I do not obsess over zombie films. However if a movie us particularly good, then I will make a point to watch it. One such movie that I did end up watching couple of months ago on the TV was World War Z. I did enjoy watching this take on the movie, and ended up reading some reviews of it. It was during this search that I came to know that the movie is based on the book by Max Brooks. The full name of the book is “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War”.
Freshly having finished a different book, I was itching to get into another one. Few moments later, I was ready with it on my kindle. After the first 3 chapters, I began to lose my interest in the book. You see I had based my frame of reference on the movie. The book and movie are nothing alike. Zilch. The movie follows the plot about a zombie apocalypse from Brad Pitt’s character being the central character. The book however, is entirely different. It is (as the title says) an oral history of the war on zombies. I will cover this review in two aspects: The (long) synopsis, and the review.
The narrator had been asked to prepare a report for the UN, but his supervisor found the report to be too human and opinionated and has only the facts and figures submitted as the official report. The books serves as the records of the narrator as he interviews people from all over the world about the zombie war. His intention with this compilation is that a report on the war on Humanity cannot be complete without the human side of the war.
The book covers 8 major periods of the Zombie War:
- Warnings: Referred by some of the characters as the pre-war time, this particular period has very few cases of out breaks. Patient Zero can be traced to a boy in rural China, and begins spreading to India. A hiker is said to have brought the infection to USA. Bodies that were dumped in the seas wash up on the shores of the countries and spread the infection across the world.
- Blame: Isolated outbreaks begin in China, but the government tries to suppress knowledge of it. Black market trading of human organs spread the infection across borders, as some of the organs are harvested from people who had fallen sick to the infection, but before their corpses had been reanimated into zombies. The blood from these organs infects the recipients, who after reanimation begin to attack people and spread it even more. There are large outbreaks in Africa, and disease begins to be dubbed as African Rabies. Most of the governments are still in denial about the infection, or its extent. A company tries to profiteer from the scare by marketing a vaccine called Phalanx. Since the vaccine is designed rabies, and not the zombie infection, it fails massively when the infection begins to spread across the USA. While the initial Alpha teams manage to contain the infection, in sufficient follow up actions by the government on account of wanting political gains causes a surge in the spread.
- The Great Panic: After a new reporter breaks the news that the Phalanx vaccine is just a placebo and has no protection against the actual zombie virus, there is a mass spread of panic and a resulting breakdown of society/civilization from the rapid spread of the infection and people’s attempts to run. The United States Armed Forces try to hold a big stand against the zombies at a choke point called Yonkers near New York. Instead of being the morale boosting war, the battle is a disaster with huge casualties and serves to further reduce the morale of the surviving population.
- Turning the Tide: The Redeker Plan, prepared by Paul Redeker (an Apartheid era official) is executed in South Africa. The government realizes that realistically it cannot save everyone. Safe zones are identified in highly defensible areas, and the zombies are lead to other zones. People who are not in these safe zones are killed and reanimated as zombies, while the armed forces defend, purge and slowly expand the safe zones. Other countries implement a similar plan based on this plan’s success. Millions of people are reported to have lost their lives during this period.
- Home Front: Primarily set in the USA, this chapter deals with how the country is restructured. Once bitten, twice shy (excuse the pun); the government reorients its strategies based on the lessons learnt throughout the world. This leads to not only just new military, but also economic and social strategies.
- Around the World: Similar restructuring and stories of people from around the world, in other countries.
- Total War: Around the time that most of western USA has been reclaimed, the governments of the world think that it is better to wait out the rest of their time for the zombies to decompose, get weaker so that they either die on their own or are easier to kill. However the USA wants to go on a full offensive to reclaim the entire nation and hence increase morale by touching Humanity’s undying spirit. In itself, it is a very difficult task. This is because the zombies do not require any logistics or weapons. They do not need to stop for feeding or resting. There are no leaders whose assassination can cause a collapse as each individual zombie is a self-sufficient enemy that only focusses on attacking humans. Even large injuries like burning, cutting of limbs only seem to just slow them down. The only way to defeat them is to destroy the brains of each and every one of them. They employ old war strategies re invented by General Raj Singh in India, where by a square of armed forces can go against thousands of zombies. It is used on a large scale at the Battle of Hope in USA with great success. Ten years after the start of war, North America is cleared free of zombies. The world celebrates Victory Day two years later, when China is also cleared of zombies. Russia and Europe have been able to clear the zombie infestation as well.
- Goodbyes: Also known as the Post-War time, most of the nations have been able to become zombie free. Some parts in the extreme North face a different problem, where the zombies was frozen due to extreme winter and start coming out to attack after they thaw out. There are still millions of zombies at the bottom of the oceans, of which some manage to float or walk to the beaches and have to be killed by the armed forces.
