I’m not a fan of audiobooks in general. I tried listening to some short stories I download over iTunes, but in reality I prefer holding a book in my hands and allowing my imagination to give voice to the characters. This isn’t a technology thing, I actually buy more e-books than hard copies due to the cost and storage space (tiny apartments and book lovers don’t mix well). That being said, I have been meaning to listen to the full cast audio edition of World War Z for quite some time.
World War Z is not just my favorite zombie book, it is one of my favorite books period. I’ve read it over a half dozen times and even read the book it was based on, the World War II oral history, “The Good War” by Studs Terkel. I’m not ashamed to admit I even contributed extensively to the World War Z article on Wikipedia when I should have been working at an internship. So I came at this audio book with both high expectations and trepidation, but since I had a long road trip to Washington, DC coming up, I felt this was a perfect time to listen to the complete version that came out as a tie-in with the World War Z film with Brad Pitt.
I shouldn’t have been worried. The audio book was in a word: amazing. Kal Penn and Mark Hamill gave brillant performances, Martin Scorsese was hilarious and Simon Pegg was completely unrecognizable as the thinly veiled Karl Rove analogue. I also had a eerie moment while driving along I-80 while listening to the scene in the book about the refugees fleeing along the same road while the hungry horde of the dead are devouring them from behind. It was only by force of will I kept driving east instead of turning around and heading for the Rockies.
Of course, not all of the actors were perfect. Dean Edwards did not sound that much like the son of Pakistani immigrants and Brian Tee sounded like he phoned in the surfer dude/diver character he voiced. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the performances were astounding so I can’t really complain about the voice actors. Previous reviews of the audiobook that I read did criticized Max Brooks for his “upbeat” even “optimistic” portrayal of the narrator. Personally I think the reviewers missed the point of the book. Humanity in the novel didn’t just hide behind their walls and wait for the dead to decompose. They went on the offensive and took back their world. There was a whole section of the book dedicated to the psychological cost of not reclaiming the world that I feel those reviewers didn’t listen too (although it might not have been in the original audiobook version so I guess I can forgive them for that). That is why his voice sounded like that. Humanity had hope again.
My wife, who was in the car with me during the trip, did voice a criticism about the novel that I did not realize until she said it. Although she napped through a couple parts, she did point out to me that there were not a lot of female roles. On a closer look, she was right, most of the characters interviewed were men and of those few women interviewed, not many had important roles in the universe (during the war or after). Contemporary SF fans might be turned off by this and though I can’t speak for Brooks about the lack of female characters, it does make one wonder which sex would fare better during a global zombie outbreak.
So all in all an excellent audioback which has certainly made me more interested in full cast audiobooks, if not audiobooks in general. A part of me does wish Brooks would release a small almanac about the post-war world, but lucky for me fans have speculated a lot about it themselves. I leave you now with this excellent fan map made by QuantumBranching (click on the link to read his summary of the map) of the post-war world: