Dark Futures Book 18: World War Z

Dark Futures is a 20-book exploration of the fears of our futures, an odd sub-genre of Science Fiction that draws in on the society of the time and projects it forward, into uncomfortable visions of the world to be. The idea is the same across many books, the results, very different.  This week, everything is better with Zombies!

If I’m being honest I’m getting a little bored of Zombies. In fact I was never a huge fan of them in the first place – there is some great Zombie fiction out there but I’ve found it the exception not the rule, and it’s not something I would naturally seek out. One of the books always held up to me as an exception is Max Brook’s World War Z, a history, told in a series on interivews of survivors of a global undead epidemic.

And it’s fantastic.

There are two great things about WWZ that really made me fall for it. The first is just the style – the switching viewpoints, the subjective nature of the information you have, works to keep both the tension going throughout the book and to avoid getting bogged down in the “hows” and “whys” of the Zombie Apocalypse. It also allows Brooks to play with the genre’s conventions, it’s typical characters and stories, and also to tell a tale that feels genuinely global, as the effect rock the globe and each nation struggles to deal with it differently, and with diverse amounts of success.

The second thing I love is the Humanism. See, what I often dislike about Zombie fiction is the nihilistic love it seems to have of just tearing down the world “to see it burn”. Characters are just there to be killed and eaten, relationships there to be broken up, and generally I just find it all very thankless and gratuitiously unpleasant. WWZ is different, and thats because of hope.

For a start, its told after the initial conflict is over, and for all the pain, and death, and darkness (and there is a lot), humanity survives. And throughout the book are stories of heroism, and sacrifice, and perseverance that just make for great stories. Some of them are heartbreaking, some of them simply grim, but through most of them is a sense of people enduring terrible times without the loss of their humanity.

I would rate WWZ as a modern classic of the genre, it’s a dark, deep and fiercely intelligent book that disguises itself in a genre thats starting to feel bloated and over-used. I fear that one day soon the current glut of Zombie fiction will burn out, and in the spirit of which it is written, I hope WWZ will survive that apocalypse.

Next time:  A Man and Boy, travelling from nowhere to nowhere. It’s Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Feedback, corrections and other comments welcome either here or by email to grampus(at)dissectingworlds(dot)com or on twitter @thegrampus. Earlier Reviews in this series can be found using the tag “Dark Futures” or the column name “Tolkien Gestures”.

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