Last night, Carly and I headed to the Fairfax County Government Center for an evening with Max Brooks. You might know him as the author of World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide, but I know him as my secret boyfriend.
I might have made up that last part.
First a few words about Max Brooks in general. He was funnier and more engaging than I expected; apparently he's done some acting and wrote for SNL for a few years (one of the Emmy winning years in fact). He did a lot of funny accents, gave some funny examples, and let out his inner nerd with frequent videogame, World of Warcraft, and Lord of the Ring references.
The program began with a 30 minute talk from Mr. Brooks about how to stay alive during a zombie apocalypse, focusing on the things the movies don't show you. He then took questions from the audience and did a book signing. Like a good blogger I took notes so that you, my dear readers, wouldn't miss out anything. Hopefully you'll now at least stand a chance of not being horribly killed when your grandma develops a taste for human flesh.
Mr. Brooks began by answering the number one question he is always asked: why zombies? The answer was a little more in-depth than I expected. Basically, they are monsters that don't obey the rules. Most of the time the hero ventures out to find the monster; he or she has to go to the abandoned castle, or walk a lonely road at midnight, or wander into the creepy swamp. But zombies are one of the only monsters that will come find you. You're sitting down for dinner with your family and whoops here come the zombies. As Mr. Brooks put it, "they will come to your home and they will come for you."
The first thing Mr. Brooks did when he decided to take on the zombie genre was to disabuse himself of the cliches of conventional zombie entertainment. His goal, according to him, isn't merely to entertain but also to save your life. Fiction is based on characters making bad choices--and in our society we blur the line between entertainment and eduction. But Mr. Brooks' goal is apparently to arm you with the knowledge necessary for survival.
So how are you supposed to protect yourself? As with most things, the devil is in the details, and Mr. Brooks pointed out that you don't see the details in the movies or the tv shows. It's not very riveting to see someone in the middle of the latest zombie-blockbuster die of dehydration or dysentery. But that's what you REALLY need to worry about. If you want to survive the coming of World War Z you're going to need:
--Water. And not just water, but a way to purify water when you're on the move.
--Weapons, but not guns. "Guns don't kill people and people don't kill people. Bullets kill people." With a potential for billions of zombies in the world you're going to run out of ammo pretty quickly. After all, "there's 300 million Americans here. I don't know how many Mexicans...and a hell of a lot more Canadians than they want me to believe." Your best bet isn't a gun, it's something less likely to break or run of of ammo and can operate in close range. And don't get fancy, the best weapons started out as tools. Don't think that samurai sword hanging on your wall (or the Sword of Gryffindor you bought online) is going to save your ass. Get yourself to the hardware store and stock up on axes, sledge hammers, etc.
--Transportation. DON'T USE A CAR. Cars need gas. You will run out of gas. Then you'll be zombie chow. Mr. Brooks recommends a bicycle. It's light, it's portable, and you can load stuff up on the back. And until they invent a mode of transport that runs on fear...oh wait, they have. A bike. Just wait and see how fast you'll pedal when the zombies come a-calling.
--Figure out where to run. Avoid heavily populated areas since the more people in a place, the more zombies. Find a place that isolated and go native. I know as Americans it's practically against our religion, but if you're going to survive in these places, you'll need to listen and learn to the indigenous people (you might want to leave your smallpox blankets at home).
--Work together. Another problem for Americans, but really key. Find people with specialized useful skills and make them part of your group. Mr. Books recommends that we start vetting people now to determine if we want them to be part of our group when the apocalypse strikes. His advice is to "lure them in with smiles and laughter...like Scientology."
After we got through the basics on surviving the zombies, it was time for the Q+A. I didn't write down most of the questions but on the whole most of them were pretty good. I was interested in hearing about the movie, but when I asked my question, "are the details that you said are never in the movies going to be in your movie?" his response was "you mean Brad Pitt's movie? Next question." Someone asked him to go in a bit more detail and he stated that he hadn't read the script, had nothing to do with the movie, and to be honest, he seemed a bit...maybe bitter is too strong a word but very dismissive about it. He did say that Brad Pitt was a really nice guy and when he visited the set he couldn't have been nicer.
Mr. Brooks was also very kind during the signing, taking the time for pictures with anyone who asked and putting personalized messages in almost every book. Oh, and his last piece of advice?
Don't think the movies and television shows you've seen are going to save you.
The big question I'm left with and the one I wish I had asked is whether Max Brooks really believes that a zombie outbreak could happen. He's made quite a living on zombies and he seems to take this stuff really seriously, but I wonder. Does he REALLY think it could happen?