Confession time: I love any story to do with an apocalypse. Whether it be an asteroid hitting the earth, a catastrophic weather event, or the post-apocalyptic new world order, I’m a sucker for reading it, watching it, imagining it. It doesn’t really matter if it’s poorly acted or written, totally unrealistic or even with cheesy special effects, I love it all unconditionally.
So in the spirit of the apocalypse and this Sunday’s Season 4 premiere of The Walking Dead, I figured I would do a little homage to my favourite kind of apocalypse — the zombie kind.
I became intrigued with the (coming?) zombie apocalypse through a lovable teenager whom I’m very fortunate to have in my life; out of the blue one day he wisely informed me that the safest place to sleep in a zombie apocalypse is on the second floor of your home (zombies can’t climb stairs) in an almost coffin-like contraption made of a mattress surrounded by upturned tables that form a high barrier around you (zombies can’t bend their knees to climb over it and get you). This nonsense (okay, the climbing stairs part of it sounds reasonable) led me to The Walking Dead, which led me to go see World War Z, which of course led me to the book of the same name.
This is one of the rare occasions where I saw the movie before reading the book. I almost never do this because, as a book lover, no movie yet made has managed to out-do the story that has unfolded in my imagination as I’ve read the book. However, my husband is not a reader and since I believe that married couples should share their interests, I selflessly took in Brad Pitt in WWZ in theaters before I picked up the book on which the movie is (very roughly) based.
Fortunately, I chose to see a movie which in no way “ruined” the book for me. WWZ the movie, while entertaining, did not really capture the short story essence that is offered by the book of the same name. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure I would like the book; there is not an easily discernible “plot”, nor any character whose personal story you can follow to a satisfying conclusion. You don’t really know what happens to all these people after the short glimpse into their lives, save to say that they have all somehow survived the first wave of the zombie war.
I’ve spoken to some people who did not enjoy the book at all, probably for exactly these reasons. It is a bit hard to “get into”, and you can put it down for extended periods and not feel at all lost when you dive into it again.
But stepping back and taking it in as a whole, World War Z offers a compelling view of humanity and how we tackle large global challenges (or fail to tackle them, as the case seems to be of late). Much like in my beloved Walking Dead TV series, there is a clear evolution of how the human species responds in times of crisis. First people come together, working together for survival and sharing a sense of confusion, denial and fear. However it’s not too long before human nature steps in and the alpha dogs start sniffing around any particular group. Someone has to be leader, right? A leader has to make “the hard choices” and each individual should get on board for the collective good. Commence group in-fighting, forming alliances, and sabotage.
Once a solid group dynamic / hierarchy is established, well sure enough don’t groups start turning on each other – fighting for resources, mired in mistrust and competition. Too easily, the weak are pushed further down while the strongest look to shore up their power and security.
But wait… I was talking about the zombie apocalypse, right?
Back to WWZ. As I mentioned, the book is full of short stories and many of them, while not overly gory or graphic, are disturbing and touching at a very deep human level. As with any other apocalypse, there is a sense of humanity struggling to survive and I think that is what draws me to these kinds of stories in the first place. Some people in these stories have made mistakes, some of them have done things they are not proud of, some of them have made bold decisions that evoke questions of ends justifying means. We see through their stories the evolution of fear and denial to the formation of alliances to the selfish struggle of survival of the fittest.
If you enjoy imagining the apocalypse like I do, you might enjoy reading WWZ. It’s not a book for everyone, so I’d recommend a healthy dose of love for zombie tales as well. And on that note, if you are not already watching The Walking Dead…. what’s wrong with you? Even my mother loves this show! You’ve still got a few days left to squeeze in a zombie marathon before season 4 starts on Sunday. Check it out; you’ll be imagining your own town overrun by zombies and how you’ll escape them all in no time.