By Samantha McGuire
It’s undeniable that the zombie fad has been done, redone and perhaps overdone. With countless recent films like “Dawn of the Dead,” “Zombieland,” “28 Days later” and “[REC],” as well as the AMC smash hit “The Walking Dead,” the undead, in all their varying levels of terror and gore, have become a pillar of pop culture.
However, people’s fascination with zombies extends far past their television screens. Not only are zombies among the most widely searched terms on the internet, but there have even been rumors of zombie viruses circulating online like wildfire.
The CDC even went so far as to post a page on their website entitled “Zombie Preparedness,” which does indeed outline a survival plan in the case of an outbreak. But where did this modern zombie subculture originate?
One could make a strong argument that much modern zombie hype stems from the mind of one man—-author Max Brooks.
It wasn’t until I was bored at the airport, left with only a few options that I picked up Brooks’ now iconic novel “World War Z.” A friend recommended it to me a while ago, but I made the arrogant mistake of thinking that I was above a far-fetched zombie novel.
However, from the opening scenes of “World War Z,” Brooks does not disappoint. “Z” is unique in that there are no main characters and no cohesive plot line, something that readers who like consistency and character development may at first find disappointing.
That being said, Brooks’ storytelling is refreshing and incredibly well-done.
“World War Z,” or the “zombie war” that befalls humans sometime around present day, is chronicled by the presentation of short interviews with survivors conducted by a researcher in the “UN Postwar Commission Report.”
From children, to soldiers, to housewives, to scientists, to celebrities and many more, the researcher gathers eyewitness accounts of their battles with the undead from all walks of life, all around the world.
Indeed, Brooks presents an age old villain—one that can both be pitied and loathed, in a nightmarish and disturbingly realistic way. The “zombie disease” is portrayed as a kind of strain of rabies, only that the host of the virus is dead.
Furthermore, Brooks has created a concrete and consistent set of rules for his zombies that does have a noticeable scientific basis.
As such, these creatures are terrifying and somewhat believable, which is, in my opinion, one of Brooks’ greatest feats.
As for the terrifying aspect, the novel is replete with cringe-worthy scenes of carnage like cannibalism, massacres, suicide and lots and lots of brains.
Indeed, “World War Z” is ridden with enough gore to satisfy the most enthusiastic zombie fan, but Brooks has rightfully earned notoriety not just as a master of fear and slaughter, but of poignant and powerful writing as well.
Every interview and flashback within the novel functions as a brief look into the lives and suffering of ordinary people around the world—people just like you and me.
This gives a novel a distinctly emotional element to it; there is death and destruction, but there are also the accompanying emotions like grief, fear, remorse and hope.
Brooks explores a scenario in which we humans are no longer the dominant force in the world, or even in our own lives.
To dub “World War Z” a “zombie book” is wildly unfair, because it’s also a meditation on our existence and humanity.
Brooks examines what happens when humans are stripped of loved ones, power, possessions, dignity, their lives as they knew them and the revelation of what we are left with and, more importantly, of who we are.