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World War Z – Max Brooks’ Boring Zombie Apocalypse


If I had to choose between rereading World War Z and facing a zombie apocalypse, I would go with the zombie apocalypse.

World War Z by Max Brooks isn’t just a bad book. It’s an unreadable book. It’s like a zombie Tom Clancy without any understanding of plot or storytelling. Writing in conversational first person from multiple viewpoints would be a difficult enough trick for a professional writer. Max Brooks isn’t up to it and not just for all the obvious reasons.

Open a page, any page, here’s what you’re going to find.

Gagron rolls a cigarette, looks at the waitress

Then we brought down the T-Hawks in xa-320 time. Buenos Aires was spread open in front of us. The Dawbies (*Dawbies were the nickname given by Argentinian special forces to their purchased Russian A-260s) and Zebras were everywhere. I didn’t know what to do. We stood around for a bit. Then Zebra was on us. That’s where I got this scar.

Senor, I still have nightmares about it today.

World War Z would be defensible if it were an actual collection of stories about an actual war. But it’s a fictional collection of fake narratives about zombies that skips the zombie part more often than you would think for some kind of second rate war trauma narrative for a war that never happened.

Max Brooks spends too much of World War Z establishing global references for every country he hops to, but the actual zombie outbreak falls between the cracks except for an early scene in China and a battle in Yonkers. The references are supposed to lend authenticity to a story that just isn’t interesting because it’s buried in Wikipediaisms, in footnotes and factoids and footnotes in factoids.

World War Z might have made for a decent novel if it had tried to tell a third person story in real time. Instead its first person aftermath interviews are not only a pointless gimmick, like blood on the camera lens, to make a story seem authentic by adding a filter to it, but it bypasses most of the interesting parts of a zombie war.

That is what’s so strange about World War Z, from its fake classics book cover to its trauma case files it wants legitimacy that doesn’t belong to a zombie story. Like a movie about Lincoln killing vampires, a story about a zombie apocalypse is never going to be legit.

Max Brooks’ dubious accomplishment in World War Z is to make a zombie apocalypse seem boring by treating it like the aftermath of the Vietnam War, instead of a story about monsters that eat people.

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