After watching the well filmed but intellectually constipated World War Z, I decided to actually read the book upon which the movie is based to contrast the two media. The book was released in 2006 and written by Max Brooks, who seems to have a penchant for the shuffling undead as he previously wrote the book The Zombie Survival Guide. In fact, after reading the book, I thought the movie carrying its name deserved even more ridicule.
The book is written in an epistolary fashion, set ten years after the near extinction of mankind from the aforementioned zombie plague. The narrative spans the entire globe, from the densely populated city of Chongqing in China, where the plague’s Patient Zero was found to the crew of the International Space Station and deep underwater in a Chinese ballistic missile submarine. The future is uncertain because such a large proportion of the human population was turned into zombies, and indeed there are still likely millions of the creatures lurking in the depths of the oceans or frozen in the coldest places on the planet.
The individual tales range from the beginning of the zombie plague to the book’s “current” time, ten years after the war is largely completed. The tales are intimate, frightening and very graphic. There are so many different points of view presented of each major occurrence in the history of the war, soldiers, government officers, corporate interests and even monks from Japan. The characters present their memories of the initial Great Panic where everyone tries to flee (many, sadly unsuccessfully) from the zombie horde to the first attempts at stopping the horde with the best in military technology (which fails dismally) to a retreat of the entire surviving human race to the oceans or the colder climes. Then, the fightback and the aftermath, everyone picking up the pieces and moving on with their lives with any major geopolitical changes seem an afterthought to most of the population since, at the end of the day they’re used to it and life goes on no matter what governments want to call themselves.
The story is not just about survival, but also about adjusting to new ways of life. The human race is amazingly adaptable and the book shows that despite all the losses, hardships and setbacks suffered by the characters, they are able to not just simply survive, but also find some semblance of happiness. They deal with the painful memories of the past, lost friends, freedoms, even family, but they endure to fight another day and rebuild the shattered planet.
One thing to note: the main characters of the book – the zombies – are actually more realistic than those presented in the movie. For a start, they actually have to eat, thereby not violating any physical laws of the universe. The zombies in the movie just bite and move on – which is endlessly stupid. They don’t run like Olypmic athletes either, in the book. They’re scary primarily due to their single minded hunger and the difficulty in killing them without precise marksmanship.
Upon finishing the book, I was far more satisfied with its story, its end and the sense of hope that it presents. It was far more realistic, the world’s survival was down to hard work, adaptation and no stupid vaccines where zombies can smell your sickness. They’re the undead and viruses aren’t going to care what they spread in. Surely, the writers of the movie could have thought about the story in the book and turned it into a trilogy. There’s more than enough material and there’s certainly ways to rewrite it that would have made it more feasible.