World War Z
|Genre||Horror, post-apocalyptic fiction|
|Published||September 12, 2006|
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback), e-book, audiobook|
|LC Class||PS3602.R6445 W67 2006|
|Preceded by||The Zombie Survival Guide|
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is a 2006 zombie apocalyptic horror novel written by American author Max Brooks. The novel is broken into five chapters: Warnings, Blame, The Great Panic, Turning the Tide, and Good-Byes and features a collection of individual accounts narrated by an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission, following the devastating global conflict against the zombie plague. Other passages record a decade-long desperate struggle, as experienced by people of various nationalities. The personal accounts take place all over the world including: China, the United States, Greece, Brazil, Barbados, Israel, Finland, Antarctica, and even in outer space. The "interviews" describe the resulting social, political, religious, economic, and environmental changes that occur as a result of the zombies.
World War Z is a follow-up to Brooks' fictitious survival manual The Zombie Survival Guide (2003), but its tone is much more serious. It was inspired by The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two (1984) by Studs Terkel, and by the zombie films of George A. Romero (1968–2009). Brooks used World War Z to comment on government ineptitude and US isolationism, while also examining survivalism and uncertainty. The novel was a commercial hit and was praised by most critics.
Its 2007 audiobook version, performed by a full cast including Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, and John Turturro, won an Audie Award. A film adaptation, directed by Marc Forster and starring Brad Pitt, was released in 2013, and a video game of the same name, based on the 2013 film, was released in 2019 by Saber Interactive.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (February 2021)
It has been nearly twenty years since the start of the apocalyptic worldwide pandemic known as the Zombie War, and about ten years since the war has ended in humanity's victory. The framing device for the novel follows "Max Brooks", author of the Zombie Survival Guide (referred to simply as "the civilian survival guide" in this book) an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission, as he travels the world interviewing survivors of this zombie plague.
The exact origin of the zombie plague is unknown, but the first cases of what became the global pandemic began in China. It is implied that the virus is ancient, and was somehow released due to geological disruption caused by the Three Gorges Dam. The Politburo fears that the outbreak will be seen as weakness to foreign powers, so it attempts to hush it up (mirroring its previous attempts to downplay the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak). Realizing that large-scale security sweeps for zombies cannot be covered up, the Politburo simply covers up what the sweeps are for, by initiating a military crisis with Taiwan as a distraction. Despite the lockdown, the plague continues to spread to neighboring nations by human trafficking, refugees, and the black market organ trade. The first large scale, publicly known outbreak occurs in Cape Town, South Africa - leading to the plague being nicknamed "African Rabies". This makes the public dismiss the epidemic as simply a severe strain of rabies that mostly affects poor African countries (mirroring how the first name used to refer to HIV, "Gay-related immune deficiency", treated it as a disease that only affected a minority group). For a full year, world governments and the public at large respond to the growing epidemic with total complacency, unwilling to invest resources in disaster response and prevention, despite the warnings of medical experts.
The sole nation to take reports of the infection seriously is Israel - stated to be due to a policy put in place after the surprise of the Yom Kippur War for its intelligence community to consider every threat, no matter how ridiculous. Israel initiates a "voluntary self-quarantine", closing its borders and constructing a massive wall around its entire perimeter. In order to withdraw to a more defensible position, Israel abandons the Palestinian territories (including all of Jerusalem). In an attempt to convince its neighbors that this quarantine is not a land-grab, Israel also allows all uninfected Palestinians safe passage into its borders before they completely shut down. This refugee policy and the loss of Jerusalem lead to Israel's right-wing ultra-orthodox starting a brief but bloody civil war, though it is put down by the IDF.
Most other world governments do not take Israel's quarantine seriously. The United States does little to prepare because of its overconfidence in its ability to suppress any threat, and the desire to not cause a panic during an election year. Although special forces teams contain initial small-scale domestic outbreaks, a widespread effort never starts: the US is deprived of political will by "brushfire wars", and a widely distributed and marketed placebo vaccine, Phalanx, creates a false sense of security.
