I'm going to be up front--I don't like zombies. Never have, never will. Therefore, I struggled reading World War Z. I tried to have an open mind, but the documentary style isn't interesting to me either. I know this is all a matter of taste, and I am probably in the minority. I've never been one to follow the crowd, so I'm not about to jump on the zombie bandwagon just because everybody else has. In World War Z, though, the zombies weren't the only monsters. Humans do monstrous things as well, when cornered.
Zombies bore me. That is the simplest way to sum up my dislike for them. This boils down to what I've mentioned in past essays--I like my monsters to have a bit of intellect. Zombies, not even a flicker. You can't even say they have pure animal instinct. Animals are more intelligent by leagues! I didn't like Rawhead, but I'd take him over a zombie any day. The slow moving and human flesh eating doesn't do it for me, and that's really all any zombie is. In World War Z, Brooks made them strong, made it possible for them to walk along the bottom of oceans and survive, but those additional differences weren't enough--they were still the same old zombies, in my mind.
World War Z is more about the human condition, the reactions people have to the zombies. The book is a series of interviews from the survivors of the Zombie War. Although this style didn't appeal to me, I did find some of the interviews interesting. I also noticed that some of the interviewees or the things that happened to them could be considered monstrous. Breckinridge "Breck" Scott is the first interviewee who had monster written all over his face. He developed a vaccine for the zombie epidemic. It was a rabies vaccine, and the zombie disease was labeled African rabies. Of course, he knew full well this vaccine wouldn't protect against a zombie bite. "All I did was what any of us are supposed to do. I chased my dream, and I got my slice....Shit, you wanna blame someone, why not start with all the sheep who forked over their greenbacks without bothering to do a little responsible research. I never held a gun to their heads" (58). Not one bit of remorse or guilt--only pure greed. No wonder this guy was hiding out in Antarctica.
Sometimes monsters force others to become monsters. In Russia, the government was determined to hide what was going on with the zombies and they wanted to keep a stranglehold on their military, which led to the Decimation. "We would be the ones to decide who would be punished. Broken up into groups of ten, we would have to vote on which one of us was going to be executed. And then we...the soldiers, we would be the ones to personally murder our friends" (82). To save their own lives, the soldiers abided, followed orders. "Conventional executions might have reinforced discipline, might have restored order from the top down, but by making us all accomplices, they held us together not just by fear, but by guilt as well" (82-83).
There is one interview in the book, with Jesika Hendricks, that implies cannibalism. Many of the people in the states headed north into Canada, where winter comes sooner, since zombies would freeze and give the humans a reprieve (until they thawed in spring, of course). Even though winter took away the zombie threat, they were fighting for basic survival. Jesika was only a child at the time, and she was sick. "There was this smell coming from the neighbor's RV. They were cooking something, meat, it smelled really good. Mom and Dad were outside arguing. Mom said 'it' was the only way....He came back ten minutes later, without the radio but with a big bucket of this steaming hot stew. It was so good!...Dad still had that look. The look I had myself in a few months, when Mom and Dad both got sick and I had to feed them" (128-129). It was a choice thrust upon her family--live or die, and I felt the looks that Jesika and her father had were the disgust at the monstrous act of cannibalism they were forced into simply to survive.
The survival of not only individuals, but of the human race as a whole was paramount in many nations. Everywhere, the zombies were winning, dwindling human numbers and adding more to their own army in the process. Paul Redeker developed a plan for South Africa. First, a safe zone needed to be established, but that isn't what made the plan monstrous. It was the second part of the plan that required the sacrifice of other human beings. "In his mind, only a small fraction of the civilian population could be evacuated to the safe zone....Those who were left behind were to be herded into special isolated zones. They were to be 'human bait,' distracting the undead from following the retreating army to their safe zone" (109). The interview this is from was one I liked. You find out at the end of it that the interviewee, Xolelwa Azania, is really Paul Redeker, who mentally cracked after developing the plan--he distanced himself from it by believing he was another person entirely. So, even though Redeker and many nations stretched themselves to that monstrous line, it had a large mental impact, the guilt taking its toll.
It was a little interesting to see the thoughts, in World War Z, on what actions humans might be willing to take simply to survive. The monsters inside of us can come out when we are fighting for survival, whether we want them to or not. This novel also reminded me how much I dislike zombies, and if anything I like them even less now--my opinion only, as always.
Brooks, Max. World War Z. New York: Crown Publishing, 2006.