Bookreviews: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

By Max Brooks: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War [Audiobook]By Max Brooks: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War [Audiobook] by -Random House Audio-
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(contains a section that can be seen as a spoiler: it is at the end and marked as such)

I decided to listen to the audiobook version of this book for two reasons: I have a interest in post apocalyptic settings and like to see how a book is translated into a movie.
The translation of the book into a movie is something that we need not consider here. Although there are similarities between them, they are superficial at best. Unless the sequel to the movie gets aligned to the book, that is.
There are three similarities: there is a zombie outbreak, the storyline plays out all over the world, and there is the same character that we follow: the UN investigator.
But the latter’s role is just totally different. In the book he has almost no personality as he is only used to give voice to the people telling their stories, while in the movie Brad Pitt takes the center of the stage.
The audio book adds an additional layer to story. A book that I read lets me give the voices their own characteristics in my mind. A ‘hero’ is to me something personal that I fill in. I read from various other reviews that many found the writings to be similar voiced. I did not experience that as such as they used distinct voices in the book that gave them color and personality.

Now let’s mention some good points of the audio book.

The stories from everywhere created an interesting jigsaw puzzle that not only pieces together an overall idea of what was going on in the world at the same time, but also build up to unfold the development of the zombie ‘war’. It is an interesting, and certainly fresh idea for a zombie apocalyptic story. The writer tries to keep the pieces fitted together by referring forward and backward to certain key moments, events or ideas, which is certainly helpful at the start of story as the jumping all over the place can also create confusion if not kept in check.
The voices used in the book helped a lot with fleshing out the characters and I was certainly gripped by some of the stories.I saw in the actor list that they used some respectable actors for various roles: Alan Alda,Jurgen Prochnow, Martin Scorcese, Bruce Boxleitner, Frank Darabont.
Some stories stand out for me. The one related by the Chinese doctor Kwang Jinghsu who tells about the first zombie case he runs into and the description is horrifying. The flight of the Indian Ajay Shah to try and escape by ship via Alang, the ships’ graveyard. The one told by the blind Japanese hermit Tomonaga Ljiro who seeks to die in a lone forest, but refinds faith. But I was specially gripped by the story of colonel Christina Eliopolis who is sucked out of her damaged airplane but manages to save herself by chute and lands in marsh full of wandering zombies hundred of miles from safety.

So to the bad points.

The first good point is also the first bad point, because all the stories are separate stories that tells but a moment in the whole war, there is little room for character development. This makes a character rather one dimensional.
There is some kind of attempt to give the ‘grunt’ Todd Wainio a kind of overall binding role as he returns several times and has most of the space in the story, but he is the least interesting of all characters as he is as fake as can be.
I am probably too European to like the way some Americans like to represent their military, and Max Brooks is one of those. Overconfident and smug. He is that guy that flattens your hometown and napalms the surrounding lands and then approaches your with a big smile to say: “So there missy, that should settle it. No need to worry. We got it all under control.. We’ll be heading over the next town now. But I might be around later on, if you feel interested.” Wink.
(Waino tells the interviewer on a side note that he is certain he has some kids fathered by some grateful ladies from the places he liberated. What a revolting man).

As much as there are likable characters -or at least believable characters- in the story there are also totally unbelievable characters.
The prime unbelievable character is General Travis D’Ambrosia, the commander in chief. At the moment the counter attack is ordered he is basically a defeatist and should have been relieved of command. He tells the interviewer some nonsense about three basic rules of war: men must be bred, fed and led. And then he explains how all these rules do not apply to the zombies. And then tells of more advantages they have, totally neglecting to mention all the weakness zombies have and which can be exploited(which they later do).
An almost equal unbelievable character is the Englishman David Allen Forbes. He was introduced as having experience with castles and writing a book about it and then goes to tell some nonsense about European History in which the middle ages are classified as institutionalized anarchy.

Say what?

