My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Traditional monsters always reflect both our primal fears and the time in which a particular story is told. Just as vampires represent perennial concerns about lust and death, so do zombies embody loathing of disease and dread about the hordes of nameless others that threaten to overwhelm us — communists in the 1950s, race riots in the 1960s, and terrorists in the early 2000s.
Max Brooks, son of Mel Brooks, takes a Ken Burns-like approach to zombies in World War Z. His conceit of a onetime U.N. observer traveling around to get firsthand accounts 15 years after the outbreak of the living dead does convey the global nature of the conflict. However, it also drains the narrative of a single protagonist and the suspense needed for a good zombie tale.
The upcoming movie adaptation, starring Brad Pitt, diverges significantly from the source material, with “only one man can save the world” and fighting against fast, free-running zombies rather than the typical shambling undead.
Brooks effectively evokes pop culture portrayals as he shows the gory struggle to survive the zombie apocalypse. On the other hand, he uses too much military jargon, many characters sound too much alike, and more characters should have been tied together sooner.
I’d give World War Z a B-, and my book club gave it a C-. I’d recommend the novel to anyone who’s a fan of horror literature and movies and doesn’t mind stock characters.