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Monday, December 05, 2011

Zombie Apocalypse As Literary Genre

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
by Max Brooks
p.  2006

Brad Pitt in World War Z

  I think you could make an argument that Max Brooks and his Zombie Survival Guide deserve credit for single-handedly kick-started the surge in Zombie related literature and popular culture.  The Zombie Survival Guide was published in 2003, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, was published by the same author, Max Brooks, in 2006, and continues, in its airport novel edition, to sell strongly- #230 in books overall and in the 10 ten in three different sub-categories of "Horror" over there at Amazon.

  Clearly, the Zombie is a metaphor for contemporary alienation and economic anxiety that is perfectly- PERFECTLY- in tune with the mood of this country over the last five years.  When will our fascination with Zombies end?  Probably when the economic climate improves.  The role of "horror" in literary and genre fiction is as old as novels themselves- Gothicism was one of the first identifiable stylistic trends in the Novel itself.

   However to call World War Z a "novel" is to do it a wee bit too much justice, I think.  World War Z is more like a property, in the same way that the preceding Zombie Survival Guide was something you bought at Urban Outfitters...not Waldenbooks.   World War Z takes the form of an "oral history" a format familiar to readers of such magazines as Spin and Esquire.  The writing is casual to the point of detracting from the over-all merit of the work, but no one is very much concerned with critical acclaim.

   The airport novel version I read was released in September of this year, so you can see a long gestation period at work between initial publication and full-on hit-for-the-ages status- which is where World War Z is right now- five years between initial publication and version suitable for sales in our nations airports and hotel gift shops.   If I was going to right an airport Zombie novel, I would festishize the locations and clip around the world, but keep the focus on one central Zombie Killer- a special forces type or post-apocalyptic anti-hero.

  Historically, the Zombie film was all about the claustrophobia and solitude that budgetary limitations dicatated.  Half a century on, the Zombie novel has merged with the post-Apocalypse fantasy genre, but its appeal in an era of anxiety is all too obvious.  My sense is that World War Z was a hit, first of all because it was published in 2006- after his own 2003 Zombie Survival Guide raised interest levels, but way before The Passage, Zone One, 28 Days Later, etc.  Brooks was first on the ground with the expansive combination of Zombies/Apocalypse.

  Brooks is not much of a prose stylist- both Cronin's The Passage and Whitehead's Zone One run circles around Brooks clumsy magazine speak, but Brooks is laughing all the way to the bank, and considering the gap of time that elapsed between World War Z being released, and the subsequent timing of the books by Cronin and Whitehead, you could argue that they were directly inspired by the success of World War Z.

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