But it got worse.. Next he mentions that there is a difference between a castle and a palace and he mentions how castles were often turned into palaces so they lost their defensive value.
And that is true enough.
And then he says the most profound stupid thing I have ever heard: ”.. like Versailles, that is why it was such a cock up.”
Did I hear him say: like Versailles?
I played it again: Versailles.
Again: Versailles.
Versailles?
VERSAILLES!!!!!!
%^%^&&**&*&
No student of any level of history of warfare would ever mention Versailles as a defensive structure. Versailles was not a palace converted from a castle. It was build from the ground up as a prestigious object to show off the power and wealth of Louis XIV, the 17th Century king of France, the ruler of the most powerful nation of Europe at that time. Versailles was exactly not a defensive place because Louis had a big army, and big navy to protect him and plenty of forts if he needed them. It was exact the opposite of a castle because he could say: I can afford such a place and do not fear my enemies..
It was never at anytime considered or converted or used as defensible structure, not by the French, not by the Germans when they occupied France, not by the Allies when they liberated Europe..
Nearby Disneyworld Paris is more defensible.
Only an utter clueless guy would mention Versailles or use it.

Another weak point in the story is that the style of story is distant, observational and in hindsight. You know that everyone is basically going to survive. There seems to be seldom any interaction between the interviewed of the moment and anyone else of the interviewed. It turns to matter of fact observations. This is perhaps intentional, but it creates distance. As if you are hovering above it instead of being in the midst of it. It also takes away any uncertainties doubts, or interesting complication. Nobody of all of the interviewed seems to contradict someone else. It is dry, distanced and faultless. Which might make a nice report, but takes away from the story.
But what I often missed is the anguish people would experience when they see one of their loved ones turned or sick. Or even see them back as zombies. Brooks describes that at the start somewhat. But soon enough he the zeds are zeds. That they are your friend, lover, partner, dad, mom or buddy is pushed aside fairly rapidly.

And then there is this.. this -how to tell it- this demonstration of a certain myopic mindset.
When public humiliation and corporal punishment(flogging) are reintroduced crimes are are no more, so we are told by the former vice president of the United States.. I see.
And when American soldiers ‘fight’ they suffer of course less losses than say the Russians and the Chinese man on man.. Of course.
And in Israel a rebellion erupts when the zombies start to show up, because certain extreme groups in Israel rather compromise the safety of the whole nation to further their own cause. Right. Patriotism is only for Americans.
And the Cuban problem is easily solved by having them take in five million United States refugees so that the western(=American) ideas of greed ( oh sorry: free enterprise) and democracy gets spread around and eventual restores Cuba to a democracy.
It is that simple.
And when a German officer(from West Germany) is ordered to abandon civilians by his (former East German) superior, he at first refuses, but when pressured buckles under anyway. without asking an explanation, consulting his staff or talking it through with the civilians. Noo. All he has gained is the benefit of fifty years of western inspired conscience. See how down on their morals those (Former) Eastern Jerries really are anyway, cause that guy kills himself afterwards.
But regardless of west or east: it is the same cadaver discipline of course and the same way out. They never change, those Germans: only their excuses.
At some point I was wondering if this was meant to be satire or that Brooks really thinks that is how you deal with the worlds issues or how the world works?

But the list extends into the story telling.
So the battle of Yonkers shows that the US army is not ready to deal with the dead yet. Mind you, they are shown to be extremely incompetent. Not even using things to hinder the advancing horde with, like say a wall of cars, barbed wire, cheval de fraises, minefields, stakes, ditches, wood fences, wires, fallen trees and anything else the books are filled with. And claymore mines! No Clymore mine. Easy to set up, deadly, shoot balls of metal that go right through you. But noo.. the army has been ordered to be incompetent.
Or has it been written?
For Brooks now tells us that there is a break between refugees and the zombies. Up till now he tells us in all other stories how they were mixed.
But the Battle of Yonkers is designed by Brooks to show of the incompetence of the US army, forced on them by who knows who? The press? The politicians? Their superiors? Why not blame them all!
It is a setup.
We are looking directly at the writer forcing an unbelievable twist in his story. You can see his hands grabbing it, twisting and turning, until it is disjointed enough so that the best equipped army in the world loses the first time around.
Mano-a-mano.
Zombies 1. Humans 0.
It is one of those fake wrestling matches.
They have to lose to have the US overrun, but also to have the army get up for a second round. As if war just consist of a few important battles.

