First of all, if you are wondering what the book World War Z has in common with the Brad Pitt movie; that would be two things: (1) the name (2) there is zombies in it.
I suppose World War Z uses the literary equivalent of the “found footage” stratagem so common in horror movies. The book is composed of several interviews made with survivors after the catastrophe. In structure, it reminded me of Hiroshima, by John Hersey, with interviews of survivors that showed the aftermath of the American nuclear attack on Japan at the end of World War II.
This structure helps build a more realistic atmosphere of the zombie infestation, especially in a genre that usually revolves around small groups of survivors. The interviewees may be common people lost in a situation that ran out of control, or the ex-president of the United States and Chinese generals; all playing the blame game. The CIA chief even says the wrongdoer was “the administration that started the Iraqi war”.
In the book, the zombie epidemic starts in China, close to Three Gorges Dam. The Chinese government hesitates to divulge information to the population fearing social instability, and tries to contain the disease with an iron fist, sending elite troops to “clean” zones suspected of infection.
As far as zombie lore goes, these are the classic slow-moving Romero types. Infection is also not immediate, taking days or weeks to the disease to sink in. The perfect kind to widespread infection across the globe.
World War Z is a zombie book with – brace yourself for the joke – brains. Other than the fantasy of a zombie apocalypse, the book criticizes our too real world in topics such as bureaucracy, how unprepared the authorities are against the threat of real pandemics, such as the avian flu, and generals more interested in looking good on TV than help the population. My favorite is a pharmaceutical mogul that became rich on the last days before social breakdown selling a placebo miracle cure to the desperate population. Enough to build himself a self-sustaining stronghold on the Arctic.
Being Brazilian, I got a few chuckles at how the author Max Brooks imagines the country. The fictional author goes up the Amazon river to a village where the natives build huts up in the trees, like ewoks rather than Indians. And there he finds a crazy former doctor from Rio that sounds like a stand-in for Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now!. Another nice cliché of “Gringo Brazil” is the widespread organ black market than apparently happens here. The book does not do worse than the usual Hollywood treatment, though.