World War Z (the film)

I reviewed the Max Brooks bestselling zombie horror in September last year, and made the following remark about the film:

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (Max Brooks) was the zombie book I couldn’t be bothered reading, mostly because the trailer for the film left me a bit underwhelmed. (I have still not seen the film, having had it described to me as ‘Globetrotting Brad Pitt’, so any advice as to whether it is worth my time would be greatly appreciated.)

Having (finally) seen the film, I am disappointed to say that I stand by my earlier ‘meh’ stance, although I think ‘globetrotting Brad Pitt’ is perhaps a bit too harsh. I knew the film would not be faithful to the novel, but this is not even remotely the same story. The theme is not the same, the characters are not the same, and even the zombies are a different type of monster (think 28 days later zombies rather than shambling hordes). The elements I thought were excellent in the book (the social commentary and all-so-human failings including ineptitude, greed and selfishness) were ignored in the film (action, action and more action, plus Brad Pitt being a bit too stoic in the face of flesh-eating monsters). It is a pity, because a more faithful adaptation could have been fantastic. A social satire, District 9 kind of film. As it is, World War Z is a perfectly adequate zombie film feeling like a thoroughly wasted opportunity.

wwz_brad_pitt(Brad Pitt looking mournfully at the world burning)

World War Z is a good reminder not to underestimate your audience. The book does not, and is all the stronger for it. The film does, and I fully expect it to age as quickly as its special effects.

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The best comics! (Last Blood)

I figured I’d do a series of posts highlighting some great (and free) online comics. There are some fantastic artists out there and it seems a shame not to plug their work. While I tend to prefer horror/fantasy comics, the ‘must-recommend’ list is still quite varied.

First out is Last Blood, which is a take on the typical zombie story but with a few clever twists. The art (by Owen Gieni) is beautiful in a rough and gritty sort of way, perfectly complimenting the story (by Bobby Crosby). It starts on familiar ground: the small group of survivors and the zombies closing in – you’ve seen it before. And just when you think you know what you’re in for, you suddenly get… (drum roll) vampires.

lastblood

The premise is simple: the zombie apocalypse happened and human blood is in short supply, meaning that any vampire not wanting to starve needs to protect the last human survivors from the undead zombie hordes. As for the humans, the situation is simple: the enemy of my enemy (and the lesser of two evils) is the only option available. The introduction of a human-vampire alliance is only the first twist, and I won’t mention the rest and spoil the surprise. Suffice to say that trust is at an all-time low, there’s plenty of peril to go around and the two types of monster lore fit together surprisingly well. Both vampires and zombies benefit from this fresh interaction, bringing a much needed different dynamic to story structures that do occasionally risk going a bit stale.

Last Blood is high on concept and perhaps less so on characterisation, but I’m willing to forgive that if the underlying idea works. And here it does work very well indeed. Last Blood is clever, it feels new and it makes surprising sense. The latter part is quite a treat, as I’m always happy to suspend my disbelief but very grateful if I don’t have to do it too much. So if you’re after a fresh version of ‘zombies and vampires and apocalypse, oh my’, prefer your plot hole-free, and don’t mind if the premise takes the driver’s seat, Last Blood is almost perfect.

There is one caveat: Last Blood is unfinished and has not been updated since 2011. While I’d very much like to see it continue, or even make it to the big screen, I’m not holding my breath after half a decade. Still, it’s worth a read, even if you have to make up the ending yourself for now.

Link to the online (free) comic: http://lastblood.keenspot.com/
(also available from amazon.com)

Let me know what you think, or if there are other comics/stories you think is worth a mention in the comments below?

Book review: World War Z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (Max Brooks) was the zombie book I couldn’t be bothered reading, mostly because the trailer for the film left me a bit underwhelmed. (I have still not seen the film, having had it described to me as ‘Globetrotting Brad Pitt’, so any advice as to whether it is worth my time would be greatly appreciated.) But I picked it up a few weeks ago, looking for something entertaining and gory, and I was positively surprised.

wwz_brad_pitt

Written as a series of interviews, Brooks weaves a nice story of a zombie plague, pulling in politicians, civilians and military personnel amongst others, to paint a surprisingly believable picture of a plague outbreak. Whilst the zombies themselves are make-believe, I did not have to suspend my disbelief at the portrayal of profiteers, accidental heroes, conspiracy theorists, desperate parents and myopic leaders. Indeed, some of the themes, such as isolationism and inept leadership, can hardly be said to belong solely to the province of fiction. The interviews span a range of responses to a pandemic, and the individual voices were done well enough for me to believe in the characters.

