With the Brad Pitt-starring film version of World War Z on the way, we took the opportunity to talk to author Max Brooks about his novel, why slow zombies are better than fast zombies, and why the zombie craze will never die.
What do you think it was about the book that made it connect with so many people?
Beats me. Maybe it’s that I approach the subject matter with as much realism as I can. Maybe it’s that I try to tackle big complex stuff and explain in language simple enough for me to understand. Maybe it’s just that zombies are popular. Who knows. I’m no good at figuring out why people like my stuff. I still can’t tell you why my wife married me.
One of the things that’s great about the book is that it removes the winking-at aspect from the zombies; they’re a genuine threat. Did you always intend for the book to be straight-faced?
You bet. I’m a zombie nerd, not a comedian. I wrote both World War Z and Zombie Survival Guide because I’m really into zombies and I’ve spent WAY too much time thinking about what would happen in a real undead apocalypse.
The book is an international novel with multiple protagonists. What was the research process for that like?
I’d say for every hour I spent writing I spent at least ten researching. For every fake interview I wrote, I had to do a real one with a real expert. For every chapter, I needed a shelf of books. I collected maps, downloaded satellite imagery, watched online weapons demonstrations from the companies that built them, and even had a couple friend scout out a section of Louisiana swamp for my story about the downed pilot. I wanted everything to be based in reality, because, for me, that is far more interesting than anything I could pull out of my ass.
Zombies are often used as a metaphor by filmmakers and writers. What do you see the zombies of World War Z as being a metaphor for, if they’re a metaphor at all?
Not really, because what happens in a zombie plague is pretty much what happens in any real disaster. Pandemics, hurricanes, conventional wars, you name it, the human reaction is the same. For me, the zombies are just the catalyst of looking at how humanity deals with calamity.
The zombies in your novel are the traditional slow-walking zombies, whereas they seem to be running in the film. Do you have a preference between the two?
I’m a slow zombie guy. I’ve always been a slow zombie guy. I understand that fast zombies are more cinematic, more exciting to watch in movies. I understand why fast zombies have pretty much replaced slow zombies on the silver screen. I, however, will always be more terrified by the slow creeping dread of a slouching horde.
There are sequences in the novel that feel very cinematic. Did you think about a film adaptation while you were writing it?
Never. I wrote a book, not a pre-movie. I’m honestly still surprised why anyone would have wanted to make World War Z into a movie in the first place. There’s no alpha male hero, no villain or conspiracy, and the fact that the book was written AFTER the war removes a whole layer of tension. I wrote it as an oral history, nothing more.
Were you involved with the making of the film at all? Were you shown drafts of the script?
None. I wasn’t involved in the day to day creative decisions of the movie. I still haven’t even read the script. All I’ve seen of the movie comes from youtube.
When the vampire craze hit, it felt like the zombie craze might recede but it seems to be as strong as it ever was. What do you think keeps bringing people back to zombies?
I think we’re living in very uncertain times. People have a lot of anxiety about the future. They’re constantly being battered with these very scary, very global catastrophes. Just like the 1970s, I think a lot of people think the system is breaking down and just like the 1970s, people need a ‘safe place’ to explore their apocalyptic worries. They can’t read stories about real plagues or nuclear war. That’s too scary. That’ll make them turn away. Zombie stories give people the opportunity to witness the end of the world they’ve been secretly wondering about while, at the same time, allowing themselves to sleep at night because the catalyst of that end is fictional. Reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road will keep you up all night because you’ll be thinking “This could really happen!” You won’t have that problem with World War Z.
World War Z will be released in cinemas on 21st June. You can buy World War Z in paperback for £7.19 at Amazon.co.uk.