Late to the Party: World War Z (The Book)

[This is the first in a continuing series, Late to the Party, talking about culture that’s not so ‘pop’ anymore, because sometimes you have things to do for years on end instead of reading the latest book or watching the latest movie.  Max Brooks’s World War Z came out in 2006 and I’m only now getting around to read it.]

On the gorgeous Friday of Memorial Day weekend, my partner and I set off to Portland.  I had heard good things about the audiobook of World War Z and, knowing little about it except that people liked it and there were zombies, we downloaded it for the 3.5 hour drive.

[Note: An unabridged audiobook came out May 14 of this year but was not available for purchase on iTunes on Memorial Day weekend.  Or I didn’t see it.  Whatever.  Either way, this article is primarily about the abridged version of the audiobook, which has been in the market since 2007.]

I do want to be clear about this up front: I like a LOT of this work, both the audiobook and the book.  (After I finished listening to the audio, I ended up borrowing a copy to compare the two.)  Brooks’ prose isn’t necessarily anything to write home about, but the level of research and commitment that he brought to this hypothetical situation is outstanding.  I think that it achieves one of the most important objectives of science fiction, which is an earnest re-examination of our lives as they are through the lens of what they might become.

But (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming!), this achievement makes Brooks’s failures stand out in greater contrast.

Spoilers: There will be some about this work and the seminal zombie masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead.

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Steppin’ Out: A Statement of Purpose

(Disclaimer: Much of the following is inspired by Michel Frizot’s essay “The New Truths of the Snapshot” featured in Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard, ed. Elizabeth W Easton.)

(Second disclaimer: I love puns.)

Bear with me here.

Until we developed the technology of photography to capture light faster than we could internalize and understand – to segment time into smaller increments than we could otherwise observe – we did not understand how we walked.

It was not until about 1880 that the physiology of a human gait was understood by regular people.   The timing is not coincidental.  Dry plate technology for photography was developed around 1880, able to take exposures of roughly 1/100th of a second.  (For reference, an exposure of a still, well-lit figure took an exposure time of as long as 1/2 a second.)  We hadn’t beat the speed of light, but we were finally beginning to beat the speed of sight.  Realities that were plainly in front of us had remained invisible until we could start breaking apart time.  We caught speeding trains without a trace of blur.  We proved scientifically that there is a moment when a horse runs that all four hooves are off the ground.  And we discovered in our own walking that, in physiologist Josef Maria Eder’s words, “contrary to all accepted ideas, it is the heel that first touches the ground; at the same time the end of the foot is raised firmly in the air.  Would a painter dare to draw these figures?”

Credit Brian Auer

Like so.

This next bit is one of my favorite parts of this little story, one that answers Eder’s question pretty definitively.   Continue reading