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Social fiction for the end of the world

January 17, 2013 - Rob Weaver
Recently, I saw a trailer for the movie “World War Z,” to star Brad Pitt, due out later this year. I found it difficult to believe Pitt agreed to tackle a zombie movie.

Sure, the genré is popular now. In monthly lists of new video releases, it seems half are of the undead theme. “Zombies vs. Vampires in Love” would encompass the majority of cinematic entertainment headed straight from production to disc these days.

Yet the question lingered: Why did Pitt jump on the zombie war bandwagon?

Intrigued, I googled the title and learned it is from a book, “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War,” by Max Brooks. After reading an excerpt, I downloaded a copy.

I admit, I had expected a breezy read, a beach novel for the dead of winter. The book turned out to be much more than pulp fictional history. Because it's really not about zombies.

It fit my definition of good science fiction, which uses plot devices such as time travel as a bridge to observations about contemporary society. And “World War Z” makes often pointed commentary about marketing, government regulators, politics and the use of military force.

There's not much use of literary devices in the book. And it briefly gets heavy handed in explaining zombie lore as a way of personifying societal fears. Yes, that's why we give names to hurricanes.

I likely will see the film, although the tome would be better suited to a TV series. Not that it isn't worthy of the big screen, but the book is written as a series of first-hand accounts survivors told to the “author.”

Interestingly, perhaps that's how actual history should be studied. What better way to put events into human terms and understand them on a personal level? Sure, that would be anthropocentric. But we are, as “World War Z” shows, an endangered species, too -- in spite of, or maybe because of, our numbers on this planet.

Now, I'm off to get my flu shot!


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