Back to previous post: Why We Immunize

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: About Friggin’ Time

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

February 20, 2009

What is it with the zombies?
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:31 PM * 253 comments

A recent IM exchange:

Abi: I am coming to the conclusion that I am not minded to rewrite “In the Navy”
        as “In the graveyard”, despite the earworm potential.
        Maybe the next time zombie filking comes up.
        Why are zombies so fashionable at the moment, by the way?
        Shawn of the Dead?
        I gather they’re waning a little in the face of another onslaught of vampires
        but every time I think they’ve faded into obscurity they come lurching back.
        And won’t anyone give lycanthropes a little airtime?
        Or are they too close to Furries these days?
PNH: I do not get the zombie thing myself, alas.
Abi: You assume there’s a thing to get.
        I have always presumed the thing with zombies was mostly the lack of thing.
PNH: You may be right.
Abi: A little frisson about death in there, but really
        once you’ve grasped the shambling, moaning and brains, you’re there.
        The perfect monster for the Twitter attention span
PNH: Harrumph. I’m starting to feel positively contrarian about all the Twitter hate lately. :-)

The conversation wandered from there into a discussion of Twitter, poetry, the interactions of young people and lawns and whether editors ever rode unicorns. But the question stuck with me. What is it with the zombie stories?

Vampires are evil in sexy and interesting ways, so of course people keep writing stories about them. Aliens allow us to play with, well, alienation, the concept of the Other, and the eternal question of who, really, is the weirdo in any given situation? But zombies, they just lurch around and moan.

I mentioned this puzzle to my better half, who happens to be in the middle of a reread of World War Z. His answer?

Zombies scale.

Not as in walls; they haven’t the coordination for that. What he meant is that you can have any proportion of zombies and humans and come up with an interesting story. Vampires, by contrast, reach a peak population, after which their food supply runs out. And aliens are too complex to scale: once the population of nonhumans passes 50% the worldview just flips so that the humans are the aliens.

But zombies? You can have a fascinating story about a single zombie in a world of humans or the last human in a world of zombies. You can do one on one human-zombie interactions, or set entire armies against each other. They work differently as individuals (stupid and clumsy) and in crowds (lucky by means of what sheer numbers can do with probability theory). A group of them is as impersonal as a natural disaster; a single one is as intimate as death or betrayal.

Zombies scale.

Comments on What is it with the zombies?:
#1 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 04:35 PM:

I'm all for a little hairtime for lycanthropes.

What is it with zombie stories? you ask. A very good question they're all out on a limb.

#2 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 04:37 PM:

I'm not surprised that Rise of the Lichens sank like a stone. Who's interested in a documentary about things that grow just by lying on a rock?
("It's 'Lycans', Serge.")
Oh.
Nevermind.

#3 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 04:40 PM:

What do I know? I'm currently writing about about an anti-Nazi vixen aviator who is the Chosen One of the Thunderbird. (Who is a pretty good patron to have when you pilot a flying boat.)

Zombies? Why bother?

#4 ::: whump ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 04:47 PM:

A coworker related an essay he had read where the writer posited that Republican fears about Democrats manifested as zombies and Democratic fears about Republicans manifested as vampires in the popular culture.

I wondered if fears about Libertarians manifested as werewolves.


#5 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 04:49 PM:

Vampires do nothing for me. Zombies do nothing for me. Lycanthropes do nothing for me.

When these tropes surface . . . it's maybe a little more interesting than folks talking about football or hockey or the plot of a soap opera.

There. I said it! Yawn.

#6 ::: Kelley Wegeng ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 04:55 PM:

Blame NPR. Last summer I heard reference to I Am Legend as part of an explanation of the global grain crisis and a few days ago a friend was recently complaining about an on air economist referencing Night of the Living Dead. If economists have always been zombie fans and they are just now getting a lot more airtime, that'd explain a lot.

I think my recent running T-shirt purchase is what has put me back in the mood - it has an approaching pack of zombies in workout gear on the front and reads "28k Later" on the back. Also, some months back I counted the number of Facebook groups which reference zombies and the number was astounding. Far more than a hundred. Perhaps with memories of Jericho waning and church attendance down, kids today are now reaching for other end-times preparation motivation.

#7 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 04:57 PM:

Zombies are the government. At least the Romero zombies are.

Before that, zombies were sex (e.g. I Walked with a Zombie).

#8 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 04:59 PM:

The thing about aliens, though, is you can use them to explore aspects of humanity. Zombies? not so much. Nor vampires. Werewolves, maybe a little bit.

#9 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:00 PM:

...the eternal question of who, really, is the weirdo in any given situation?

I can answer that one. It's me!

Oh, right, rhetorical question. Again. Sorry.


As for Zombies scaling, don't they scale a bit like people? As in one villain in a world of heroes is as interesting as the last hero in a world of villainy etc. etc. They are monsters who have had all their humanity stripped from them but they scale like human antagonists.

(Also, when rent-a-henchman after rent-a-henchman keep attacking our heroes even when it's clear this will lead to their painful and humiliating death it looks stupid; with zombies, we know there's nothing going on under the mask, so mindless rage and futile attacks actually make sense)

#10 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:04 PM:

DO NOT QUESTION THE ZOMBIES!

#11 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:06 PM:

This is the best explanation I've ever heard regarding the matter. I think there's also something in there about their unstoppable nature. Other supernatural predators might be put off if one follows the rules or carries the proper totems, but not zombies. Day or night, they're always hungry, and never feel pain.

Also, once they've turned, you're free to kill them. I think that's half the charm. Vampires, aliens, werewolves are not necessarily godless killing machines all the time, so there are paths to appeasement or redemption. Not so with zombies. The permanence of their condition absolves us of all guilt when we shoot/burn/freeze/decapitate them. We like vampires and werewolves because we can become them; we like zombies because we can destroy them without consequence.

#12 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:11 PM:

The conversation wandered from there into a discussion of Twitter, poetry, the interactions of young people and lawns and whether editors ever rode unicorns.

That is a beautiful sentence.

I've never understood the appeal of zombies, vampires, OR lycanthropes. But then, I don't get Twitter either.

#13 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:11 PM:

I'm not into vampires, zombies or lycanthropes.

I do, however, Twitter.

#14 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:12 PM:

Well, it took a while for people to move to writing nuanced interesting vampires and werewolves. Give them a few more years and I'm sure they'll manage it with zombies.

#15 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:13 PM:

Serge @ 2: LOL. I thought the same thing when I first heard (not read) the name of that movie.

#16 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:15 PM:

An interesting notion, the scaleability factor. Applicable in other contexts as well.

But about vampires...well, consider humans and chickens. If there are as many humans as chickens, and the humans eat chicken all the time, they'll wipe out the chicken population. On the other hand, if they eat an occasional chicken but mostly eat the eggs, they can keep a chicken population alive at a much higher predator/prey ratio.

This is why I like the stories where the vampires take a sublethal amount of blood from a person, either because they can use animal blood, because they have other sources (like blood banks), or because they just don't need very much. One of my fictional characters needed a pint a month (and otherwise ate like a normal human - he wasn't quite a vampire exactly); such was his value to the community that over the centuries he'd developed a cadre of voluntary donors, and no longer had to take blood by stealth.

In a major urban area like New York City, quite a lot of vampires could be supported at a pint a day, as long as they were careful. So they can be scaled a little more if you make them less lethal. If vampires exsanguinate 10 people a night and leave corpses lying around with two side-by-side puncture wounds, exhausting the prey population will NOT be their chief problem! If 100 people a day wake up with a slightly sore neck and feeling extraordinarily hungry, no one will notice in a city of 10 million people.

#17 ::: DonBoy ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:21 PM:

Zombies scale

...the walls of your last desperate defenses. Oh, yes, they do.

#18 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:21 PM:

I for one am doing what I can for werewolf advocacy.

As for zombies, I always preferred the Serpent and the Rainbow Haitian voodoo zombies to the Night of the Living Dead shambling brain zombies. Lots more interesting subtexts there. At least I think so.

#19 ::: Punning Pundit ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:29 PM:

Not to be all self-indulgent, but I've written about this a bit:
http://www.indignantdesertbirds.com/?p=132

#20 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:31 PM:

Liza, #8: I thought some of the vampires in BTVS were good reflections of aspects of humanity. YMMV, of course.

And then there's Barnabas...

Madeline, #11: we like zombies because we can destroy them without consequence

Or conscience; they're the perfect, always-expendable cannon fodder. I think this explanation actually makes more sense than abi's.

#21 ::: cavalaxis ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:35 PM:

The perfect monster for the Twitter attention span

Funny you should say that. I just finished a zombie serial in twitter just a few weeks ago. Three acts, 29 tweets, 777 words.

#22 ::: Brennen Bearnes ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:39 PM:

Lee, #20 - That seems like a complementary explanation. Cannon fodder just about has to scale, doesn't it?

#23 ::: Andrhia ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:44 PM:

I asked the same question on my blog about a year ago. ^_^

My theory is that the horror trope du jour is the a function of the zeitgeist for what unknown society collectively fears most at the time. When we were venturing into space exploration, it was aliens. When we were entering into a highly-technological age, it was robots.

Now that we're confronting biotech and its implications, it's zombies, with a side order of not-very-suppressed apocalyptic anxiety.

#24 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:49 PM:

I feel....I feel something dark aborning.... the waves emanate from the abandoned Arkham Laboratories... by the pricking of my pseudopods...

#25 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:51 PM:

are there Furrie Zombies?

#26 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:52 PM:

<crossthredz>

If only there were a vaccine...

</crossthredz>

#27 ::: lucyp ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:05 PM:

I keep thinking I have zero interest in or appreciation for zombies, and then I remember Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy.

And that reminds me that zombies get us to think about the border between life and death. Which is a pretty big-deal sort of thing.

#28 ::: mecha ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:06 PM:

#26: Alternatively, next week's tabloid cover:
"VACCINE MADE A ZOMBIE OUT OF MY LITTLE DARLING!"

#29 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:15 PM:

Yesss, you may not believe in zombies - but do zombies believe in you?

#30 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:28 PM:

Xopher @16 - there is a webcomic, Last Blood (which I have not read) wherein the zombies rose up and ate the world, and now the last vampires desperately protect the last humans so the vampires don't starve.

Personally, I think one of the attractions of zombies is that you can focus almost exclusively on the protagonists without worrying about the feelings, motivations, etc. of the antagonists. As a further bonus, there's an inevitable doom to zombies that is missing from most other tropes these days.

Well, except that robots will always rise up against their creators. Not even time travel can fix that one.

#31 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:32 PM:

Personally, I prefer city-destroying giant reptiles; who seem to be out of vogue these days. I suppose they would need to be sparkly now

#32 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:33 PM:

sparkly Godzilla?

#33 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:40 PM:

Jon Meltzer... Remember Gorgo, in which London learns that it's not a good idea to bring a big monster to a circus in its midst, especially when the big monster is a baby, and its mom lives near Ireland?

#34 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:42 PM:

Zombies are animal humans. They're unintelligent animals, so you can't reason with them or discourage them. But to stop them, you have to kill them outright, and that means killing something that has human form - an act we're psychologically disposed to find repulsive and wrong.

