Although, strictly speaking, zombie books and movies are in the category of horror, not science fiction, World War Z is the exception to the rule.
The title, World War Z, is an allusion to World War 2, and the parallels are obvious. The novel is written in the style of a historical review after the fact, in much the same way as overviews of WWII were the rage in the 1950s, explaining to a population that saw the war locally how things actually transpired globally. In the same way, World War Z provides answers once the fight is over.
Rather than the classic fight-or-flight survival concepts explored by most zombie flicks, WWZ looks at the social, political, military and medical implications of a world wide outbreak of zombies. And, in that regard, it offers some plausible, believable aspects of political science and social norms for consideration, each of them familiar to us but slightly altered by the flesh-eating horde.
Corporal punishment, as an example, is reintroduced by the United States of America. Although putting someone in stocks and conducting a public flogging sounds medieval and highly unlikely, as the political leaders in this story point out, "What else were we supposed to do? Throw them in jail? Who would guard them? Who would feed them? With 200 million zombies swarming over the Continental US, we needed every able bodied man, woman and child in the fight. And, besides, public humiliation is a powerful deterrent." And with compelling insights like this, WWZ takes us on a global tour of the post-war world, interviewing key survivors and looking at the escalating stages of the war.
As tempting as it is, I won't steal the thunder of Max Brooks and the military solution he contrives to stem the horde of the living dead, but I will add that such a heartless, unethical proposition is entirely plausible given the threat of human extinction.
This is not a book about zombies eating brains with guts flying everywhere, this book is about the social, political and military response. There's a little blood and guts, but gore is not the dominate theme of the book. And it captures the different cultural attitudes of the German's, the American's, the Pakistani's, the African's, the Chinese's, etc with surprising clarity and realism. There's the big man African dictator syndrome, the war weary Europeans, the isolationist Israeli's, those in denial, those profiteering from the misery and those that are bureaucratically incompetent and inert in front of the tsunami of the undead.
Oh, and the audio book version is compelling listening, reminiscent of the old radio broadcasts for War of the Worlds. You can get 10 free samples from various chapters as podcasts from the Apple store.
World War Z is a must read and when the movie with Brad Pitt comes out in 2012, I'll be lining up to see it.