Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Halloween Book of the Week: World War Z

This week's Halloween pick is another zombie book, but in World War Z: an oral history of the zombie war, author Max Brooks takes a different approach to the traditional zombie story, recounting a world-wide zombie plague after the fact.

World War Z, by Max Brooks, 2006,
published by Three Rivers Press
 World War Z is written as an after-action report prepared for the United Nations to piece together how the zombie plague began and proliferated across the globe.  The narrator travels the world collecting accounts of the survivors to tell the whole story from the plague's genesis in a small Chinese village, which spread and caught the nations of the world unprepared when the dead arose.  His report is, in equal measures, academic  and poignant as he interviews the men and women who witnessed and battled the horror, allowing them to tell their stories firsthand.

This is an incredibly fun story.  It is not a tense or scary book; the war is over, after all, and mankind won.  But it is a very interesting and entertaining thought experiment, in which Brooks makes some pointed criticisms of contemporary society and our disposable consumer lifestyle.  As the zombie plague spread across America, a secure zone was eventually established in California, where an interim government was established, tasked with rebuilding American civilization and organizing an offensive to retake the country.  One interview with the government's Director of Strategic Resources explains the difficulty he had with human resources: 65% of the civilian workforce had no useful vocation or skills.  Lawyers, executives, analysts, and consultants were of little use in  world that needed carpenters, masons, machinists and gunsmiths.  Brooks makes an interesting point that so many people in contemporary society have no practical skills; many, in fact  cannot even grow their own food or undertake simple  home repairs - skills that would have been taken for granted just a generation ago.

World War Z is a 'must read' for anyone interested in zombie fiction, and highly recommended for its speculative approach to survival in a post-apocalyptic environment.

I rate it 3 out of 5 pumpkins for a scary Halloween read, and 5 out of 5 pumpkins as an original and highly thought-provoking zombie story.


sirlarkins said...

Probably my favorite genre book (fantasy/scifi/horror) of the last decade.

Ever since reading it, I've thought one could run an awesome campaign based around the tactical teams that the U.S. was futilely deploying in the early months of the outbreak - doing search and destroy and containment missions at first, dealing with politics and propaganda, and perhaps following the PCs along as society breaks down and they abandon the rule of law in favor of mere survival. I also loved the idea of the phenomenon of living people "going zombie" (I forget what the disorder was called). Makes perfect sense.

The only bit where Brooks's politics got on my nerves and interfered with the story was, I thought, his bit with Israel, making it the golden savior of the Middle East, etc. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but...nope. Turns out Israel's just awesome!

(Not that Israel doesn't know a thing or two about survival and practicality, but I thought the whole thing was just a bit too...pat, I guess.)

Sean Robson said...

Yep, brilliant story; and you're right, it would make an excellent premise for a campaign.

Geek Gazette said...

Excellent book. I really enjoyed this and the Zombie Survival Guide.

Brunomac said...

Great book. I blew through it in about a week. Listened to some audio book stuff as well - Mark Hamill did the soldiers voice from the Battle of Yonkers!