“World War Z”: Trusting the Transcript Style

photoNo doubt, most of you have seen the Brad Pitt movie that was inspired by this book. I say inspired, because from what I’ve seen, there are very few aspects that the book shares with the film. Now, I’m not saying the film was an atrocity, I simply mean that it shouldn’t be taken as an adaptation from this book. World War Z is an addictively outstanding piece of work that tells those cliche zombie tales in a new, inspiring way, one I hope to emulate some day: the transcript style.

Zombies are so last year. Seriously, even as a fan of “The Walking Dead” myself, I can’t help but think that the taste is starting to sour a little. From “Warm Bodies” to “iZombie”, I was getting tired of the next big zombie project to show up on my screen. But then I remembered this book, and I fished it out of the back shelf and re-read it; and I remembered how something as simple as approaching the novel in a different way could bring a whole new aspect to a tired genre.

For those who don’t know, a transcript style story is pretty much an interview. The narrator (the interviewer) blurs the lines between the first and second person voice, and it very much feels like you, the reader, are interviewing these subjects. Another book to do this well was, not surprisingly, Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire. But where her book was told entirely through Louis’ voice, World War Z makes a point to distinguish the interviewer apart, and make them part of the story. The interviewer leads the subjects on with questions, and more of the story is revealed through the interviewed.

World War Z is meant to be a collection of “true stories” about a zombie plague that flared throughout the world. The interviewer, Max Brooks (the author), is visiting global locations to hear the stories from survivors of how the zombie plague first started, how it grew out of control, the geo-politics involved, and eventually how it ended.

What the zombie genre is suffering from now is that it’s being mocked, essentially: what once played on our fears of disease and of each other has now been watered down to primetime television comedies. But works like World War Z, and even The Walking Dead, harken back to what the zombie monster really represents: our own bodies turning against us, our fellow man run amok, uncontrollable and unstoppable, driven by a virus that you can’t see or cure. Each tale in Max Brooks’ transcript collection is meant to instill that fear in us again, that caution that we are not masters of the universe, but can easily be wiped out by something we unintentionally spread ourselves.

The book is split into several sections that mark a significant change or turn in the tide of the war on zombies. Each and every character who is interviewed offers something significant to the story: from the agent behind a twisted global, survival plan that sacrifices some to save many; to lone ISS astronauts struggling to survive while the world below them falls into chaos; and a small girl in a church in Kansas that escapes a town-wide murder-suicide; and so many more. World War Z captures that human connection, that “what-would-you-do” feeling so brilliantly, and all through such a simple technique in the transcript style. It works so well!

Through the transcript style, the stories told are more intimate, and feel more real. I understand why Brooks chose this style to explain a “war on zombies.” He could’ve emulated The Walking Dead, or Night of the Living Dead, but instead chose to forgo a single group of characters and go global. In reality, a zombie issue would be a global issue, so it’s not surprising that he approached it this way. He interpreted how nations would react, what military steps would be taken, and even how people in different regions and geographies would cope.

I highly recommend this book to aspiring writers and voracious readers alike. Whether you want to explore a new style of writing, or want an unparalleled sense of realism when reading, look no further than World War Z.

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