When you put yourself into a zombie story, you're faced with some unpalatable choices:
Do I run and keep running, knowing they won't stop?
Do I give up and die or become a zombie?
Do I murder, knowing that these are/were humans?
Do I struggle to disconnect my reason from my emotions, to say that this human shaped thing is not human and can be dismembered? And will I forever lose part of my empathy?

#35 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:51 PM:

#18: I for one am doing what I can for werewolf advocacy.

And I for one appreciate it more than I can say. (Although that doesn't stop me saying stuff. *poing* *poing* New book! *poing* *poing* Denver Book Mall! *poing* squeeee)

Your post also reminds me that it is well past time for me to watch The Serpent and the Rainbow again.

#36 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:57 PM:

actually Twitter is kind of like zombies; people start following you robotically in vast numbers.

#37 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:57 PM:

Lee, you're right. "Conscience" is what I meant, but "consequence" is what I wrote (meaning emotional or ethical consequences, I suppose). But the conscience-free kill is definitely part of the fantasy.

#38 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:02 PM:

The title "I am Legend" doesn't make sense to me.
If he is the last man on earth, there is nobody left to tell the legend, so how can he be a legend?

#39 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:03 PM:

How about a book called Zombeing and Nothingness?

#40 ::: Tyg ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:09 PM:

Zombies are disease. They are the fear of disease. Danny Boyle in 28 Days Later was referencing ebola, as one of his inspirations.

Zombies provide a disaster for people to show their humanity or lack of it. The reason behind the zombies appearing is rarely shown, they just appear, over night, dreadful and implacable. Or if it is shown, it is not always apparent to the survivors.

It is their unthinking hunger that is so horrifying, for they cannot be reasoned with, bribed, cajoled or threatened. And then, they were us, our neighbours, family, strangers, all of us.

I don't think Vampires or our lovable furry slavering friends create such a loss of civilization.

Sorry, I'm touching on a few thoughts there without really expanding or tying them together properly. I suppose Vampires are fear of penetration, of sex, Werewolves are fear of the wild, of the animal, and Zombies are fear of the mob. Of society turning against you.

#41 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:11 PM:

Two more thoughts about zombies, to add to the magnificent "zombies scale".

First, Clive Barker, quoted in the introduction to John Skipp and Craig Spector's 1989 anthology The Book of the Dead: "Zombies are the liberal nightmare. Here you have the masses, who you would love to love, appearing at your front door with their faces falling off; and you're trying to be as humane as you possibly can, but they are, after all, eating the cat. And the fear of mass activity, of mindlessness on a national scale, underlies my fear of zombies."

Second, zombies let us view a world without a social contract. For some readers and viewers, it's basically the same thrill they get from modern movement conservatism: the freedom not to care about anyone else, to have no duties, to have (as Alan Moore writes in book 3 of Miracleman) "no god but appetite, no creed save ballistics". For others it's a chance to think about what endures in spite of the collapse of props - what do we do because it's inside us, or we want it to be, even if the surrounding world cannot help it.

For me, at least, a big part of how horror works - for those for whom it does work, and this is not a covert "you're so lame if you don't get this" kind of argument - is that it projects a lot of internal states onto the world. I've never been a vampire, but I have felt the world passing me by and felt unconnected from the daylit world of movement and change, for instance. The walking dead can be both a way of reflection, relief, and escape for those horrified by the revealed moral degradation of their community when it comes to terror and torture, and also a way of reinforcing the amoral enthusiasm of those hankering for a chance to shoot more and care less.

#42 ::: EdKed ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:17 PM:

"... at the moment"?
The recent zombie fad, while not quite over yet, easily peaked a good two or three years ago.
Shaun of the Dead may not be a period classic yet or anything, but it didn't exactly come out yesterday, either.
I realize that SF fans should take a long view of these little fads, but it's kind of like asking "what's the deal with this big vampire craze we're smack dab in the middle of" at around the time that the "Queen of the Damned" movie came out; just a bit behind the curve.

#43 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:17 PM:

@Erik Nelson: The narrator of I Am Legend is legend to our successors. He is the last survivor of a lost race, and a monstrous predator on the first members of the new, whose passing is a necessary step in their emergence into a real community.

#44 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:22 PM:

EdKed @42:
The recent zombie fad, while not quite over yet, easily peaked a good two or three years ago.

Google disagrees.

#45 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:24 PM:

We'll know the zombie fad is over when zombie chick-lit appears.

So, what's next?

#46 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:25 PM:

I'd agree with EdKed that zombie madness peaked a couple of years ago, but we've had another solid anthology of zombie fic just in the last few months and more movies drawing on zombie tropes like Quarantine...it's settling down, yeah, but I think the new baseline of active creation of new zombie stuff will be significantly higher than it was a decade ago.

#47 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:29 PM:

@Jon Meltzer: Well, looking at the romance and dark fantasy sections of places like Audible and Fictionwise, I see that it's werewolves in much greater volume than vampires, and has been for some time.

If I could think of another classic monster type that I could put a romance spin on, I'd be all over it.

#48 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:34 PM:

I, too, am bored by zombies. They don't think. You can't exchange clever dialogue with them. You don't have to outwit them, just pulverize them.

To my mind, exciting stories need complex, well-spoken, and intelligent antagonists... and creepy stories work best when there's some kind of intelligence at work, but it's not clear how intelligent it is, or what it's thinking. M. R. James's ghosts are a good example of this.

I'm also tired of pirates, incidentally. And ninjas. (Aside from the distinguished Dr. McNinja, who is awesome.) Not wishing to be entirely negative, I've done some thinking about what might take their place in geek culture. Like Carrie V., I endorse werewolves.

#49 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:36 PM:

Bruce, come on. The Elder Things are covered in tentacles. Surely there's work yet to be done.

#50 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:39 PM:

Jon Meltzer, #45: We'll know the zombie fad is over when zombie chick-lit appears.

We're saved!

It's finally over!

#51 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:41 PM:

For me, the horror of zombies--when I put them into a horror context--is that they look like people, more or less, but there's nothing there but hunger. There's no mind (or doesn't seem to be), no person, nothing to be reasoned with, only something to run from or try to destroy in self-defense, and if you're not careful, you'll go that route, too. It's worse than death, it's death perverted into a twisted parody of life.

Right now I prefer using zombies in a non-horror context, as spare parts or reanimated automatons; it's giving me ways to re-examine attitudes about death and bodies in general, living or dead. Since they're pretty much mobile scenery, they function in the background--things without minds aren't terribly interesting.

#52 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:48 PM:

Bruce Baugh, #47: If I could think of another classic monster type that I could put a romance spin on, I'd be all over it.

Well, someone's done mummies.

That leaves invisible men, lagoon creatures, giant radioactive insects, fly-headed dudes, guys who skulk around old dark houses scaring the crap out of forgotten starlets and third-rate vaudeville comedians, unconvincing gorilla suits, and sinister ventriloquist's dummies.

#53 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:48 PM:

@Wesley: Not much use for Jack London's "To Build a Fire", then? :)

(This is the problem I always run into myself when trying to build firm categories. There will inevitably be good stuff that doesn't fit. These days I tend to favor welcoming in all the good stuff and worrying about the categories later, but definition is a worthy undertaking.)

#54 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:50 PM:

Okay, Wesley, that list reduced me to helpless laughter. Good work.

#55 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:56 PM:

I'll go with unconvincing gorilla suits. Tor editors, you have your market!

#56 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 07:59 PM:

"Why, Bob, your piebald gloves...they're beautiful!"

#57 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 08:02 PM:

People like to create strawmen for almost any obstruction. Zombies are the perfect recipients of this because, beyond a single-minded urge to eat brain, they can't give their own account of what they're going through.

Vampires can still be victims. Werewolves can still be victims. Those bastards can be slick. If a zombie can be a victim, the barrier to trampling his account with your own account of what he's going through is almost non-existent. That makes them both scarier (you can count on the worst agendas you can attribute to them being true) and comforting (confirms our identities as good people).

#58 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 08:07 PM:

Bruce Baugh @43: On the same theme, Roger Zelazny had done a short story* where man has become extinct, survived by the robot race he had built. And in a graveyard, the first of the robotic vampires is mentored by the last of the human vampires.

If I had been channeling Serge, I could have started "In the same vein..."


* The Stainless Steel Leech

#59 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 08:18 PM:

My wife has written romance novels where the hero is a werewolf and, if I'm not mistaken, is one of the first to have done so and thus can be blamed for the state of affairs. She's also done vampires, of the lifeforce-siphoning kind, and of the blood-drinking kind too. I just asked her about mummies, and she doesn't think they're very romantic, but she probably would sing a different tune if the mummy turned out to be Hugh Jackman instead of Arnold Vosloo.

#60 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 08:37 PM:

One of the more peculiar things I'd noticed in the current outbreak of zombiphilia was Marvel Zombies (i.e., zombie treatments of the Marvel characters). I've refused to read them, but I can tell you all about them.

I had read once someone had speculated that zombies became popular during economic downturns, but trying to search it out points me toward 'zombie banks' and 'zombie debtors'.

#61 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 08:43 PM:

When somebody writes something like "Werewolves of London" using zombies in the title, that's when you'll know they've jumped the shark (another metaphor!).

#62 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 08:44 PM:

Bruce Baugh (47): Wesley (52) didn't mention demons. I've started seeing demon romances lately.

#63 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 08:52 PM:

Bruce Baugh, #53: Not much use for Jack London's "To Build a Fire", then? :)

I feel a bit like that ancient philosopher who defined a human as a "featherless biped," only to see Diogenes walk into his next lecture waving a plucked chicken.

#64 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 09:12 PM:

[Warning: the most recent zombie story I have read was World War Z, and it may still be messing with my perspective on the historical place of the zombie story.]

The thing about zombies for me, I think, is that Zombies Aren't Like Us. In fact, Zombies are whatever Isn't Us. Vampires have motivations like ours, and werewolves at least usually like us during the daylight hours (and at least have exciting relevant personal histories). But zombies usually have no motivation but "eat the living," and their personal histories are usually irrelevant to their behavior.

This is why werewolf stories are about the werewolf, and vampire stories are about the vampires, but zombie stories are never really about the zombies so much as they are about the zombie-survivors. From a narrative point of view, there's a kind of economy there: the story never needs to focus on the antagonists' point of view, because the antagonists simply don't have one.

This only applies to the currently popular Romero/Fulci zombies (the walking corpses who try to eat you). There are other zombie narratives that aren't nearly so popular, but somehow the person-drugged-and-enslaved-with-zombie-powder story (I Walked With A Zombie), and the person-who-acts-just-like-us-but-has-no-inner-life-inside story (instrumental to some philosophers' theories of mind[*]) don't seem to have grabbed quite so much of the zeitgeist.

Tyg @ 40: Zombies are disease. Yes, just so! Or rather, they are any impersonal, ongoing, slow disaster. (If only Sontag were still with us, and willing to consider the zombie in light of "Disease as Metaphor"!) Zombies are like a pandemic, or like global warming, or like economic collapse, or like many of the worries of the early 21st century: they are a slow-burning disaster that (in-narrative) requires a collective response. Though we (the reader/viewer) might eventually learn that somebody was initially to blame, it's just as likely that we'll decide that the problem arose because of a confluence of short-sightedness and bad luck. They are a danger against which characters must unify, but in the face of which our selfishness and fear leads us to fragment. Most of all, they give stories a veneer of existential clarity by the virtue of their own lack of agency.

