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Alive 14
World War Z
                               By Max Brooks

                Or how Mankind survived the Zombie holocaust..

This book is the more serious bigger brother to Max Brook's "Zombie Survival
Guide" (Also reviewed in this issue of Alive.) In some ways, it is a logical
outgrowth  of some of the themes touched on in that book,  namely what would
happen  if  a Zombie outbreak went way beyond just being a  local  nuisance,
indeed if there was a worldwide Zombiegeddon!

World War Z is described as an oral history of the Zombie war,  and uses the
device of the narrator going around a slowly recovering post-war planet  and
collecting the recollections of a wide and varied selection of survivors  in
an  interview  format.  The time period is set in the near future,  although
events and personalities aren't explicitly referred to by name, you can make
some pretty good guesses about who/what the author is talking about.

Thus  we start with the Chinese doctor who came face to face  with  'patient
zero',   a  young boy who had been bitten whilst swimming.  Others have been
bitten and infected,  but the boy is the only one so far showing the classic
zombie  behaviour  patterns,  such  as extreme hostility  and  a  terrifying
disregard for his (its) own safety.  Upon getting advice from a collegue, it
turns  out  at least some parts of the Chinese government  and  intelligence
community  are  aware of the zombie threat.  (In the Zombie Survival  Guide,
case  histories  tell of various governments working on secret  zombie  bio-
warefare  programs.  Although the two books aren't explicitly linked,  it is
possible to draw your own conclusions.)

However,  this  apparently  swift  and decisive reaction  does  not  restore
control,  and  we hear the tale of the 'Snakehead' who helped to export  the
problem worldwide. People fled west seeking a cure, even when there was none
to be found. There were even random outbreaks from donor organs, such as the
South  American doctor who had personal experience with a  heart  transplant
going horribly wrong from an infected donated organ.  The Chinese government
go  as  far  to cover-up by describing their zombie cull as  a  'health  and
safety  sweep',  really  a massacre of political dissidents to get  everyone
looking in a different direction.

By  the  time  the outbreaks become public,  in South Africa,  where  it  is
misnamed  "African  Rabies",  the  various governments are united  in  their
resolve to do as little as possible.  Of course, the CIA are the last people
to  know  what is going on.  The denial and profiteering culminates  in  one
corporation  creating a fake vaccine called 'Phalanx',  which was a  working
anti-rabies  vaccine,  but  useless  against the zombie  virus.  A  superbly
cynical  interview  with its creator,  'Breck Scott' sets the tone for  this
period before the 'Great Panic' to follow.

"If  there's  a hell...  I don't want to think about how many of those  dumb
shits might be waiting for me. I just hope they don't a refund."

Israel showed the way, by pulling back to its pre-1967 borders and extending
the  security wall right around the country,  but no-one else followed  that
example.  It  is  fair to say that although the outbreaks are in the  public
domain  and  widely  discussed,  no-one is prepared for the reality  of  the
threat to come clawing at their front door.

The  'Great Panic' describes the time of collapse when the zombies march  in
massed numbers.  From individual encounters, through to the masses of people
trying to flee to an illusory safe haven. From the memories of a feral girl,
now grown up,  but trapped in the thought processes of the four-year old who
lived  through a zombie attack on a church,  through to the disaster at  the
'Celebrity Safe House' on Long Island.  (Hint to the rich and famous, in the
event of a zombie outbreak,  use your money and influence to get yourself to
safety,  but  don't advertise your location on a reality teevee show,  where
less rich and famous people might want to come along and take your space!)

There is a great chapter, where the limitations of even the US army's mighty
conventional  weapons  against a million-strong zombie  horde,  are  cruelly
exposed, and the problems with 'Net-centric warfare'. Sometimes you can just
get  too  much  information,  and when things go wrong,  panic is even  more
infectious than the solanum virus!

"All  over  the net,  you could hear the browning of shorts across the  info
highway." The massacre at Yonkers also includes the largest  proportion  of
news reporters and media people to soldiers ever seen in a battle!

