The ballsiest aspect to this book is that it completely relies on futurism. The catastrophe, this great outbreak of disease and death and societal meltdown, not only HAPPENS in the future (for us) but the actual time frame takes place even further down the Earth time-line than the catastrophe. The book is written in retrospect of what happened. The format is quite simple. A journalist, who may or may not be the actual writer of World War Z: Max Brooks, travels around the world interviewing survivors of the disaster. Each separate story told tends to represent some larger idea: humanity, socialism, government, militarism, hope or despair, exploitation, religion, revolution, etc. The book does a wonderful job at alluding to these by all means heavy topics without becoming preachy or, thankfully, losing sight of the fact that this is a book about the Zombie apocalypse.
Early on in the book a man born during into the beginning of South Africa’s post-apartheid era tells of his first major encounter with the plague. As a child, his family moved into the city believing the government promise of employment and housing for the entire country. “Housing” in the long term meant exactly how it sounds, in the short term it meant rows upon rows of steel shanties for the overwhelming amount of people flocking to South African cities due to this very promise. They were trying, that much is obvious; but good intention alone does not make for thriving conditions and good gov. policy. Brooks uses this man’s language and memories of the time to examine how we handle these conditions. He seems to be particularly interested in the often-times lengthy and jagged transition from third or second world nation to first world, or global power (in his version of Earth’s future Cuba’s currency is #1, and China is the global leader; yet ironically, due to this notion of third vs. first world, the outbreak occurs in China). Yet, as he examines these ideas through the lips of this man he’s interviewing, he doesn’t skimp out on zombie/horror geekery:
I was still on my stomach when I saw them: ten or fifteen, silhouetted against the fires of the burning shanties. I couldn’t see their faces, but I could hear them moaning. They were slouching steadily towards me with their arms raised.
There’s more extreme examples of this also. The characters in the book reflect on run-ins of the most horrific kinds. “Zeds” with knives protruding out of their necks, ribs, eyeballs not quite dangling but not quite in the eye-socket, lots of blood and thick black goo, decapitations, crawling tirelessly with no working legs or legs at all, swarms upon swarms, even a situation in Colorado where an American military group lets them get close enough for head shots and the pile of bodies mounts 20-30 feet high.
The essence of the book, though, is its greater philosophical ideas and critiques. World War Z is broken up into 8 different sections.
WARNINGS - First contacts and experiences. First impressions. Disbelief. Lots of this section deals with governments not telling/sharing all that they know, or being truly honest. Also criminal activity (a Central Asian smuggler speaks), globalization, population explosions/control, rich/poor gap, human nature (“most people don’t believe something can happen until it already has”), poverty, nationalism.
BLAME - This crisis has now sunk in; it is real. There’s always someone to blame for almost anything, right (right or wrong as it may be)? More government themes, this time: inadequacy, false/poor intelligence, beauracracy, reforms. Also dissidents, proposals, abuse of power, militarism, economics, gov. organizations (the FDA especially), exploitation (a man who sells a false “cure” to the disease and makes billions), States’ rights, and the failure of the mainstream Media (this also in “Panic”).
THE GREAT PANIC - The world starts to turn on its head. People are panicking. Fear. Hopelessness. Mass evacuations of major cities occur. Also desperation, infrastructure, global societal break-down, the Media, terror, hysteria, dread, Religion, isolation, decimation, alliances, mass/personal suicide, militarism, defeat/failure (the battle at “Yonkers”, the American military taking on almost all of infected New York, especially), the Death of past/aged ideas and philosophies.
TURNING THE TIDE - The global community, now in utter shambles, comes together to try to come up with some sort of plan to avoid extinction. A man named Paul Redeker, who lived the rest of his life in assisted living, comes up with a plan (which is based around the idea of NOT trying to save everyone) for the South African government to isolate the disease. It is adopted by almost every other country in the world. Also sacrifice, more nationalism, priorities, exceptions, Religion, war, consumerism, make-shift neighborhoods and communities, resentment, racism.
HOME FRONT USA - Obviously this section deals with the contiguous United States. A big part of this part of the book is all about “getting people back on their feet again”. General welfare from the government comes into play here. As well as celebritism, job-force, security, filmmaking (a famous director makes documentaries about people’s daily struggles which apparently dramatically reduce the amount of suicides in the country), politics or lack there of, extremes, elections, psychology (a large number of people begin acting as if they were infected even though they weren’t; it is assumed that this was their way of coping), individualism, survivalism.
AROUND THE WORLD, AND ABOVE - The most interesting part of this section is when our journalist interviews a man who was in the International Space Station when this whole thing happened. The European Union, more globalization, global politics, strategy, defenses, spirituality, Science, misconceptions, DMZ’s, disabilities (a blind man tries to cope and survive in this new world), currency (money at this point is mostly dead, but people still clamor over it), decisions, obedience, authority, expansion.
TOTAL WAR - The remaining societies of people all over the world organize (the UN’s headquarters is now on a battleship in the Carribean) to fight back, and hopefully try to eradicate, this disease. Overwhelming odds. New forms of makeshift militarism. Hope, joining hands, banning together, animals, relentlessness, warfare, brutality, politics, Fascism, Empires, inspiration, conflict, diversity, human challenges, togetherness.
GOODBYES - A short section where each person who has been interviewed in the book gives their final impression of the whole thing. These are perhaps the most heartwarming passages in the book.