Friday, January 15, 2016

Horror List Book Review: World War Z

I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.

This week I'm reviewing World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks.

While I found the format and the idea for this intriguing, I didn't end up enjoying it. In fact, it was a little bit of a struggle to get through with my limited reading time. 

This story is told as a series of interviews with various survivors of the war, making a lot of them military from different countries. A compelling idea, but I found that the voices blurred together. It's hard to pull off that many characters, so instead of having individual voices, they were cliched in many cases, and often similar. 

I was distracted by the fact that out of all these many characters, only five or so were female. It took awhile to get to the first female, to the point that I thought perhaps the story was that all women had been killed in the war somehow. It could be he was wary of accurately portraying a female voice. Whatever the reason, it was something that I found irksome after awhile. Especially when the male voices all started sounding the same.

It was obviously well researched (or so it seems--I didn't fact check). There were some great details that spoke to the locations, characters, careers and such. To me, it was fun to have the whole world involved, though South America's presence was sparse. He theorized how different countries would respond to the same threat, and how the different cultures and laws might complicate things.

There was no classic arc, but the story progressed from the very beginning of the virus, through its development and fighting it, to afterwards. A couple characters were repeated at the end (I think? There were so many characters, but I'm pretty sure we revisited certain characters again), but we didn't overall see character development. 

With each section covering a specific time period, there was no real mystery or buildup of tension. The first section I was drawn into was an interview with a military veteran who was caught in a situation where they had to try out old fashioned tactics against enemies that didn't feel fear or pain, and they discovered their weapons weren't working the way they expected. There was finally tension in this section, and I read through that interview quickly.

Another section that interested me was bittersweet, and one of three interviews that hit me emotionally. It was an interview with a Chinese soldier serving on a sub. The commander made the hard decision to disappear into the ocean with his men and any family they could smuggle out, in order to save lives. This was another tense section, and it ended on a sad note.

A lot of the story felt like a commentary on politics, world relations, greed, military ineptness, and more. There was a certain respect for soldiers, but not for those leading them. I'm not big on blatant political commentary in my fiction, but it was well thought out, even if I was quickly over it. This played itself into the horror of the story, especially culturally. 

All in all, not a hit for me, but the idea was a good one. The follow through just didn't do it for me, except in some specific interviews featured in the book. 

My new rankings:

1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
5. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
6. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
8. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
9. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
10. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
11. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
12. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
13. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
14. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
15. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
16. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
17. World War Z (Max Brooks)
18. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury) 
19. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
20. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
21. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
22. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell)

23. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)

Did you read World War Z? Did you prefer the book or the movie? What about his other zombie book? Is it any good? Which is better?

May you find your Muse.


Arlee Bird said...

I saw the World War Z film and enjoyed it. I haven't read the book and from your description I think my response would be like yours.

Arlee Bird
Tossing It Out

Mark said...

Great list of books you have there. I actually really enjoyed WWZ, but I'm also a history buff and am used to the familiar style he was employing that shows up in a lot of WWII memoirs.

Christine Rains said...

World War Z was a book I couldn't get into either, and I put it down. I've never seen the movie. I'm just counting down the days until The Walking Dead is back on! :) Have a good weekend.

Andrew Leon said...

I am curious about this book and kind of want to read it but maybe not curious enough to actually ever get to it.

A Beer for the Shower said...

Funny, I never noticed the lack of females thing, but like you, I struggled to get into this. I like having one solid (preferably small) cast of characters that you grow with, rather than just reading a bunch of interviews from random people. Didn't really click with me either.

DMS said...

I didn't read this one, nor did I see the movie. I liked hearing your thoughts. Sounds like the movie might be better than the book in this case. Thanks for sharing. :)

H. R. Sinclair said...

I haven't read it. My feelings are like Andrew's, curious but not curious enough.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I liked the film better than the book. Not something you'll hear me say often!

Shannon Lawrence said...

Interesting. I enjoy history, and the tie ins were fun, but I had frustrations with the voices.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I'm always a year behind on Walking Dead since we're just watching it on Netflix. We've been watching Z Nation in between, though, and it's good, too.

Shannon Lawrence said...

You never know, you might like it.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Yeah, I couldn't get really involved with no one to identify with or care about. Plus, it was arranged in such a way that we knew the people being spoken to had survived. No tension.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I do think the movie was better. This one time!

Shannon Lawrence said...

That's pretty much how I felt about it until this challenge.