—zzzzzz spoilers down here zzzzz ————-

Its a few years later, after this severe defeat the army counter attacks under command of mister defeatist D’Ambrosia via an offense from the rocky mountains. From the west to the east.
Wow.. how many people would that take? Well, they walk side by side, just like how they search for survivors and evidence after an aircraft crash, so we are told. So that’s something like 1400 miles as the crow flies. And assume for every ten yard one grunt. That is 300.000 men. Oh wait they got a second line: 600.000. And then you need replacements, backups, support, perhaps some more men per 10 yard really, certainly in denser area’s. Double that. Triple that. Quadruple that. You need to guard the flanks too, the liberated areas. You need logistics, repairs. replacements. 5 million? 6? And that from a country that has suffered 200 million dead and lost over ⅗ of it’s land. And most of it’s industry and food supplying area’s.
Brooks is basically unable to properly handle this. His stories are basically light weight and interesting, and work as separate instances, but he can’t tie it together in the end. He needs to twist too much to make it work. I assume he does. Because I hope that he does not really belief all these things that he wrote down. It is such an absurd look of the world.
But you got to give him credit for one thing though. Once the United States has won the victory at home, it doesn’t retreat into isolation and let the rest of the world to it’s own devices. Why should they anyway. What would the world do without them! They got a whole world to liberate… or conquer.
It is just the way you look at it.
It is..

—————spoilers end———————————–

One star extra for the great voice acting and the great colonel story. It gave me tears, honest.

View all my reviews

Signs of life 4: Fuzz

“No!”  Meena, the eldest of the two daughters said with an indignant expression on her face  when her parents proposed to go to the market fair.

Eve, the youngest, fell into an uncomfortable silence squeezing a plushie against her chest. She did not dare to go against her older sisters opinion, yet she feared her mother’s displeasure equally. She withdrew into the only direction she could: into herself.

“We never go to anything that we like. We always have to go to these boring things you like.” Meena continued waving her frail hand about,  ”I am not going and that is final!”

Harry, the father, tried to reason with her, but she was not going to listen: hormones and peer pressure were much more important for the budding teen than whatever considered arguments parents brought to bear.

Jane, the mother, then played the power card. “We all go and that is final!”

Meena grabbed her hand-held, stomped upstairs and closed the door of her room with such an audible bang that even the neighbors heard it. Everyone got that message. Then she started to whatsap all her friends that parents were the worst creatures in the universe by far and her parents were the vilest of the bunch.

Jane then shouted up the stairs that Meena should come down this instance or she would be facing a week of extra chores. Eve started to pout her lips and Harry began to tell Jane that maybe they should reconsider this fair business.

“See, even father doesn’t want to go!” Meena shouted, she triumphantly rubbed the words into her mothers face.

“I didn’t mean that!” Harry said, hearing how his words were being twisted into arguments for the defence.

“What then do you mean?”  Jane said. She felt slightly backstabbed by her husband but also knew that her eldest was twisting the knife on purpose. At the same time she saw her youngest discomfort and she grabbed Eve’s hand.
Harry smiled disarmingly at his wife. Meena had walked halfway down the stairs not wanting to give in to her mother, but also not wanting to face a week of extra chores. She looked down on the scene with her arms folded in front of her chest.

Purr the cat sat in front of the door that led to the garden. She mewed at it and glanced at them to see if they would notice. Purr was certain that door would open sooner or later, and if it didn’t  she would lie down on her cushion on the couch. From that vantage point  she would then stare at them with an expression that seemed to say: what on earth are you all doing?

Signs of Life 3: Breach

Day 7: 13:15

Too many, John Atkins, systems engineer for Pacific Shipping Incorporated thought while he browsed his logs. He was at first intrigued by the large amount of failed logins on one of his monitoring servers. It wasn’t easy to pinpoint the source of the alerts as the logs contained a lot of information, most of which were only relevant in a specific context and in this context was mostly clutter. After he had applied a series of filters, he was still left with a lot failed attempts, but what worried him the most were not the failed one’s: they were the one’s that had succeeded.

