I’m skipping quickly over another chapter that doesn’t have much of interest besides revealing that post-zombie Russia is now a “Holy Empire”, this being one of three things countries can be in the near future along with Federations and New Republics. The chapter after that opens in Barbados and talks more about how the carribean is an economic hot zone because the various island nations were able to mostly avoid zombies…somehow. We were told before that they can cross oceans and that infected ships were a vector to transport them around the world, but apparently none of that was a threat to small island countries with lots of hard to defend coastline.
Our interview subject this time is T. Sean Collins, who is from Texas. And since he’s Texan and this book runs on stereotypes, that means he’s a rootin’ tootin’ steer-rustlin’ hard liquor drinkin’ bowboy boot-wearin’ sumbitch.
The giant Texan slides a shot of “kill-devil” rum in my direction, then swings his massive, boot-clad feet onto the table.]
They haven’t come up with a name for what I used to do. Not a real one, not yet. “Independent contractor” sounds like I should be layin’ drywall and smearin’ plaster. “Private security” sounds like some dumbass mall guard. “Mercenary” is the closest, I guess, but at the same time, about as far from the real me as you could have gotten.
I will say, I enjoy the American characters quite a bit because Real Life Max Brooks seemed to feel freer to indulge his inner hack and just go hog wild on the cliches, whereas with other nationalities he seemed to be afraid of offending people and they just end up being kind of featureless and bland in their narration.
A mercenary sounds like some crazed-out ’Nam vet, all tats and handlestache, humpin’ in some Third World cesspool ’cause he can’t hack it back in the real world.
There are a lot of things in this book that make me wonder if it wasn’t initially concieved of much earlier than its 2006 publication date. Mostly it’s the oddly dated cultural references like the one above. I don’t know how old Collins is meant to be—unless someone is very young or very old or their age is for some reason important to the narrative we never find out how old anyone is—but assuming he was in his 20s or 30s during the war, “burned-out Vietnam vet” is kind of an old fashioned reference. Remember, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were in full swing by the time this came out, and we know they happened in the story’s timeline because they keep getting obliquely mentioned (including by Collins in this very chapter), so you’d think that would be everyone’s go-to war reference.
Collins was a bodyguard, which the book seems to treat as oddly mysterious and unusual despite it not really being either of those things. He was assigned to a media executive when the Great Panic hit, and the executive had the genius brain-idea to hole up in a secure mansion with all of his entertainment friends and livestream it. I obviously can’t fault Brooks or the book for this, but the obvious Big Brother parody that ensues has aged particularly poorly; if this was being written today it would absolutely be about a bunch of Youtubers and Instagram celebrities.
This entire chapter is just setup for the book to take some particularly mean-spirited and vicious swipes at celebrities of the day. See if you can figure out who these are supposed to be:
The actors, and singers, and rappers and pro athletes, and just the professional faces, like the ones you see on talk shows or reality shows, or even that little rich, spoiled, tired-looking whore who was famous for just being a rich, spoiled, tired-looking whore.
There was the political comedy guy, you know, the one with the show. […] He said that, subconsciously, everyone already knew the truth during the “Great Denial,” and that’s why they wigged out so hard when the story was finally broken. It all actually kinda made sense, until he started spewing about high fructose corn syrup and the feminization of America.
I mostly find the book’s insistence on not directly naming real people odd, but here I’m pretty sure it’s to avoid getting sued.
Collins talks about a fellow security guy from Russia, who of course is named Sergei:
It was when the camera was catching the reactions of the beautiful people that he mumbled something to himself in Russian. The only word I could make out was “Romanovs” and I was about to ask him what he meant when we all heard the alarm go off.
GET IT BECAUSE HE’S RUSSIAN
SO HE TALKS ABOUT THE ROMANOVS
THAT’S A THING PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT RUSSIA
People watching the livestream try to storm the compound to get away from the zombies, all hell breaks loose and Real Life Max Brooks gets to wag his finger at all the celebrities as they’re violently murdered while saying “Ooooh, you all think you’re so rich and famous, but just wait until the zombies come, then you’ll be sorry!”. It’s about as fun as it sounds.
