World War Z
First edition cover
|Genre||Horror, post-apocalyptic fiction|
|Published||September 12, 2006|
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback), e-book, audiobook|
|LC Class||PS3602.R6445 W67 2006|
|Preceded by||The Zombie Survival Guide|
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is a 2006 zombie apocalyptic horror novel written by American author Max Brooks. The novel is a collection of individual accounts narrated by an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission, following the devastating global conflict against the zombie plague. Other passages record a decade-long desperate struggle, as experienced by people of various nationalities. The personal accounts also describe the resulting social, political, religious, and environmental changes.
World War Z is a follow-up to Brooks' fictitious survival manual The Zombie Survival Guide (2003), but its tone is much more serious. It was inspired by The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two (1984) by Studs Terkel, and by the zombie films of George A. Romero (1968–2009). Brooks used World War Z to comment on government ineptitude and US isolationism, while also examining survivalism and uncertainty. The novel was a commercial hit and was praised by most critics.
Its 2007 audiobook version, performed by a full cast including Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, and John Turturro, won an Audie Award. A film with the same name as the novel, directed by Marc Forster and starring Brad Pitt, was released in 2013, and a video game of the same name, based on the 2013 film, was released in 2019 by Saber Interactive.
At the start of the novel, it has been nearly twenty years since the start of the apocalyptic worldwide pandemic known as the Zombie War, and about ten years since the war has ended in humanity's victory. The framing device for the novel follows Max Brooks, author of the Zombie Survival Guide (referred to simply as "the civilian survival guide" in this book) and agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission, as he travels the world interviewing survivors of this zombie plague.
The interviews are categorized within eight different main topics: Warnings, Blame, The Great Panic, Turning The Tide, Home Front USA, Around The World And Above, Total War, and Good-Byes.
Although the exact origin and cause of the plague is unknown, a young boy from a village in Chongqing, China is identified as the outbreak's official patient zero. The zombies of this setting are slow-moving, with no intelligence or senses, but with a grip as strong as steel and a primal drive to consume living flesh (for reasons unknown, they possess the ability to tell the difference between the living and the dead). They are incapable of fully decomposing, are immune to damage by most chemical means such as from freezing or sea water, and can only be killed permanently by destroying the brain.
China initiates a military crisis with Taiwan to distract from their attempts to contain the initial outbreaks. The plague spreads to various nations by human trafficking, refugees and the black market organ trade. Initially these nations are able to cover up their smaller outbreaks, until a much larger outbreak in South Africa brings the plague to public attention. At this point, the public and governments around the world begin to refer to the plague as "African Rabies", as most believe the zombies to merely be humans infected with a new strain of rabies rather than the living dead.
As the infection spreads, Israel abandons the Palestinian territories and initiates a nationwide reverse cordon sanitaire, closing its borders to everyone except uninfected Jews and Palestinians, leading to a civil war. The United States does little to prepare because of its overconfidence in its ability to suppress any threat, and the desire to not cause a panic during an election year. Although special forces teams contain initial outbreaks, a widespread effort never starts: the US is deprived of political will by "brushfire wars", and a widely distributed and marketed placebo vaccine, Phalanx, creates a false sense of security.
After a journalist reveals that Phalanx does nothing to prevent zombification, and moreover that the infected are not victims of rabies but rather walking corpses, a period known as the "Great Panic" begins. It is speculated that more deaths are caused by this disaster than the zombie plague itself, as the world begins to destabilize and order breaks down. Panicked refugees by the millions move aimlessly all over the world searching for safety, and some begin taking matters into their own hands to fight the undead, instead causing the deaths of many uninfected. Pakistan and Iran destroy each other in a nuclear war over Pakistani refugees entering Iran. Russia forces a decimation of the military to prevent mutinies. Ukraine gases large numbers of refugees and soldiers alike to weed out the infected.
After zombies overrun New York City, the US military sets up a high-profile defense in the nearby city of Yonkers with the hope that a great display of military power may help restore public order. The "Battle of Yonkers" is a disaster; modern weapons and tactics prove ineffective against zombies, which have no self-preservation instincts, feel no pain, and can only be stopped if shot through the head. The unprepared and demoralized soldiers are routed on live television. Other countries suffer similarly disastrous defeats, and human civilization teeters on the brink of collapse.