Wesley @ 48: I don't think that in zombie stories, the zombies are the antagonists. If there's an antagonist, it's the rest of us. Or maybe, it's about how we do in harsh conditions, absent antagonists. It's sort of like Camus's The Plague, only less depressing (because everything is less depressing than The Plague).

[*] Are there any good SF stories about philosophers' zombies?

#65 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 09:23 PM:

Coincidentally, Brad DeLong has a post today which speaks of were-bats.

#66 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 09:41 PM:

I think we're overdue for the comeback of vampiric graverobbing chiropractors.

#67 ::: turtle ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 09:49 PM:

But maybe the zombies aren't the true monsters...

#68 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 09:49 PM:
Lighthill #64: The thing about zombies for me, I think, is that Zombies Aren't Like Us. In fact, Zombies are whatever Isn't Us. Vampires have motivations like ours, and werewolves at least usually like us during the daylight hours (and at least have exciting relevant personal histories). But zombies usually have no motivation but "eat the living," and their personal histories are usually irrelevant to their behavior.

Or maybe zombies are exactly like us, but stripped of our pretense of authentic existence where there truly is none.

From Jung noodling about the demarcation between reason and experience to the liquid role of representation in modern art, it seems as if the theme the 20th century casts as its shadow is that you can't have your cake and eat it too.

While the Tao tells us a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon, to highlight that words are not the things they represent, 40% of Americans are saying they don't believe in evolution because it's incompatible with their pretense of themselves. Maybe the zombies are us, starving from eating out menus for our meals, ie. brains.

#70 ::: EdKed ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 10:26 PM:

Abi @ 44:
Google disagrees.

That's just numerically/statistically. Nothing indicates the decadent period of a fan-craze like this than a leak into the general populace.

Everything even remotely original (leaving aside any arguments as to whether there was any originality at all) about the most recent zombie craze happened as far back as I mentioned (see Shaun of the Dead, again, as well as the fact that the largest Zombie Walk I saw in my city was two years ago, and this year it fell through for lack of interest).
Also, the peak of more fannish buzz (whether among horror, comic-book or cult-movie/comedy fans) over zombies definitely peaked around that time. People bitching about "zombie fatigue" are all over fannish parts of the web (especially comic and horror fandoms).

#71 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 10:43 PM:

Zombies are the inverse of vampires. When you are alone, pushed to the margins, and surrounded every day by people who treat you like trash, it's tempting say no, I'm not less than you all because I'm different, I'm better. Vampires do that by elevating the outcast above the herd, given power and mystery by the same quality that makes them different. Zombies make the outcast special by making the herd into something less. The outcast ends up special, smarter and different by default.

#72 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 10:51 PM:

Since no one's mentioned it, I will:

"And so tonight -- to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans -- I ask for your support.I pledged in my campaign for the Presidency to end the war in a way that we could win the peace. I have initiated a plan of action which will enable me to keep that pledge."

If you want to understand the post-Romero zombie meme, and why it's so prevalent in Bushian cinema, you have to understand Nixon's "silent majority" speech. Zombies are, metaphorically, Nixon's "silent majority." Is it any wonder that the Bush administration led to a revival of the Romero zombie?

By the way, for you exploitation film fans, be sure to check out Messiah of Evil/Dead People, a largely unknown film, but the best post-Watergate perspective on the relationship between film zombies and the Nixon administration.

Seriously, zombies are all about Nixon. Whenever you see Internet memery about zombies, think "Nixon," and everything will make sense.

#73 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 11:44 PM:

Mike @ 68: Or maybe zombies are exactly like us, but stripped of our pretense of authentic existence where there truly is none.

Hm! I'd always thought of this trope as more embodied in Lovecraft's stuff than in typical zombie movies: In Lovecraft, it's the idea that anybody would go feral and cannibalistic if only they had an accurate picture of the cosmos. But yeah, the zombies can also be taken as our "Eat" and "Reproduce" biological drives, minus our cultural glosses.

In fact, this interpretation meshes nicely with the Zombie-as-anthropogenic-disaster idea. The threat of the Disaster is that it reduces us from people with cultural and societal aspirations to heedless bipedal engines of survival and reproduction; and the irony of the Disaster is that it comes out of our heedless success at survival and reproduction. We have been as the zombies; and so we are threatened with becoming the zombies?

(Come to think of it, that's the premise of many high-satire zombie films right there. Jackson's Braindead is something else again, though.)

#74 ::: Tim in Albion ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 12:14 AM:

HP @72: Seriously, zombies are all about Nixon.

Nominated for best line of the week.

#75 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 12:22 AM:

Dangit. HP beat me to it. The zombies that terrify me are the ones that shamble about, mumbling things like "evolution is just a THEEEEEEEOOOORY", or "enTIIIIIITLEment refooooorrm."

#76 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 12:43 AM:

http://www.zombie-chiuaua.info/littulkitton

#77 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:34 AM:

Liza: I think you can use zombies to explore humanity. They aren't such obvious foils, but setting up strain allows one to examine the means by which the strain is dealt with, that allows one to study people.

Andhria: I think the zeitgeist has several things going on. I read the robot stories (and some of the 70-80s zombie stories) as the fell results of the impending communist takeover of the world.

Erik Nelson: re I am legend: Va gur obbx ur jnf gur ynfg aba-inzcver (be ng yrnfg gur ynfg va fbzr terng qvfgnapr. Ur jnf va gur erirefr ebyr; uhagre ol qnl, uhagrq ol avtug. Gur Inzcverf unq uvz nf gurve qenphyn, gur cerqngbe jub jnf fgnyxvat gurz va gur gvzr gurl pbhyq abg qrsraq gurzfryirf. So he was legend to them, and would become legendary.

One of things about the modern Zombie is the sense they need to feed on people. That sense of the thing is the one which confounds me. "It is their unthinking hunger that is so horrifying" Where does that idea come from? More to the point why is it the only version of zombies in play.

#78 ::: Nightsky ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:52 AM:

Personally, I've long thought that zombies are the manifestation of our fear of mindless consumption. Zombies don't build or create anything, they don't contribute to anything, they just lurch from one mindless meal to the next, only ever thinking about what they'll consume next.

#79 ::: Nightsky ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:53 AM:

Personally, I've long thought that zombies are the manifestation of our fear of mindless consumption. Zombies don't build or create anything, they don't contribute to anything, they just lurch from one mindless meal to the next, only ever thinking about what they'll consume next.

#80 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:56 AM:

I ran across a webcomic two or three years back that featured both zombies and vampires. It was your typical Romero-issue global zombie apocalypse, with the story focused on a small group of surviving humans, and then the vamps show up. See, the vamps can't feed on zombie blood, so they need to maintain a human population.

#81 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:58 AM:

Wesley, #52: They've been done in song, too. I can't find the lyrics online, but here's the first verse/chorus of Juanita Coulson's "The Mummy Shuffle":

Way back in the thirties, when I was young and green,
Each weekday seemed so endless, my impatience oh so keen.
And then, oh boy! came Saturday; I rushed to see the matinee,
The cowboys, the cops, and -- make my day -- those monsters on the screen.
Yes, they were really thrilling, no other could compare,
From Frankie's shambling nightmare to the guy who grew wolf hair.
But the one who stole my heart and soul (what a role to end all roles) --
The guy in rags from top to toe, the answer to my prayer.

Oh, Kharis, Kharis --
That meanderin', molderin' pile of bandages puts me in a whirl!
Kharis, oh, Kharis --
I sure hanker to be his Princess Ananka; I wanna be his girl!

(You really have to hear Juanita do it in person to get the full impact. It's mind-bending.)

#82 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 02:31 AM:

I've always wondered if the zombie fear was really a way of masking the fear of slave rebellion.

#83 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 02:45 AM:

Did on-screen movie ultra-violence start around the time of the first zombie boom? What's contemporary with Night of the Living Dead?

#84 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 02:55 AM:

They find your body, and give it new life. As a cyborg, you will serve SHODAN well.

Nobody's touched on one of the zombie-unique (well, nearly unique; Cortex Reavers aren't quite zombies) dynamics: what happens when you fall. If there's a group of survivors:

Zombies are the fear that you may end up turning on everything you hold dear.

Zombies are taking arms against your own brothers because the alternative is death or worse.

Zombies are begging your friends to kill you first and show no mercy against you.

The parallels to disease mentioned above are apt, but quarantining your family due to a disease or locking them in a room while they fight through withdrawal symptoms aren't as SFnal.

#85 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 03:03 AM:

takuan: If I may make so free, you were a trifle abrupt with Lee. I came across to me (who has no dog in the fight) as telling her not to worry her little head about it, and let the grown-ups deal with it.

I don't think you meant it that way, but it had notes of that. Had it been directed at me I'd have reacted sniffily too.

#86 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 03:13 AM:

read Lee's last half dozen addressed to me.

#87 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 03:22 AM:

Damn: I put this in the wrong thread, it was meant to be in Why we immunize, but:

Trust me I did read them. I also read the one with the broad scots which preceded them.

She asked you a question (one which came to my mind... where is the evidence to support your question about that sort of vaccince being introduced covertly) and you didn't answer it, but rather told her not to worry about it.

The comments at 207 in that thread would have caused me (tolerably equananimous in such things) to be a tad short.

Just sayin'.

#88 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 03:26 AM:

I'm sure she can speak for herself. As to asking me questions, that depends how they are asked.

#89 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 03:45 AM:

Yeah, Michael Martin@84, I agree. THE PEOPLE THEY KILL GET UP AND KILL! It's an extra-terrifying reason to fight for survival; you don't even get the comfort of staying dead.

That said, I too am a bit tired of zombies.

#90 ::: Tim ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 03:56 AM:

I had a conversation with a client (who is a dental implant specialist) about canine teeth the other day and it appears the utility of our pointy choppers may just be sexual.

There's no real reason why gorillas or walrus should have such disproportioned canine teeth except to turn each other on.

So following the logic, vampires are sexy with big sexy teeth, and well, no one really notices zombie teeth because their heads are so yuckky to start with.

#91 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:27 AM:

Takuan: Night of the Living Dead came out in the year that Academy Award nominations and awards went to, among others, Oliver, The Lion in Winter, and Rosemary's Baby. It was the year of the famous photo of a suspected Viet Cong being shot in the head, and of the Tet offensive. Hugo Awards went to, among others, Lord of Light, Weyr Search, and "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream". It was the year of big student uprising in Paris and around the world, and Nixon beat Johnson in part by blaming Vietnam's predicament on him.

#92 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:32 AM:

taku-kun, liefje, Terry has the right of it. (This is not an infrequent occurrence, either.)

Sometimes, here, brevity is less the soul of wit than the source of disagreement. What you say and what people read may not match up. It is also wise, if possible, to offer suggestions more than command.

And apologies, particularly ones that demonstrate an understanding of the heart of the disagreement, are a sign of strength.

#93 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:38 AM:

1. what does this sentence mean?
#32 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 05:18 AM:

Ethics of vaccination: suppose your government covertly added this to your local supply. Would it be a good thing?

#94 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:44 AM:

2. in what wise does this statement follow?
"takuan, #32: Where in the article does it say anything about "covert", or adding it to "your local supply" (of what?) Your statement doesn't make sense as written, especially since it's clearly stated that the process is still in the very early stages of testing and may not even work."

