Review of World War Z by Max Brooks

February 3, 2013 by · 3 Comments
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SFFaudio Review

World War Z

World War Z
By Max Brooks; Read by Full Cast
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: September 12, 2006
ISBN: 0739340131
[ABRIDGED] 5 discs – 6 hours

Themes: / post-apocalypse / zombies / military / oral history /

Publisher summary:

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.

I’ve broken my cardinal rule for reading books just before the movie comes out. My rule is not to read the book directly before the movie (at least 1 year before or it must be read after or just wait on the movies). The reason for this is that I want to enjoy the story through both mediums and if you read the book just before the movie, you’ve set yourself up to be a critic – analyzing everything and complaining about every detail that’s inevitably left out, but which is more often than not necessary for the medium. If you read the book at least a year before, at least with my shoddy memory, the movie becomes a happy time of fond remembrances. Oh yeah, I remember that part, so cool! Yay! Happy! In this instance, I hear the movie doesn’t quite follow the book exactly and what else can that mean than that it’s a typical zombie movie. I don’t think I’ve ruined much here.

You know, it could have been partly because of all the hype, but I didn’t love this book. I didn’t hate it either, which makes these the hardest reviews to write, but I think I have a few ideas why World War Z just didn’t work all that well for me.

The Plot

Doesn’t really exist. Yeah, there’s a loose series of events that defines the book, or the Zombie War, but it’s told through interviews with different survivors from different countries. And they’re short too, I even checked this with the book (paper-form). Each interview amounts to a page or two, maybe 5 max. Each tends to discuss a certain important event, which ends up getting referred to by characters later in the book and often mentioned by the one directly following. It’s extremely clever and lets you see how well developed this whole idea is.

It’s extremely clever

Max Brooks has literally thought of everything when it comes to a war against zombies. I thought the same in my reading of The Zombie Survival Guide, and it goes just as well here. EVERYTHING! He goes into why tanks are all but useless against hordes of zombies – because you have to take out their heads! Anything else, and they’ll still shamble and probably even become more dangerous when you trip over them on the ground. The airforce is just as useless because it’s so much money and effort for such a little amount of good. Better spent on a bunch of soldiers with tons of ammo. He even goes into better strategies for fighting this war, why the zombies are such a good enemy – because they don’t need to be bred, fed, or led.

Very clever and not even pretentious about it. Just captivating. And this isn’t the only thing I liked although we’re getting into the middle ground because I didn’t love the audio either.

The Audio

One of the things that got me excited to listen to this on audio was that it’s read by a full cast. That means they’re trying REALLY hard and that tends to be a good thing, especially if you don’t like one or two of the voices, it’s okay, it’s only temporary. With just one narrator, that can really kill a book. I mentioned that this is told through many different people in different countries and they have actors like Rob Reiner, John Turturro, and Mark Hamill. Even Max Brooks himself plays the part of the interviewer. Very cool…just up until the point of distraction. There are so many different countries represented that the accents started to distract heavily from the story. I found myself pondering why the German guy had such a heavy accent on his “R’s” and yet could perfectly pronounce “TH” every time. And this was just the one guy. One of the benefits of a single narrator is that even when they do an accent, it’s easier to understand because English is their primary language.

The audio’s great for the most part, outside of that little niggle about the accents, but one thing I absolutely HATE about it is…it’s abridged!

Abridged

I would probably never forgive myself if I listened to this abridged audio version and never actually read the entire book if I actually thought that mattered. Maybe others are better sleuths than myself, but I can’t find a reading of World War Z that’s not abridged. At the same, after having read the book, the abridged version seems to do enough justice to the entirety of the novel, what with how it is organized, that it just cuts out a few of the interviews. Normally this is heresy, but I can live with it for this one time only.

What I didn’t like

I think the thing that just makes this an okay to good book for me is that while it’s style and organization is unique and highly clever, it also takes away from my ability to care. Without just following one person or a group of people, there’s no attachment to any specific person.

The Movie

After writing the above, I actually do think the movie will make it all better. It seems like it will be following one single person and that’s what this reader needs. The movie comes out in June of this year.

In the end

Let’s just say, if we ever do get into a Zombie War, you better have a copy of World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide on you. Someone’s already gone through the effort of thinking up EVERY situation that can occur, what’s effective, what’s not and put it down in words. No sense reinventing the wheel. While an entertaining idea and clever execution, these were the exact things that made World War Z a book only a mother could love I could never love. It’s worth a read if only to see how in-depth you have not thought about zombies.

3 out of 5 Stars (Recommended with Reservations)

Review by Bryce L.