In South Africa, the government adopts a contingency plan drafted by apartheid-era intelligence consultant Paul Redeker, known as the Redeker Plan. It calls for the establishment of small Safe Zones, leaving large groups of survivors abandoned in special zones as human bait, serving as a distraction to the undead and allowing those within the main safe zones time to regroup and recuperate. Governments worldwide assume similar plans. The United States establishes its Safe Zone west of the Rocky Mountains and directs those left behind to evacuate north, giving no other direction or instruction. As zombies freeze solid in extreme cold, many civilians in North America flee to the wildernesses of northern Canada and the Arctic, where eleven million people die of starvation and hypothermia. Meanwhile, several astronauts stranded aboard the ISS witness the profound environmental impact as most of humanity resorts to burning wood and trash for warmth.
After the US government relocates to Hawaii and its Safe Zones are well established, all aspects of civilian life are devoted to supporting the war effort; people with skills such as carpentry and construction find themselves more valuable than people with managerial skills. General morale begins to increase for the first time since before the Great Panic, as the military evolves to better combat zombies, and civilians (at least those within the Safe Zones) begin to find purpose in their lives again.
Seven years after the outbreak began, a conference is held off the coast of Honolulu, aboard the fifty-year-old USS Saratoga, where the new United Nations headquarters are located. Most of the world's leaders argue that they can outlast the zombie plague if they stay in their safe zones while the zombies rot away. However, the US president argues for going on the offensive, and a general vote results in most countries either voting "no" or "abstain" while the remainder decide to attack.
Determined to lead by example, the US military reinvents itself to meet the specific strategic requirements of fighting the undead. Backed by a resurgent US wartime economy, the military begins the three-year-long process of retaking the contiguous United States from both the undead swarms and groups of hostile human survivors. Other nations that voted to attack go about their own offensives: Russia, its armories badly-depleted, resorts to using large stores of World War II-era tanks, firearms, flamethrowers and ammunition, waging a costly offensive against the undead by brute force. The United Kingdom takes a slow-but-steady approach, taking until five years after the official end of the war to finish clearing London. France, set on restoring its pride and reputation after embarrassments and defeats going back to World War II, charges headlong against the undead, its armed forces displaying extreme valor at an extraordinarily high cost. An unnamed British Army general comments as the war ends that there are "enough dead heroes for the end of time."
Ten years after the official end of the Zombie War, millions of zombies are still active, mainly on the ocean floor or on snow line islands. The United Nations fields a large military force to eliminate them. Cuba has become a democracy and hosts the world's most thriving economy. Tibet is freed from Chinese rule, which in turn becomes a democracy as well, and hosts Lhasa as the world's most populated city. Following a religious revolution, Russia is now an expansionist theocracy and adopts a repopulation programme, keeping the nation's few remaining fertile women as state broodmares. North Korea is completely empty, with the entire population presumed to have disappeared into underground bunkers or been wiped out in the outbreak. Iceland has been depopulated and remains the world's most heavily infested country.
The situation in the British Isles is not entirely clear in the novel. The Pope and members of the British Royal Family had fled to Ireland (specifically Armagh) and the Isle of Man, following the military retreat to the Antonine Wall, and now exports oil from a reserve under Windsor Castle where the Queen held out for the war's duration, refusing to flee with her relatives. In France, the Palace of Versailles was the site of a massacre and has been burned to the ground; military losses were particularly high clearing the catacombs underneath Paris, because the catacombs housed nearly a quarter of a million refugees during the early stages of the war, all of whom became zombies.
The Israelis and Palestinians have made peace, and the former occupied territories have been renamed "Unified Palestine". Mexico is now known as "Aztlán". Several countries are described as having revised borders due to the "dumping" of convicts into infected zones; these convicts rose to command "powerful fiefdoms" that later became independent states. A so-called "Pacific Continent" appears to encompass previously uninhabited islands as well as ships rendered immobile due to lack of fuel. For unknown reasons, the Saudi Royal Family have destroyed the oil fields in Saudi Arabia.
The United Nations fields a large military force to eliminate the remaining zombies from overrun areas, defeat hordes that surface from the ocean floor, and kill frozen zombies before they thaw. Life on Earth is hinted at being brought to near extinction, including the extinction of most aquatic life, including whales. Overall quality of life on earth for those who remain is much less than it was before the war, with diminished life expectancy, limited access to running water and electricity, and an ongoing nuclear winter, the combined result of the nuclear war, the fires caused during the Great Panic, and the advent of fire as humanity's primary source of warmth. Nevertheless, the majority of those who have survived have hope for the future, knowing that humanity faced the brink of extinction, and won.
