Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

World War Z

A nuclear warhead. It isn’t the best anti-zombie weapon.

I just finished reading World War Z, which means I’m like three years late to the zombie party, right? Well, fuck you. I was like fifteen years early. I was memorizing the locations of balconies and gun-selling sporting goods stores in shopping malls in case of a Romero-like outbreak that would require me to hole up in the Scottsdale Mall probably around the time most of the country was still obsessed with the artistic masterpiece of Baywatch.

Really, it all started in high school with Faces of Death movies, and then segued into those classic Troma movies, Surf Nazis Must Die being a favorite, even though it wasn’t even a horror movie as much as it was a dystopian disaster movie filmed for like $17. (“Who rules the beaches?” / “The surfers!” / “Who rules the surfers?” / “The surf nazis!”) In college, I got into death metal, and every other letter I’d get from some freak in rural Georgia or Sweden or Japan would include a giant list of horror movies I was supposed to worship. So me and Ray spent a whole summer renting every conceivable horror movie we could find in our shithole Indiana town. This was limited somewhat by the fact that I worked two full-time jobs and during the week slept in two shifts of two hours each and pretty much walked around like a zombie, minus the brain-eating part.

Seems like some comparative lit class I took in college had a professor that told us that zombie movies were really about the communist scare. That still true? I don’t know. The Brooks book seemed to be pretty left-wing in some aspects, like the strange parallels between the zombie wars and Iraq/the war on terrorism. In both, you’ve got a military trained to fight the cold war in Germany, armed up for a giant thousand-tank battle, and a stealth bomber isn’t going to do much when you’re fighting an enemy with no radar, i.e. a zombie or an insurgent. But it’s appealing to right-wingers in the sense that it’s almost like military armament porn for chapters and chapters, descriptions of battles and weaponry and tactics and whatnot.

I don’t know why I didn’t become obsessed with zombies back in 1993 or whatever, but it’s probably because I’m always overly obsessed with things for a week and then it’s on to something else. I haven’t had my main computer for a week, and decided that would be a great time to take a writing holiday, partly because I’m burned out on this book I’m writing, and partly because I didn’t want to spend two weeks trying to recapitulate and resynchronize two computers’ worth of files and changes and additions and deletions after working on my spare computer for that week.

So I spent most of that time obsessed with the idea of building a PlayStation 2 portable. Not a PSP, but I mean buying a dead PS2 or ten, dremel-attacking the motherboard, scoring a surplus rear-view camera monitor from eBay, digging through my giant boxes of junk for some old camcorder rechargeable batteries I could repurpose, somehow duct-taping the whole business together into a little ball so I could waste infinite amounts of time playing SOCOM 3 instead of writing. A week later, and I realize this is the stupidest fucking idea I’ve had since I thought about building a serial killer-themed miniature golf course on my land in Colorado. Actually, that still sounds like a good idea. But you get the point here: I can only be gung-ho about this stuff for a week, maybe ten days. It’s why I don’t write five books a year.

I wrote a story about the zombie movie Burial Ground. It’s in Air in the Paragraph Line #13. I think it’s one of my best short stories ever. You have to go buy a copy to read it – I never put it anywhere else, and I haven’t posted a PDF of #13. If I had ten more stories like it, I’d bind them together in a little book and zap it straight to the kindle store. But I don’t, not yet anyway. But that movie, Burial Ground, is this bad/awesome Italian zombie movie that has a completely fucked and incomprehensible plot line, and although all of those horror movies have the one chick who somehow manages to get away, in this movie, the zombies totally win, and I like that.

Speaking of the dead rising, I’ve got new life and new batteries in the laptop. I’m writing this while sitting on the couch, and the battery is designed to hold 6900 mAh and it actually holds 7100. It was down to only holding 4800 and started freaking the fuck out and giving me a warning message that I should cut the shit and get to the Apple Store immediately. They sent my computer off to Tennessee (why? Apple’s just down the road.) and replaced the battery and the motherboard – I had a couple of random crashes, something with the video card. They don’t call it a motherboard anymore; they call it a “mainboard”. I think it’s some anti-sexism thing, like how you can’t say cables are male and female anymore, or how you can’t use master/slave in your tech writing. So I got freaked out by the whole thought of surrendering the machine and having it come back completely blank, but it’s fine now.

I remember one time in 1993, I stayed over at Ray’s when his parents were out of town, and we watched four or five zombie movies in a row, until they all melded into each other. (Actually, one was a vampire movie, called Vampyres, a bad 70s thing with some half-naked lesbian vampires that lured guys into their old house, then killed them and drank their blood. One of the dudes seriously looked like a late-70s David Letterman, and the movie used every conceivable excuse to get these two women out of their clothes and dyking out.  This was also before the whole vampire thing got co-opted by the cool kids and completely fucked over.  Go check it out on imdb and you can see a trailer that’s essentially three minutes of soft-core porn, prefaced by a stupid XBox ad.) Anyway, the next morning, Ray’s asleep and I knock open his door with my arms outstretched and walking slowly like I’m one of Romero’s Day/Dawn ghouls, and Ray wakes up and freaks the fuck out and immediately jumps out of bed and goes for a bat or a piece of wood or something he can use to bash my undead brains in with, until he realizes that the zombie apocalypse had not in fact arrived.

The only other time we got seriously freaked out by a movie was when we went to a midnight showing of Saw in the theater. I don’t know if it was because we went to the midnight show or because the theater was empty, but after the final credits rolled, the first words out of my mouth were “dude, we need to go to Wal-Mart and buy some guns and enough shit to board up every window of your house.”

One of the things I liked about World War Z was how the news of the living dead propagated around the world in such a distorted fashion. The whole book takes place as a series of interviews after the war is over, like one of those World War II/greatest generation books. And in every zombie movie, you’ve got this start-of-act-2 disbelief rap going on, like when the scientists land on the zombie island and the one idiot says, “what, is this a village of lepers?” and then gets eaten alive. There’s always that part where you are screaming at the screen “RUN YOU STUPID BITCH!” and you know if you were really there, you’d get the fuck up on the roof and nail shut every door and get the closest deer rifle and plant some 12-gauge slugs into the brains of the undead. But of course, you wouldn’t. You’d go to read what the hell happened on twitter to see if the zombie thing was real or just some viral social networking astroturf campaign to sell the new Nissan Sentra or some bullshit. News would get suppressed, or distorted, or spun. If the zombie apocalypse happened tomorrow, every idiot on Fox News would be blaming it on Obama. In WWZ, the outbreak spread through China because they kept their mouths shut. Israel was smart enough to close their borders, which of course made all of the Palestinians believe it was a big Jewish conspiracy. Etc. etc. It’s not like President Morgan Freeman is going to call a press conference to tell us all that we’re under zombie attack, and Bruce Willis is going to steer a nuke into the center of the zombies and save everybody as a shitty Aerosmith song plays.

So yeah, good book.  I was expecting something aimed at 14-year-olds, like a Mack Bolan book, but Brooks looked at a lot of different angles, and I enjoyed the hell out of that.  I’m not exactly going to retool and start cranking out genre fiction here, but I got at least a dozen good ideas thrown into the plot-o-matic over the whole thing.


2 responses to “World War Z”

  1. "If the zombie apocalypse happened tomorrow, every idiot on Fox News would be blaming it on Obama."

    That's too true to be funny, but I laughed pretty hard anyway.

  2. He brought it with him from Kenya.