Plot: It started as a few isolated infections in China: people infected by a mysterious virus would die then rise again to infect others. Soon, perhaps because of immigrations, organ transplants of international travel, cases were springing up throughout the world. The zombies were slow and stupid but they were countless and nearly unstoppable; the resulting war devastated the entire planet. This is an oral account, recounted by the survivors, of the events and countermeasures during the war in countries across the globe.
This review is based on the audiobook version read by a full cast.
If there is any book that was made for audiobook, this is it. (Also 13 Reasons Why which I reviewed a little while back.) It is a series of interviews with survivors of the war and the narration makes it feel real. I possibly felt a hint of what what the listeners of that first War of the Worlds radio play felt. And the cast! Max Brooks, Steve Park, Frank Kamai, Nathan Fillion, Paul Sorvino, Ade M’Cormack, Carl Reiner, Waleed Zuiater, Jay O. Sanders, Dennis Boutsikaris, Simon Pegg, Denise Crosby, Bruce Boxleitner, Ajay Naidu, Nicki Clyne, Jeri Ryan, Henry Rollins, Maz Jobrani, Mark Hamill, Eamonn Walker, Jürgen Prochnow, David Ogden Stiers, Michelle Kholos, Kal Penn, Alan Alda, Rob Reiner, Dean Edwards, Frank Darabont, Becky Ann Baker, Parminder Nagra, Brian Tee, Masi Oka, Frank Kamai, John Turturro, Ric Young, Alfred Molina, John McElroy, Common, F. Murray Abraham, Rene Auberjonois and Martin Scorsese. (I am aware that the bolded names reveal my weakness for sci-fi and M.A.S.H.) Some of the accents were a bit off, though not distractingly so, but on the whole it was a stellar performance. I found myself listening wherever I happened to be: home, the store, the metro, work. If you were trying to talk to me, I apologize, I was distracted by the zombie apocalypse.
I’m not even sure how to review such a diverse work, diverse both in terms of the origins of the narrators and the immense variety of experiences and responses. And yet the whole ties together so beautifully, one story flowing easily into the next, one narrator making references to incidents discussed by another narrator, though sometimes seeing these incidents completely differently. Some tales were infuriating for the sheer, unapologetic selfishness of the narrator, others utterly heart breaking. Many were both. Some of the stories will stick with me for a long time: the decimation in Russia, the refugees struggling to survive a Manitoba winter, the silence in North Korea, the Redeker plan… I could go on but I won’t spoil it for you. Despite being a zombie book, it is very human. It isn’t about action or creeping terror. We know that these men and women survive, that they’ve won if you can call it that. It is about their bravery and their failings, their triumph and heartbreak. Part of me wants to read it all over tomorrow to better understand the individual narratives after having heard the whole. And for someone with as high a to read pile as mine, that is high praise indeed.
You may have heard that they’ve made a World War Z movie. I’m not going to see it. I’m sure it’ll be a perfectly entertaining “white American dude saves the world” kind of summer blockbuster. I’ve been known to enjoy that sort of movie. But that is the complete opposite of what this book is about. This is not about heroes; in fact, some of the narrators are truly bad people. Some are merely ordinary people forced to do terrible things. There is no black and white. It is about survival. It is about mistakes. And ultimately it is about working together to rebuild. There is no way a Hollywood movie can capture what made this book great; it’ll just be another zombie movie. But we have the movie to thank for this amazing unabridged audiobook so it’s not all bad.
If you only read one zombie book, make it this one (or possibly Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker). Even my zombie hating bestie has nothing but praise for it.