Saturday, 20 April 2013

Book Review: World War Z

There's something strangely compulsive about zombie stories. Whether it's a Romero style satire or period pieces featuring women in bonnets kung fu fighting the walking dead, there always seems to be something new to add to the genre. The downside is that all too often creators can end up playing it safe and giving us nothing much in the way of originality. Thankfully World War Z is an exception and while the story may reflect a well known narrative that anyone familiar with the genre will instantly recognise, it tells the story on a much larger scale and in a very different way.

World War Z is an account of events in the past. The undead are still walking around but the tide has turned and humanity appears to have been victorious, albeit at a terrible, high price. The book is made up of different people's accounts from all around the world sharing their experiences of the war, from its mysterious start and right through the darkest days. Some are told in monologues, others in Q & A style interviews. From soldiers, to criminals, to ordinary folk caught in the crossfire, all have a story to tell and with it advice on how to survive a zombie apocalypse. In fact this is the single most useful book for governments if they want to get a Zombie Plan in place. For example; all that military might makes not an ounce of difference. Tanks, bombs, drones - none of that is going to help if the dead rise from the grave. It will be down to peeps on the ground with a good aim and a reliable gun, plus those brave enough to use axes, scythes and samurai swords in close combat.

Politics plays a surprising part in things too. The political atmosphere that permeates the world before the zombies arrive is one that will be familiar to everyone. There are surprising alliances, revolutions, and saviours here, giving the book a fascinating real world feel (though North Korea probably won't like the implications). It's this "realness" that gives World War Z that little something to mark it out from the rest of the zombie genre, and keeps you reading through the snippets of events it takes you through. In many ways it feels like a short story collection  all around the theme of "what would happen if zombies really did try to take over the earth and eat us?" The only downside to this is that there is no strong central character to root for, no one humanising soul to support through the nightmare. This creates a certain distance to the plot-driven story, which some might find uninteresting without that single emotional string you normally get in more character driven stories.

Refreshing and entertaining, this is a book for anyone with a thing about zombie stories, especially for those tired of the same old group of kids/adults hiding out in a mall that has a staggering capacity to maintain power throughout the crisis. The upcoming film will no doubt change a lot, and introduce a much more focused point of view of things, but the trailer already shows they're sticking to the scale of the book; this is a worldwide tale, and can't be told in just one location. It is worth trying to read the book though, even if you delay it until after seeing the film (just in case) as there are plenty of surprises, action and heartfelt moments in World War Z for even the most hardened zombie fan. 

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Obligatory "Thatcher's Death Brings Out The Worst In People" Post

It's been a while since I've posted anything so if this is what it takes to spur the horse than so be it. Social media has been awash with vile, self-congratulatory, shallow and occasionally funny but mostly sexist things in response the death of Mrs. T - from both sides of the political spectrum. Out of the bat I'll say I'm far from a fan of hers - not just because of the impact her government's policies had on my own family, but because I deeply disagree with her politics generally. I personally wouldn't go so far as to call her "Evil" (though some she championed certainly were) but selfish, greed obsessed, narrow sighted and superior? Yeah, I can go with that for a start.

But does that make me glad she died? No. I am remarkably ambivalent about her being dead. Dancing in the streets or feeling jubilant over the death of an old, senile woman who once held great power seems like a total waste of energy to me, not to mention crass. We also shouldn't feel "happy" about her death because her spirit, her attitudes and her politics are still here, and still causing misery. Every time you see a headline about "Scrounger" families living off the state, but nothing about the estimated £5 billion in tax avoidance from businesses and individuals, you have to accept that she won. She got her way, and worst of all we all fell in line.

There's a brilliant bit in the Guardian today about George "Gideon" Osbourne's own constituency, and I highly recommend you read it. In essence it shows how one area can be a microcosm of the whole country and, worse still, that no one is all that upset about how unfair it all is. They want their kids to have the best chance in life, so stay in an area they struggle to afford to send them to the best schools. And there's nothing wrong with that per se; except the chances any of their kids will get to the top is nearly nil. Oh, they may get up the ladder a bit, but all the way to fortune and glory? No way, no how, and no matter how smart or dedicated they may be.

Maybe I'm just a cynic; you may think that there is social mobility in British society. I just can't see it when I look at who runs the country, or even the people who run the biggest businesses in Britain, whether they're home-grown or foreign companies. And maybe that's been the biggest success of Thatcher and every Prime Minister since who have gleefully followed in her wake; the cynicism in the system that surrounds us and our willingness to accept it as the price for "prosperity".

So RIP Maggie - your legacy will live on, for better or worse, for many, many years to come.