But it's not all about the US-of A,  as worldwide reactions and problems are
described.  Pakistan and Iran resort to nuclear weapons, but not exclusively
against  the zombies.  The carnage at Alang in India,  a ship-breaking yard,
where  people  tried to flee seawards anyway is another vivid  chapter.  The
solution  to the Zombie problem comes from a South African,  Paul  Redecker,
who proposes defensible safe zones where the government and armed forces can
regroup and rebuild in comparative safety.  The controversial aspect is that
not  all  the  people can be accomodated in the safe zone,  and  those  must
remain outside, effectively as zombie bait, to draw the undead away from the
safe zones.

In the absence of government control,  people fled north,  armed with one of
the  few  real bits of information,  that zombies freeze solid when it  gets
cold.  (unfortunately,  they  thaw  out again!) Equally unfortunately,  those
people hadn't really planned what to do to survive for an extended period in
a  very  cold location,  which added about 11 million to the death toll  for
North  America alone,  let alone those people who fled to Siberia and  other
cold zones...

The  nations of the world fall into adopting some version or other  of  this
plan,  and  the  next section of the book,  "Home Front USA" details how the
safe  zone was put back into running order,  something like the second world
war  command economies running on fairly socialistic principles.  The  large
white collar working population,  with no practical skills,  is retrained to
do 'real' jobs, even grave digging, for which there is a big demand! We find
out  about  'Quislings',  or pretend zombies,  which are real people who are
traumatized  so much,  they think they are zombies and attack the living  in
the  same  way.  (Their bite is nearly as fatal,  due to the high  bacterial
infection count from their mouth.)

This  culminates  in the tale of a resupply pilot who came  down  in  'Zack'
territory, and was talked home, BAT 21 style.

'Around  the  world  and  above' goes into  more  detail  about  the  zombie
experiences  of  other parts of the world.  We get to hear of the  Europeans
putting medieval castles back into service with mixed success.  There is the
pending mystery of what happened to North Korea, in theory, the society best
placed  to  withstand  a  zombie attack,  but  the  population  mysteriously
disappeared underground,  it is speculated that if the infection got in with
them,  then the entire 23 million population could be infected.  There are a
couple  of  good  stories  from Japan,  where  a  alienated  teenage  hacker
transforms himself into a latter-day Samurai warrior,  after he finds an old
sword whilst escaping from his apartment complex,  and the old man,  blinded
by the Hiroshima bomb,  who is more than capable of looking after himself in
the wilderness.

Finally,  the  Chinese issue is resolved,  when their politbureau tells lies
one  time  too  many,  and  is destroyed by  their  last  ballistic  missile
submarine.  We  even get a view from space of the unfolding catastrophe,  as
the  International  Space  Station  continues  to  function.   There  is  an
environmental  component to the Zombie war,  as the atmospheric  disturbance
from  all  the fires is seen as equivalent to a low-level  nuclear  exchange
between  the  USA and Russia.  There are even a series of 'nuclear'  winters
where  the  average temperature has dropped by ten or  fifteen  degrees,  it
isn't  possible  to see the stars or moon,  and when snow does fall,  it  is
grey, some think that a lot of the ash in the air is human in origin!

Additionally,  the  oceans  remain infected with millions of Zombies,  which
sink  to the bottom,  then carry on as if nothing had happened.  There was a
large oceanic community where millions more people had put to sea to try  to
escape,  in  anything  from  aircraft carriers and  luxury  liners,  through
historic  ships  like HMS Victory and the Russian cruiser  Aurora,  down  to
improvised  rafts  made  of garbage bags filled  with  ping-pong  balls!  Of
course,  there are a large proportion of zombie-crewed derelicts,  where the
infection got too far to control.