Oh and this happens, which is so astonishingly hacky and bad that I’m legitimately shocked it made into a professionally published book:
I met the whore’s rat dog as we were both heading for the back door. He looked at me, I looked at him. If it’d been a conversation, it probably woulda gone like, “What about your master?” “What about yours?” “Fuck ’em.”
Skipping over another chapter—it’s about nuclear war breaking out between India and Pakistan, it’s about as well handled as you’d expect given the other stuff in this book—we arrive at a pivotal moment: the battle of yonkers.
At this point in the zombie war timeline, it’s been three months since the situation officially went south and cities all over the world have fallen to the zombies. Manhatten is completely overrun. The US military, unwilling to bomb one of the cultural and economic centers of the country, has devised a plan to lure a massive hoard of zombies out of Manhattan and across the bridge to Yonkers, where a waiting military force will wipe them out, scoring a major victory that will boost morale all over the world and stop the Great Panic before it can get out of control.
So, here’s where the book really starts to strain credulity. This scenario is pitting the US military—currently the most powerful single army in the world and in 2006 going through a major funding and recruitment boost due to the middle east wars—against what is essentially a large crowd of unarmed civilians. Who can only move in a straight line and who don’t have the intelligence to get out of the way of guns and tanks. This should be a crushing defeat for the zombies. And yet, for the sake of the story, the humans have to lose badly. The book accomplishes this by making the military inexplicably incompetent.
As our interview subject—a soldier who took part in the fighting—describes it, military commanders ordered soldiers to wait for the zombies on the ground rather than using the nearby convenient rooftops that would have put them out of harm’s way. Why? Because shut up, that’s why. The humans have to lose.
I’m sure whoever was in charge must have been one of the last of the Fulda Fucktards, you know, those generals who spent their nard-drop years training to defend West Germany from Ivan.
This dialogue is hilariously bad, as well as not making any sense. If the “Fulda Fucktards”(???) had been through the “brushfire wars”, wouldn’t the experience they gained there have replaced whatever previous training they went through? In Iraq and Afghanistan the US military got ample experience with assymmetrical warfare against non-traditional enemies, so why are they now reverting to old-school tactics designed to be used against a traditional army?
This is another one of those dated cultural references I talked about. The Cold War had been over for sixteen years when this came out, but the book acts like it just ended.
I’d say there were maybe thirty, maybe forty or fifty, zombies spread out all across this half mile stretch of freeway. The opening bombardment took out at least three-quarters of them.
In addition to a lot of other bone-headed mistakes, the book has the military opening with a massive salvo of explosives. This doesn’t work because…a bunch of zombies just somehow get up and keep coming.
Yep, and that’s what should have made us worry right then and there. “Steel rain” hit each and every single one of them, shredded their insides; organs and flesh were scattered all over the damn place, dropping from their bodies as they came toward us . . . but head shots . . . you’re trying to destroy the brain, not the body, and as long as they got a working thinker and some mobility . . .
“Some mobility” is the reason this makes no sense. Yes, a lot of the zombies would avoid damage to the brain, but that doesn’t really matter if their skeletons are shattered. If the explosive ordinance is “shredding their insides”, it would also be breaking bones and damaging muscle and connective tissue. The vast majority of the zombies would be unable to do anything but slowly crawl, if even that.
Eventually the tide of conveniently invincible zombies overwhelms the soldier’s positions, the artillery ammo runs out (they forgot to bring enough because, again, the humans have to lose by whatever means necessary), everything goes to hell and the battle of yonkers goes down in history as a giant boondoggle. Worldwide panic reaches a fever pitch as people see that even a highly organised military response isn’t enough to stop the zombies.
If this was a regular novel, this would still be pretty bad writing. Yes, we as readers know that we’re not watching real events unfold organically and that the author has orchestrated everything that happens to reach a certain conclusion, but we shouldn’t be able to see them pulling the strings behind the scenes. The way the book stacks everything in the zombie’s favour is just too obvious. But it’s worse here because World War Z is supposed to be an alternate historical account depicting real events, and as such the machinations are simply impossible to take seriously.
Real Life Max Brooks clearly realized that having the US military suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of slow-moving corpses was going to be hard to pull off. I’d argue the way to deal with that would be to avoid such a showdown from occuring in the first place, not to have the big battle take place and then make the humans slip on fifty different inconveniently placed bannana peels.