Day 7: 13:55

Peter Seeren walked in into their office. Peter and John shared the office. Each having two desks bordering one another and thus making a huge desk. Each contained three screens connected to two computers. Peter also had a laptop.
“You look like you need a coffee.” Peter said.
“I think we have problem.” John said.
“What is?”
“These attempts to log in on our monitoring servers.”
If this statement had come from any other than John, Peter might have said something like: “Are you sure?” Or, “Aren’t they from this or that.” Instead he sat down and said, “How big a problem?”
“A big one.”

Day 7: 14:15

“Yes?” William Balking picked up the phone.
“William. This is John Atkins.”
“John. How can I help you?” William asked.
“Can you run a virus scan on some systems?”
“When?”
“As soon as possible.”
“As soon as possible? During production times?”
“Yes?”
“That might impact the production, you know?”
“Yes, I know.”
William was silent for a moment,”We better have some high up people approving this, otherwise we got hell to pay if it blows up in our face.”
“Yes. I arrange you that approval.”
“I get to work then. Do you have a list of the systems.”
“It is in the mail.”
“William opened the mail. Forty five systems. Not that many..” William scanned the list, then whistled loudly. ”Those are not just any systems..”
“No….”

Day 7: 15:35

Security Officer Harry Townsend was a very thin, slender bald man in his late fifties. He sat down with the two system engineers: the short broad shouldered John, a silent serious man with short black hair and the taller younger Peter, with brown hair. All three were clean shaven.
The two men gave the security officer a summary of their findings.
“So what do you think is happening?” Harry asked.
“The infected systems are running programs that try and log in to other systems. And they are succeeding.” John said, “And it is not a virus. We checked those systems.”
“So what should be done about it?” Harry asked.
“We can disable the accounts.” Peter said, “but this might cause systems to fail.”
“Can we disable specific accounts?”
“We can, but they are the important accounts.” John said, “The one’s that make things run.”
“What can we do without actually disabling them?”
“We can change the passwords of the administrators. Those don’t directly involve the operations of the systems.”
“At least not on ours.” Peter said.
Harry nodded,”Ours. As in the central ones. Those we maintain ourselves.”
“Yes.”
“And the ones we don’t run directly?”
“We have not looked at yet. We can’t.” John said.
“Unless the chief security officer gives the command.”
“Or we inform the local staff?” Peter said.
“Have we any evidence they are affected?”
“No.” John shook his head.
“This can cause a panic. We should be sure.” Harry said, then continued,”We do the central ones and I will ask the chief security officer. I expect he will have a meeting with management about this.”

Day 8: 10:35

“I have been asked to do as much as possible without causing panic.” Harry said.
The two engineers John and Peter looked at each other briefly.
“I have been asked to ascertain the threat and as such I got the permission to hire an outside agency.”
“Maybe we can see about what we can do at the moment. Like disabling some accounts. We can hold a meeting with engineers team.”
“That is a good idea, but only with one or two. Arrange it with your manager.”
When the two administrators had left Harry picked up the phone and started to call that outside agency. He was calling the best even though the company would have to pay a hefty price for it.

