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Book Review: World War Z

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on July 22, 2016

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World War Z is one of the better pieces of Zombie fiction that I have ever come across and please believe me when I say that I have come across a lot of it. I am not going to talk about the film of the book because they have little to no correlation to one another and frankly I am furious that they took something so good and made something so worthless from it.

There is no one continuous story in World War Z, it is a tapestry woven out of many separate threads. The book is written in the form of recorded interviews taking place after a global Zombie Apocalypse has both happened and been put down. This “Oral History” format was used extensively by the journalist Studs Terkel many years ago to give people a first-hand glimpse of historical events rather than the dry content of reports and official statements, but it has rarely if ever been adopted for fiction despite all of the obvious story-telling potential.

So we know right from the beginning that the human race survives and even prospers after a fashion, the stories that make up the book are all told by survivors, so surely there is no tension in the book? For a complete sociopath, perhaps there isn’t, but the person narrating the story is not its only character and as we see throughout the course of the story, there are worse things than death when all of society breaks down.

A central theme of the book is the ways in which mankind has to become more inhuman to survive, taking help from one another no matter how morally ambiguous the source might be. The plan that world governments eventually adapt into a means of survival was created as a thought experiment for use in case of an uprising in Apartheid South Africa and requires the use of “acceptable sacrifices” to guarantee the safety of the majority. In the individual stories we hear about heroism and kindness but in the bigger picture the way that mankind won was to become crueller than the Zombie, more willing to kill than a creature that is only capable of killing. Humans are nothing if not adaptable.

You follow some individuals’ stories through the course of the war while others are left at the wayside, their story and significance to the future dropping away after their one moment of glory. The book takes place across the entire world, touching on elements of history and culture from every nation that it examines, and that globalism and the refusal to ignore the perspectives that a “respectable” story might brush past are what give it the vibrancy of a living world.

Even if you do not care for horror this book is worth a read, if only to see how people pull together or pull apart in a crisis. The zombies are not at the heart of this story, humanity are and it is the very human stories that draw you in and hold you close.

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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