Monday, April 21, 2008

Zombie Apocalypse!

I've always had a soft spot for zombies in the modern monster pantheon. They're unnervingly rellentless. They're highly contagious. Pure unleaded nightmare fuel, straight from the depths of the uncanny valley. But in the end, they can be outrun at a brisk walking pace. Well, most of them, anyways. So there's always hope.

George Romero has long been the standard to which all zombie stories have been held. His Living Dead series is masterful. However, There is a new master of the reanimated corpse tale setting his eyes on the throne.

Max Brooks, son of Mel Brooks, has thrown his hat into the ring. In 2003, Brooks wrote the Zombie Survival Guide. A deadpan humor book, that detailed how to overcome a potential outbreak of the undead in a normal town, like, say... YOURS.

The book covered everything from explaining the difference between "real" zombies and hollywood zombies, what weapons to use, how to fortify various buildings, how to travel during an outbreak, how not to attract them, how to go on the offensive, and a history of previous outbreaks. Adding to the realism are "real life" examples of the skills at work, and even the formatting for you to keep an "outbreak journal" of your own.

Brooks' zombies are created by a virus, called Solanum. This virus works by converting the brain into an anearobic organ. It no longer needs oxygen, and as such, no longer needs the body to sustain it. The zombie is driven solely by it's desire to devour flesh, preferably yours. The virus is only communicable by direct fluid transfer. It needs a bite. However, Solanum is 100% communicable, and 100% fatal. Get bit, and you're toast.

Brooks' zombies lack the coordination or visciousness of Garland's rage zombies from the 28 series. Nor do they retain their memories, like Russo's zombies. They only reanimate if they were infected with Solanum, unlike Romero's undead. They are however, singularly relentless. Brooks' zombies walk across ocean floors to reach humans on other continents. They freeze in the winter, only to thaw in the spring and continue their assault. They dig holes, up to fifty feet deep, just to consume a mole whose scent they caught. They will never stop, until they've rotted away to nothing.

The book boiled down ten "commandments" for surviving a zombie outbreak.
1) Organize before they rise!
2) They feel no fear, why should you?
3) Use your head: Cut off theirs
4) Blades don't need reloading
5) Ideal Protection = Tight Clothes, Short Hair
6) Get up the staircase, then detroy it
7) Get out of the car, get onto the bike
8) Keep moving, keep low, keep quiet, keep alert!
9) No place is safe, only safer
10) The zombie may be gone, but the threat lives on.

The book was extremely well written, and instantly flew up the New York Times bestseller list. However, it was only setting the table for Brooks' Apocalyptic Magnum Opus...

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War was published in 2006. It's a fictional epistolary novel, written from the perspective of a freelance journalist who interviews people who witnessed, and survived various stages of the Zombie War. World War Z, aka the Zombie War, was a pandemic outbreak of the Solanum virus, originating among the peasant of rural China. The exact time is never mentioned, but through textual hints, you can easily determine that the War broke out around 2010, and the interviews are taking place around 10 years later. The war is seperated into several stages, and the book's chapters are written along the same lines. It started with the initial isolated outbreaks, then the governmental response to those initial problems, followed by the major public outbreaks, then humanity's turning the tide on the zombie hordes, the retooling of society, and finally the drive to victory. Brooks predicts major economic shifts, and governmental shifts in the wake of the Zombie War.

Brooks is a skilled writer, and he does a good job of painting a vivid picture of humanity, and our society, without having to explicitly name people. When he speaks of the elder statesman of South Africa, you instantly envision Nelson Mandela. When people complain about the last American administration, you hear echos of gripes about George Bush. When the "little rich, spoiled, tired looking whore, who's famous just for being a little rich, spoiled, tired looking whore" gets eaten... Do I need to explain that one? It's well researched too, aside from one instance, which most people won't notice. What really gets me, is the way that he can paint such a masterpiece on an incomplete canvas. Things that are mentioned only in passing in the book are still among the most moving parts of the book, simply because of how he portrays the gravity those events held for the characters.

This book is incredible. I started reading it last night. I normally read one chapter of a book before I go to bed, it's the only time I really have to read for myself. I went to bed at one, then after several aborted attempts to put the book down, I realized it was 7 AM, and I was 320 pages into the book. I don't know what happened.

The movie rights to World War Z have already been purchased by Plan B entertainment, owned by Brad Pitt. I'm stoked for this, because I feel the book has so much potential in the film medium. If they manage to transfer half of the sheer brilliance of the book onto the silver screen, the world as we know it will end. And it will be AWESOME!

For those of you who are going to be reading the book, you should stop now. But for those of you who prefer a greater idea of what the book is about, I'm going to lay out the general story. So there's going to be some spoilers up ahead.