Day 10: 12:20

“A hacker.” Harry said and he placed his hands flat on the security incident rapport on his desk. It had big letters across it: confidential. He looked at the man in the Armani suit who had laid it before him that morning. His name was Richard Thompson. John and Peter had joined them, as had William had being the one responsible for anti-virus system and Mark Cramer, who was the main network engineer. They all had read their copies of the rapport.
“Yes. It’s a hacker.. he or she gained access to a computer using an email about ten days ago. It was disguised as a business mail. The receiver opened the mail, double clicked the attachment and that set up a connection to the hacker.” the young man with sleek neatly combed hair, wearing the Armani suit with silk tie said. He had a small briefcase with him and read the rapport the five security company engineers had made for him. They had descended on Pacific Shipping Incorporated like birds of prey and started to uproot everything..
“But…our mail has got checkers for that.” William said, “Our anti-virus programs check for harmful programs in the email.”
“Indeed.. but this was not done by internal mail. It was done via webmail from a third party.” Thompson said.
“The block against that was removed by order of Berling, former CEO. He kept in touch with people via third party mail. He was supported in that by the board.”
“You mean Berling, the one that now works for Sea Containers United?” Peter said.
“Yes and before us he worked for a few other big companies, switching jobs every few years as is normal for people at that level. It was unhandy for him to have his mail transferred from one company mail system to another when he switched jobs.” William said, “So he approved an order to have those blocks removed.”
“But how can that hacker gain access… we got firewalls?” Harry said.
“I read here that they only work from the outside in, but this program worked the other way around.” Thompson said, “It was made to setup a connection.
“Blocking internet traffic from the inside out was considered inconvenient. We never got the approval to do that. I think is was director of the business that thought it harmed the ease with which to do business.” Harry said.
“But the antivirus system…”, Peter said.
“It’s not an virus. Just a small program that makes a connection to the outside.”
“But the system that ran it. I mean when it is stopped and restarted, it would have killed the program.”
“Not necessarily. For one, it could have restarted itself. For another, the system was never restarted by the user.” Thompson said.
“Because of cost savings the company delayed replacing the computers and those old one’s became very slow to shutdown and startup. It could take like twenty or thirty minutes. People stopped doing that to save time.” Harry said.
“We know that.” the engineers nodded.
“So gentlemen. The situation Pacific Shipping Incorporated is in is dire. This hacker has hacked his way into crucial systems.” Thompson said.
The others took this news with a grim silence.
“And the only way out of this is to change all passwords at once, rebuilt those systems that have been compromised and implement lock down security and maintain it.” Thompson said.
“Were local systems infected too?” Peter asked.
“We don’t know.” Thompson said. “We did not check their systems.”
“There has not been any formal statement yet.” the security officer said. “So I have no leverage.”
“So.. We don’t know?” Peter said.
“No.”
The men sitting around the table looked at each other. The engineers, with the exception of Peter, had worked a long time in the company. They knew what was going to happen.
“We could of course give you an extensive advice of what can be done to implement the required security.” Thompson said with a vague smile.
Harry nodded at that,”It is one of the follow up actions. Learn from the lessons learned.”
Thompson eyed the security officer. The room was silent.
“Lessons learned.” Peter said. “And will we implement those?”
“That is for management to decide.” Harry said while he placed his hands together making the fingers touch the one one the other hand.
Peter looked at the faces. The smiling one of the external consultant. The unreadable one of the old security officer and those of his co-workers who looked at him with that knowing glint in their eyes.
“We could implement some changes in the new systems, so over time it gets implemented everywhere when systems are replaced.” John said.
“And how about implementing them with local systems?”
“They won’t let us touch them. We need higher management to give the go ahead. We need to convince everyone with this rapport..” Peter demanded.
“It is a confidential rapport.”, the security officer said. “I understand from the chief security officer that it will be reclassified as highly confidential.”
“What does that mean?” Peter wondered out loud..
“That only a selected group of people can read it.” Mark said, “Only for a special group of people.” He lifted both hands to symbolise the double marks.
“So we can’t use it to convince the local people.” William underscored.
“Not unless higher management allows use of this.” Mark added and held up the rapport.
“Which they won’t.” William said. “Since they would have to admit to some painful errors.”
“We can off course make a risk assessment rapport.” Thompson said. “One that exactly advises what errors to amend and how.”
“But wouldn’t people know about it, with the password changes, rebuilds and such?” Peter asked.
“Maybe they do, but the strangest things happen in companies, so everyone accepts it as another strange fluke of the nerds and after a while people forget. Or want to forget.” Thompson said.
“Make that rapport. We try and implement what we can.” The security officer said.