Brooks designed World War Z to follow the "laws" set up in his earlier work, The Zombie Survival Guide (2003), and explained that the guide may exist in the novel's fictional universe. The zombies of The Zombie Survival Guide are human bodies reanimated by an incurable virus (Solanum), devoid of intelligence, desirous solely of consuming living flesh, and cannot be killed unless the brain is destroyed. It is said that the undead contain a black, foul pus-like liquid instead of blood. Decomposition will eventually set in, but this process takes longer than for an uninfected body and can be slowed even further by effects such as freezing. Although zombies do not tire and are as strong as the humans they infect (though they appear to be slightly stronger due to lack of normal restraint), they are slow-moving and are incapable of planning or cooperation in their attacks. Zombies usually reveal their presence by moaning.
Brooks discussed the cultural influences on the novel. He claimed inspiration from "The Good War": An Oral History of World War Two (1984) by Studs Terkel, stating: "[Terkel's book is] an oral history of World War II. I read it when I was a teenager and it's sat with me ever since. When I sat down to write World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, I wanted it to be in the vein of an oral history." Brooks also cited renowned zombie film director George A. Romero as an influence and criticized the Return of the Living Dead films: "They cheapen zombies, make them silly and campy. They've done for the living dead what the old Batman TV show did for the Dark Knight." Brooks acknowledged making several references to popular culture in the novel, including one to alien robot franchise Transformers, but declined to identify the others so that readers could discover them independently.
Brooks conducted copious research while writing World War Z. The technology, politics, economics, culture, and military tactics were based on a variety of reference books and consultations with expert sources. Brooks also cites the US Army as a reference on firearm statistics.
Reviewers have noted that Brooks uses World War Z as a platform to criticize government ineptitude, corporate corruption, and human short-sightedness. At one point in the book, a Palestinian refugee living in Kuwait refuses to believe the dead are rising, fearing it is a trick by Israel. Many US characters blame the United States' inability to counter the zombie threat on low confidence in their government due to conflicts in the Middle East.
Brooks shows his particular dislike of government bureaucracy. For example, one character in the novel tries to justify lying about the zombie outbreak to avoid widespread panic, while at the same time failing to develop a solution for fear of arousing public ire. He has also criticized US isolationism:
Survivalism and disaster preparation are prevalent themes in the novel. Several interviews, especially those from the United States, focus on policy changes designed to train the surviving US population to fight the zombies and rebuild the country. For example, when cities were made to be as efficient as possible in order to fight the zombies, the plumber could hold a higher status than the former CEO. The ultra-rich hide in their homes, which had been turned into fortified compounds, when they were overwhelmed by others trying to get in, it became a mass slaughter. Throughout the novel, characters demonstrate the physical and mental requirements needed to survive a disaster. Brooks described the large amount of research needed to find optimal methods for fighting a worldwide zombie outbreak. He also pointed out that the US likes the zombie genre because it believes that it can survive anything with the right tools and talent.
Fear and uncertainty
Brooks considers the theme of uncertainty central to the zombie genre. He believes that zombies allow people to deal with their own anxiety about the end of the world. Brooks has expressed a deep fear of zombies:
This mindlessness is connected to the context in which Brooks was writing. He declared: "at this point we're pretty much living in an irrational time", full of human suffering and lacking reason or logic. When asked in a subsequent interview about how he would compare terrorists with zombies, Brooks said:
During an appearance on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, Brooks' friend and contemporary novelist Chuck Palahniuk revealed that a major influence on World War Z was the deterioration and death via cancer of Brooks' mother, Anne Bancroft. According to Palahniuk, Brooks' attempt to find the right oncologists to treat Bancroft parallels the mission in the novel to find a cure for the zombie plague. Brooks subsequently dedicated the novel to Bancroft.
Reviews for the novel have been generally positive. Gilbert Cruz of Entertainment Weekly gave the novel an "A" rating, commenting that the novel shared with great zombie stories the use of a central metaphor, describing it as "an addictively readable oral history." Steven H. Silver identified Brooks' international focus as the novel's greatest strength and commented favorably on Brooks' ability to create an appreciation for the work needed to combat a global zombie outbreak. Silver's only complaint was with "Good-Byes"—the final chapter—in which characters get a chance to give a final closing statement. Silver felt that it was not always apparent who the sundry, undifferentiated characters were. The Eagle described the book as being "unlike any other zombie tale" as it is "sufficiently terrifying for most readers, and not always in a blood-and-guts way, either." Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club stated that the format of the novel makes it difficult for it to develop momentum, but found the novel's individual episodes gripping. Patrick Daily of the Chicago Reader said the novel transcends the "silliness" of The Zombie Survival Guide by "touching on deeper, more somber aspects of the human condition." In his review for Time Out Chicago, Pete Coco declared that "[b]ending horror to the form of alternative history would have been novel in and of itself. Doing so in the mode of Studs Terkel might constitute brilliance."
