could discover them independently.
An abridged audiobook was published in 2007 by Random House, directed by John Mc Elroy, produced by Dan Zitt, with sound editing by Charles De Montebello. The book is read by Brooks, but includes many other actors taking on the roles of the many individual characters who are interviewed in the novel. Brooks' previous career in voice acting and voice-over work meant he could recommend a large number of the cast members.
On May 14, 2013, the unabridged audiobook was released by Random House Audio as World War Z: The Complete Edition (Movie Tie-in Edition): An Oral History of the Zombie War. It contains the entirety of the original, abridged audiobook, as well as new recordings of each missing segment. A separate, additional audiobook containing only the new recordings not found in the original audiobook was released simultaneously as World War Z: The Lost Files: A Companion to the Abridged Edition.
- Max Brooks as Kirby Impoinvil
- Steve Park as Kwang Jingshu
- Frank Kamai as Nury Televadi
- Nathan Fillion as Stanley MacDonald
- Paul Sorvino as Fernando Oliveira
- Ade M'Cormack as Jacob Nyathi
- Carl Reiner as Jurgen Warmbrunn
- Waleed Zuiater as Saladin Kader
- Jay O. Sanders as Bob Archer
- Dennis Boutsikaris as General Travis D'Ambrosia
- Simon Pegg as Grover Carlson
- Denise Crosby as Mary Jo Miller
- Bruce Boxleitner as Gavin Blaire
- Ajay Naidu as Ajay Shah
- Nicki Clyne as Sharon
- Jeri Ryan as Maria Zhuganova
- Henry Rollins as T. Sean Collins
- Maz Jobrani as Ahmed Farahnakian
- Mark Hamill as Todd Wainio
- Eamonn Walker as Xolelwa Azania / Paul Redeker / David Allen Forbes
- Jürgen Prochnow as Philip Adler
- David Ogden Stiers as Bohdan Taras Kondratiuk
- Michelle Kholos as Jesika Hendricks
- Kal Penn as Sardar Khan
- Alan Alda as Arthur Sinclair Junior
- Rob Reiner as "The Whacko"
- Dean Edwards as Joe Muhammad
- Frank Darabont as Roy Elliot
- Becky Ann Baker as Christina Eliopolis
- Parminder Nagra as Barati Palshigar
- Brian Tee as Hyungchoi / Michael Choi
- Masi Oka as Kondo Tatsumi
- Frank Kamai as Tomonaga Ijiro
- John Turturro as Seryosha Garcia Alvarez
- Ric Young as Admiral Xu Zhicai
- Alfred Molina as Terry Knox
- John McElroy as Ernesto Olguin
- Common as Darnell Hackworth
- F. Murray Abraham as Father Sergei Ryzhkov
- Rene Auberjonois as Andre Renard
- Martin Scorsese as Breckinridge “Breck” Scott
In her review of the audiobook for Strange Horizons, Siobhan Carroll called the story "gripping" and found the listening experience evocative of Orson Welles's famous narration of The War of the Worlds. Carroll had mixed opinions on the voice acting, commending it as "solid and understated, mercifully free of "special effects" and "scenery chewing" overall, but lamenting what she perceived as undue cheeriness on the part of Max Brooks and inauthenticity in the Chinese accent of Steve Park. Publishers Weekly also criticized Brooks' narration, but found that the rest of the "all-star cast; deliver their parts with such fervor and intensity that listeners cannot help but empathize with these characters". In an article in Slate concerning the mistakes producers make on publishing audiobooks, Nate DiMeo used World War Z as an example of dramatizations whose full casts contributed to making them "great listens", and described the book as a "smarter-than-it-has-any-right-to-be zombie novel." The World War Z audiobook won the 2007 Audie Award for Multi-Voiced Performance and was nominated for Audiobook of the Year.
In June 2006, the movie rights for World War Z were secured by Paramount Studios for Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B Entertainment to produce. The screenplay was written by J. Michael Straczynski, with Marc Forster directing, and Pitt starring as the main character, UN employee Gerry Lane. Despite being the draft that got the film green-lit, Straczynski's script was tossed aside, so that production, which was to begin at the start of 2009, was delayed while the script was completely re-written by Matthew Michael Carnahan to set the movie in the present, leaving behind much of the premise of the book to make it more of an action film. In April 2010, Paramount Studios renewed its option on the movie's rights. Filming finally commenced mid-2011. World War Z was initially slated for release by Paramount Pictures on December 21, 2012. In March 2012, the film's release was pushed back to June 21, 2013.
- "Jolie joins Pitt at 'World War Z' London premiere". Yahoo News. June 2, 2013. Retrieved June 11, 2013.
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- Michael Gingold (July 16, 2009). "New Screenwriter Takes On WORLD WAR Z". Fangoria. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
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