World War Z is one of those books that makes you instinctively wince a little when you see it. A fictional world war of humans versus zombies? That sounds like the most ridiculous thing ever; one would assume it is incredibly cheesy and a shallow book with bucketloads of moaning, groaning, and gore.
And yet, this is far from the truth. World War Z instead assesses competently how humanity as a whole would truly react to an infection that turned people into hostile zombies. The result is epic to behold; the story is told by 'survivors' of the war: men and women, young and old from countries and professions all over the globe. Put in the format of them being interviewed by a journalist, the multiple and different viewpoints give the novel an intensely human factor that throws you right into the plight of those who have to face this apocalypse.
It is very compelling to read World War Z. The book is essentially told in chronological order. First, we get the initial reactions to the zombie outbreak; disbelief, efforts to cover it up, attempts to profit from the chaos through political posturing and opportunistic creation of false vaccines. It is clear that the author, Max Brooks, did a great deal of research on how people tend to react to immense crises both medical and physical. We see doctors muse over the symptoms of zombification, strategists think about how best to destroy the zombies, and people in general seek elaborate ways to survive while, in general, trying to hold onto their humanity and empathy for others in need.
This progresses to "The Great Panic": nations trying to face zombie swarms and hordes with modern armies and, for the most part, failing utterly. We see the reactions of countries from all over the globe, actions guided by historical habits and backgrounds; this is another area where it is clear that the author has done his homework. China tries to hush up the outbreak to keep order; the United States attempts to smash it head on; Japan seeks to evacuate the islands for geographical and geopolitical reasons. Just about every move feels right for each culture based on real-life decisions they've made in the past, and that helps to make the book that much more believable.
Finally, the progression ends with the world finally starting to get its shit together and cooperating with each other in order to achieve victory over the zombie threat. It is in this part of the story that the heroes really begin to shine and we see ordinary people put themselves in harm's way in order to do the right thing and save others. It is genuinely inspirational, and downright impressive that it feels so real. It speaks to the book's efficacy that it can shine so even when the circumstances of the world within it are so dark and nightmarish.
However, there is a specific part of the story that I found issue with, with regard to how certain nations composed themselves in the face of the zombie threat.
The Battle of Yonkers. In this battle, we see the United States engage a massive horde of zombies for the first time militarily with a force composed entirely on the basis of the "Shock and Awe" doctrine. This essentially means that the weaponry is entirely based on causing widespread general damage with the aim of freaking the enemy out to the point where their morale breaks and they run away like little pansies.
But we are fighting zombies here.
I found this section of the story to be so painful because, at this point, all the nations in the world know that to kill a zombie you have to shoot it in the head. All bombs do is hurl the bastards into the air, leaving them perhaps legless but still able to drag themselves over more stealthily in order to nom nom on the marines. On top of this, it says in the text specifically that they had electronic combat vehicles there, absolutely USELESS in fighting zombies who aren't using anything electronic. Consequently, this section made me want to bash my head against the wall; it seems clear that the United States military response was dumbed down just so the crisis could seem that much more extreme and dangerous. An author's trick, if you will. Thus everything having to do with America later in the story felt somewhat artificial; I felt cheated by the author's deliberate alteration of what would happen, mostly because my expectations were raised by his ability to predict everything else so realistically with nary a fault.
In the end, though, I really enjoyed World War Z. The first half was like watching a train wreck; it is horrible and you know that something awful is about to happen, but yet you can't look away. The second half, however, really took me away with so many epic stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things out of survival and love for their fellow man. It is hard to state how powerful and moving things get by the end. The last few dozen pages are essentially a nonstop victory for what makes the human spirit great. Yet even there the author doesn't let it go to his head, and points out realistically how people are always capable of doing nasty things in crises, as well as how hard it would be to reconstruct society after such a horrendous event.
I highly recommend World War Z to anyone who has the stomach for horror and a curiosity of how the world and people like you and me would deal with a zombie invasion. If you are enthused, then this book is a masterpiece of fiction. If you don't, then walk away and try not to think about how unprepared you will be when the zombies finally come...