#95 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:46 AM:

3. how does this statement give offense?
#147 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 01:13 PM:

Dear Lee: that is what I call "looking ahead".

#96 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:49 AM:

4. is this not offensive?
202 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 04:01 PM:

takuan, #147: AKA "borrowing trouble". Let's see if it even works before we start worrying about what some nebulous "they" might do with it! This is exactly how some of those unkillable rumors get started -- somebody shoots off their mouth about something that's only their personal fantasy, and the next thing you know, "everyone knows" some piece of utter garbage.

especially since it has nothing to do with my intial comment

#97 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:52 AM:

5. does this not constitute a restrained response in the face of unwarranted insult?
#207 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 04:19 PM:

ah Lee! Dinna fash yersel far nought! If speculation troubles your soul so deeply, let others be the lookouts and stick to what is known because it is past. You will discover in time that the future has its uses too.

#98 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:55 AM:

6. is there a pattern developing?

#223 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:07 PM:

takuan, #207: Please stop putting words into my mouth. You're not "speculating" -- you're postulating unwarranted and possibly superfluous assumptions without providing the slightest basis for doing so. Which is fine for writing fiction, but an extremely poor approach to public policy, as the last 8 years have amply proven.

Also, you still haven't answered my original point back at #143: in what "covert" manner would this still-at-the-hypothetical-stage substance be added to our "local supply" of what?

And you're not impressing me with those flights of fancy, either. I eat more imaginative things than you for breakfast.


#224 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2009, 06:11 PM:

Dear Lee: are you here for a meal? Me, I like the company. Now be good and do not seek to molest me further, try to have a little respect for the house.

#99 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:57 AM:

If we're going to look at the conversation, let's look at the conversation:

takuan: Ethics of vaccination: suppose your government covertly added this to your local supply. Would it be a good thing?

Lee: Where in the article does it say anything about "covert", or adding it to "your local supply" (of what?) Your statement doesn't make sense as written, especially since it's clearly stated that the process is still in the very early stages of testing and may not even work.

takuan: Dear Lee: that is what I call "looking ahead".

Lee: AKA "borrowing trouble". Let's see if it even works before we start worrying about what some nebulous "they" might do with it! This is exactly how some of those unkillable rumors get started -- somebody shoots off their mouth about something that's only their personal fantasy, and the next thing you know, "everyone knows" some piece of utter garbage.

takuan: ah Lee! Dinna fash yersel far nought! If speculation troubles your soul so deeply, let others be the lookouts and stick to what is known because it is past. You will discover in time that the future has its uses too.

In other words,
t: speculative comment, philosophical question
L: literal interpretation (minor misunderstanding)
t: ambiguous statement: is it a restatement that its speculation, or an assertion of conspiracy? <- this is where it went wrong; you were ambiguous for stylistic reasons when clarity was needed.
L: Objection to speculation (appropriate, by the way, in a thread about the damage that speculation and rumor has done to public health)
t: Pat on the head, gnomic assertion that you know better.

Lee had a valid point. You could have addressed it or dropped the matter.

And no one likes being patted on the head and told to let the grownups worry about it.

#100 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:58 AM:

Now, I don't mind discussing with people who like to close-read every sentence - but I do require they read and understand them as well. When I have no ill intention and others find cause to attack, it's clear to me what their initial intentions were before we even spoke.

#101 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 05:03 AM:

I see we are crossposting here. I'll wait, on the substantive, for your reply.

In general, I would point out that Terry and I know the mores and manners of this community. If we say you've crossed a line, we do it in the hopes that you will learn from it and therefore be a source of more unmixed delight and amusement. It can be difficult to take criticism, but this is not meant as an attack.

#102 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 05:08 AM:

Ask Lee what was in her mind. I gave a graceful exit and she declined it. If I am pursed by undeserved attack I do have the right to self-defense. I would like to hear from her about her choice of exciting language with someone she had barely met.

#103 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 05:20 AM:

I see Arkizzle's been busy.
http://www.zombie-chiuaua.info/littulunicorn

#104 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 05:22 AM:

Tak, if you're still angry, I'm happy to discuss this later. If you'd prefer to discuss this privately, I'm happy to do that too.

But the keys to the problem are already laid out before you. The heart of the matter is that Lee feels that you made dangerous speculations in an inappropriate context, and then treated her lightly when she challenged you on it. I don't need to ask her that; I see it clear in her prose.

And—this is very important—this is not a community where asserting your fatherly authority over a woman is offering her a graceful exit. This is one where it is a grave offense. I hope that, with more distance, you will see that.

#105 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 05:34 AM:

Lisa @8: The thing about aliens, though, is you can use them to explore aspects of humanity. Zombies? not so much. Nor vampires. Werewolves, maybe a little bit.

Actually, there's a show over here on BBC3 at the moment called BEING HUMAN that features a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost sharing a house in Bristol which manages to do just that:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/beinghuman/

And talking of zombies, the most enjoyable zombie tale I've seen in an age was TV series DEAD SET, which is set largely in the Big Brother house from the eponymous reality TV show, whose inhabitants are oblivious to the zombie holocaust sweeping the globe until zombies start turning up at the gate:

http://www.e4.com/deadset/

#106 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 05:42 AM:

at the time of writing I had no idea of Lee's sex, nor she of mine I may add. I am also very egalitarian about stepping into the ring with any sex. Always have been and have the scars to prove it. When I am deliberately patronizing it is because it is a weapon. I am not angry. I am intensely annoyed that someone seized upon a minor exercise in supposition and has turned it a waste of time for so many others. Also, did you see a "lassie" in there? Your own suppositions are showing perhaps? The graceful exit was "That is what I call "looking ahead". Odd she had the wit to instantly misinterpret one line by me into an assault on all public health, but not enough wit to leave it at that. I still see no excuse for her subsequent language.

#107 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 05:46 AM:

One more thing, which I cannot let stand:

If I am pursed by undeserved attack I do have the right to self-defense.

This is a recipe for flamewars, because nobody ever sees the reasons they might "deserve" to be attacked.

This is not the way we do it here. If you are pursued by what seems to be an undeserved attack, you have the right to clarification. If it truly is undeserved, you have the right to justice, and the covenant that you will receive it is the heart of the community.

You do not have the right to escalate the matter, post in anger, or defend yourself with the arts of the wilder internet. This includes both the aggressive and the passive-agressive arts.

A useful test in the heat of the argument: are you trying to engage the heart, or the mind? If the former, delete at preview, step away from the computer, and come back later. No good will come of hitting the "post" button.

#108 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 05:54 AM:

I saw a "Dear" earlier, and you come across as male. So when you were patronizing, yes, gender came into it, no matter what you intended. But it was rude even without that.

And I am done arguing with you, because, whether you call it anger or something else, you are now firmly entrenched in a position that puts you in opposition to both the charism of the community and the word of a moderator thereof. No good can come of further engagement.

Leave the mat, tak, or stand alone on it.

#109 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 05:56 AM:

all I know is somehow this "Lee" who I had never met before and will never speak with again has somehow contrived to cause me to suddenly appear a woman-beating, vaccination hating sociopath in a place that knows nothing about me. I doubt she will step forward to clarify anything - or she would have by now. I am very disappointed Abi. I thought the better of you.

#110 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 06:57 AM:

You were rude to a regular poster, dude. Abi's summary of the exchange looked pretty accurate. Admittedly I did something similar when I turned up, but at least I picked Greg London. Where is he, anyway?

#111 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 08:09 AM:

Takuan, it's OK to post more than one sentence at a time if you want. Long, well-written comments are a plus around here.

#112 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 08:12 AM:

Me at 111: I beg your pardon, I meant to put that in the open thread.

#113 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 08:13 AM:

Adrian @110:
Greg's around on BoingBoing, Scalzi's Whatever, lots of places in the wider community.

He isn't around here now because he and I had an increasingly insoluble conflict. It's one of the reasons that I'm walking away from this matter. I've said what needs to be said; anything further becomes tentitious argumentation. And I'd rather that trouble over a single action did not become trouble with a whole person again.

It's particularly vexing because I really like both Greg and Takuan.

#114 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 09:05 AM:

One of my favorite zombie stories is Lucius Shepard's _Green Eyes_ - not yer shambling mindless ones tho'. But can I find a snide copy on the interwebs for neither love nor money? Or Jeter's _Dr. Adder_ (which did turn up in Italian translation)?

Everything ever written by Mercedes Lackey, no problem.

abi@113: Ah.

#115 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 09:17 AM:

I see part of the appeal of zombies, especially in movies, as the endless supply of monsters/henchmen/war machines of a first-person shooter game: "Bugs all over, Mr. Rico! I'm shooting 'em down!"

#116 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 09:48 AM:

#114: Mercedes Lackey wrote zombie stories?

News to me. I guess they were zombie horse stories or something ... :-)

#117 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 10:03 AM:

Mercedes Lackey wrote zombie stories?

I really have no idea. I think it's fantasy. There does seem to be an awful lot of it.

#118 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 10:13 AM:

Abi... I have to ask... What is a tentitious argumentation?

#119 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 10:41 AM:

I am rather shocked that the Modern Prometheus's Creature hasn't been mentionned.

#120 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 10:45 AM:

Lighthill @64: [*] Are there any good SF stories about philosophers' zombies?

"Blindsight" by Peter Watts kinda-sorta fits the bill. And "Permanence" by Karl Schroeder touches on the territory. (So does "Cicada Queen" by Bruce Sterling, come to think of it.)

Hmm. I am now intrigued by the idea of zimboe fiction ...

Oh yeah. Besides the Nixon/silent other thing, I think it's worth noting that zombies don't make sense unless you implicitly adopt mind-body dualism. If they've got enough control and coordination to get up and walk around eating things, why don't they have some personality as well? The answer is that they're soulless reanimated bodies -- but that requires some interesting assumptions about souls.

PS: There are zombies in the next Laundry novel ("The Fuller Memorandum", probably due 2010). Lots of zombies.

#121 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 10:54 AM:

You can find Mercedes Lackey books anywhere. Which makes it annoying when I realize how much money I spent on them back in the day. I want to go back in time ten years or so and tell my fourteen-year-old self, "No! If you want the books, get them from the library! Every library in the country has those, and the David Eddings."

A while ago, on the order of years, I read a piece that asserted that in many cases, such as clothing, tastes were being controlled by those with the most disposable income: people old enough to buy their own things, but not old enough to spend their own money, so they spend their parents'. I can see that with books, especially as some books appeal to a certain age group for years-- it doesn't matter when you're fourteen, you're still probably going to read about the Companions.

#122 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 10:54 AM:

Charlie: I dunno. Lots of things move around and eat but don't seem to me to have much personality. Termites, for instance.

#123 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 11:19 AM:

Charlie @ 120... Would that be the 'Modesty' one?

#124 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 11:20 AM:

Bruce, 122: But termites aren't people. That's why zombies are frightening; they used to have minds, and now they don't.

I saw my first zombie movie right around the time I understood what Alzheimer's is, which might explain why I don't like zombie movies much. (Not even the ones with Bruce Campbell.) My father has extracted a promise from my brother and me that if he is ever diagnosed, we will tell him when he needs to, um, take action. And as much as I hate the idea, I can't say he's wrong. So, yeah, I think I'm done talking about zombies.

