Sunday, December 22, 2013

Not-Review: World War Z

I'm a very bad flyer. Right now, in my wallet, nestles the business card of a very nice Egyptian man who sat next to me and let me paw his arm and knee in sweaty, shaky panic as we descended into JFK Airport during a tornado warning. This was during the Arab Spring uprisings and he was on his way to fetch his mother in Cairo and bring her back to live with him in Los Angeles. Between the two of us, I think he had a hell of a lot more to be worried about. But panic is stupid and irrational that way, and there's really nothing I can do about my fear of flying except get on the damn plane and wait for it to be over.

I tell this story because I'm panicking right now for a very stupid and irrational reason, and it's time to land this plane. I have to stop reading "World War Z."

I hate zombies. I hate how fucking ubiquitous they've become in modern culture because it means I have to encounter them on every geek website and convention I go to. I'm not a big horror fan to begin with--I don't much like being scared, I get nightmares, and I grew up in a place that believes very strongly in the existence of ghosts, gods and ghouls. Tell a grown-up in Hawaii that you had seen a ghost, and they're probably going to say, "Yeah, there's loads of them around here." So my mind is very ready to believe.

As you might guess, I loved this show. It confirmed all my worst fears about the world.
And yet, despite knowing this about myself--despite getting nightmares from "Zombieland," which is a goddamn comedy about zombies, I find myself spending my Sunday afternoon in a soggy mass of fear-sweat reading this stupid book. Why did I think it would be a good idea to pick up Max Brooks's "World War Z" from a Brooklyn stoop and take it home with me? What possible outcome could I hope for other than sweaty, shaky panic and the utter conviction that society is about to collapse under the weight of the undead hordes? Was it because Max Brooks is Mel Brooks's son?

I may have had very different expectations for this book.
I don't know. But I had to stop reading and come write this instead, even though I can't really write a review of a book I haven't exactly read. I mean, I read the first 10 pages, and then I skipped ahead and read a 30 page chunk in the middle of the book, thinking that maybe if I jumped to the middle of the action, where it's all zombie-killing all the time, I wouldn't be as scared.

I should say that as far as zombie stories go, this one is pretty good. It's hard to come into a genre that's already overstuffed with variations on a theme. We've had slow zombies, fast zombies, romantic comedy zombies, zombies as a metaphor for racism, for capitalism, for sex--you name it, somebody has probably put zombies in it. "World War Z" sets itself apart from the pack by its form more than its story. It's written as an oral history of the titular World War Z, which ended 10 years before the book opens. The author collects first-person accounts from survivors about their experiences in the war, and I read them and cry and cry and cry.

That's all I've got in terms of a formal review. I'm sure this is a very good book, but I'm going to dump it on the doorstep tomorrow. The truth is, zombies hit a little too close to home. They're a manifestation of humanity run amok, a blight upon the earth, an unstoppable force whose existence signals the end of society. And I don't need a reminder of that shit. A hurricane brought floodwaters within two blocks of my home; student loan debt stands at a trillion-plus; the coral is dying in Kona. Cataclysmic destruction is real enough in my world. I don't see the need to compound it with the fear of fucking zombies.

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