I didn’t think it was possible for me to like this book. I expected some jokey coffee-table stupidity, I guess. Instead, what I found was both a great survival manual as well as a dead-serious consideration of the zombie mythos in general. Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks) has written the best criticism of a tired subgenre that I’ve ever seen, and I think anyone who writes a zombie story from this point forward should at least read through this once.
While I don’t agree with every argument Brooks makes (e.g., I can think of several reasons why if the brain continues to function some vestigial behavior patterns could remain), his commitment to a scientific approach to the genre leads in some delightful directions (like zombies walking across the ocean over long periods of time — love that idea!).
Further, I feel this book highlights something about the world of zombie fiction (and, in a more general sense, all disaster stories and apocalyptica) and the role it plays for the reader (or the viewer): namely, that most of the fun of such stories is in the fantasy of a world where survivalism becomes once again paramount. By writing a book that is a straight-up survival manual, he trims a lot of the fat off what has become a lot of rote, by-the-numbers situational drama in a lot of stories that all end up feeling very similar. Instead, he gives his reader the interesting bits regarding what might work well, what might not work at all, and what might end up in disaster. Thinking about the potential for zombies to still swarm on a secluded island, as well as the threat pirates pose to such a place, is both more interesting and also briefer than sitting through another modern-day, half-baked schlock-a-thon.
I didn’t find the final third (brief accounts of zombie invasions through history) as compelling, but I did appreciate it in concept (Brooks really displays his history-buff side, and I like that, in theory). Even so, I’m interested in now giving World War Z a read, if only to see if Brooks can follow his own rules in a longer narrative format.
Those looking for a suspenseful horror novel or a humorous take on this material will probably not enjoy this book, but for anyone (like me) who enjoys watching impressive and straight-faced brainpower applied to a pop fiction mythology, look no further.