#125 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 11:34 AM:

TexAnne:

That's kind of what I meant about death and betrayal. When the zombie has the face and body of someone you love...well, clearly, it's possible to tell an unbearably personal story there.

#126 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 11:48 AM:

See

http://zombo.com/

#127 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 11:51 AM:

Well, yes, TexAnne. I just took Charlie to be saying that zombies wouldn't work without the dualism, and I dissented by pointing at stuff in nature. But for me, I'll confess, the essence of zombiedom is the basically inexplicable reduction of humanity to something lesser. It's just not that dualism, sniff sniff. :)

#128 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 12:17 PM:

"Night of the Living Dead" came out a year before "The Wild Bunch" and a couple of years before "Clockwork Orange", so from my limited film-fu it seems to have been a precursor to the old ultra-violence.

As a historical aside, Duane Jones's lead role in "Night of the Living Dead" was the first starring role for a black actor in a horror movie. I remember seeing an interview where George Romero said they picked him because he was by far the best actor they could talk into being in the movie.

#129 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 12:19 PM:

Bruce, I think I'm completely missing your point. If there's no personality to begin with, there's no possibility of zombification. IOW, my cat could be a zombie, but goldfish and termites couldn't. Charlie started out with mind/body, but then switched to soul/body. Although souls are nice and I'm pretty sure I have one, they're not absolutely necessary to the process in question.

#130 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 12:30 PM:

Mike @ 68: Or maybe zombies are exactly like us, but stripped of our pretense of authentic existence where there truly is none.

Lighthill @ Hm! I'd always thought of this trope as more embodied in Lovecraft's stuff than in typical zombie movies: In Lovecraft, it's the idea that anybody would go feral and cannibalistic if only they had an accurate picture of the cosmos. But yeah, the zombies can also be taken as our "Eat" and "Reproduce" biological drives, minus our cultural glosses.

I was thinking more of Dante, and his portrayal of Hell being less about punishment, but more about it as simply where everyone disqualified from paradise go, their disqualifying behavior on display.

#131 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 12:55 PM:

Coming in a bit late: David Dyer-Bennet @ 14

Nuanced zombies: try Mike Carey's books.

I loved the idea of careful zombies living in refrigerated conditions to slow down the decay of their bodies.

#132 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 12:56 PM:

Serge @118 - you aren't familiar with Tenti? It was essentially a Russian Lassie, except no one ever believed the dog.

"What is it, girl?"
*bark bark*
"Dima's in the well?"
*bark*
"Impossible! Dmitri is too sensible to fall in the well."
*BARK*
...and so forth.

#133 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:02 PM:

FungiFromYuggoth (132): I take it the dog's name was Cassandra?

#134 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:03 PM:

Adrian Smith @114, Amazon lists several third-party sellers for both Green Eyes and Dr. Adder in the USD$25 to USD$125 price range.

Now that they're apparently collectors items, I should probably list my copies in my will. heh.

#135 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:10 PM:

Serge @123: no, it's the Anthony Price one. Anthony Price with zombies (and a cameo by Dr Mike).

#136 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:12 PM:

I recalled reading an appalled review of Night of the Living Dead in the Reader's Digest way back when. Doing a little research, I found that it had been published in the June 1969 issue, and that it had been written by Roger Ebert.

The article is discussed on this page of My Monster Memories, which includes page scans from the original publication. The writer claims that Ebert's article gave kids nightmares! (I can believe it.)

According to this review, some of the outrage on the film's release came from it being shown in a double feature with Dr Who and the Daleks (which was clearly a children's feature).

#137 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:17 PM:

FungiFromYuggoth @ 132... Heh. That reminds me of the cartoon that showed someone in trouble who pleads for Lassie to get help. And she does. On a shrink's couch. (Yes, that was on the corkboard in my therapist's waiting room.)

#138 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:39 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 120: Thanks for the recommendations! I'd think strict philosophers' zombie/zimboe fiction would be much harder to write, since by definition they act just like normal people, to the point of claiming to have mental states like we do. I'll have to check those stories out.

(Also, I'm now looking forward very much to The Fuller Memorandum. Though to be honest, I've enjoyed the rest of the Laundry series so much that I'd still look forward to the next one even if you'd said it had sparkle-vampires and leprechauns teaming up to fight zombie-Gandhi.)

Mike @ 130: Discussing existentialism, zombies, and hell makes me pine for a zombie version of No Exit. ("Hell is other people... eating your brain!")

#139 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:42 PM:

A review I am too lazy to Google for explained that zombies should be slow and shambling because they are death. While occasionally one surprises you mostly you can evade them if you aren't careless, but however well you fight they will get you in the end.

#140 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:42 PM:

Rob Rusick, #136: On his own site, Ebert sounds a lot less harsh--he includes a note to the effect that he doesn't consider that article a "review" as such, admires the movie itself, and would give it three and a half stars today. He also warns the reader about spoilers. (He seems to have been less careful about spoilers early in his career. I'm glad I didn't come across his review of The President's Analyst until after I'd seen the film, because the identity of that movie's Big Bad is one of its best surprises.)

I notice Reader's Digest edited the last few paragraphs to sound just the slightest bit more morally self-righteous. For example, the RD version says the distributor "refuses to subscribe to the [MPAA] code," but Ebert clarifies that "'Night of the Living Dead' was produced before the MPAA code went into effect, so exhibitors technically weren't required to keep the kids out." It also excises Ebert's jab at "the incompetence and stupidity of the censorship system that Chicago stubbornly maintains under political patronage."

It makes me wonder just how often those "condensed" articles have actually been subtly rewritten.

#141 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 02:06 PM:

Interestingly, 'zombies' are discussed a lot in philosophy of mind; but these, unlike the standard zombies of fantasy, appear to an outside observer to act exactly like people; it's just the inner experience which they lack. (It's disputed whether they are possible. If they are, the mind cannot be characterised in purely functional terms.)

#142 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 02:08 PM:

I vaguely recall reading RD "condensed" and the originals of a couple of books. More a feeling ofover-simplification.

What is startling is that the RD was part of the initial pro-Castro view of the Cuban revolution which kicked out Batista. But that was an unusual instance of what the RD does.

#143 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 02:39 PM:

Dave Bell @142: One of my high school teachers stated that Fidel Castro had authored an article titled "Why I Favor Democracy" in a popular magazine (Saturday Evening Post? He named it; I can't remember it). Reader's Digest was behind him too? Do you think 'The Revolution' had Edward L Bernays as a consultant?

#144 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 02:42 PM:

Or did RD condense Castro's article?

#145 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 02:44 PM:

Does it mean I'm remembering something from an alternate-History story if I am under the impression that Fidel, who was a baseball fan(*), almost joined San Francisco's baseball team in the early 1950s?

(*) a tidbit I learned from reading the Jon Jon'zz graphic novel "American Secrets"

#146 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 02:47 PM:

Wesley @140: Thanks for the link. It was interesting to read the uncondensed original.

#147 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 03:11 PM:

Serge @ #145, no. He was drafted by the Washington Senators, who already had connections with Cuba and had signed Camilo Pascual to pitch for them in the 50s and 60s.

There was no SF team until 1958, when the Dodgers' Walter O'Malley persuaded the NY Giants' Horace Stoneham to move west in order to make travel palatable to the National League schedulers. Until that year there was no major league baseball west of St. Louis.

#148 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 03:15 PM:

I just channel-flipped past a video clip of President Obama that either had unfortunate lighting or might have been shopped so that he appeared sallow and zombie-like. I dunno, maybe it's just sleep deprivation.

#149 ::: J. Random Scribbler ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 03:33 PM:

I've never been a fan of the horror genre, and my zombie experience is pretty much limited to "The zombie survival guide", "World War Z", and "28 Days Later" but I still find this discussion interesting. Abi's original point about scalability makes a lot of sense, as does the point raised by others that zombies can be killed without conscience or consequence. Even more compelling to me is the idea (mentioned somewhere above) that zombies represent the fear that the mass of humanity will turn against you and your little group of friends and literally try to devour you. That's a magnification of the fear many of us probably had when we were growing up, or at least those of us who went through junior high school in the US.

From a storytelling perspective, the thing about zombies that most interests me is the process of turning into one. (Michael Martin at #84 touched on this.) There are lots of variations that could be explored.

For example: If you are bitten, is it inevitable that you'll go zombie or do you have to wait and wonder and worry? Do your friends immediately have to kill or restrain you for their own safety, or can you still be trusted for some unknown amount of time? What does it feel like inside as you start to turn, and how much time do you have? Do you have to beg your loved ones to kill you for their own safety, or do they have to convince you you're turning because you don't believe it's happening? What is the first part of your humanity that goes away? What is the last? Is there any chance that a zombie has a remnant of human consciousness trapped inside while their body is puppeteered by drives they can't control? Or a remnant that is twisted and insane and enjoys killing and eating people?

Thinking about this stuff actually makes me want to go watch zombie movies just to see how they answered these questions. The only one I've ever seen is "28 Days Later", and its most riveting moment for me was when gur sngure ernyvmrq ur jnf vasrpgrq, naq unq whfg rabhtu gvzr gb ghea gb uvf qnhtugre naq fnl "V ybir lbh" orsber ur ghearq vagb n zvaqyrff, entvat xvyyre naq nggnpxrq. (I'm still not sure of the local statute of limitations on spoilers -- better safe than sorry.)

#150 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 03:34 PM:

Earl Cooley: Was that while he was here in Ottawa? The light is a lot bluer, which might be screwing with the white balance on the camera.

#151 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 03:57 PM:

Linkmeister @ 147... Thanks for the correction. What happened? Fidel tunred out not to be that good, and they let him go or he went? Or did he feel the call to the Revolution? (I seem to remember reading about an alternate-History where it was asked what if Fidel had stuck with baseball.)

#152 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:14 PM:

What I remember was the RD included a condensed book as the last part of each issue, and this instance was specifically a book which approved of Batista being driven out of Cuba, since he was a reppresive tyrant. My guess is that this was a book or extended newspaper account piblished after January 1959, but before it became apparent just how Marxist Cuba would go.

#153 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:14 PM:

Serge, I think the scouts' consensus was that Fidel might have made it to Triple-A as a pitcher. Considering how awful the Senators were for most of their tenure in the AL, that's damning with faint praise.

#154 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:23 PM:

J. Random Scribbler @149: hey, you set me thinking ...

If you're one of a bunch of survivors, there's a technical fix for the what-if-I-turn-into-a-zombie problem (given a workshop and the relevant bits to make the gadget in question):

You make everyone collar-bombs. With a dead man's handle. In the presence of zombies, pull on the collar and grab the handle. (This assumes you can figure out a dead man's handle that doesn't get in the way of fighting zombies ...) If you turn into a zombie, the revenant in your body will forget to hold the handle, leading to instant decapitation. And once all the zombies in your immediate vicinity are dead, remove and make safe the bomb.

(Call this the Battle Royale solution. I'm sure there's a budding film-maker out there who can think of a good use for this gadget ...)

#155 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:25 PM:

Serge, #151: I seem to remember reading about an alternate-History where it was asked what if Fidel had stuck with baseball.