The following spring, a journalist reveals that Phalanx does nothing to prevent zombification, and that the infected are not victims of rabies but rather walking corpses, sparking an event known as the "Great Panic." Order breaks down around the globe as countries discover the true severity of the catastrophe, and for a time this initial wave of rioting and breakdown of essential services kills more people than the zombies. As entire regions are overrun by the undead, millions of panicked refugees try to flee to safety: attempts by Iran to stem the flow of refugees from Pakistan result in a nuclear exchange that obliterates both countries. Russia forces a decimation of its own military to stop and prevent mutinies. Ukraine uses its stockpile of chemical weapons against large numbers of refugees and soldiers alike to root out the infected from the uninfected population as zombies, unlike humans, are unaffected by nerve gas.
After zombies overrun New York City, the US military sets up a high-profile defense in the nearby city of Yonkers in the hope that a great display of military power will help restore public order. The "Battle of Yonkers" is a disaster, however; Cold War-era weapons and tactics focused on disabling vehicles and wounding or frightening the enemy prove ineffective against zombies, who use human wave attacks, can only be killed by direct damage to the brain, and have no self-preservation instincts. The unprepared and demoralized soldiers are routed on live television. For several weeks, human civilization teeters on the brink of collapse.
In South Africa, the government adopts a contingency plan drafted by apartheid-era intelligence consultant Paul Redeker, known as the Redeker Plan. It calls for the establishment of small safe zones, leaving large groups of survivors abandoned in special zones as human bait, serving as a distraction to the undead and allowing those within the main safe zones time to regroup and recuperate. Governments worldwide assume similar plans which prove successful. The United States government establishes its safe zone west of the Rocky Mountains, with the US government relocating to Honolulu, Hawaii. Those left behind east of the Rockies are instructed to evacuate north, as zombies freeze solid in extreme cold. Many panicked and unprepared civilians in North America flee to the wildernesses of northern Canada and the Arctic, where eleven million people die of starvation and hypothermia.
Other safe zones are established by surviving governments around the world. The United Kingdom retreats to Scotland and Ireland. Continental Europe is almost totally overrun, except for safe zones in the Denmark and Iberian peninsulas, as well as in the Alps. Russia retreats to trans-Ural Siberia, and India establishes safe zones in the valleys of the Himalayas. South American nations retreat west of the Andes Mountains, while Cuba becomes a bastion against the undead due to its island geography and disproportionately strong military. In the Pacific, Australia establishes a safe zone in Tasmania, while Japan opts to evacuate its population to the colder Kamchatka peninsula in Russia. China's Politburo, however, refuses to make any strategic retreats, resulting in it becoming the worst hit country of the entire war. Eventually, half the Chinese military mutinies against the Politburo for its incompetence and destroys its leaders with a nuclear strike, after which the new government implements the Redeker Plan by retreating north to Manchuria.
The surviving safe zones spend the next seven years gradually rebuilding their industrial base within their new, limited borders. A United Nations conference is then held off the coast of Honolulu aboard the USS Saratoga. Though many countries are content to wait until the zombies decay naturally, The President of the United States insists they need to go on the offensive to retake the planet. Determined to lead by example, the US military reinvents itself to meet the specific strategic requirements of fighting the undead, including the distribution of semiautomatic weapons, retraining soldiers to aim for zombie's heads and utilize strategies focused on volley firing, and the invention of the "lobotomizer," a melee weapon designed to quickly destroy a zombie's head. Backed by a resurgent US wartime economy, the military begins the three-year-long process of retaking the contiguous United States from both the undead swarms and groups of hostile human survivors. Entirely new strategies have to be implemented for this "war": each zombie is an independent fighting unit with no logistical lines or command structure to target, thus the war is a large-scale campaign of total extermination, slowly clearing and securing every mile of territory because even a single surviving zombie could restart the infection cycle.
Other nations that voted to attack go about their own offensives: Russia, its armories badly-depleted, resorts to using large stores of World War II-era tanks, firearms, flamethrowers and ammunition, waging a costly offensive against the undead by brute force. The United Kingdom takes a slow-but-steady approach, taking until five years after the official end of the war to finish clearing its territory. France, set on restoring its pride and reputation after embarrassments and defeats going back to World War I, charges headlong against the undead, its armed forces displaying extreme valor at an extraordinarily high cost. An unnamed British Army general comments as the war ends that there are "enough dead heroes for the end of time."
