Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Book: World War Z, by Max Brooks (2006)

Years ago I interviewed horror writer and filmmaker Clive Barker. (That’s it for the name-dropping in this post.) He made the point that classic movie monsters like vampires and werewolves are basically conservative, representing the fear of man’s primal urges. Zombies, he said, are the exception. They are the great liberal nightmare, an entitlement program run amok.

Here’s what I know about zombies: they’re the only ghouls that scare me. I’m not talking about the genteel kind. I mean great George A. Romero hordes of the undead. It’s not the violation of taboos that gets me. It’s the sheer implacability of the zombie as enemy. Their numbers are always increasing, and they’re never going to desert or fall for propaganda. The remake of Dawn of the Dead didn’t help matters. No shambling for these new models, which made a bad situation worse. An uncompromising ending pushed that worse situation into hopeless. At the time the climax angered me, but secretly I respected it for its honesty: if the dead start walking the earth, we are capital-S screwed.

For proof, look no further than World War Z. Max Brooks – Mel’s son! – has written an ingenious book, a mock Studs Turkel-style oral history of the apocalypse. Brooks spans the globe to talk to a variety of “sources,” tracking the chaos from the initial outbreaks in China to the years known as ‘the Great Panic,’ sketching a world in which skirmishes with the undead are a constant.

It’s a richly imagined story, filled with versions of real-life figures. (If you’ve ever wondered how Howard Dean would fare against zombies, this is the book for you.) But it’s the details that give WWZ its charge; there’s a reason why it features blurbs from military affairs correspondents and National Center for Disaster Preparedness personnel. It’s a post-9/11 novel that feels like a post-Hurricane Katrina novel, drawing drama from government’s catastrophic failure to respond to crises.

But don’t let that observation turn you off. Read it if you’re retaining a lot of bejesus and want some of it scared out of you.

Miscellaneous: VHS, RIP

It’s official. Variety says so.