Photo courtesy of Random HouseAre you ready for a zombie invasion? Max Brooks is. Zombies never ate Max Brooks’s neighbors, but the World War Z and ...
Brooks (son of the legendary Mel and the late Anne Bancroft) never expected to be a poster child for how to endure a zombie apocalypse, but he just might have the most brains on the subject. So if a family of animated corpses moves in next door tomorrow, who would you rather trust than Brooks to tell you how to shoo them away?
Men’s Health: Were there any zombie traumas in your childhood?
Max Brooks: In a strange way, there were. If you take out all the zombies in The Zombie Survival Guide, all the research and experience and preparation comes from growing up in Southern California in the 1980s. It was kind of a perfect storm of paranoia. In addition to the constant fear of earthquake and fires and floods, you never knew when Rodney King was going to get his ass whooped by the cops again or the helicopters would come over your house and drop chemicals all over the place or smog alerts. When we grew up, it was a time of societal collapse. Remember when gangs were first forming? What that was like? Remember the cyanide in the Tylenol and the razor blades in the apples and the LSD on the postage stamps? We’re from a generation where our parents were crapping their pants. It seemed like every day there was a new survival guide, like how to survive Halloween. Check for holes in the candy wrapper because someone might have put a poison-tipped needle inside the candy bar! I doubt that ever happened.
MH: So now we’re afraid of a zombie apocalypse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually published a brochure about how to be prepared for such an incident.
Brooks: When I heard about that, I went and actually toured the CDC and, of course, I came back more freaked out than when I went in.
MH: What did you learn?
Brooks: That their budget is being cut by a third. Which is terrifying. Because obviously viruses and bioterrorism pose no threat whatsoever to our world today. This is what I can’t understand: Let’s be honest, we’re never gonna be nuked. Anybody who has enough nukes to hit us hard knows we’ll just hit ‘em back. There’s no winning that battle. We’re also never gonna be invaded. We’re never gonna live through Red Dawn, with Commies dropping out of the sky. And terrorism can hurt us, but it won’t destroy us. So the only real existential threat we have is a pandemic. That’s really the only thing that can truly wipe the slate. The only defense against that is the CDC . . . and we’re cutting their budget by a third.
MH: So what’s the appropriate response to these times in which we live—paranoia, or a good, old-fashioned sense of humor?
Brooks: I think paranoia is definitely the order of the day. Since 9/11, we’ve just been getting slammed by one big crisis after another. They’re not media-inflated crises like we had in the ‘90s. Oh my God, the President got a blow job—let’s watch TV about it for the next 36 days! I mean, it was, literally, 9/11, then Iraq, then Katrina, then bird flu and SARS and swine flu, then the global financial meltdown, a global warming, and a tsunami in Japan that created a new Chernobyl. It’s, like, come on, God, give us a break!
MH: Which makes World War Z almost a work of journalism.
Brooks: I was literally just trying to answer my own questions about a big zombie pandemic. Zombies are a global story. You put a giant shark in the waters off an island in New England, and the story’s contained to that island. You really couldn’t give a shit about that shark if you live in Los Angeles, no matter how many people he’s eating. Who cares? But zombies are global. They’re huge. Every story I’ve ever read or seen are always micro-survival tales. I think that’s great. I’m not knocking them. Some of them are quite good, but they’ve only left me with more questions. Big questions. Like, how would you combat that threat? How would you reorganize an economy for that kind of war? How would you feed 100 million refugees when the global supply chain is cut? These are rolling questions, and that’s why I wrote World War Z: to answer my own questions.
MH: Because you address these questions so seriously, the book almost works as a handbook for how we might approach such a situation, no matter how preposterous it might be.
Brooks: It’s funny you say that. I was invited to the U.S. Naval War College for exactly that purpose, to seriously address these matters. The President of the War College said, “If you take out the zombies and see it as a manual for global collapse, then,”–and this really scary to me—”you really nailed it.”
MH: Going back to the survival guide, what are a few things we should definitely have on hand or be ready for should a zombie invasion happen?
Brooks: I think you need to consider the boring details, not the sleek and sexy stuff. I wrote Zombie Survival Guide figuring it would never get published. I never thought anybody would be interested, but that gave me the freedom to just write what I wanted to write. I wrote that book for myself. I wasted time on important things like water purification. When I was a kid, we were always told the moment there’s an earthquake, fill your bathtub with water. So I made sure to put that in there. Now, that’s not interesting, but it’s real. It’s little things like if you’re going to have hiking boots, make sure you’ve already worn them a lot. I learned that in ROTC. They issue you these hiking boots and they tell you to go walk a few miles in them before you ship off to Camp Pendleton for a week. You’ve got to break those things in. It’s not exciting or sexy, and it’ll probably never be in a movie, but it’s real.
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