I seem to remember that, too. It was an issue of Asimov's, and it included two stories with the same premise that had come in at the same time. I find baseball even more boring than zombies, and the "look, here's a major historical figure in an incongruous job!" subgenre of alternate history even duller, so didn't read either story.

#157 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:35 PM:

Colonel Flagg: This won't look good on your record.

Frank Burns: But Colonel, it's just Reader's Digest.

Colonel Flagg: Not if you eliminate the third, fifth, and sixth letters, then it's Red's Digest, comrade.

#158 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 04:50 PM:

"Did you hear that Fidel Castro almost went to Washington...as a Senator?!?!?!!?"

#159 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 05:20 PM:

My favorite zombie story of all time is in Jan Underwood's "Day Shift Werewolf" book. Who know that zombie moms had it so tough? Her short stories also address the problems of werewolves and gnomes. Most writes have ignored the struggles of gnomes.

My favorite zombie battle is in Christopher Moore's "The Stupidest Angel", at least the part that's told from the point of view of the dog.

#160 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 05:46 PM:

I second Mr. Stross' recommendation of Blindsight. Aside from the thoughtful re-interpretation of the zombie phenomenon, the prose is like slipping into a hot bath. It's that good.

#161 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 06:19 PM:

Diatryma@121: You can find Mercedes Lackey books anywhere. Which makes it annoying when I realize how much money I spent on them back in the day. I want to go back in time ten years or so and tell my fourteen-year-old self, "No! If you want the books, get them from the library! Every library in the country has those, and the David Eddings."

I can beat that (although maybe not for sheer wordcount) - I read over half of a series of weighty fantasy potboilers by a certain RJ (who I understand was personally a gentleman, and whose memory should not be maligned hereabouts) when I was some ten years older than you appear to be now. But it was in Greece, and there was a shortage of stuff to read.

Earl Cooley@134: Adrian Smith @114, Amazon lists several third-party sellers for both Green Eyes and Dr. Adder in the USD$25 to USD$125 price range.

That isn't very convenient. Green Eyes is OOP too?

I have a copy, in my long-suffering mother's shed back in the UK. Dr. Adder I sold for pennies before we left without taking time to Google. Feh.

#162 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 07:06 PM:

Wasn't there a song called Zombie by Fela Kouti?

#163 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 07:21 PM:

Well, this is what comes of having a life, I guess. Not only did the whole thing go down without me, but I got accused of not being willing to clarify my POV.

For the record, I have no particular desire to argue with takuan. I do, however, take issue with his reading comprehension abilities, as demonstrated in (1) the comment-related-to-link which caused the kerfluffle, and (2) the smallpox subthread. This damages his credibility IMO, and I will continue to be dubious about further assertions that he happens to make.

And in the interest of not feeding what you don't want to see grow, I'm dropping it here. Abi, Terry, I'm sorry to have been involved in this, and I appreciate your support.

#164 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 08:12 PM:

Re the Lassie subthread:

a LOLLassie

#165 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 08:44 PM:

Zombies=adults.

First all your friends turn into them.

Eventually they get you too, and take away all your creativity and originality so you end up just like the rest of the horde.

Or so I would have seen it at about age 12.

#166 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 08:52 PM:

Very belatedly...

TexAnne: Ah ha! We were talking about different things.

Yes, I agree that what's distinctive about zombies is the loss of all the individual stuff - agency, personality, whatever - and leaving behind just the hunger. In that regard, zombie termites and such wouldn't be especially interesting. (Tim Lebbon's "The Naming of Parts" has the whole world dying, not just humans, and in that context the zombie ants are interesting, but that's not stock zombie fare, obviously.)

I was thinking about the "after" part, and whether a dualistic view is implicit in what zombies are like. I think not, but I tend to think that on some level zombies are "really" inexplicable even if the story offers up some rationale. It's a thing that happens that's just a hole in the fabric of the world's workings. Someone who doesn't feel that so strongly is therefore at liberty to come to other conclusions.

Clearer, I hope?

#167 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 09:13 PM:

Although I agree that the scalability and implacability of the zombies are essential, one reason I think that they function so well is the lack of any villain. They are effectively the same as a very slow natural disaster, say a hurricane or an earthquake.

Lacking any form of villain, the story occurs entirely between the survivors/exterminators/heroes/etcetera. With the zombies seeming human, this leaves room for some fairly interesting dynamics between characters. The closest thing to it that I can think of is a war story, where one side is the side you're on and the other is a group of people you never talk to that want to make you die.

The difference that zombies have from wars is that nobody gets the idea into their head that the other side might be right in some way, or that this is just a historical whitewashing of some actual event. Nobody doubts that the zombies are in the wrong, so it clarifies the situation.

#168 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 09:29 PM:

Fela Kuti-Ransom's Zombie (which is indeed one of his better records).

#169 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 09:29 PM:

Bruce....um. No, I think I'm still missing your point. The dualism is implicit in what humans are like. After a zombie becomes a zombie, it's hungry meat and nothing else. No dualism is possible because zombies are the embodiment of a single purpose. Before, person; after, mindless hunger.

#170 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 09:48 PM:

With this thread weighing on my brain, the most recent particle takes on a whole new set of interpretations.

(I have this sudden flash of a scene from a zombie story where someone upbraids the Jewish character for taking all so calmly. "Don't you realize that everyone in the entire world is trying to kill us!?" The Jew shrugs and asks, "So what's new?")

(It also works, with extra emphasis on the eating part, from the zombie perspective.)

#171 ::: J. Random Scribbler ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 10:27 PM:

Charlie @154 - Those collar bombs are an interesting idea. To keep your hands free to fight, you could have some sort of short-duration timer, perhaps, though that might be hard to remember in the heat of battle. Or hold a cord in your teeth? (BTW: a huge thank you for writing another Laundry novel!)

Lila @165 - That's brilliant!

Micah @167 - Very good point. It might be interesting to highlight that by writing a zombie story and pulling a switcheroo somewhere in the middle - say all of a sudden it turns out the enemy isn't mindless after all, or there's a cure, or zombification wears off after some time. Suddenly, Our Heroes would have to face the consequences of everything they've had to do to survive.

Worst of all would be if they had to kill loved ones in order to survive, but later discovered there was actually a way to get those people back, if they'd only known. Now, that would be horror.

#172 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 10:48 PM:

TexAnne: I was thinking of "dualism" in the philosophical/theological way - is there a thing that is our consciousness (our self, our soul), fundamentally not physical or at least in some way thoroughly distinct from the body? If so, then one way of thinking about zombies is that they're bodies without those essences.

In real life I think we do have a non-material element (as does pretty much everything living). But I don't think that it's necessary for it to be so within a story for zombies to work.

#173 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 10:49 PM:

Hmmm, Golden Gryphon Press did a reprint of one of Lucius Shepard's books so I wonder if they could be persuaded to reprint Green Eyes?

#175 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 11:14 PM:

Lila, #165: So zombies = grups?

#176 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 11:24 PM:

Lee: exactly.

#177 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 11:24 PM:

Did someone mention philosophical zombies?

GENERAL FRED: The reports are confirmed. New York has been overrun... by zombies.

COLONEL TODD: Again? But we just had a zombie invasion 28 days ago!

GENERAL FRED: These zombies... are different. They're... philosophical zombies.

CAPTAIN MUDD: Are they filled with rage, causing them to bite people?

COLONEL TODD: Do they lose all capacity for reason?

GENERAL FRED: No. They behave... exactly like we do... except that they're not conscious.

#178 ::: Rex Schrader ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 01:07 AM:

From a geek perspective, I think the interesting thing about Zombies is their weakness to clever thinking. For "slow zombies", all it takes is some clear thinking and you can create your own fortress. Then it is just a matter of holding on. Brook's "Zombie Survival Handbook" is possibly the purest form of this thought experiment.

I think the other appeal of Zombie (as well as other post-apocalyptic situations) is that you get to explore the implications of survival being the highest priority. So many ethical norms go by the wayside when it's a matter of kill or be killed.

One of the reasons that I like the "Sarah Conner Chronicles" TV show is they explore the ethics of attempting to save the world, and the impact it has the on the protagonists. What act is too heinous if it is to save the whole human race? Is there some point at which you would say that it would be better for all of humanity to be wiped out then to proceed?

Fun stuff.

#179 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 01:31 AM:

Serge @ 151

ISTR a story in which Fidel Castro is a zombie, made so by one of his doctors because he was about to die.

And why not zombie baseball?

#180 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 01:53 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 179: And how would we tell zombie baseball from real baseball?

#181 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 02:01 AM:

janetl

Anyone arguing with the umpire would be eaten.

#182 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 07:09 AM:

Serge@145: That's "J'onn J'onzz". Who's currently dead, but I expect he'll be back in a few years.

Rex Schrader@178:

What act is too heinous if it is to save the whole human race? Is there some point at which you would say that it would be better for all of humanity to be wiped out than to proceed?
This is in fact one of the things explored in the above-mentioned book The Fuller Memorandum.

Zombies are connected with the one time I've ever laughed so hard that tears came to my eyes. It was Rebecca Borgstrom, occasional commenter here, who did it in her much-missed story blog Hitherby Dragons. And I see I've quoted it here before, so I won't inflict it on you again....

#183 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 09:32 AM:

Charlie Stross #154 - Presumably evil corporations* who work with zombie would use some varient of this. Given enugh time and research, some sort of device that monitors the changes in blood chemisty between human and zombie would be attached to all workers (possibly without their knowledge or consent). These being evil corporations, this system would undoubedly go wrong at the worst possible moment.

* I note that, in general, evil government departments seem to have outsourced most evil experimentation to evil corporations in recent popular fiction.

#184 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 09:55 AM:

David Goldfarb @ 182... J'onn J'onzz is dead? I know he had a comic-book going, which unfortunately I couldn't get into, unlike the graphic novel "American Secrets", but I was wondering why the book wasn't around anymore. At least he had a longer run than anything with Doctor Strange ever does these days.

#185 ::: woody ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 10:56 AM:

I haven't read the whole thread, but I'd say that the "zombie" thing is the obverse of the medal of the Xian fantasy of resurrection and eternal life, a kind of ironic comment upon the whole heaven/angels/god thing...

#186 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 11:51 AM:

janetl @ 180: Zombie baseball moves a little faster.

#187 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 12:54 PM:

I love sublethal, sustainable-but-viral vampires, but I love Renfields more.

Vampires and Renfields dramatize the class struggle more viscerally than 1,000 Masterpiece Theatre Classic episodes.

Renfield hates his job, hates his boss, hates what he has become while performing his job, but by jing if he doesn't do that job he goes crazy or dies -- and his boss has access to him 24/7, *even while in a crypt*.

Anyone else other than Orwell create so potent a metaphor for the industrial worker's nightmare?

As for sublethal vampires, they're forced to be more socially integrated, which makes them more interesting and closer to us, gourmand-wise. A fully-lethal vampire is no better than a werewolf on the animal-to-human scale, and is a damned sight worse off if you factor in the photophobia and mandatory crypt accommodations. Sublethal vamps get to do so much more, and retain much more of their non-killing time to do it.

#188 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 01:41 PM:

Searching the thread above, I see that it would not be amiss to recommend A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia by Viktor Pelevin. In addition to the title story ML people may be most interested in The Prince of Gosplan, which re-imagines the Soviet system as an Infocom-style game. I have forgotten whether or not there are grue.