1) Warnings: This is the initial stages of the outbreak.
a) Kwang Jingshu, a doctor in China, sees the first outbreak of the war. A small boy in a village on the outskirt of the Three Gorges Resevoir was bitten while diving, and sets off the initial outbreak.
b) Nury Televaldi, explains his experiences of smuggling chinese citizens out of the path of the outbreak, into Tibet. He sheds light into how the infection spread beyond China.
c) Stanley McDonald, a Canadian Mountie, shares his encounter with the living dead found during a drug raid in Afghanistan.
d) Fernando Oliveira was a doctor in Brasil, gets a shock when he transplants a heart from an infected chinese man into one of his patients.
e) Jacob Nyanthi went back to his native South Africa, and is caught in the middle of the first major public outbreak of the war, in Cape Town.
f) Jurgen Warmbrunn was an Israeli spy, who was among the first to put together the scattered hints, and see the coming storm.
g) Saladin Kander was a palestinian expatriate living in Kuwait. Israel locked down its borders, offering asylum to all palestinians and jews throughout the world. Kander's father, working at a hospital, sees the dangers of infection, and takes Israel up on it's offer. Kander, being a teenage Palestinian, disagrees vehemently.

2) Blame: major political players are interviewed, to account for their lack of action during the initial outbreaks.
a) Bob Archer, now the director of the CIA, explains the gap between the CIA's percieved power, and it's actual power.
b)Travis D'Ambrosia was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the initial outbreaks. He explained the plans put forward by the military, and their rejection by the politicians.
c) Breckenridge Scott was a businessman who made millions during the initial outbreaks, selling placebo vaccines, and other false alarm protective measures.
d) Grover Carlson used to be the White House Chief of Staff, he tried to explain the marginalization of the zombie problems by the government.
e) Mary Jo Miller was a wife, and mother of two kids. She recounted the local outbreak that set her fleeing with her children and took the life of her husband.

3) The Great Panic: Major outbreaks become public, creating widespread panic, and poorly planed actions to attempt to regain control.
a) Gavin Blaire was a blimp pilot when the war broke out in earnest. He recounts watching people attempting to flee cities along I-80, and their horrific fate at the hands of the undead horde.
b) Ajay Shah attempted to escape from India from the port of Alang by attempting to swim out to the ships. He survived, but thousands were not so lucky.
c) Sharon is a feral child. She was four years old when her parents were killed, and yet she somehow escaped and survived the war on her own. Physically, she's an adult, but with the mind of a child.
d) Maria Zhuganova was a soldier in the Russian Army. Given strange orders, they discovered the nature of the town they were quarentining. This revelation drives them to mutiny. The Political Officer orders her unit decimated. Set into groups of ten, the soldiers had to vote which one would be killed, and the other nine stoned the one to death.
e) T. Sean Collins was a Private Military Contractor, hired to guard a compound containing many celebrities, detirmined to ride out the apocalypse in comfort. The New York compound is overun, not by zombies, but by desperate refugees, seeking safety. Tinkerbell makes a cameo here.
f) Ahmed Farahnakian was a pilot for the Iranian Air Force. As Pakistan does nothing to stem the tide of refugees flowing into Iran, he is ordered to bomb a bridge to stop it for them. This escalates into a nuclear exchange between the two nations.
g) Todd Waino was a Infantryman in the US Army. The military sought to stop the zombie horde before it could spread from the overun ruins of New York City. Making their stand at Yonkers, the battle is a disaster. Gutting the US ground forces, and essentially losing the entire East Coast. (This is the part where Brooks' inexperience with the military shows. He mentions the troops wearing MOPP gear, we've switched to JLIST. His soldiers wore BDUs, we've worn ACUs since 05. They flew Comanchees, the Comanchee project got scrapped in 04. But it was a riviting scene)

4) Turning the Tide: The harsh measures man must turn to to ensure survival.
a)Xolelwa Azania worked in the South African government. He saw Paul Reddicker come up with the Reddicker Plan, the brutal method by which humanity sheltered itself from the zombie hordes.
b) Philip Addler tells of his time as an officer in the German Army, and that fateful day when he was ordered to pull back to reconsolidate, and leave the citizens under his protection to their own devices.
c) Bohdan Taras Kondratiuk was a mechanized commander in the Russian Army. He was ordered to set up a screening point on a bridge in Kiev to separate the refugees from those who were infected. The russians figured out how to sort the refugees quickly, efficiently, and inhumanely.
d) Jesika Hendricks was a young girl when the outbreak began. Her family decided to head north, into the Canadian wilderness, along with millions of other people. Hoping the cold would afford them protection from the zombie outbreak, they eventually had to resort to canibalism in order to feed themselves.
e) Sardar Khan was a civil engineer who was pressed into military service in India. Guarding a treacherous mountain road through the Himalayas, leading into the safe zone India had set up. Refugees crowded the road by the thousands, with the living dead on their heels. Khan gets the order to blow the road, refugees and all, in order to keep the undead from reaching the safe zone.

5)Home Front USA: Retooling society to go on the offensive.
a) Arthur Sinclair was the Director of the Department of Strategic Resources. Now that the US had retreated, and abandoned everything east of the Rockies to the ghouls. He was tasked with converting the workforce once geared towards hollywood entertainment to sustaining a war time economy.
b) The Vice President during World War Z insists on being called "The Whacko". He shared some of the trials facing the president during the retooling.
c) Joe Muhammed was a crippled man who fought to join the Neighborhood Security Teams. The NST was essentially a neighborhood watch on steroids.
d) The next interview was with Ray Elliott, a filmmaker who began making movies again as a way to entertain the masses who were losing the will to live.
e) Christina Eliopolis was a pilot who flew C-130s over zombie territory in order to ressuply issolated bastions of humanity left in the abandoned zone. Her plane crashed, leaving her alone in the land of the dead. She's guided to safety by an unknown voice on the radio, a voice that knows a little too much about being a pilot, on a radio that she later finds was broken upon her landing.

6) Around the World, Above and Beyond: The effort to stabilize life was not imited to the US.
a) David Allen Forbes is an author. He wrote a book after the war about the people in Europe who had tried to create a secure position within the walls of the ancient castles that dotted the landscape. He explained who succeded, and who failed, and why.
b) Barati Palshigar was a radio broadcaster for Free Earth Radio, a radio station dedicated to providing information to the people scattered throughout the rest of the world. Broadcasting from the UNS Ural, she discusses her trials in dealing with her duties. However, the part of this story that cuaght my attention was the people who worked in information reception. These men and women had to sift through all the cries for help, and panic on the radio, in order to find the information that needed to be sent out. None of them survived a year after the war, after having listened to the voices of the doomed. Particularly poignaint was the fall of Buenos Aires, the last man alive was a famous latin singer, as the zombies were about to break through his barricade, he sang a spanish lullaby over the radio. Eventually, the broadcast ceased, and no one heard another broadcast from the city.
c) Hyngchol Choi worked in the Korean CIA, he explained that the entire population of North Korea had dissapeared.
d) Kondo Tatsumi was a japanese kid living in Kokura. He was an Okatu. To get the picture, take the nerdiest guy you know, and multiply that times ten. This kid ailienated his material existence in favor of a life lived on the internet. That is, until the Zombies broke into his apartment complex, and he was forced to escape from the 19th floor.
e) Tomonaga Ijiro was blinded on August 9th, 1945. A Hibakusha, survivor of the nuclear attacks, Ijiro toiled as a gardener for the majority of his life. When he learned of the outbreak, he saw it as a chance to die honorably, and wandered off into the woods.
f) Seryosha Alvarez is a cuban business man, who recounted the flood of refugees from the US who fled to the island nation to escape the zombies. Their influence on Cuban culture lead to a subtle revolution that led to Cuba becoming the pre-eminent post war economy, and a succesfu democracy.
g) Xu Zhicai was a Chinise Naval officer, he recounts the story of his Captain, who had the forsight to see that China could not procecute the war any further in the manner they were. As such, he took his nuclear SLBM submarine and gathered the crews families, and fled. This later put them in a prime postion to make a deciding strike in the errupting Chinese Civil War.
h) Terry Knox was an australian astronaut. During the war, he spent 3 years alone in the International Space Station ensuring that needed military satelites were refuled and kept in orbit. Hacking into the survellance sattelites, he became a silent witness to nearly every major event of the war.
i) Ernesto Olguin was a Naval consultant with the Chilean government. He was there for the makeshift UN council meeting, at which the President of the United States announces his ambitious plan to go on the offensive and reclaim the planet from the dead.

7) Total War: Humanity goes back on the offensive.
a) Back with General D'Ambrosia, he explains the difference between the military mechanism of human society, versus the unrelenting hunger of the zombie horde.
b) Another interview with Todd Wainio, covering the first major engagement between the revamped US forces and Zombies since the disastrous stand at Yonkers.
c) Darnell Hackworth was a member of the Army K-9 units, that were instrumental in anti zombie tactics.
d) Father Sergei Ryzhkov was an Orthodox priest attached to a russian military unit. His decision to euthanize infected soldiers himself, rather than forcing them to commit suicide, sparked a religious fervor that transformed Russia, similar to the Iranian revolution of the 1980s.
e) Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Choi worked in the deepwater diving unit, which hunted zombies who had escaped to the ocean floor.
f) Andre Renard was a french soldier who fought in the catacombs underneath Paris, where 250,000 citizens had fled to their deaths during the great panic. Fighting in a toxic, pitch black atmosphere, he recounts his time in a unit where only 1 out of every 20 soldiers survived.
g) Wainio recounts the slow march of the Army from the Rockies to New York, purifying the zombies, and reclaiming America.

Buy this Book.


Cara said...

Oh my gosh, and there I was thinking I was alone with my soft spot for zombies! Glad to hear you feel the same way too.

Talking about Zombies, do you suspect, like I do, that Mark Anthony, Jennifer Lopez's husband, might be a zombie?



The Renaissance Man said...

Well, I found this picture on google.

I think it speaks for itself.