World War Z.
This book was recommended several times as an accurate/scientific take on the subject. I ignored such things because I’d read the opening of the Zombie Survival Guide and hated it. The author spends his time setting up his version of zombies rather than traditional ones and coming off as a smug ass as he does it. He isn’t going with the most common zombie tropes but he still spends time mocking those idiots who dare think they function differently than his own pet version, and despite the fact he obviously thinks it’s the most realistic, the only thing worse than his science is the repetitive way he writes it. And he brings up the issue of zombie sex in a way that’s very transparently trying to look like he doesn’t want to but has to because it’s such a common line of thought, and I really didn’t need that look into how his brain works.
But I kept hearing about it, including claims it was better than the first book. The fact the book takes place as a retrospective is rather unique and I thought lent some credence to the idea it might be realistic, given that one of the various plot holes zombie books tend to have is how unbeatable a bunch of braindead shamblers are.
So I read it. It didn’t live up to its hype, but there were some good ideas in it. There were also some bad ideas and a great deal of terrible execution. So, your standard zombie novel, really, but done more cleverly than usual.
The introduction is about the writer who supposedly collected the stories in the book, since the idea is this is nonfiction. It’s definitely a novel idea, but it’s not done well at all.
There’s a ton of unnecessary exposition, which pulls me out of the idea this is a nonfiction book taking place in a universe where this really happened. The narrator says he collected all this when he was commissioned to write a report but then found the stories were cut out of the final product because they just wanted facts.
The thing is, collecting oral stories is actually a really specialized task. You don’t accidentally do it when you’re trying to do something else. And governments can recognize the importance of recording oral histories and have for some time.
And in zombie fiction, a major point of failure is usually psychological. We can assume that holds true here just on narrative grounds, it’s more interesting if people made bad decisions. Knowing why they did things wrong (and how some groups averted this, if anyone did) is vital to avoiding those problems the next time around.
In short, there’s just no reason for our narrator not to have been commissioned specifically to collect an oral history of the war.
“It was all too intimate,” the chairperson said during one of our many “animated” discussions. “Too many opinions, too many feelings. That’s not what this report is about. We need clear facts and figures, unclouded by the human factor.” Of course, she was right. The official report was a collection of cold, hard data, an objective “after-action report” that would allow future generations to study the events of that apocalyptic decade without being influenced by “the human factor.” But isn’t the human factor what connects us so deeply to our past? Will future generations care as much fo chronologies and casualty statistics as they would for the personal accounts of individuals not so different from themselves? By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of persona detachment from a history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as “the living dead”? I presented this argument, perhaps less professionally than was appropriate, to my “boss,” who after my final exclamation of “we can’t let these stories die” responded immediately with, “The don’t. Write a book. You’ve still got all your notes, and the legal freedom to use them. Who’s stopping you from keeping these stories alive in the pages of your own (expletive deleted) book?”
But realism would get in the way of the author using his proxy author to talk about how awesome he is because only he realizes how important this is.
We learn this book is taking place a decade after the end of the war, and he says some people might say that’s too soon and starts defending why it isn’t. This is also unnecessary, because if 9/11 did manage to teach us anything (and god knows it wasn’t restraint, safety protocols, the importance of understanding your enemies, that the outside world can affect us…) it was that America’s only concept of “too soon” refers to jokes about it. And even in the alternate universe where people do think that, no one ever thinks it’s too soon to collect people’s accounts of what happened or put them together, they just think it’s a bad idea to publish right then. So he’s setting up strawmen and then punching in their general direction.
He finishes by telling us he’s going to be trying to keep his own commentary out of the book otherwise. While this is a good decision, the narrator manages to be so opinionated and annoying here I wonder how it was made, or why that sanity wasn’t extended to this opening.
It’s not, exactly, a bad opening. It does what it’s supposed to do, which is get you interested in the rest of the book. For all its many flaws, it didn’t make me close the book and it managed to explain the background (I don’t think the explanation was really needed, but assuming it was, it did.) The main flaw is just that it comes off poorly reasoned and researched, which is not an auspicious opening to something that was recommended for doing a great job at both.