Writing the book as an assembly of individual accounts has one very obvious advantage: it allows for a generous number of viewpoints. When describing a global event, the number of responses and fates will be vast, and Brooks gets to cover more of these than if the story had followed a more traditional trajectory. This way, we can choose from all countries and all walks of life without shoehorning characters into one storyline. We also remove geographical constraints, meaning there will be more to the story than a besieged wal-mart or a stretch of motorway. Whilst it remains quite US-centric, it is refreshing to note that other continents get more than a brief mention.

In many ways, the book reminded me slightly of The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner due to the multi-strand narrative, although Brunner’s book is thematically different (deteriorating environment) and somewhat more dystopian.

Which brings me to my perhaps sole quibble with World War Z: it is less bleak than it could have been, despite being more serious than its predecessor The Zombie Survival Manual. I know it may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for me, it would have packed a greater punch if it had received a greater infusion of pessimism. That being said, I still enjoyed it immensely and know many readers who prefer a hint of hope with their horror.

Brooks has said that he views the zombie more like a virus than a traditional predator, and that it is this aspect, the lack of any hope for rational discourse or negotiation, that makes the zombie frightening. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, predation and contagions/infection are the two categories of horror that tend to generate the most successful horror films. Zombies tick both boxes. Yet, they somehow take a back seat in World War Z.

For sure, the zombie in World War Z is the catalyst, the fuel of the story and the indisputable monster of the tale, but the focus remains on the fighting living, not the walking dead. While there is no shortage of gore, I still thought that World War Z was more about the response to the zombie than the zombie itself. The zombie is the monster du jour: an oft-cited metaphor for an uncontrollable world, for pandemics, nuclear war and economic collapse. If we accept the zombie as metaphor, then World War Z becomes a tale of an overwhelmed world, our modern fears illustrated by a vast, unstoppable zombie horde, and it ends with the possible route to regaining control.

Then again, it might just be about monsters.

Either way, it works for me. I read in two thoroughly enjoyable sittings (which would have been one but for the need to attend work). In my view, it’s right up there with Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century in terms of zombie excellence. If you’ve read it, or read any other zombie books that you can recommend, let me know in the comments!

 world_war_z_book_cover

Book Review: Boneshaker

Steampunk zombies!!

If that isn’t enough to get you sold on Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, then I can add that it is a fast-paced reimagination of Seattle as a bowl of poisonous gas with hidden tunnels and clusters of badass survivors, villains and heroes alike. There be guns, there be airships, and there be the rumblings of the civil war in the east.

The premise of the story is as follows:

Civil war rages in the east but Washington has its own trouble and it is called Seattle. Sixteen years ago, Seattle was ravaged by the Boneshaker, a destructive vast mining machine made by Dr Leviticus Blue. It released the Blight, a noxious gas turning people into mindless creatures, ‘rotters’, hungry for flesh. The city was evacuated and a great wall erected to stop the Blight, but some survivors have dug their nails in, clawing out spaces for themselves between the Blight and the rotters, and not all of the survivors are friendly.

Briar Wilkes lives in the settlement outside the wall with her son Zeke. Daughter of the infamous prison guard Maynard Wilkes who died letting prisoners escape during the evacuation and widow of the reviled Dr Blue, she has few resources to call upon when Zeke sneaks into the city looking for evidence of his father’s innocence. Few resources but an old gas mask, a gun and grit.

When reading, I couldn’t help but think that it would be a fantastic, mad romp of a film, buckle aplenty and swash galore. Apparently, there was talk of a film about 5 years ago, but so far there’s been little news. If the steampunk Oliver Twist fares well, then perhaps Boneshaker would be next in line. And it would richly deserve to be so. The imagination in this book threatens to spill over, like the Blight slowly edging the top of the Seattle wall, but in a nice way.

It is an absolute pleasure to read, with good characters (including a female protagonist older, wiser and grittier than your average starlet) and a solid plot that kept me from putting the book down (and sometimes from breathing for several paragraphs at a time, because Zombies!). It is, however, in the world-building that Boneshaker truly shines. It’s rich, vast and detailed, like a huge machine packed with wonderfully intricate cogs and wheels, shifting and moving all around you. Also: steampunk zombies!

boneshaker
(Boneshaker is the first book set in the Clockwork Century Universe)