Ten years after the official end of the Zombie War, the world is still heavily damaged, but slowly on the road to recovery. Millions of zombies are still active, mainly on the ocean floor, mountains above the snow line, and arctic areas such as Scandinavia, Siberia, and northern Canada. Numerous political and territorial changes have occurred during the recovery. Cuba has become a democracy and hosts the world's most thriving economy. Tibet is freed from Chinese rule, which in turn becomes a democracy as well, and hosts Lhasa as the world's most populated city. Following a religious revolution, Russia has become The Holy Russian Empire, an expansionist theocracy that adopts a repopulation program, keeping the nation's few remaining fertile women as state broodmares. North Korea is completely empty, with the entire population presumed to have disappeared into underground bunkers or been wiped out in the outbreak. Iceland has been completely depopulated and, due to its lack of a properly equipped military force and the huge influx of infected refugees, remains the world's most heavily infested country. The overall quality of life has diminished as well, including shorter life expectancies, limited access to running water and electricity, and an ongoing nuclear winter.
Nevertheless, the majority of those who have survived have hope for the future, knowing that humanity faced the brink of extinction, and won.
Brooks designed World War Z to follow the "laws" set up in his earlier work, The Zombie Survival Guide (2003), 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 (Solanum), devoid of intelligence, desirous solely of consuming living flesh, and cannot be killed unless the brain is destroyed. It is said that the undead contain a black, foul pus-like liquid instead of blood. Decomposition will eventually set in, but this process takes longer than for an uninfected body and can be slowed even further by effects such as freezing. Although zombies do not tire and are as strong as the humans they infect (though they appear to be slightly stronger due to lack of normal restraint), they are slow-moving and are incapable of planning or cooperation in their attacks. Zombies usually reveal their presence by moaning.
Brooks discussed the cultural influences on the novel. He claimed inspiration from "The Good War": An Oral History of World War Two (1984) by Studs Terkel, stating: "[Terkel's book is] an oral history of World War II. I read it when I was a teenager and it's sat with me ever since. When I sat down to write World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, 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.
Brooks conducted copious research while writing World War Z. The technology, politics, economics, culture, and military tactics were based on a variety of reference books and consultations with expert sources. Brooks also cites the US Army as a reference on firearm statistics.
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 the dead are rising, fearing it is a trick by Israel. Many US characters blame the United States' inability to counter the zombie threat on low confidence in their government due to conflicts in the Middle East.
Brooks shows his particular dislike of government bureaucracy. For example, 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. He has also criticized US isolationism:
Survivalism and disaster preparation are prevalent themes in the novel. Several interviews, especially those from the United States, focus on policy changes designed to train the surviving US population 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 CEO. The ultra-rich hid in their homes, which had been turned into fortified compounds; when they were overwhelmed by others trying to get in, it became a mass slaughter. 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 the US likes the zombie genre because it believes that it 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:
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:
During an appearance on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, Brooks' friend and contemporary novelist Chuck Palahniuk revealed that a major influence on World War Z was the deterioration and death via cancer of Brooks' mother, Anne Bancroft. According to Palahniuk, Brooks' attempt to find the right oncologists to treat Bancroft parallels the mission in the novel to find a cure for the zombie plague. Brooks subsequently dedicated the novel to Bancroft.
Reviews for the novel have been generally positive. 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." Steven H. Silver identified Brooks' international focus as the novel's greatest strength and 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. The Eagle described the book as being "unlike any other zombie tale" as it is "sufficiently terrifying for most readers, and not always in a blood-and-guts way, either." Keith Phipps of 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. 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." 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." Drew Taylor of the Fairfield County Weekly credited 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. By November 2011, according to Publishers Weekly, World War Z had sold one million copies in all formats.
Random House published an abridged audiobook in 2007, directed by John Mc Elroy and produced by Dan Zitt, with sound editing by Charles De Montebello. The book is read by Brooks but includes 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, Random House Audio released a lengthier audiobook titled 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 The Interviewer
- 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 Zuaiter as Saladin Kader
- Jay O. Sanders as Bob Archer
- Dennis Boutsikaris as General Travis D'Ambrosia
- Martin Scorsese as Breckinridge “Breck” Scott*
- 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 Brooks 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 Hyungchol Choi / 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*
- René Auberjonois as Andre Renard*
* The Complete Edition
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 radio narration of The War of the Worlds (broadcast October 30, 1938). 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 Steve Park's Chinese accent. 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, Paramount Studios secured the film rights for World War Z 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. Production was to begin at the start of 2009, but was delayed while the script was completely re-written by Matthew Michael Carnahan to set the film in the present - leaving behind much of the book's premise - to make it more of an action film. In a 2012 interview, Brooks stated the film now had nothing in common with the novel other than the title. Filming commenced mid-2011, and the film was released in June 2013.
