Friday, October 6, 2006; 3:00 PM
In "World War Z," author Max Brooks documents "first-hand" accounts of a fictitious futuristic war against the undead. From personal accounts to tactical considerations -- "What if the enemy can't be shocked and awed? Not just won't, but biologically can't!" -- Brooks dissects every angle of a full on battle for humanity's future. A follow-up to 2003's "Zombie Survival Guide," one can practically hear the studios beating Brooks' door down to option the book for adaptation.
Brooks was online Friday, Oct. 6, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss his new book, zombies and whatever else is on your mind -- like maybe his famous dad, Mel.
( Transcript : Brooks was also online in 2003 to discuss the "Zombie Survival Guide." )
Uniontown, Pa.: Mr. Brooks:
Are you aware that zombie hunters are currently in demand in Sweden? ( Story )
Could this perhaps be a sign of a northern European outbreak of the undead, or merely a hysterical reaction to an outbreak of "Stockholm Syndrome"?
Max Brooks: Personally, I cannot blame the Swedes for panicking at the outbreak of the living dead. For the first time in a long time, they will be facing an enemy that does not recognize neutrality!
Washington, D.C.: Mr. Brooks,
My girlfriend's grandfather served with your uncle in WWII. Which makes us... well nothing, really.
Anyways, Zombies. Now I'm a good bleeding heart liberal, but everytime I watch zombie movies or read zombie books or play zombie video games, I have the pressing urge to stockpile guns and ammunition in my house so I'm never caught off guard for when the day comes. This leads me to one thought: why doesn't the NRA or whoever use more zombies in their recruiting efforts?
Max Brooks: Since the NRA has more members (and guns) than they know what to do with, I believe they do not require the need to use zombies for recruitment.
Towson, Md.: Do the zombies have a civilian leader like a SecDef? Heavens, I don't know. Is Donald Rumsfeld qualified for the post? Gosh, not yet. Might he be qualified soon? Goodness, he's 75. Might he help save humanity by undermining the zombie war effort? By golly, he just might!
Max Brooks: The living dead do not have any leadership of any kind. That's what makes them so dangerous. There is no organizationat all, no chain of command and no leaders to blame. It's all or nothing with the living dead, total war.
New York, N.Y.: Is there a World War Z broadway musical in the works?
Max Brooks: Not that I'm aware of, but, hey, I'm only the author. No one tells me anything.
Washington, D.C.: What continental U.S. state, based on geographical features would be the most easily defendable in a world overrun by zombies?
Max Brooks: The Western United States make for the ideal "safe zone". The Rockies are a natural barrier, both in elevation and their seasonal freezing.
Frederick, Md.: Mr. Brooks, I currently reading your book. Enjoyable and chilling. What does you father think of your zombie obsession? Doe he think you are a loon?
Max Brooks: He's just thrilled that I have a job.
Arlington, Va.: Hi, I was, actually,an extra in the student film you shot while a student at AU. I think it might have been called "Nightmares"? Anyway, whatever happened with that? Were you happy with how it came out?
Max Brooks: Wow, a voice from the past. "Enemies Within" was the title we settled on. It made the festival run, won a few awards, I think, but mainly now I have it locked away in my "horribly bad writing" trunk.
Zombie Hunters Unite!: You previous book was very well researched. Did you do any research for this book, did you draw upon the research you already did, or did you just spin this out of your dark fantasies?
Also, do the humans win?
Max Brooks: Everything in World War Z (as in The Zombie Survival Guide) is based in reality... well, except the zombies. But seriously, everything else in the book is either taken from reality or 100% real. The technology, politics, economics, culture, military tactics... it was a LOT of homework.
Columbia, Md.: Mr. Brooks,
So - will we ever find out what happened to North Korea?
Max Brooks: I often ask the same thing myself. Maybe someday we'll find out.
Washington, D.C.: I just took the quiz on your site and I have a 38% chance of survival. That's it, I'm moving to Cuba!
Max Brooks: Don't feel bad. The 30th Percent is pretty average for the rest of the world. You have a pretty good chance of survival (but have that sailboat and Spanish-English dictionary ready).
McLean, Va.: Do we need to fear zombie animals, like those seen in Resident Evil, or are talking strictly human zombies?
What is about being a zombie that turns one into a cannibal?
Max Brooks: We still don't know why zombies attack and consume living flesh.
As far as zombie animals, don't worry, there are none. The virus is toxic to all life except human. Why, we still don't know.
Arlington, Va.: Will zombies do anything in water?
Max Brooks: If you mean, can they still walk, hunt, and kill underwater, the answer is yes. World War Z discusses various elements of underwater zombie combat.
