To many, Max Brooks is best known as Mel Brooks’ son, but he’s much, much, much than that. For starters, he’s the man who brought us the Zombie Survival Guide at World War Z – recently adapted for the big screen – and for seconds, he’s exceptionally clever and worryingly witty to boot, undoubtedly the first human being the President should call when the undead inevitably rise up to destroy us. The following in-depth discussion is taken from an extended Empire Podcast interview, so if you’d like to hear some of this instead of reading it, head this way.
Welcome to the Empire podcast, and we are joined today by our very special guest Max Brooks, the author of, among other things, World War Z. Welcome!
Thank you, and you can say ‘Zed’, I won’t get offended.
We have arguments about this. Sometimes it’s best to just say ‘Zee’ just because it rhymes with three – though you will get accused of being American if you do.
You’re not the first person to say that, strangely enough. This is weird – I guess this is I guess a Commonwealth thing – but the English people I meet are okay with saying World War ‘Zee’, and the Canadians are not. Their national identity is very strong. They need to force that ‘Zed’.
Right, well we finally found something that Canada is not tolerant about. So, let’s start at the beginning. How do you go from working on Saturday Night Live to writing about the undead?
I actually wrote my first zombie book way before I got the job on Saturday Night Live. It was the late ’90s and people were starting to flip out in America about the Y2K scare. And I’m not talking about the crazy survivalists who wanted it to happen, I’m talking about the grown-ups with jobs and lives buying tins of beans and generators. So all these survival guides were coming out. I thought, ‘Well, why not one for zombies?’
So I went looking for a zombie survival guide. Nobody had written it, they were all off ‘having a life’, and I didn’t have that problem so I thought, ‘You know what? I have two extraordinary gifts: I have an excessive compulsive disorder and unemployment. And I’m going fuse them into a book.’ So I sat down and wrote zombie survival guide.
Then I stuck it in a drawer for years. I didn’t think it was ever going to get published. I mean, c’mon, who’s going to want a very well researched book about something that’s not real? It’s not a comic thing. It was really me thinking, ‘What if there was a real zombie plague? How would I survive? How would I purify water? And what guns would jam?’ All those real questions that you don’t see in the movies.
I am a history nerd before I’m anything, and history teaches you to omit the obvious. You assume things, like whatever country has more firepower wins the wars and that’s actually not true at all. Or you think about things like what made Britain a world power? It wasn’t guns or steel – it was limes. Vitamin C was the difference between Britain and France, so those little details are very important to me.