Book Talk: World War Z by Max Brooks

Book Talk: World War Z by Max BrooksWorld War Z by Max Brooks
Narrator: Max Brooks, Steve Park, Frank Kamai, Paul Sorvino, Ade M'Cormack, Carl Reiner, Waleed Zuaiter, Jay O. Sanders, Dennis Boutsikaris, Martin Scorsese, Simon Pegg, Denise Crosby, Bruce Boxleitner, Akay Naidu, Nicki Clyne, Jeri Ryan, Henry Rollins, Maz Jobrani, Mark Hamill, Eamonn Walker, Jürgen Prochnow, David Ogden Stiers, Michelle Kholos, Kal Penn, Alan Alda, Rob Reiner, Dean Edwards, Frank Darabont, Becky Ann Baker, Parminder Nagra, Brian Tee, Masi Oka, John Turturro, Ric Young, Alfred Molina, John McElroy, Common, F. Murray Abraham, René Auberjonois
Length: 12 hrs, 8 mins
Published by Random House Audio on May 14, 2013
Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic
Format: Audiobook
Source: Purchased
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World War Z: The Complete Edition is a new version of Max Brooks' episodic zombie novel. The abridged versions of the original stories are now joined with new, unabridged recordings of the episodes that were not included in the original (abridged) version of the audiobook. These additional episodes feature a star-studded cast of narrators to coincide with the upcoming release of the film.

New narrators include Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese, Spiderman star Alfred Molina, The Walking Dead creator Frank Darabont, rapper Common, Firefly star Nathan Fillion, Shaun of the Dead's Simon Pegg, and members of the casts of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes and more! Max Brooks will be reprising his role as The Interviewer.

The original abridged edition, released in 2006, won an Audie Award for Best Multi-Voiced Performance. Original cast members include Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, Carl & Rob Reiner, and John Turturro.

In this new classic of apocalyptic fiction that feels all too real, the Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. The documentary-style oral history records the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time.

So I knew I got to this book really late, but apparently I was a sophomore in college when this book came out. I’m a decade late on the hype train for this book, which, actually, totally works for me. I also don’t know that I would have appreciated this book back then, because it’s so much not at all what I would have expected it to be. Also, I cannot imagine how they made a movie out of this, though it could have been a really cool TV show. Oh. Wait.

For those few of you who don’t know, World War Z really is a fictionalized oral history. For those of you who were not history majors and haven’t read an oral history, here’s the short version: brief accounts from various people involved in the topic in different ways and places commenting on how they were affected. The scope and variety of accounts here reminded me of Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides, a really excellent oral history of the Vietnam War. My point with the recommendation for a completely different genre and subject matter is that I was reminded of history books while reading World War Z. I think Brooks really nails the style he was going for.

Obviously this is a style that could be difficult for readers to understand, though clearly this book did just fine. What I like about it is that World War Z does focus on a wide range of experiences and backgrounds. The book’s heavily male, but there’s a surprising amount of diversity (surprising because we all remember the mayonnaise of basically all publishing ever) and there are female characters. Some of the female rep is a bit squidgy but some of it is solid, and it’s certainly not one-note. There’s also a major variety in tone between the stories. Many are full of action and adventure and horror, but some are quieter or more political. The aim of an oral history like this is to try to see the event through as many eyes and experiences as possible, and Brooks does a respectable job representing many experiences. Given the sheer mass of data that a years-long war that involves literally the entire world, an actual oral history would likely be much longer or focused on a specific location, but as a fictional conceit, it’s original and well done.

Those who know my taste well can probably predict that I didn’t love this book personally. I liked it and I was impressed by it, but its very nature makes it more episodic than I like fiction to be. Some of the POVs were delightful and fast-paced, while some dragged or annoyed me. I get from a craft perspective why that works, but from a reader’s perspective this has all the same problems as a collection of short stories which it effectively is. The Oral History format isn’t an ideal fictional one for readers who are primarily interested in characters. Ironically, I love non-fiction oral histories because they bring more personality and character than historical tomes, but a novel’s a whole different animal.

Part of why I didn’t read this book for-freaking-ever was because I know myself, and I knew that the format would be a struggle for me in print. I wanted the audiobook with a full cast of narrators. But the original audiobook was abridged, and I didn’t want that because then have I actually read the book? The one good thing to come from the movie was the Complete Edition of the audiobook. I really thought they did a great job with casting. The narrators seem to be as diverse as the POV characters, and I could recognize the repeat narrators when they came back. I’d have preferred if they gave Nathan Fillion a longer and more interesting section, but ah well, you can’t have everything.

Given the age of this book, I had really low expectations for World War Z, and I was pleasantly surprised. Brooks took so many narrative risks here, and most of them pay off. Worth a read if you missed this one and enjoy history and/or zombies.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

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