Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Zombies are Bad, Say Doctors

Yesterday, the BBC reported on a study conducted by Canadian researchers into the spread and recommended response to a zombie pandemic. I can only assume that they read my short story and decided to avert disaster by putting a better plan in place while there’s still time.

I like zombie stories. I liked Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, and even Thriller when I was a young teen. I’m literally watching 28 Weeks Later for the first time as I write this. I thought World War Z, by Max Brooks, was a remarkable book and even made my wife read it (despite protest and much stalling). She reluctantly admitted it was pretty good. I’m a little bummed that J. Michael Straczynski won’t be doing the screenplay after all, but I still hope the movie does justice to the book .

While I’m thinking of it, you absolutely must check out this outrageous song by Jonathan Coulton called “re: Your Brains.” It’s sort of “Office Space meets Night of the Living Dead.”I think it’s hilarious and my kids are pretty fond of it, too.

Zombies have become really hot in the last few years. I think the fear factor is part of it – what’s worse than an implacable, mindless, tireless undead adversary that doesn’t merely eat you alive, it actually consumes your very humanity and forces you to join the ranks of the shambling not-entirely-dead? Plus, they rarely come single-spies, but in battalions, like waves of death crashing through the city streets or across the countryside.

What the Canadian researchers determined was that a Zombie infestation would theoretically mimic a major outbreak of infectious disease. Makes sense - it spreads from victim to victim, it’s highly contagious and almost invariably lethal. And the more people that get it, the faster it spreads – exponentially growing in severity as each infection leads to multiple new victims. Because of this similarity to actual disease, I suppose somebody was able to justify spending real money to study this presumably-fictional infection. From the article:

“In their scientific paper, the authors conclude that humanity's only hope is to "hit them [the undead] hard and hit them often".

They added: "It's imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly or else... we are all in a great deal of trouble."”

Well, okay, I guess I’d say, “duh,” except that in World War Z, this isn’t at all what happened. So, fine, if you don’t nail them right away, you’re going to be overwhelmed. That’s logical (though WWZ does a decent enough job of rationalizing how this wasn’t necessarily so) and arguably goes without saying, right? Continuing from the article:

“According to the researchers, the key difference between the zombies and the spread of real infections is that "zombies can come back to life".”

At the risk of being redundant, “duh?” This strikes me as the equivalent of saying “the problem with the plague was that people got real sick.” Moving on:

“"My understanding of zombie biology is that if you manage to decapitate a zombie then it's dead forever. So perhaps they are being a little over-pessimistic when they conclude that zombies might take over a city in three or four days."”

Really? Have these guys ever read or seen anything about zombies? Played a good game of paintball? I think the pessimism is entirely plausible. How many of us have ever defended ourselves against a raging lunatic who feels no pain, doesn’t need to sleep, eat or breathe, and wants nothing more than to use your skull for a salad bowl? I’m not sure what’s sillier, the article or the report (or the scientist who added a question-mark to the end of his name so as not to be mistaken for a rock star. No, I’m not joking.).

But as far as I’m concerned, zombies in the news is always a good thing – the more they infect the mainstream consciousness, the more zombie-lovin’ there’s going to be.

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