#189 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 02:58 PM:

woody @185: I have heard him referred to as a zombie god.

#190 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 03:08 PM:

cgeye :@187 [..] but I love Renfields more.

Had an opportunity to see Let The Right One In recently. In it, you see a couple of Renfields; one reaching the end of his productive career, and his replacement.

#191 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 04:57 PM:

Madeline Ashby #160: I don't recall the prose in particular, but I'd not have described my experience of 'Blindsight' as like unto a hot bath. A bath of liquid nitrogen perhaps, that chills to the bone...

#192 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 06:08 PM:

It's been over 30 years since I last read Dracula, but the way I remember it Renfield is the only damn hero in the book. After they operate on him, he gives the statement admitting that when the Count promised him an unending supply of vermin he gave the needed invitation to the asylum entrance to the house. When Renfield realizes that the Count is feeding on the only person in the whole damn asylum that has treated him with any civility and kindness and that no one will believe him he decides he'll pit the physical strength of the insane against the Count to protect Lucy. And Renfield, bare handed, actually slows up the count! Van Helsing may have the knowledge and Harker may have the determination to go after the Count, but Renfield is the one that has to wait in that ward for hours and hours without backup in an attempt to right what he did wrong. That's heroic.

#193 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 06:30 PM:

Sublethal vamps get to do so much more, and retain much more of their non-killing time to do it.

I think readers these days want at least some semblance of an ecology. Filmgoers, not so much.

#194 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 10:38 PM:

John A Arkansawyer @ 186: "janetl @ 180: Zombie baseball moves a little faster."

Argh! Beat me to it.

#195 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 12:15 AM:

I still want to do Resident Princess, a crossover between Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and The Princess Diaries 2, Royal Engagement.

(As it happens I saw both of those movies back-to-back the same afternoon, whilst playing The Movie Game.)

In the crossover, Princess Mia (Anne Hathaway) wakes up to find that the people of Genovia have turned into flesh-eating zombies. With the help of a small group of uninfected people she must rescue Queen Clarice (Julie Andrews) and flee the country before the US nukes it in an attempt to stop the T-Virus infection. Milla Jovovich's nipples feature prominently.

#196 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 12:34 AM:

Rex Schrader @ 128: "One of the reasons that I like the "Sarah Conner Chronicles" TV show is they explore the ethics of attempting to save the world, and the impact it has the on the protagonists."

Speaking of T:TSCC and philosophical zombies, I had an epiphany about Mrs. Weaver while watching the last episode--fur'f n c-mbzovr! Jura fur gnyxf jvgu ure qnhtugre nobhg ure sngure'f qrngu, fur ercrngf Ryyvfba'f narpqbgr nobhg qrnyvat jvgu uvf sngure'f qrngu jbeq sbe jbeq. Gura fur nfxf, "Qb lbh haqrefgnaq?" Naq V ernyvmrq: fur unf gb nfx, orpnhfr fur urefrys qbrf abg haqrefgnaq jung fur whfg fnvq. Nyy fur pna qb vf zvzvp naq erplpyr bgure uhzna'f orunivbe.

Neat stuff.

#197 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 01:38 AM:

@James D. Macdonald: Oh please do that. Oh please oh please oh please.

@Jakob: I find good writing quite relaxing. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to fuss over. Rather like an all-expenses-paid tour -- you know you'll be taken care of at every step.

#198 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 01:56 AM:

Speaking of Milla Jovovich, I think she would make an absolutely outstanding Beka in the movie version of The Price of the Stars.

If anyone knows how to get her a copy of the book, or otherwise make it happen, I'd be Very Interested.

#199 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 11:34 AM:

On the subject of mashups, Television Without Pity has an article on classics that could benefit from the Pride & Predator treatment. My favorites are "Séance and Sensibility" and (from comments) The Apes of Wrath.

Mary Aileen @133 - Many fine forms of televised entertainment rip off the classics! They're in the public domain, after all. Sons of Anarchy is Hamlet with biker gangs, while Rock of Love Bus is the Odyssey with bandannas and hair extensions. (Unsurprisingly, "Scylla" bears an uncanny resemblance to Paris Hilton. Speaking of philosophical zombies.)

#200 ::: Ken ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 01:06 PM:

I seem to recall a Barrington Bayley story with a robot bar that had a consciousness-detector on the door to keep our those cyborg robot-wanabees. The conscious robot gets in anyway by switching his consciousness off but leaving a job running to turn it back on when he is inside. I say seem to remember, because of course Dr Mabuse is my lord and master.

#201 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 01:22 PM:

John A Arkansawyer @ 186... Zombie baseball moves a little faster

"And it's a home rot!"
- from Field of Reeks

#202 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 01:46 PM:

I've always had a... well, "fondness" is the wrong word, but "fascination" isn't quite right - anyway, I've always liked zombie stories.

IF you go the interpretation route, they're just any unstoppable force that people worry about in their lives - disease, aging, government, mind-control cults, the relentless monotony of modern adult life - whatever, it all fits. It's those nightmares you have where at the end, you finally give in to the monster and tell it to go ahead and eat you, because you can't stand the nightmare anymore. Or it's an attempt to find the way out of that. Either one, it's interesting. It's not the zombies that need personality - do people demand that plagues or tidal waves or giant comets have complex intellects in those types of stories? It's the reaction of the humans against the utterly overwhelming that's the interesting part.

(Why zombies, then, instead of comets or volcanoes or flesh-eating locusts? Why the heck not? Other people in the thread have touched on their near-humanity, which makes them a better stand-in for human things like Big Gummint, and also gives them the extra-scary "I could become one of those" instead of just "I could be affected by one of those" thing going on. They're just a little more personal than natural disasters, in that they can target survivors (which a tidal wave can't), but not so personal that they're going to choose one victim over another. Also, they're much cooler for movie makeup/costume people to work on. And they play on our fears of dead bodies in a way that vampires really don't anymore. Wins all around!)

Also, contemplating zombie invasion is an interesting way to pass the time. You don't have to worry about vampires or werewolves or mummies at your typical 9-5 desk job, but a zombie outbreak can happen anywhere, at any time. (For a little while I was obsessed with how very zombie-resistant my workplace wasn't, until my daughter got tired of it and pointed out that their non-existence would probably protect me more than steel-core doors would. But it's still something to think about that's more interesting than the coversheet on my next TPS report. What would I do if a vampire got into my workplace? Um, remain sitting at my desk by the floor-to-ceiling windows. Yawn.)

#203 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 02:22 PM:

Perhaps the word you're looking for is "taste"?

#205 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 02:30 PM:

Aw, when I heard about zimboes, I immediately thought Shambling Pam Andersons and Creepy Carmen Electrae. Then you had to ruin the anticipation with the link to the truth?

...must suppress mentioning Am...no, really. Must suppress...

#206 ::: Jeremy Lassen ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 02:39 PM:

Why Zombies?
(warning, link to embedded MP3 interview). Halfway through, we start talking about the why zombies resonate in today's culture.

#207 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 02:55 PM:

Let's hear it for zombie Barbies.

"Math is hard, brains are soft!"

#208 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 03:07 PM:

A friend of mine just published/posted a long exposition (by blog standards, anyway) about Pushing Daisies and the undead aspects of its characters. I've never seen the show, so I'm not qualified to comment, but some other members of the Fluorosphere might be.

#209 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 04:22 PM:

#208: The resurrected people on Pushing Daisies are apparently genuinely alive, but don't lose any physical trauma they might have acquired in the process of dying.

One of the lead characters drowned before the start of the first episode, but after resurrection looks, acts and feels perfectly ordinary.

Ditto the protagonist's dog.

A lot of the resurrected characters are only alive for a minute . . . deliberately so, because if they remain alive someone has to die in compensation. These folks are often horribly and/or comically messed up. Big holes, tire treads, flattened heads. While they're alive they're generally well-spoken and accepting of being dead.

#210 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 04:39 PM:

It's all the Danse Macabre.

(Oh, and the bikers in Assault on Precinct 13 are clearly zombies.)

#211 ::: rabarts ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 05:00 PM:

The Environmental Zombie Interpretation: Zombies are Us, all of Us who continue to consume without any conscience until all our resources are gone. The fact that brains are the most cherished commodity in our zombie diet is just a dull irony.

As for dualism and I Am Legend, there is a very clever, thinking master zombie in that movie. His motivation becomes as much revenge as the desire to feed.

Vampires and Werewolves embody our desire to be sexual creatures, having emerged out of a cultural period in which this was taboo. Zombies, on the other hand, also reproduce, but this is not a sexual process, rather one of violent consumption. The comparison, then, of Us as Zombie Consumers who do so without pleasure but pure mindless need becomes even more apt.

#212 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 05:36 PM:

I was just going to posit that zombies are simultaneously mindless consumption and the ecological disaster we expect it to cause, too: but I will roll the class-mass axis into it, by saying that zombies are the desperate poor (China, India, anyone who has to commute farther than I do in a less efficient vehicle) who we fear we will be driven to become. And then there's the year we eat the seed-corn neighbors, and nothing the year after that.

#213 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 07:20 PM:

Belatedly--

1) Boskone did a zombie panel last year. Reports.

2) Tobias Buckell's latest, _Sly Mongoose_, has zombies that are a hive mind bioweapon. They stop being "groaning, stumbling, dumb-as-fuck, old-school zombies" after coverting sufficient numbers. Review.

#214 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 07:52 PM:

Zombies are the enemy in industrial war. It was him or me - but the him is unimportant. We saw them coming and called in the artillery, and the tanks, and the jets, but they kept charging the wire. It's the caricature of WW1 in the West, or the Anzio or Montecassino fronts, Pusan or Khe Sanh.

Vampires are insurgency/counterinsurgency; they don't want to kill, they want to convert, and they appeal to rebellion against traditional authority of one sort or another, as do the vampire hunters. The trad vampire story has the vampires as on the side of lust, but the Church still hates Dr. van Helsing - it recognises him as modernity made flesh. He would probably be in favour of a good shoulder bite, against the religious fear, as long as he could get rid of the vampires. As always, there's a fine line between the gang and the countergang, and the effective fighters against the insurgents never get on with the Army hierarchy.

#215 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2009, 09:45 PM:

Zombies are us at our dullest. At least, the Romero/Pegg-Wright zombies are, and they're the only interesting zombies.

We are all zombie-like from time to time, just going through life oblivious to most of the world, mechanically satisfying our basic needs. The horror of the zombie is the horror of being like that all the time. And the satirical content of the zombie arises when our basic desires involve shopping malls or pubs.

You can see this illustrated in Shaun of the Dead, when Shaun goes to the corner shop for the second time - everyone around him has been turned into a zombie, and he doesn't notice because he's too wrapped up in his own narrow task of buying an ice cream cone. In that moment, he's as much a zombie as the actual monsters - the difference is, he is capable of being more than a zombie, they aren't.

Zombies don't need to be based on strong mind/body dualism. In Romero's Day of the Dead, a zombie is educated to have rudimentary social skills, while in Shaun of the Dead Shaun keeps his zombified best friend in the shed where they happily play computer games together.

We live in a technological civilisation that, wonderfully, allows us to satisfy basic needs very simply, with little thought or difficulty. The good side of that is that it allows us to create and enjoy incredibly sophisticated art and science. The bad side is that it allows us, if we choose, to become zombies. This is what makes zombies a particularly potent monster for our age.

