It had been a couple of years since I read “World War Z,” Max Brooks’ “Oral History of the Zombie War,” but in light of seeing the Brad Pitt-starring movie version this summer, I decided to revisit the book.
Reading it recently emphasized two thing to me:
Although I liked the movie fairly well, the book is much, much better.
The book was probably unfilmable as a two-hour movie.
The latter observation isn’t a new one or even new to me, of course. Brooks’ 2006 story is deliberately episodic. Every chapter has a different narrator and is set in a different location around the globe and a different time. True, there is an overarching framework – a United Nations researcher collects first-hand accounts 10 years after the zombie apocalypse – but there’s no place for a starring character – or actor, like Pitt – in the book. A few characters show up again but for the most part only as codas to their earlier tales.
The book’s strength lies in its episodic nature. No narrator, even an omnipotent, all-seeing one, could be as effective as the first-person accounts of the doctors, soldiers, government leaders, opportunists and even International Space Station astronauts as the zombie plague grows from initial outbreak into world-changing calamity.
Despite the premise – the walking dead, to coin a phrase – Brooks’ story is for the most part starkly realistic. There are few superheroics here. Civilians and soldiers fight to survive the onslaught of an enemy that is unlike any army on any battlefield.
I look forward, a few years hence, when somebody gets the idea of turning “World War Z” into a cable TV series. But I hope they’re faithful to Brooks’ story this time. And I hope they don’t decide, for the sake of an ongoing series, to turn Brooks’ book into a multi-year story like the producers of Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” apparently have done.
There’s a nice inside joke, late in the book, referencing Brooks’ father, renowned director and writer Mel Brooks. It’s a sly reference to “Free to Be You and Me,” the early 1970s Marlo Thomas production and one sketch in particular, in which Brooks and Thomas play newborn babies.