[I’ve managed to track down one of the rare haters. Sitting on the N Judah with Mike, he gesticulates wildly, physically pounding his copy of World War Z in apparent frustration. Some of his comments may contain spoilers.]
I don’t get it. Was this supposed to be a serious attempt at a horror novel, some kind of political allegory, or something else entirely? There wasn’t a single moment of tension in the entire book, and it was so clinical in its depiction of zombie apocalypse that it was actually an effort to finish reading the damn thing.
The movie, starring Brad Pitt as a genius / super-soldier / father-of-the-year who instantly figures out what literally all the scientists in the world couldn’t, was actually better. Sure, it glossed over most of the political aspects and invented an entire story from whole cloth, but at least it had a plot, man.
But the book had a plot.
Ok, if you want to get technical, sure. There was a set of coherent facts and events that took place over a period of time. But you only glimpse it through the post hoc navelgazing of a dozen plus characters, all of whom talk like I’m talking right now. Seriously, you couldn’t tell them apart! Grunt from New Jersey, Russian orthodox priest, Japanese politician, it didn’t matter. Everyone spoke in this not-quite-natural conversational English tone, regardless of culture or class or character. Weird, right?
Even better, Brooks chose to hamstring a book about zombies, friggin zombies, by telling it as a retrospective Q&A. Talk about poor rhetorical choices, man. Here I am, expecting to be freaked out, spooked, whatever, but no, we’re going hear the stories of survivors, knowing full well that they, by definition, survived. Half the fun of a zombie tale is that it’s scary! Yes, it’s also interesting to think about the raw mechanisms of survival and what I would do in the same situation, but I was honestly not engaged enough to care.
But underwater zombies!
Sure, if your idea of scary is a plodding bad guy who’s already pretty much falling apart. The submarine guy said no one died doing the underwater stuff. Terrifying.
People love the global perspective, though. The geopolitical breakdown and intrigue.
First of all, that’s not a question. But let’s look at the bold political commentary, so subtly woven into the threads of the novel:
- Large pharmaceutical company markets a drug that doesn’t work.
- Many people, including U.S. military, are forced to make do with inadequate equipment, sometimes for political reasons.
- Americans are very individualistic and prone to going all Mad Max.
Really going out on a limb there! Then, we get the bizarre:
- Israel is so capable that they’re the only country that successfully walls itself off. They are also so noble and gracious that they welcome refugees from their poor neighbor, Palestine.
- Japan evacuates. Seriously.
- Americans flee to Cuba, which weathers the apocalypse better than any other nation in North or South America. I can picture Brooks grinning right now: “See what I did there?”
- Russia becomes a caricature of the old Soviet Union, executing soldiers and forcing women to have babies which are then turned over to the state.
It’s an exercise in mental masturbation for someone whose understanding of politics and the human condition is as nuanced as George W. Bush. If this is what passes for political commentary in the 21st century, we might as well all become zombies anyway.