Poolesville, Md.: The theatre company I belong to just did a zombie "flash mob" to promote our next show, Night of the Living Dead. It got amazing attention for us. Ever think of doing something like that to promote WWZ or Zombie Survival Guide?
Max Brooks: Interesting idea. Right now my main tool of live promotion are my Zombie Self Defense lectures. I show slides, do weapons demonstrations, and show an old Soviet propaganda film dealing with the living dead.
Rockville, Md.: I've been using the advice in the Zombie Survival Guide to protect myself, but am constantly running into restrictive land-use laws and HOA rules that prevent me from further enhancing my home's fortifications. Right now, I've secured the upper floor and the staircase can be demolished.
My question is, what else should/can I do? In case of a zombie horde on the ground level, do I have to worry about them knocking the walls down, thus collapsing the house? Should I go instead with a underground shelter? Can zombies dig into a shelter?
Max Brooks: Yes, zombies do dig, so to be trapped underground is not the safest solution (also, how will you escape if your bunker is breached). I also wouldn't be too concerned with the dead breaking down your walls, once they find a way in (a broken down door or window), they will flood through that opening like water.
Haifa, Israel: Is there someplace I can go to offer my services as a Zombie hunter for hire?
Max Brooks: Stay put and protect your people! They need all the defense experts they can get!
Alexandria, Va.: Assuming the outbreak would start soon, do you recommend staying in a defensible home for a few weeks before trying to escape to a non-urban area, or trying to get out of the area ASAP?
Max Brooks: That depends on where you live. If you're, say, in a large city, I'd start making plans to get out now. If you're in a more rural area above the snow-line, you might be able to fortify your home, wait for winter, then move on from there. However, no matter where you are, always, always have more than one plan.
Baltimore, Md.: Hi Max -- A fun, gory, and unsettling read (and nominee for best book title of the year). What sort of cataclysm experts/documents did you use/discover during your research?
Max Brooks: What didn't I use? Seriously, my old college and grad school profs would be proud of me that I actually did my homework, for once. I should have stock options on Amazon for the ammount of reference books I've bought from them. I was also very lucky to have a variety of friends in fields that were related to the book; medicine, engineering, politics, military, etc.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Is there a danger in the horror world of zombie overload? In just recent years, we've seen "Land of the Dead," (which was actually pretty good, though), a remake of "Dawn of the Dead," "28 Days Later," "Sean of the Dead" (which was also pretty good), and several other zombie movies, some of them pretty forgettable.
Max Brooks: There will, no doubt, be a bursting of "The Zombie Bubble". I think as long as we're living in such chaotic times, the living dead will remain in our collective subconscious, but once things calm down again (and they will), most people will move onto something else.
Virginia Beach, Va.: How disappointing is it for you that, despite the publication of your "How to survive a Zombie attack" book, we will have lapsed into World War Z? What tense (Future past perfect perhaps?) is the book written in?
Max Brooks: I look at both books as "Before and After". Lord knows I wouldn't be the first person in human history to sound an alarm that no one heard.
Alexandria, Va.: Max, GREAT BOOK!! Read it in two days! My question is, it seems you draw a lot of parallels between today's war on terror methods and the zombie war. How close, however, do you compare the zombies to today's fundamentalist Islamists? i.e, unthinking, uncaring, irrational villains who kill for the sake of killing?
Max Brooks: The lack of rational thought has always scared me when it came to zombies, the idea that there is no middle ground, no room for negotiation. That has always terrified me. Of course that applies to terrorists, but it can also apply to a hurricane, or flu pandemic, or the potential earthquake that I grew up with living in L.A. Any kind of mindless extremism scares me, and we're living in some pretyt extreme times.
BC: Max, we keep the "Zombie Survival Guide" around the office, just in case. I thought it was an absolute hoot.
Haven't ready WWZ yet, but I'm looking forward to it. Need to finish Jared Diamond's "Collapse" and Gaiman's "Anasasi Boys", first.
Anyway, my question is: how has being an American (presuming you are) influenced your perspective on zombies? Or, put another way, what is it about zombies that resonates so strongly with Americans ("Sean of the Dead", excepted of course)?
Hmm, do I really want to know the answer?
Max Brooks: Two reasons:
First, I think the survival element is VERY strong in American culture. We are a nation of individualists. We beleive with the right tools and talent that we can survive anything. And sometimes that's right, but not always.
Second, I think we are, at our core, a moderate country. It scares most of us to think of our calm, rational society degenerating into anarchy.
College Park, Md.: On a literary note, I have discussed the phenomenon of "zombie lit" with friends of mine and have come to the conclusion that the genre reveals a very different set of social fears than the ones we experienced ten years ago. Where the Anne Rice vampire novels seemed to address the fear of death through intimacy (and the transmission of blood), zombie lit seems to reveal a fear of social breakdown due to environmental factors like a pandemic flu.
