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Thursday, April 26, 2007

These types don't say "braaaaains...."

What if the Chinese had unwisely mucked about with a virus in the 60s? A virus that invariably killed its human host and then re-animated the corpse? What if they tried to bury their mistake but it was unearthed by unfortunate Chinese peasants in the hinterland? What if the Chinese government was unsuccessful in containing it? Factor in the trafficking in human organs, smuggling of people, ineffective and cynical attempts to stem or profit from the plague and you have the recipe for a world-wide disaster.

Such is the premise of World War Z, by Max Brooks. Yes, to get it out of the way, Brooks is the son of Mel Brooks (and the late Anne Bancroft). Much more importantly, he's effective at weaving a series of vignettes featuring people involved in responding to the zombie menace. I'm not sure how well he could sustain a novel length work, but he's good with the format used here.

The nations react with varying effectiveness: Israel responds to an early warning by extending and hunkering down behind its security wall (and deftly defuses criticism by inviting the descendants of Palestinians resident in 1948 to join them). South Africa develops the first effective national strategy by consulting with a cold-blooded advisor to the old apartheid regime (there's a neat twist in this story), a plan which becomes the template for the other embattled nations. It's not a spoiler to say that humanity eventually wins out--otherwise, nobody would be taking "an oral history." After an early disastrous engagement in New York, America becomes the first nation to march out from its safe area to retake territory by using new tactics and weaponry (shock and awe doesn't work on the mindless, alas). I'm happy to report that a significant number of Michiganders survive holed up in the aerially-supplied bastions of Comerica Park and Ford Field.

I'm even happier to report that the violence is not of "horror porn" levels, though there are some horrific and tragic scenes. And there are some hard jabs at current politicos and cultural figures, including the current administration and Karl Rove in particular. Thinly-disguised individuals like Rove, Joe Lieberman, Howard Dean, Colin Powell, Bill Maher, Ann Coulter, Howard Stern and others either appear in the narrative or are referred to, often with comic effect.

Brooks doesn't spare himself, lampooning his own Zombie Survival Guide to good effect in a couple of scenes.

Not a life changer, but a worthwhile read. It can be profitably read as a celebration of human courage, determination and creativity in the face of traumatic, civilization-shaking disaster.

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