What really works for this book is that it is an oral history of people around the world. Barring a select few characters, characters do not reappear. It does require getting used to, because by the time you get attached the story of a character, the interview of that particular character has finished and we move on to a different character. The reason this works for the book, is that this is the story of humanity as a whole, and not some particular central characters and other secondary supporting characters.
The book covers both, the good and the bad of humans. When you read about the screw ups, each one is as painful as the previous because all of them cost human lives. As you read through the books, it becomes easier to observe and predict the screw ups and poor decisions, but one cannot change or control what happens in this story. We have to live through these losses, as much as the narrator and characters do. To balance this, each act of courage, and help makes you wonder an awe at the strength of human bonds and survival. This book shows how stupid and brazen, and how helpful and caring humans can get.
Another reason (which is discussed in detail in the book) for why lost so many lives, and took this long to recover is that most (if not all) of our war tactics and strategies are based on fighting fellow humans. All of this fails when we’re fighting an enemy that can wage total war against us. This an enemy that does not stop, and has no specific leader. Things that would kill a normal human (like gunfire to the torso, being set on fire, drowning, or starvation fail when it comes to zombies. Every human lost to a zombie bite, is a loss to the humans, but is an addition to the zombie army. This is literally an army that grows as we lose ours.
The interviews are not limited to military veterans, or politicians. There are people who survived only because of the kindness of strangers, people who became veterans because they had no other choice but to enlist and fight, people who witness that sometimes it is humans who are to be most feared as they descend into violence and cannibalism. This is a story that talks of the best and the worst of us.
Since this is a book, and not a film or TV series, it relies upon the imagination of the reader to deal with the gore of the zombie attacks, of them eating humans. Honestly speaking though, these are the least disturbing parts of the book.
Do I recommend this book? Yes, absolutely yes. Full 5 stars. I will leave you with some quotes from the book:
“Fear,” he used to say, “fear is the most valuable commodity in the universe.” That blew me away. “Turn on the TV,” he’d say. “What are you seeing? People selling their products? No. People selling the fear of you having to live without their products.” Fuckin’ A, was he right. Fear of aging, fear of loneliness, fear of poverty, fear of failure. Fear is the most basic emotion we have. Fear is primal. Fear sells. That was my mantra. “Fear sells.”
Our country only exists because people believed in it, and if it wasn’t strong enough to protect us from this crisis, then what future could it ever hope to have? He knew that America wanted a Caesar, but to be one would mean the end of America.
Marty chose, instead, to show the other side, the one that gets people out of bed the next morning, makes them scratch and scrape and fight for their lives because someone is telling them that they’re going to be okay. There’s a word for that kind of lie. Hope.
When that famous Latin singer played that Spanish lullaby, it was too much for one of our operators. He wasn’t from Buenos Aires, he wasn’t even from South America. He was just an eighteen-year-old Russian sailor who blew his brains out all over his instruments. He was the first, and since the end of the war, the rest of the IR operators have followed suit. Not one of them is alive today. The last was my Belgian friend. “You carry those voices with you,” he told me one morning. We were standing on the deck, looking into that brown haze, waiting for a sunrise we knew we’d never see. “Those cries will be with me the rest of my life, never resting, never fading, never ceasing their call to join them.”
KONDO: I thought he was insane, and told him so right to his face. The two of us against millions of siafu? TOMONAGA: I handed his sword back to him; its weight and balance felt familiar to the touch. I told him that we might be facing fifty million monsters, but those monsters would be facing the gods.
I made eye contact and gave him this look, like “Hey, Doc, they’re all nut jobs, right?” He must have known what my eyes were asking because he just smiled back and shook his head. That really spooked me; I mean, if the ones who were acting loopy weren’t, then how did you know who’d really lost it?
Yeah, we stopped the zombie menace, but we’re the ones who let it become a menace in the first place. At least we’re cleaning up our own mess, and maybe that’s the best epitaph to hope for. “Generation Z, they cleaned up their own mess.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t miss some things about the old world, mainly just stuff, things I used to have or things I used to think I could have one day. Last week we had a bachelor party for one of the young guys on the block. We borrowed the only working DVD player and a few prewar skin flicks. There was one scene where Lusty Canyon was getting reamed by three guys on the hood of this pearl gray BMW Z4 convertible, and all I could think was Wow, they sure don’t make cars like that anymore.
I’ve heard it said that the Holocaust has no survivors, that even those who managed to remain technically alive were so irreparably damaged, that their spirit, their soul, the person that they were supposed to be, was gone forever. I’d like to think that’s not true. But if it is, then no one on Earth survived this war