Max Brooks: Anne Rice's vampires were sleek and sexy. And why not, the late 80s to 2000 were a very sleek and sexy time. People wanted to be vampires. They were cool. The times we were living in were cool.
Not anymore. Just like vampires go hand-in-hand with some kind of elite, celebrity life, the zombie genre is deeply rooted in armageddon.
Zombie vs. vampire: who would win?
Max Brooks: I will not even justify that with an answer...
Okay, I will!
Depends on numbers of zombies vs the inteligence and planning of the vamps. Think of the vamps as humans. One human could take a zombie, no problem. Even one well trained, well equipped, calm and cool human could take on who knows how many zombies.
But throw in panic... not even the coolest vampires would stand a chance if they retreated into panic!
Chantilly, Va.: The Game Dead Rising, would this be consider good training (foritifcation techniques, foraging, etc) for the impending war?
Max Brooks: I haven't played that game yet, but if it's the one where you're trapped in a mall with zombies. Hmmm... sounds familiar. Better to just watch the original "Dawn of the Dead".
Warshington, Disrick of Columbia: Are there now, or have there ever been, zombies in the State Department?
Max Brooks: No, but that doesn't make all of them human either.
Columbia, Md.: The book has been optioned as a movie -- do you think it will translate to the typical hollywood-type movie, or would you like to see something like a "Ken Burns" type documentary?
Max Brooks: I honestly have no idea at this point. But Ken Burns... now that's an idea I haven't thought about before.
So...: Huge Romero fan, or just just a major Romero fan? Have you ever heard from him given your two books?
Max Brooks: HUGE Romero fan, even though my zombies are different than his. Still, he redefined the genre. Just as there were space movies before George Lucas, there were zombie movies before Romero. He's the man, and he's got my respect forever.
Washington, D.C.: Any plans for a sequel?
Max Brooks: Maybe, I'll have to give it some time and see what germinates. It's always too tempting to rush to capitalize on the success of a previous work and I'm going to have to be VERY careful to make sure another zombie book doesn't suck.
Centreville, Va.: In World War Z, which type of Zombie are we mostly like to face? The slow shambling Zombies of the 70's or the ultra-fast/strong zombie's of 00's? What type of different stratagems should we use when facing these different beasts?
Max Brooks: World War Z deals with the "shamblers", the slow zombies. Those scare me a hell of a lot more than the acrobatic Jesse Owens zombies we see in a lot of new films. The fact that a zombie will never stop, never tire, and will shamble after you until you drop dead from exhaustion is what keeps me up at night.
Armageddon?: So WWZ is a "Left Behind" of the slacker generation?
Max Brooks: Never read "Left Behind" so I can't really judge it. Maybe Armageddon is too strong a word. The human race does survive, but we sure do come pretty close to going out. If anything it's the "Good War" of zombie fiction.
Arlington, Va.: Forgive me for being blunt, but is it sufficient to shoot them in the head?
Max Brooks: Or just hit them in the head hard enough to crack the skull. Think about it. Killing the brain isn't just some magical way to kill a zombie (like a cross or stake through the heart for vampires), it is also the only way, really to kill a human. All we really are is a brain and everything else in our body makes up the life-support mechanism for that brain (bringing it nourishment, oxygen, etc.) When you, say, kill a human by stopping his heart, you're just killing the brain via the "middle man". When you kill a zombie's brain, you're cutting that middle man out.
Bethesda, Md.: Mr. Brooks,
I found your book to be very compelling especially the details of the South African strategy. I have two questions.
Is it possible for the mutation which causes re-animation to be spread by a secondary source such as a parasitic insect i.e. mosquito?
Is it possible to get the virus from residual blood splatter? I.e. if one is shot in close proximity to a normal human?
Max Brooks: Don't worry about parasites like mosquitos or fleas. The virus is instantly toxic to them.
However, be VERY careful about open wounds. If a zombie is damaged enough to be dripping fluid (especially a new zombie where that fluid has not yet fully congealed) then there is a very real danger of being infected through an open wound on your body.
NW, D.C.: On this long-weekend, what movies best capture what to do incase of an outbreak? and what movie best shows what not to do?
Max Brooks: Watch "Dawn of the Dead", the original. Maybe Romero's zombies are different than mine, but who cares, it's amazing!
Max Brooks: Thank you everyone for your fun and insightful questions. Sorry about my horrific spelling and grammar (next time I'll make sure my editor is in the room when I answer these.) Thanks again, and be safe!
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.