'Total War'

At  last,  humanity goes back on the attack.  The same infantryman who was a
witness  to  the Yonkers debacle,  is a participant in the first  battle  at
Hope, New Mexico, which uses the new tactics and weapons. These include slow
and  careful shooting with a purpose-built semi-auto anti-zombie  rifle  and
pyrotechnic  ammunition,  and  the soldiers formed into Napoleonic era  line
(and  later  square) formation.  (The "RS",  or 'Reinforced Square',  or even
"Raj-Singh"  after  the Indian general who invented it.)  The  battle  is  a
resounding success,  but the campaign is a slow and methodical slog,  taking
three years to take back the whole of the USA.

There  is an interesting philosophical discussion of the meaning  of  'total
war',  expressed  by  one of the generals.  Zombies are the only  life-forms
capable  of  waging this,  as they have no human needs such as  sleeping  or
eating to distract them.  They are on a mission to consume any life they can
get their hands on 24-7!  (Another point made was,  that these zombies don't
just  eat  people,  they will even dig for any burrowing creatures,  and all
animals are afraid of them, or show a gut reaction to avoiding traces of the
Solanum virus.)

Humanity's  greatest alliance with another species is given a new slant,  as
special canine warfare (K9) units are created,  firstly to detect infection,
later  to  provide warning,  lure zombies into prepared killzones,  and even
conduct  long  range scouting missions with a video uplink and  gps  locator
attached to the dog.

There  are reflections on other parts of the campaign,  the undersea battles
between  the  ocean-going undead and divers in reinforced  deep  suits,  the
French  battle to clear the catacombs underneath Paris,  and the complicated
reactions   of  besieged  communities  as  they  were  liberated  from   the
surrounding  zombies.  Russia  turns  into  the  Holy  Empire,  a  religious
dictatorship.  Cuba  not only survives,  but prospers as one of the few safe
havens,  and  Castro  is  clever enough to stand aside when  his  old-school
politics are no longer needed.

In  general,  the  surviving societies experience something of a  return  to
their traditional underpinning values,  but humbler and tougher than before.
Japan  re-establishes a Samuri code,  specifically for combating the undead,
seeking  a middle way between the arrogance of the old imperial  order,  and
the over-pacified post-war society.  The USA is portrayed as being closer to
the  idealised  version  of itself after the conflict,  reborn  out  of  the
current decadent mess, but not too proud of itself. As one witness summed up

"Yeah,  we stopped the zombie menace, but we're the ones who let it become a
menace  in  the first place.  At least we're cleaning up our own  mess,  and
maybe  that's  the best epitaph to hope for.  Generation Z,  they cleaned up
their own mess."

There  is some vagueness about the death-toll.  There is a general agreement
that it is massive,  but the official figure of 600 million, directly due to
zombie  infection,  is  seen  as too low.  This firstly does not  take  into
account all the deaths from other causes,  such as starvation,  disease, and
inter-human  violence  during  times  such as  the  great  panic.  Secondly,
although  no  total figure is given,  it is estimated at the height  of  the
stalemate period,  where the safe zone is operational in the US,  that there
are  200  million zombies walking around the US alone,  of which 25  million
plus  are refugees from further south who died trying to get to  Canada.  So
taking  that  as  representative  of the whole,  at  least  half  the  human
population  worldwide may have become zombies,  possibly a higher proportion
in  highly  urbanised and densely populated countries.  And this  is  before
deaths  from  other  causes  are counted as well!  So this  world  may  have
experienced a very severe depopulation of more than half the pre-war level?

World  War  Z is a compelling book,  as it plausibly explores  the  ultimate
consequences of a favourite topic of horror fans.  The reactions of the more
informed  sections  of  the  people and  government  agencies  are  all  too
plausible  as  well,  with cynicism and head burying in the sand  being  the
order  of  the  day when the outbreak first kicks off.  Humanity has  to  be
confronted  with the catastrophe before it learns to react  decisively,  and
the  early  chapters of this book may well be a blueprint for  what  happens
with  other pending disasters in the making that could happen for real,  the
day after tomorrow!

In short, this book rules!

                                                  CiH, for Alive Mag,Nov '06.
Alive 14