I can’t remember when I first read World War Z. I think it was during CBR7, but maybe it was CBR6. It was a book I enjoyed, but I just never got around to reviewing it. I keep a list of all of the books that haven’t been reviewed since I started Cannonballing, but I don’t date them, and maybe I should.
But I remember reading it quickly, and being surprised by what I found. I liked it a lot and was shocked at how different it was from that Brad Pitt thing. I liked the dry wit and pessimistic attitude that Max Brooks brought to the traditional zombie story, tracing the epidemic from patient zero in rural China to the end of the zombie war, some 10 years later. Told in interview format, with information from people of all walks of life and from all corners of the globe, we saw a complete picture of just how quickly our world could break down if some sort of global crisis were to come calling.
This time, I listened to the audiobook. And wow, was it a different experience.
It was funnier. Some of the narrators were just so good at the parts they played. Martin Scorcese as the crooked pharmaceutical executive was just brilliant. His fast-talking, I-dont-give-a-shit attitude was perfect for the man who was now living in exile after tricking the american people into a false sense of safety from the zombie infection.
It was also much sadder. Bruce Boxleitner was a bit heartbreaking as a civilian pilot who watched the midwest completely break down while he flew overhead. Listening to the different voices tell the story of what their lives were like before and after the outbreak was really tough sometimes. The chapter about the new mayor of the fortified town in Montana, in particular — I knew exactly what was going to happen to her and her family, and yet I was scared to death while listening to her tell the story. Alfred Molina telling the story about watching the invasion from the International Space Station, while he was on his deathbed, dying from radiation poisoning, was also beautifully done.
The chapter about the famous movie director riding around California on his bike, trying to splice together footage of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, also had some poignant bits. In particular, his description of the young college student singing Roxy Music’s Avalon — a perfect song to set the mood of the interview.
I also learned a lot more about what Brooks truly thinks about government, religion, celebrity, and America in general. Too many secrets, too much bureaucracy, too much of the “looking out for number one” attitude, too much excess.
The chapter about the reality show filming on Long Island particularly stuck with me. Not only did Henry Rollins do an absolutely amazing job telling this story, but the insight into Hollywood, and what it means to be famous, was really disturbing. Those celebrities who were stupid enough to think that their fame was more important than the deaths of thousands of civilians deserved everything that they got.
His views on the treatment of the military were also eye-opening. The chapters narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris as a high-ranking military official showed just what a clusterfuck the entire operation was. And Alan Alda almost steals the show as the head of a newly created government bureau, who’s job it is to re-educate the american people, train them to live in this new world, and to create the tools and weapons needed not only to survive, but to thrive once again.
But not everyone was as successful. I think some of these great actors that were gathered up to be a part of this — lots of them probably friends of Max Brooks or his dad…I mean, Carl Fricking Reiner is in this — just weren’t that convincing. As readers, they did a great job. But this is supposed to be a bunch of interviews, so it should sound like a conversation, right?
One part in particular that failed for me was the description of how the navy was fighting the zombies underwater. In the book, I remember being mesmerized by the descriptions of walking over broken flat-screen TVs and looking behind appliances for zombies. And that fighting them in the water was like “fighting in a glass of milk” because of all of the sand and silt and salt. But the narrator killed this chapter and I couldn’t get through it fast enough.
And yes, the worst offender was Brooks himself. His delivery just didn’t work. But I’ll get over it. Because he gave me the gift of Mark Hamill.
Mark Hamill pretty much won my heart with his portrayal of soldier Todd Wainio. In the book, I remember thinking that Wainio’s three appearances were a bit much. Yes, his description of the failed Battle of Yonkers was fascinating, but the character was a bit too much to take.
And then Mark Hamill brought Todd Wainio to life, and I wish there was a whole book about him. His descriptions of what happened in Yonkers, the rebuilding of the army with volunteers from all over the country (nuns! realtors! Michael Stipe!) as well as his trek across the country afterwards, were simply riveting. Hamill understood how to bring his character to life in a conversational format, so it sounded like I was just sitting there, listening to a somewhat-unhinged guy tell me all about the past 10 years of his life. And it was amazing.
Sorry, James Marsters. There’s a new audiobook king in my world.
The book gets 4 stars. The audiobook gets 5.