Post-Apocalyptic role-playing games are one of my favorite genres and zombies among my favorite villains. “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks combines these two elements in a very literate take on the zombie genre. This is not your standard pulp fare, so do not expect a beefy hero saving damsels in distress at the last-minute. The book is not even a standard novel. Think of it more as a collection of short, very well-written anecdotes and interviews.
Since this is a post-mortem of the war (yes, pun intended), humanity’s fate is not in question. It is the actions of those humans during the war that make the book so interesting. Some of the interviews are only a few pages, but they feel authentic. In a few cases, disturbingly so. Not to spoil anything, but the South African solution to zombies is particularly plausible and vile.
“WWZ” takes place 10 years after the zombie war ends. The unnamed narrator, tasked by the government to report on the war’s events, recounts his interviews with the survivors. The book’s chronology roughly follows the same timeline as the war. From a rural Chinese doctor recounting his encounter with “patient zero,” to the mass panic and brutal cruelty of the war itself and finally the rise of humanity from the ashes.
Early stories focus on the disbelief that the dead walk the earth. Nations react much as they would react to any disease outbreak today; some conceal the sick, while other seek a cure and still other take on a fortress mentality. Nations lie to each other, war profiteers peddle useless vaccines and fringe elements blame their god or devil of choice. Many do not believe.
Zombie hordes multiply and panic sets in among man and government. Nations unleash the most modern weapons to little effect against the horde, but find better success killing their own populations to “sterilize” an infected area. Millions run to the frozen north, secure in the knowledge the zombies freeze solid in cold weather. Safe from the zombies, but not the elements, millions die of exposure and still other refugees prey on each other…. Civil wars erupt around the globe and nuclear weapons end arguments. Entire nations fall.
But from the ashes rises some hope. The survivors adapt, industry re-configures to produce zombie killing products and defenses. Even architecture changes, with stilt-home and retractable stairs commonplace. Armies swap stealth fighters, useless against the horde, for bite-proof combat suits. Napoleonic tactics return with multiple rows of soldiers endlessly firing so that the bullets never stop flying. Japanese otaku re-discover the katana and develop a new martial art, solely devoted to killing zombies. Heroes rise from unlikely places to take their place in legend.
As a postapocalyptic role-playing game supplement “WWZ” is among the best. Because it delves deeply into the politics, tactics and equipment during the war it literally oozes with great gaming content. I promise you will not be disappointed.
I am now inspired by this book (and the upcoming Gamma World release) to talk about some great postapocalyptic fiction. You might say this is a theme week! My next offering requires only a single word to describe it; Cthorr!
Trask, The Last Tyromancer