Ron Currie Jr. named World War Z one of his favorite apocalyptic novels and praised Brooks for illustrating "the tacit agreement between writer and reader that is essential to the success of stories about the end of the world ... [both] agree to pretend that this is not fiction, that in fact the horrific tales of a war between humans and zombies are based in reality." Drew Taylor of the Fairfield County Weekly credited World War Z with making zombies more popular in mainstream society.
The hardcover version of World War Z spent four weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, peaking at number nine. By November 2011, according to Publishers Weekly, World War Z had sold one million copies in all formats.
Random House published an abridged audiobook in 2007, directed by John Mc Elroy and produced by Dan Zitt, with sound editing by Charles De Montebello. The book is read by Brooks but includes other actors taking on the roles of the many individual characters who are interviewed in the novel. Brooks' previous career in voice acting and voice-over work meant he could recommend a large number of the cast members.
On May 14, 2013, Random House Audio released a lengthier audiobook titled World War Z: The Complete Edition (Movie Tie-in Edition): An Oral History of the Zombie War. It contains the entirety of the original, abridged audiobook, as well as new recordings of each missing segment. A separate, additional audiobook containing only the new recordings not found in the original audiobook was released simultaneously as World War Z: The Lost Files: A Companion to the Abridged Edition.
- Max Brooks as The Interviewer
- Steve Park as Kwang Jingshu
- Frank Kamai as Nury Televadi
- Nathan Fillion as Stanley MacDonald*
- Paul Sorvino as Fernando Oliveira*
- Ade M'Cormack as Jacob Nyathi*
- Carl Reiner as Jurgen Warmbrunn
- Waleed Zuaiter as Saladin Kader
- Jay O. Sanders as Bob Archer
- Dennis Boutsikaris as General Travis D'Ambrosia
- Martin Scorsese as Breckinridge “Breck” Scott*
- Simon Pegg as Grover Carlson*
- Denise Crosby as Mary Jo Miller*
- Bruce Boxleitner as Gavin Blaire*
- Ajay Naidu as Ajay Shah
- Nicki Clyne as Sharon*
- Jeri Ryan as Maria Zhuganova*
- Henry Rollins as T. Sean Collins
- Maz Jobrani as Ahmed Farahnakian
- Mark Hamill as Todd Wainio
- Eamonn Walker as Xolelwa Azania / Paul Redeker / David Allen Forbes
- Jürgen Prochnow as Philip Adler
- David Ogden Stiers as Bohdan Taras Kondratiuk*
- Michelle Kholos as Jesika Hendricks
- Kal Penn as Sardar Khan*
- Alan Alda as Arthur Sinclair Junior
- Rob Reiner as "The Whacko"
- Dean Edwards as Joe Muhammad
- Frank Darabont as Roy Elliot*
- Becky Ann Baker as Christina Eliopolis
- Parminder Nagra as Barati Palshigar*
- Brian Tee as Hyungchol Choi / Michael Choi*
- Masi Oka as Kondo Tatsumi*
- Frank Kamai as Tomonaga Ijiro
- John Turturro as Seryosha Garcia Alvarez
- Ric Young as Admiral Xu Zhicai*
- Alfred Molina as Terry Knox*
- John McElroy as Ernesto Olguin
- Common as Darnell Hackworth*
- F. Murray Abraham as Father Sergei Ryzhkov*
- René Auberjonois as Andre Renard*
* The Complete Edition
In her review of the audiobook for Strange Horizons, Siobhan Carroll called the story "gripping" and found the listening experience evocative of Orson Welles's famous radio narration of The War of the Worlds (broadcast October 30, 1938). Carroll had mixed opinions on the voice acting, commending it as "solid and understated, mercifully free of 'special effects' and 'scenery chewing' overall", but lamenting what she perceived as undue cheeriness on the part of Max Brooks and inauthenticity in Steve Park's Chinese accent. Publishers Weekly also criticized Brooks' narration, but found that the rest of the "all-star cast deliver their parts with such fervor and intensity that listeners cannot help but empathize with these characters". In an article in Slate concerning the mistakes producers make on publishing audiobooks, Nate DiMeo used World War Z as an example of dramatizations whose full casts contributed to making them "great listens" and described the book as a "smarter-than-it-has-any-right-to-be zombie novel". The World War Z audiobook won the 2007 Audie Award for Multi-Voiced Performance and was nominated for Audiobook of the Year.
In June 2006, Paramount Studios secured the film rights for World War Z for Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B Entertainment, to produce. The screenplay was written by J. Michael Straczynski, with Marc Forster directing and Pitt starring as the main character, UN employee Gerry Lane.