Day 10: 12:55

“It is a pity. We could have used that rapport to proof we need to tighten security. Now we get a rapport suggesting the same thing, but there is no urgent reason to implement them.” Peter said to John when they had returned to their room.
John nodded.
“Maybe if production was seriously affected something would happen.”
“Perhaps..but we don’t want that to happen.” John said.
“It is like telling people we need a fire-brigade when you need a fire to convince them .”
“Something like that.”
“But now everything is hushed up. The rapport will never get out.”
“Perhaps.” John said. “But people talk. We don’t live on an island.”

Day 11: 17:15 Dave’s Pub

“Have one on me, John.” Charles Dorn smiled at Atkins and handed him a glass of beer, cold with small drops to the outside. The music played Jailhouse Rock loudly. The only other person was the bartender James, who was cleaning glasses.
“A beer..Wasn’t it all tea for you. And to go wild: coffee.”
“You know I don’t want to make a habit out of it.”
“So how are things with you people up in the Ivory Tower.” Charles said with a grin. ”Or does the beer speak for you?”
“You still see the others? Friday afternoon?”
“Of course. They all drop in at times. Every Friday afternoon. We have a drink and a chat.Nothing serious, really.”
“Well, Charles, we had this problem…” John Atkins whispered.

Signs of life 1

With a long penetrating shriek the double decker train came to an abrupt halt inside the station.  The double doors unlocked with an audible low bang, hesitated for a moment, but then proceeded with opening very slowly.

A boy, in his late teens, ran up the stairs that led from the lower part of the train to the exit. He was fumbling with his backpack and focused on getting outside, so he did not notice the teenage boy sitting near the exit..

“Hey.” the sitting teen boy greeted.

“Hey.” the boy with the backpack said and he jumped onto the platform.

“Nice party last night.” the other said with a forced smile, “ A shame about the jacket though.”

“Yeah. Nice party.” the other boy said. He seemed calmer now, probably because he did not need to hurry now that he had gained the platform..

“I drank too much.. So.., well you know…” the sitting boy made a vague gesture with his hand, “I shouldn’t drink so much.”

“Yeah.“

“Nice party though. I will certainly be there next time.”

“And maybe drink less.” The boy on the platform said with a thin smile.

“Yeah.” The boy inside the train leaned backwards. His face was a bit white and his eyes reddish.

The doors of the train closed abruptly and the train waddled out of the station, picking up speed gradually.

The boy swallowed and his face became a shade whiter.

Perfect Isolation

None of the employees gathered in the conference room had ever seen Lars Sunden in the flesh.  And even in this presentation, displayed on a huge screen, the head of the informational technology department remained a vague figure wearing a white shirt and a tie.  He was only visible in the corner of the huge screen otherwise dominated by a slide with  too many lines on it and filled with acronyms few of the people in the room understood. The only noticeable thing about him was that he was slender and that he spoke meticulous English, despite his foreign sounding name.

He was bringing them such important news that all the employees of the department had been requested to attend, even those who were hired hands. Probably around a thousand people had gathered in the same kind of rooms all around Europe.

The mood in this room bordered on the hostile, which was no wonder as the company had undergone a series of cost saving operations that piled an increasing workload on a dwindling workforce. Pulling people from their tasks for a meeting meant they could not do those tasks. It did not help that those people only expected bad news, given the companies economic plight.

The mood had not become better when the first thing that was addressed was the expression of a warm thanks from Lars to another high manager, one Geralt Liberty,  a man who had decided on early retirement a day before the presentation. It was already known that it could hardly be his age that made Liberty leave, as he was in his late fifties, but that it had probably more to do with his involvement with a certain cost saving project  that had made the company lose two million dollars instead of saving it as was promised. Despite this disaster Lars praised the retiring manager for his efforts in creating savings that appeared prominent on the slide but had yet to be realized.

Next Lars started to reiterate the current situation. The market was bad, the economy was still weak and  the company barely made a profit. As such more cost reductions were in order. It was not mentioned by Lars, but the slide showed a figure of 25% EBITAD. This was a term few people could recall with ease but the number 25%  poked people to attention: that was a quarter of something. Was it a quarter of their budget? The people looked around with some worry.