- List of zombie novels
- Midway Studios – Newcastle, who worked on a cancelled video game adaptation of the book in 2008
- "Exclusive Interview: Max Brooks on World War Z". Eat My Brains!. October 20, 2006. Retrieved April 26, 2008.
- "'The Zombie Survival Guide' With Max Brooks". Washington Post. October 30, 2003. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
- Brooks, Max (October 6, 2006). "Zombie Wars". Washington Post. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- "Max Brooks Talks pt. 1, Comic-Con 2008".
- Phipps, Keith (October 25, 2006). "World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
- Currie, Ron (September 5, 2008). "The End of the World as We Know it". Untitled Books. Archived from the original on December 20, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
- Carroll, Siobhan (October 31, 2006). "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks". Strange Horizons. Archived from the original on June 22, 2011. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- "Brooks redefines the zombie genre in WWZ".
- Utter, Alden (October 2, 2006). "Brooks puts brains in print for zombie fanatics". The Eagle. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved September 9, 2008.
- Cruz, Gilber (September 15, 2006). "Book Review World War Z". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- Cripps, Charlotte (November 1, 2006). "Preview: Max Brooks' Festival Of The (Living) Dead! Barbican, London". The Independent. UK. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- Lance Eaton (October 2, 2006). "Zombies Spreading like a Virus: PW Talks with Max Brooks". Interview. Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on November 6, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
- Donahue, Dick (August 7, 2006). "Three Answers: Max Brooks". Interview. Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on November 6, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
- Strombo (October 31, 2013). "Chuck Palahniuk On Death, Grief, World War Z And Using Metaphor In A "Really Overblown Way"". YouTube. Retrieved September 12, 2018.
- Silver, Steven H. (2006). "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Review". SF Site. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- Daily, Patrick. "Max Brooks". Chicago Reader. Retrieved October 28, 2008.
- Coco, Pete (October 11, 2008). "Review: World War Z". Time Out Chicago. Archived from the original on September 8, 2008. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- Taylor, Drew (October 28, 2008). "The Hunt for Real October". Fairfield Count Weekly. Archived from the original on January 16, 2016. Retrieved October 30, 2008.
- "Best Sellers: October 15, 2006". The New York Times. October 15, 2006. Retrieved October 2, 2008.
- "Title Profile: World War Z". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved January 15, 2009.[dead link]
- "Brooks's 'World War Z' Hits Sales Milestone". Publishers Weekly. November 10, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2013.
- "World War Z: The Lost Files by Max Brooks - Audiobook". Random House. May 14, 2013. Retrieved May 19, 2014.
- "Audio Reviews: Week of 10/2/2006". Book review. Publishers Weekly. October 2, 2006. Archived from the original on November 6, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
- DiMeo, Nate (September 18, 2008). "Read Me a Story, Brad Pitt". Slate. Retrieved September 20, 2008.
- "Audie Award press release" (PDF). Audio Publishers Association. 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 19, 2007. Retrieved November 12, 2007.
- "Audies Gala 2007 Winners and nominees". Audio Publishers Association. Archived from the original on June 20, 2009. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
- LaPorte, Nicole; Fleming, Michael (June 14, 2006). "Par, Plan B raise 'Zombie'". Variety. Retrieved November 12, 2007.
- Marshall, Rick (December 3, 2008). "J. Michael Straczynski On 'World War Z': 'The Scale Of What We're Doing Here Is Phenomenal'". MTV Movie Blog. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
- Marshall, Rick (July 22, 2010). "EXCLUSIVE: Brad Pitt To Star In 'World War Z,' Paramount Options 'Zombie Survival Guide' And 'Recorded Attacks'". MTV. Retrieved August 5, 2010.
- Miller, Dennis. "Max Brooks discusses World War Z, the movie". Mansfield University - MU on YouTube. YouTube. Archived from the original on August 12, 2013. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
- McClintock, Pamela (March 13, 2012). "Paramount Release Shakeup: Tom Cruise's 'One Shot' to Christmas; Brad Pitt's 'World War Z' to Summer". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- "The World War Z Game That Could Have Been | Kotaku Australia". Kotaku.com.au. April 28, 2011. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
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- World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database