Despite being the draft that got the film green-lit, Straczynski's script was tossed aside. Production was to begin at the start of 2009, but was delayed while the script was completely re-written by Matthew Michael Carnahan to set the film in the present, leaving behind much of the book's premise to make it more of an action film. In a 2012 interview, Brooks stated the film now had nothing in common with the novel other than the title. Filming commenced mid-2011, and the film was released in June 2013.
- List of zombie novels
- Midway Studios – Newcastle, who worked on a cancelled video game adaptation of the book in 2008
- "Exclusive Interview: Max Brooks on World War Z". Eat My Brains!. October 20, 2006. Retrieved April 26, 2008.
- "'The Zombie Survival Guide' With Max Brooks". Washington Post. October 30, 2003. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
- Brooks, Max (October 6, 2006). "Zombie Wars". Washington Post. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- "Max Brooks Talks pt. 1, Comic-Con 2008".
- Phipps, Keith (October 25, 2006). "World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
- Currie, Ron (September 5, 2008). "The End of the World as We Know it". Untitled Books. Archived from the original on December 20, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
- Carroll, Siobhan (October 31, 2006). "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks". Strange Horizons. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- "Brooks redefines the zombie genre in WWZ".
- Utter, Alden (October 2, 2006). "Brooks puts brains in print for zombie fanatics". The Eagle. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved September 9, 2008.
- Cruz, Gilber (September 15, 2006). "Book Review World War Z". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- Cripps, Charlotte (November 1, 2006). "Preview: Max Brooks' Festival Of The (Living) Dead! Barbican, London". The Independent. UK. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- Lance Eaton (October 2, 2006). "Zombies Spreading like a Virus: PW Talks with Max Brooks". Interview. Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on November 6, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
- Donahue, Dick (August 7, 2006). "Three Answers: Max Brooks". Interview. Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on November 6, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
- "Chuck Palahniuk On Death, Grief, World War Z And Using Metaphor In A "Really Overblown Way"". YouTube. October 31, 2013. Retrieved September 12, 2018.
- Silver, Steven H. (2006). "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Review". SF Site. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- Daily, Patrick. "Max Brooks". Chicago Reader. Retrieved October 28, 2008.
- Coco, Pete (October 11, 2008). "Review: World War Z". Time Out Chicago. Archived from the original on September 8, 2008. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- Taylor, Drew (October 28, 2008). "The Hunt for Real October". Fairfield Count Weekly. Archived from the original on January 16, 2016. Retrieved October 30, 2008.
- "Best Sellers: October 15, 2006". The New York Times. October 15, 2006. Retrieved October 2, 2008.
- "Title Profile: World War Z". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved January 15, 2009.[dead link]
- "Brooks's 'World War Z' Hits Sales Milestone". Publishers Weekly. November 10, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2013.
- "World War Z: The Lost Files by Max Brooks - Audiobook". Random House. May 14, 2013. Retrieved May 19, 2014.
- "Audio Reviews: Week of 10/2/2006". Book review. Publishers Weekly. October 2, 2006. Archived from the original on November 6, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
- DiMeo, Nate (September 18, 2008). "Read Me a Story, Brad Pitt". Slate. Retrieved September 20, 2008.
- "Audie Award press release" (PDF). Audio Publishers Association. 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 19, 2007. Retrieved November 12, 2007.
- "Audies Gala 2007 Winners and nominees". Audio Publishers Association. Archived from the original on June 20, 2009. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
- LaPorte, Nicole; Fleming, Michael (June 14, 2006). "Par, Plan B raise 'Zombie'". Variety. Retrieved November 12, 2007.
- Marshall, Rick (December 3, 2008). "J. Michael Straczynski On 'World War Z': 'The Scale Of What We're Doing Here Is Phenomenal'". MTV Movie Blog. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
- Marshall, Rick (July 22, 2010). "EXCLUSIVE: Brad Pitt To Star In 'World War Z,' Paramount Options 'Zombie Survival Guide' And 'Recorded Attacks'". MTV. Retrieved August 5, 2010.
- Miller, Dennis. "Max Brooks discusses World War Z, the movie". Mansfield University - MU on YouTube. YouTube. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
- McClintock, Pamela (March 13, 2012). "Paramount Release Shakeup: Tom Cruise's 'One Shot' to Christmas; Brad Pitt's 'World War Z' to Summer". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- "The World War Z Game That Could Have Been | Kotaku Australia". Kotaku.com.au. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
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- Official website
- World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database