Remember the final scene in Night of the Living Dead where the black guy gets blown away by that gun-toting redneck and you realize, Whoa, this movie is about more than just the undead? Max Brooks’ first novel, World War Z, has about 10 times the number of moments like that. Of course, great zombie stories have never been solely about walking corpses. There’s always a great metaphor at their core, the films of George Romero being prime examples.
Max Brooks (who’s trod this ground before with 2003’s entertaining but slight faux manual, The Zombie Survival Guide) concocts an addictively readable oral history — basically a collection of interviews — with people involved in the great human-zombie war. The conflict starts in China with a virus and spreads around the globe until the undead are everywhere. People panic, retreat, and then start to fight back.
The sheer number of voices (Russian priests, blind Japanese warriors, American grunts) that Brooks channels is impressive, and the abundance of movie-ready scenes (a Chinese submarine being attacked by clawing underwater zombies) is geekily cool. Yet World War Z is more than just an endless succession of filmable set pieces. With his surprisingly realistic takes on government inadequacy, disaster preparedness, and public panic, Brooks subconsciously references worldwide crises from 9/11 to tribal civil wars to Hurricane Katrina, producing a debut that will grab you as tightly as a dead man’s fist.