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. 

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