Max Brooks talks uncanny similarities between 'World War Z' and coronavirus outbreak — and how dramatically movie strayed from book

Kevin Polowy
Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment

Max Brooks's 2006 bestseller World War Z — later adapted into a 2013 movie starring Brad Pitt — is pure science fiction, a thriller about a zombie apocalypse decimating the globe.

But if you look at certain plot details today, similarities between Brooks's imagined outbreak, a virus called solanum (first introduced in 2003's Zombie Survival Guide) and the coronavirus are uncanny. Never mind that Brooks has said he was using the novel to generally comment on government ineptitude and U.S. isolationism.

Patient Zero was in China. The virus is eventually nicknamed "African Rabies," which sounds an awfully lot like "The Chinese Virus." The U.S. greatly downplayed the severity of its threat and reacted too slowly, likely in part because it was an election year. Check. There was a much hyped-treatment that was ultimately ineffective (hello, hydroxychloroquine).

Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment recently, Brooks insists he was not attempting to prove prescient when writing World War Z (watch above).

"I was just being historically accurate," he says. "I wasn't looking forward, I was looking back. Everything that's happening today has already happened throughout history. Pandemics tend to come in very predictable cycles. And everything that is happening today happened with SARS, happened with AIDS, even happened with Ebola."

Brad Pitt and friend in World War Z. (Photo: Paramount)

And while actual zombie outbreaks are still thankfully the stuff of fiction, Brooks can draw parallels between the idea of them and certain real-life events. And no, he doesn’t mean the bath salts guys.

"There's different elements of a zombie plague in different events," he says. "When you talk about just utter anarchy, well that was the Rodney King [1992 Los Angeles] riots, which I lived through. Which the LAPD started and then just magically poofed out of existence when we needed them. Having to watch communities like Korean Americans having to sandbag their mini-malls and go on their roofs with rifles to protect their livelihoods.

"I think when it comes to the utter f***edupedness of the people we entrust to protect us, well, we're pretty much living in that one."

Where Brooks cannot draw too many parallels is between his book and the hit movie it inspired.

"The best thing they did was throw my book away. People say 'Did they ruin your book?' I'm like, 'No, they didn't ruin my book, they ignored it.' Which was kind of good, because I didn't have to watch my characters being mutilated or my plot being eviscerated. None of it was in there. So I mean once you get past the title, you can close your eyes… [It's like] a really jacked up, kind of cool 28 Days Later."

Max Brooks's next novel, Devolution (which he also talks about above), releases June 16. Pre-order it on Amazon.

— Video produced by Jon San

Watch Max Brooks talk about the viral social distancing video he filmed with his father Mel Brooks:

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