#216 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2009, 01:59 AM:

Zombies are scary because, given a sufficient number, we hear the whisper that it doesn't matter how clever we are. They will win.

I'm not into zombies. The better the story is, the less like I am to want direct contact with it.

#170: Was that an actual zombie story? Either way, it made me grin.

#192: You're confusing Lucy with Mina, a common mistake given that most screen and stage treatments flip the names for some undisclosed reason. But, I've no argument with your central premise.

#217 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2009, 03:01 PM:

I think Romero zombies don't really scale differently than vampires from the early vampire stories- the ones where being bitten always infected you. The math/ecology issues involved are the same- or, more precisely, they would be the same if the authors of the early vampire stories had thought of this stuff, which is why some later vampire authors came up with the idea that most vampire bites simply kill (slowly or quickly), and only a minority turns you into a vampire yourself.

Personally, I was raised in a "violent or scary stuff in entertainment is evil" family, and I've always been interested in non-fiction, so I heard about the original Carribbean folklore zombies long before I heard about the details of the Romero movies and their followups. For a while, I used to wonder where all those references to creatures that are called zombies and are a lot like zombies, but have the same unusual characteristics, were coming from.

#218 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2009, 07:49 PM:

@several: ah, yes, the "Space Invaders" interest. Hordes of mindless creatures, easy to destroy, but the fact that it just Never Stops, and they get Faster and Faster as the game goes on...

It was the first to do that, and it was incredibly addictive.

#219 ::: Hank Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2009, 08:00 PM:

> 'zombie banks'

Ding!

Paul Krugman: Nationalize the zombies, restore private enterprise
By Paul Krugman
Updated: 02/23/2009 05:08:06 PM CST

#220 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2009, 08:26 PM:

Zombie hordes are coming to eat us,
coming to eat us, coming to eat us

Zombie hordes are coming to eat us
Guess you know the score
They're about to break down the door...

#221 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2009, 08:28 PM:

Zombie banks, where the interest rate is an arm and a leg.

#222 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2009, 08:43 PM:

http://beeftone.com/zombeatles.html

The Zombeatles!

#223 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2009, 11:49 PM:

A follow-up to me @148: When I channel-flipped during the ubiquitous coverage of President Obama's speech this evening, there was no recurrence of the zombie lighting effect. So, what I noticed previously was probably just an isolated glitch and not intentional alteration like the Simpson mug shot Time magazine cover.

#224 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2009, 12:08 AM:

I'd made it as far as White Plains
When the virus spread out to my veins.
I formed a decision:
A high-speed collision
But where? Perhaps--

Braaaaaaaaaaaains.

#225 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2009, 01:19 AM:

Lisa Padol: my apologies. As I said it's been over 30 years since I read the book...

#226 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2009, 01:28 AM:

I wrote an Lj post about Shambling Zombie Debt.

It happens (as I learned to find the link) to be a unique (when in quotation marks) response string in Google.

#227 ::: Julia ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2009, 03:26 AM:

Wow, this question generated a lot of comments. Zombies freak me out and I think the fascination comes from the fact that they are unstoppable. They can't be killed when the sun comes up, they won't go down with silver bullets. Sometimes they "die" when you shoot them in the head. Sometimes.

#228 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2009, 06:31 AM:

226: in my inbox yesterday from a financial expert - "Stress tests work better for healthy firms as part of the risk measurement and management process. If you apply a 'stress test' to a zombie bank, you may make him angrier."

So it's a zombie mongo bank? This is worse than I thought.

#229 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2009, 07:45 AM:

Julia @227:
I think the fascination comes from the fact that they are unstoppable. They can't be killed when the sun comes up, they won't go down with silver bullets. Sometimes they "die" when you shoot them in the head. Sometimes.

Interesting; that crystallizes something I've been thinking for a while on this thread.

"Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."

#230 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2009, 10:07 AM:

Exactly. There's no "silver bullet" smart solution - literally! - no Queen Alien to kill, no Evil Mastermind to throw off the Reichenbach Falls. The only way to win is to hit them repeatedly until they stop moving.

#231 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2009, 01:16 PM:

ajay @230, So, pretty much like housework, then?

#232 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2009, 06:18 PM:

JESR--you can get your housework to stop moving?

#233 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2009, 10:42 PM:

JESR/TexAnne: Your housework moves?

#234 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2009, 10:49 PM:

E pur si muove, Terry. E pur si muove.

#235 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2009, 12:54 AM:

Texanne, not yet, but I keep whacking at it.

#236 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2009, 05:43 AM:

231: "Understand this. The housework is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."

Thus, Roomba = T-1000.

#237 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2009, 06:58 AM:

ajay @236: I have an image of an alternate reality where Daleks evolved out of a line of increasing intelligent robotic vacuums (they've already got attachments). When they got smart enough, they realized that if it weren't for the humans continually making a mess of things, things would *stay* clean — from there it was a short distance to "Kill all the humans".

#238 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2009, 07:26 AM:

237: which would explain the sink plunger! Of course! Presumably they were improved to handle other household tasks, including pest control - hence the cries of "EXTERMINATE".

#239 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2009, 07:33 AM:

TexAnne@234

The solution is simple. You just attach the purse to something so it can't move.

Problem solved.

#240 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2009, 12:02 PM:

Zombie fanciers: To see some recent related material on SFGate (the San Francisco Chron), you can click on the Jon Carroll link under Globally Useful on the Home Page, then go back to yesterday's column ("Zombie Jamboree"). In today's Chron, I also recommend the video by Mark Fiore under Comics -- zombie banks!

#241 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2009, 03:10 PM:

The Frankensteinian vision of zombie banking that Mr. Fiore presents does not, in my opinion, scale up well in today's economy. You'd have to offshore both the mad scientists and the hunchbacked assistants, and that definitely is not good for the American people. Zombie protectionism, enforced by military action if need be (remember to aim for the head), is the only viable solution.

#242 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2009, 12:17 PM:

After a zombie becomes a zombie, it's hungry meat and nothing else.

I once read about 3/4 of an online novel in which zombies are only mindless because their brains are deprived of oxygen during the process of death. One guy manages to keep his wits by drowning himself in a tub of ice-water, and a Bronze Age bog body rises (this is a death=zombie version, not an infection=zombie) with mind intact due to the preservative effects of the peat.

I didn't read the whole book, or its sequels, for other reasons, but I thought the O2 deprivation angle was cool.

#243 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2009, 12:37 AM:

Carrie S., is that Monster Island?

They printed those up in deadtree format, a friend of mine bought them.

The first one has some great scenes & setup (gun-toting Somali schoolgirls invading Manhattan) but the series fell apart pretty quickly, I thought.

They made an interesting political counterpoint to World War Z, though - in Z, the best-organized governments with the best security apparatus function best. In Monster the places with the least government and most guns do best.

#244 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2009, 11:37 AM:

Rosa, yeah, that was it. Like I said, I didn't even get all the way through the first one, so I didn't get a chance to do any in-depth analysis. :)

#245 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2009, 05:47 PM:

I think the author may have allowed fan voting to set the plot in the second & third one - it ended up including liches, vampires, and mummies, plus some other random junk. It made me sad, because I liked the beginning.

My friend who likes them says I overthink zombie & vampire stuff, though (we have, uh, differing views on Let the Right One In and he's sad I won't go see Twilight with him.)

#247 ::: kate grant ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2009, 10:29 AM:

Late to the show, but Simon Pegg (of Shaun of the Dead fame) wrote a great essay for The Guardian about his view of zombies. (Short version: They should always be slow and shambling, because zombies represent our inevitable deaths.)

#248 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2009, 11:19 AM:

Kate Grant @247: Indeed, that's an excellent piece! I especially liked his wry complaint, "death is a disability, not a superpower".

I would, however, suggest that if shambling zombies represent the fear of "inevitable death", perhaps fast zombies can represent media-stoked panic: "Terrorists! Sex fiends! Drug dealers! Food tampering! Poisonous toys! Superflu! It's all trying to kill you!"

#249 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2009, 12:06 PM:

The latest "Tom the Dancing Bug" comic has a lovely bit on Zombie Banks. I won't try to link, since my connection (via the Washington Post comics section) is a bit wonky at the moment, but it shouldn't be that hard to find it.

#250 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2009, 12:52 PM:

In January, the local SF club's gathering had a retrospective of zombies in movies. Zombies are a metaphor for inevitable death, but I wonder about one Italian director of the 1970s who seemed to like having his zombies plunge knives into women's chests and doing a bit of carving in the process. I'd say this person had issues.

#251 ::: jim bodhi ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2009, 07:40 PM:

Romero's zombies have always had a sharp edge of social commentary starting with the unexpected death of the black male lead at the end of Night of the Living Dead. That death brings the viewer to reconsider the shooting deaths of zombies in the light of racist lynchings of our past. Fast forward to the end of Diary of the Dead where Romero shows a zombie woman being shot in half while strung up on rope. By that time, you should be rooting for the zombies and against the human race. It sure is a very Frazetta-ish image...
At the end of 28 Months Later, you can see the ill effects of entrusting the security of a civilian population to the tender mercies of the US military. Very topical after Iraq ehh?
I always thought that zombie movies were preparing us for either civil war, or race war. Its certainly a war on our own streets, a nightmare we have had generations to block out here in America. Somewhere deep in our psyche we wonder what war would be like waged in these modern United States. Zombie movies answer that need, much like previous comments have talked about the mob or society turning against you.
Finally zombie movies are the best answer to gun control. When the outbreak happens, don't you really want a good gun and lots of ammo?

#252 ::: D. Watson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 02:44 PM:

Three things. To me, it's that zombies JUST KEEP COMING. Vampires keep coming BACK, but you usually only have to deal with a few at a time, and anyway you're fine once the sun comes up. You always wonder WHEN the aliens will come, but they come and you're done. There's no stopping zombies, nothing to reason and dialogue with, nothing to explore, no way to stop the undead army that JUST ... KEEPS ... COMING!

Also, very few people feel like vampires in a normal state. There are times when we are allowed to let our hair grow out and be lycanthropes, but we keep that one under control by and large. Everyone can "empathize" in a horrorific way about being a zombie though - it's who we are when we wake up, who we are through several hours at work, who we are the entire time we watch television or play computer games or anything else that lets us shut off most of our functions and run on autopilot. Being that out of control is frightening when we think about it.

Dealing with our own futility in the midst of an economic crisis everyone seems powerless to stop is very zombielike.

#253 ::: Natasha Chart ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 11:37 PM:

I think the Borg in Star Trek are an obvious manifestation of the fear of corporations, but I've also seen them as the zombies of the Star Trek universe. And considering the corporate themes in certain zombie/mindless monster movies, maybe I'm not the only one.

Considering that any of these mythic symbols can be expressions of multiple things in the subconscious, there probably isn't only one right answer. But when I've had a cubicle job, it certainly made me feel more zombified. People who became lifers at various places, who had to make decisions they didn't want to because they had no choice in employment for some, usually tragic, reason, they often seemed zombie-like.

The big, transnational corporations are, to me, the zombie horde heralding the end of civilization. They've elevated the id to status of 'highest' human purpose, and they'll send their will-sapped minions to bleep you up without remorse.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.