One of the things that made World War Z so successful is that presents itself as a collection of oral histories about the zombie apocalypse. Author Max Brooks did an outstanding job of presenting a global catastrophe from multiple perspectives, creating distinct character voices for each.
One of the things that makes A Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse so unsuccessful is that it presents itself as a collection of primary documents—emails, memos, transcribed recordings, diaries—about the zombie apocalypse. Anthologist Stephen Jones does a patchwork job of presenting a global catastrophe from multiple perspectives, creating bothersome continuity issues.
And it tries too damn hard to be clever, to boot.
Jones’ collection begs for comparison with Brooks’ book, which is really unfair because World War Z was so fabulous and Zombie Apocalypse so schlocky. The idea of “collected testimony,” which worked so well for Brooks, deteriorates into a clever stunt under Jones’ treatment. The book’s design allows the e-mails to look like e-mails, the diary entries to look handwritten on lined notebook paper, the memos to appear on company letterhead. There are three-ring binder rings and “play” arrows for video transcripts. Some pages have coffee stains (blood splatters?).
Characters only ever get to tell their stories from their own limited perspectives, so that forces Jones to unveil the larger narrative slowly. That works okay and adds a sense of mystery to the whole thing, but it also creates a lot of confusion because of gaps in the narrative and the continuity.
For instance, the cause of the zombie plague is never quite clear. It might be a supernatural virus. It might be the same fleas, well-preserved and buried underground, that spread the Black Death.
Zombies might be slow shamblers. They might be fast. They might be capable of thinking, of evolving, of driving a car. They might be capable of running the government.
By the end, reanimated dead represent the New World Order—in a page torn right out of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, where vampirism overtakes the world and represents the new “normal.”
“Ask not what this new world can do for you, but what together we can do now that we have achieved freedom from man,” the zombified president of the United States asks at the end.
Zombie Apocalypse was too inconsistent and too unoriginal to present a compelling (or even very interesting) vision of the zombie-infested future. It’s a book version of a B-movie that teeters on the very lowest edge of a B-minus despite its slick packaging, award-winning editor, and earnest attempt at taking itself seriously. It just gets much too silly. There are even “zombie novelty tracks” that provide the soundtrack for the Zombie Apocalypse. I’d laugh if it was funny—but notice I’m not laughing.
For a zombie-lover, I’m sure the book is great, goofy fun (even if it’s not trying to be goofy), and it’s almost novel in its documentary approach, but I can’t say that I was left with much to think about beyond, “I thought it was really smart in World War Z when….”
That’s not such a great measure of success.