Next on the agenda was an outlining of the IT policy which Lars drilled down to doing more with less.

“Poverty..” So Lars said, “leads to innovation..”

It was an expression that lost him  the marginal goodwill he had. People saw the specter of   hunger stricken Africa rise and instinctively knew that poverty did not lead to innovation: it lead to misery.

The next item on the agenda was a shift in the hierarchy at the top of the foodchain. Responsibilities were reshuffled and where certain directors had been responsible for this or that, they would be responsible for that and this after the change. Few names were familiar to the watchers and those who were familiar were nothing but names of people they only knew from slides shown in other presentations filled with too many lines and unknown words.

More slides were shown as Lars quickly went down the hierarchy. With the second slide names had been dropped for functions. And only with the fourth slide people in the room started to see something they did recognize. There were no names, but one person in the room, a manager that was considered high among them was connected to a function at the bottom of that slide. They were coming into view.

Lars got the fifth slide and hurried quickly through all the functions and when he came to the part that did involved the people in the room there were only two things on the slide. The first item was the disastrous cost savings project that some of them had been involved in and had been implemented in disregard of their advice. The second was the task of replacing the aging desktop computers, which had never been executed because the higher management had kept off spending money on new computers for years because it considered to outsource this particular activity. Despite an urgent call to innovate, most of the companies workforce were still working on decrepit computers that were so old that they stood a real danger of falling apart.

The only exception were the laptops of key people, which had been replaced by new models. It did not need to be mentioned that higher management and their staff belonged to the group of key people.

All their other responsibilities, including that of keeping the companies network infrastructure, mailing infrastructure and production systems running were not mentioned. These had fallen well below Lars horizon of interest.

The fore last item on the list was to express higher management commitment to make sure that everyone would be able to get the latest performance figures real time.

“We will soon be able to deliver reports to anyone at any time.” Lars said, who visibly beamed with the idea of being able to call up a performance report at the spur of the moment. A wet dream that completely failed to interest the bulk of his employees.

The last item on the agenda was the implementation of an educational system.

“We have to educated ourselves and our colleagues. We need more training on the job and appoint key people who will train they co-workers. We will provide an extensive pool of e-books and online courses so we will have an innovative cutting edge technical staff.” Lars mentioned with a enthusiasm that did not invoke the same response in the room as they knew very well that all education courses for which they had to pay had been cancelled to save costs. To them it looked like this higher manager was going pile more work on them by draining away even more people from the already understaffed departments to teach others…

“And we will see to it that education will be measured as a KPI.” He banged the desk enthusiastically.

KPI was something the people in the room had heard about. It mean key performance something and it was something that kept awake at night a certain kind of managers.. Nobody at their level did something with KPI’s. These workers had their technical reports and those told them what the systems were doing.. There were no acronyms for that: they talked about logging, errors, alerts and incidents. And they were used to report problems and  point to solutions.

Lars wrapped his presentation up with an call to everyone to let ‘them’ know if they had any questions or remarks. It did not matter what. Nobody in the room felt invited to speak their mind or ask questions. Instead he workers and their direct managers  filed out of the room to go to lunch. The whole presentation was barely mentioned during the meal and half forgotten by most after the lunch as urgent work was demanding their attention. The most important thing they got out of it was that whatever happened up there did not directly affect them as they did not exist in Lars slides.

Everyone also knew that in a few years time there would be another presentation organised by yet another head of the technical department in which other higher managers totally disconnected from their workforce would be telling them of yet another change in responsibilities, key indicators and focus of effort. It had been like that for a few years now.

Sometimes an employee  thought of telling a man like Lars Sunden that he was a bleeding idiot, but nobody did that for they knew that even if Lars would listen to them, he would not understand them.

The air is too thin up there.

Video

Masque (voiced)

Masque is a movie about an exhibition inspired by the story Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe. I took the liberty to change some things as I also wanted to give a modern day angle to the story.

