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Author Max Brooks's Fear of AIDS Inspired World War Z

Author Max Brooks's Fear of AIDS Inspired World War Z

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The best-selling author reveals how his '80s inspired, hysterical phobia of AIDS led to the apocalyptic scenarios in his books.

Growing up in the '80s and '90s, I had always associated contracting HIV with being gay. Indeed, there was a time when I thought that by being gay, I would inadvertantly "get AIDS" and die. Irrational I know, but this apocalyptic fear was all too common.

The so called "Plague Years" did turn out to be both a war and a holocaust. By the way, if you want to learn more about this time, I recommend checking out Leo Herrara's Fathers film.  

As I got older, I realized other gay men of a certain generation could relate to my experiences, including writer Brenden Schucart, comedian Kenny Shults, and author Alexander Chee. Out gay dean of Rutgers School of Public Health, Perry Halkitis, will also explore these experiences in his forthcoming The Generations Project [Full disclosure: I am a subject of the book].

Incredibly, I had never considered this from a heterosexual point of view until I recently heard Terry Gross's interview with best selling World War Z author Max Brooks (the son of Hollywood legends Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft). Max explains to Gross that his famous zombie books are about surviving when the old rules no longer apply.

In the books, the Solanum virus, which causes the zombie epidemic to spread through contact with body fluids, was inspired by the AIDS epidemic. Brooks says, " I think I must have been about 12. I was literally coming into puberty just when I was told that puberty could kill me."

When Gross asked what effect it had on him, Brooks says he realized "the notion of learning how to survive when the old world rules no longer apply — it pretty much sums up everything I write about. It's really the crux of my work. I write a lot about change, and I write about my characters having to adapt to external changes that they did not choose and do not necessarily want."

Listen to the Fresh Air interview here or read the transcript

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