World War Zzzzzz
by Max “The Sandman” Brooks
How I felt reading this book: “Mmmm…yeah. I’m gonna need you to go ahead and read these TPS reports, did you get the memo? Because this class is actually going to be reading these TPS reports from now on, so…if you could just finish it up, that’d be great.”
Imagine, if you will, that I am a great artist. I have spent years researching the Great Barrier Reef including all the sea creatures one might encounter there and the precise colors of the sea and the sea life. I have used this extensive research to imagine a fantasy world based on this natural phenomenon. The illustration I’ve painted is so vivid and realistic, it will blow your mind.
You want to see it? Well, here’s the thing, I sold it to a puzzle company. They are going to manufacture it as a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. It’s truly breathtaking. I put so much effort into making this world believable, down to the minutest detail. You should see my home office where I worked on it. I mean, there are maps tacked to the bulletin board, sketches, books on the Great Barrier Reef’s history, the science behind it, and its possible future. Notes are taped to the walls. JRR Tolkien would be pleased, let’s just put it that way.
So, while I can’t exactly show it to you, I do have the box of puzzle pieces here in front of me. What I thought would be fun and really just as good, would be if I pick up each piece and describe its particulars to you. I’ll tell you the shape, the color scheme, and what I think the pieces surrounding it would look like. Then, when I’ve finished describing every piece to you, you can just put the whole thing together in your head and imagine the brilliance of my art. Ok? How’s that sound?
Well, yeah, I mean, I know it’s going to take a lot of concentration on your part and I know the whole description thing could be long and tedious, but listen, I’ve put so much effort into the background of my world just handing over the illustration in one piece, framed and ready to hang seems like way too much of an undertaking on my part and to be honest, I’m just tired of working on it. So find some time to kill and focus. It’s totally worth it.
Sounds like a bunch of BS, doesn’t it? Yeah, I thought so too. And after losing a week of my life to this book (time I will never get back, mind you) I was stymied. I’ll be honest, this is not the first time I tried World War Z. I saw the movie first…and I hated it. I just remember watching it and thinking “this is mass chaos, what the hell is going on here?” so I did what all good bibliophiles do, I decided to read the book. At that time, I was commuting to work 1.5 hours each way, every day 5-6 days a week. So I bought the audiobook and with the highest of hopes, inserted CD 1 into my car’s sound system. I’m sorry to tell you, that’s the only CD of that book that saw any action. I listened to three or four transcribed interviews masquerading as a story and ejected it with disgust previously reserved for the likes of Twilight and other pseudo-horror/paranormal literature.
I remember thinking “surely the entire book isn’t just a series of interviews” and marched my butt into the local book store to see for myself. Sure enough, it was indeed a series of transcribed, interviews the narrator tells you he put together during his research on the history of the Zombie War. The story goes that he is an agent of the United Nations Post War Commission sent out to collate a report on the global effects of the war. He tells us in the introduction that he amassed so many stories from the human side of things that the UNPWC wasn’t interested in but he felt important to record for posterity. So here you go, reader, enjoy this very somber and emotional account of the world wide devastation of a decade long conflict. You will hear from people of all walks of life, in multiple levels of power, some privy to classified information on their government’s management of the outbreak. You’ll be shocked, you’ll be sickened, you’ll be provoked into deep thoughts on isolation, morality, racism, ethnocentricity but also, if you’re like me, you’ll be bored out of your skull.
I am currently halfway through my first semester of grad school working towards my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. In order to graduate, I have to write a novel. It’s really hard to write a novel. After receiving my acceptance letter in January of 2016, I began outlining my story, researching minutia, planning and planning. I have index cards taped on several dry erase boards one of which is classroom sized and taking up all the spare space in my writing room. That one is also covered in color coded notes about my backstory, what needs to be revised in each chapter, what the conflict is in each chapter and so on. What I am trying to say is taking a really great idea and turning it into a story takes a lot of effort and a lot of talent. (I’m working on the talent part, do not misconstrue that statement as an ego trip)
Max Brooks clearly put a lot of effort into world building. I mean, his politics/histories/science/military research is obvious. For the first time, I wasn’t scoffing (too much) at the science and medicine portions of a modern day monster story. He did his homework. He wrote the history of a ten year, global war. That’s amazing. He kept track of how each country’s choices affected other countries and as you read these “interviews”, stories gradually crisscrossed and the astute reader, could start to put together the full story. Bottom line—the guy did a great job writing his character profiles and backstories.
Why do I hate this book with a passion then? Well, I’ll tell you and I won’t make you put my hints together in your head to figure it out. This book is a cop-out. This book says, “Here, look at my idea, isn’t it magnificent? But I’m tired and I don’t want to do all the work of building a novel out of it, so instead read my collection of character interviews and write the story in your head instead of making me do it.” Look, I’m writing a novel and with every word, every bit of dialog, I have to decide what I want to reveal to the reader and when. I have to make sure my characters’ interactions ring true and they each have a necessary role in the plot. Sometimes, I’m so excited to share all the background and world building I’ve done, I do something called an “info-dump” where I barrage you with details and info that could be better worked in gradually throughout the novel and I have to go back, cut it out, rearrange, and rewrite. It’s a process but ultimately worth it when the reader finds themselves immersed in a world I created and they are vested in characters I made up. That’s what writing a novel, a fictional tale, is all about.
Max Brooks didn’t do that. He took the short cut. He took his character sketches, dumped all their backstory and the details they came on stage to reveal in these transcribed interviews which he grouped into pseudo-sections and left the story writing up to the reader. He cheated and no one is calling him out on that! I’ve read the reviews, I’ve talked to others who read and loved the book. I get their reasoning. It’s well plotted out but it is NOT A NOVEL. It is the parts of the novel that only the writer is supposed to see. The slabs of clay Brooks was supposed to sculpt for us into an epic piece of fiction that probably could have spanned several books in a Zombie Wars series is instead dumped into our hands while he tells us to do all the artistic work. Well, I for one am not fooled by this lazy, skill-less way of writing a story.
Screw you, Max Brooks, I don’t have time to do the hard work for you. I’m writing my own novel and I’m doing it the old fashioned way. There is a fine line between coming up with a great idea and having the artistic talent to see it through. I know on which side I choose to study. Stay over there, Brooks and leave me alone.