This is the history of the zombie apocalypse told by a shattered, residual population. Max Brooks, a roving journalist, interviews various people, from the Vice President of the United States to young woman in an asylum, asking them to describe their experiences of this horrific time.
Brooks tells his story chronologically, from the first signs of the outbreak, the height of the panic, the moment the tide turns finally in our favour, to the aftermath. Each section has a half-dozen or so interviews: soliloquies of anger, shock, fear and desolation. Some interviewees are humorous, and banter with Brooks. Some are simply numb, or their minds shattered beyond repair.
The best interviews are full of description and emotion, or give a broad, intelligent commentary, or are from people who were present at momentous events, like the battle at Yonkers, or the Ukrainians nerve gassing thousands of refugees to weed out the infected. My heart was in my mouth as I read Colonel Christina Eliopolis's hair-raising tale in chapter four. Her plane goes down somewhere between Phoenix, Arizona and Tallahassee, Florida while resupplying outposts. She parachutes into a swamp, or what she calls a Green Sea of Zack. "Zack" is army slang for zombie. The zombies in this book aren't fast runners, but they're verging on the indestructible. The only way to kill them is to destroy the brain. They are relentless in their quest for flesh, and can survive underwater or buried just as well as they survive on land. Eliopolis has a radio on her but has to trek through miles and miles of swamp, sometimes swimming across rivers that could be stuffed full of submerged zombies. A woman's picked up on her distress signal and is guiding her to safety, and the dynamic between the two is gripping. I'm shivering now just thinking about it--all alone in a wintery wilderness, with no-one but a voice on a radio for company, and hundreds of zombies ready to stagger towards her if alerted to her presence. Brooks' zombies only moan when they site prey, and the moan alerts other zombies within a large radius.
This book is very boysy-military heavy. There's lots of jargon, a frickload of weaponry and soldiers pounding this way and that. It's also very US-centric, though there are definitely a number of interesting tales from Canada, Europe and South Africa. I avidly awaited an interview from an Australian or a Kiwi, but all I got was a Sydneysider (boo!) astronaut stuck up in space on an American space station. There was nothing definitively Australian about the tale at all. In fact, "Sydney" could have been replaced with "Boston" or "New Orleans" without needing to change anything else. No tales from New Zealand either, which is disappointing. (My boyfriend's from the Land of the Long White Line, and he's faithfully assured me that, when the apocalypse arrives, whatever form it takes, we'll retire to NZ and ride it out, completely isolated and completely unharmed. Either in the event of the apocalypse, or Australia running out of water. The latter seems somewhat likely right now.) Some of you Brits will take umbrage to the lack of limey-love in this book too, I'm sure.
The violence and scare-factor never hit my TOO MUCH threshold, though it came close once or twice. I'm vaguely scared of our dark hallway this week, which always happens when I've had a medium-to-high scare. Brooks could have wrapped his story up a bit quicker, and the voices of many of the interviewees often seemed too similar to one another. But despite this, he's written a chilling tale, and it's definitely a must read for die-hard zombie fans.
There's been rumours of a film adaptation since March 2008, and I can't find much that confirms this except a few pages that states the filmplay's had to be rewritten, there's a director (Marc Foster, Quantum of Solace), and it's now in development and due out 2010. I due hope the rumours are true. Here's some artwork from one blog.
REMINDER: Enter my comp to win a copy of Catching Fire here.