This is another version of Masque. It was made after Missie said she missed a voice.
I already had the voiced text made. The voice being that of Glenn Hallstrom, also know as Smokestack Jones. His voice fits the story well. The resulting movie has been changed a bit however as I had to find ‘room’ to have the voice sound fit in with the background. I also added some sounds from others, not to much and not of domination.
I changed some of the text and shifted some images around.

Liberation day

The wall shattered into bricks when it finally toppled over. It caused a cloud of dust to rise up.  Katerine and the other women applauded as they had done for every wall that had fallen. They then entered the cloud,  picked up the bricks and put them in carts. Katerine’s  fingers hurt  because they were  already blistered. Her long brown hair, shot through with gray, was now gray all over. She breathed dust, tasted dust; she was dust.  When her cart was full,  she joined a row of women pushing the carts  towards the  building site. There other women took the  bricks from the carts, applied a mixture that was supposed to be cement and placed them on top of each other to make a new wall. An old man had told them how to do it, but he had been fuzzy about the details.

A soldier, clad in a green overcoat and wearing a green felt hat, strolled over  the site.  He gave Katerine a cursory glance. His gaze soon strayed to other women who were less shapeless and showed more skin. Katerine  sighed with relief. She had dressed in a dull and uninteresting way.  It worked well, as long as there were others around.

She had given her teen daughter Emen the same advice. “Cover yourself. Look dirty and unclean. Don’t excite them.”  And every day she made sure to check the looks of her daughter.

The soldier walked up to a sprightly girl. An older woman moved between him and the girl. Other women  gathered around.

Katerine didn’t join the women, instead she hurried up towards a wooden shack overlooking the site, where the sergeant had her quarters. Katerine prayed that Nessa was in, as she usually was out exploring the city. She had showed Katerine and Emen her collection of pictures of places she had visited after her army had liberated them..

Emen had offered to show Nessa around. The sergeant had agreed and  had showered them with small gifts. Chocolate and canned fish. Priceless luxuries.  One day she brought roses, which had made Katerine laugh. “Only husbands and men wooing women give roses.”

Nessa had blushed, but Emen had said they were very grateful. She later berated her mother for hurting the feelings of the sergeant, who was the only protection they had.

Katerine  opened the door  without knocking. The sun shone through the shutters on the graceful frame of Emen sitting astride Nessa. The top of her dress was undone, and  her breasts uncovered.  Two pairs of eyes blinked at Katerine. They seem more curious then shocked.

Katerine  paused for a moment  and then, not knowing what else to say, she blurted out: ”There is a soldier outside bothering one of the girls…”

The sergeant rose quickly, put on her jacket and boots and rushed outside. She avoided to look at Katerine.

Emen covered herself, then joined her mother.  They looked on while Nessa  barked sharp orders at the soldier.

Nessa once looked up at them. She smiled.

Katerine recognized that smile. It had of late appeared more often.

“Isn’t she marvelous?…” Emen beamed. She grasped her mother’s arm.

“Well..”

“I know. It was a surprise for the both of us as well.”

“So she didn’t.., like..,  like, those soldiers do?”

“Force herself on me? Have her greedy hands all over me against my will?” Emen shook her head fervently. “She had no such feelings for anyone before she met me. That is what she said and I believe her.”

“Oh.”

“I had to push her,  Mom.  Nessa is awfully shy. When you laughed at her after she gave those roses she felt so bad that she almost cried.”

“Oh. I am so sorry. You would not think she is like that..” Nessa  had just kicked the soldier in the behinds..

“It’s a role. She outranks him, so she can kick him around. He would not expect anything less.”

“She once did that to an officer too.”

“She is a woman, she can get away with kicking men.” Emen laughed.

“So, you love her?”

“Yes..”  Emen said wholeheartedly.

“And she loves you…”

“Yes… Today I conquered the enemy.” Emen giggled, a sound that made Nessa smile. “And she conquered me”

“I didn’t know you had feelings for women.” Katerine said. “Guess, it means that I won’t get to be a grandma.”

“ You might never know, Mom.” Emen patted her tummy,  kissed her mother on the cheek and gave Nessa the loveliest smile.