Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

As accurate as a Lifetime movie, and easily twice as entertaining...

Longtime readers of this blog are aware of my fascination with zombies. I enjoy movies featuring zombies, I spend time thinking about what I would do if I encountered zombies, and I have even read the fabulous Zombie Survival Guide, a book so useful, I actually keep it on the part of my office bookcase dedicated to methods and statistics.* Clearly, too, I am not alone in my interest in zombies.

With this knowledge it should come as no surprise to any of you that I recently took time out of my busy schedule to read, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. This is a fictional** account of an all-out struggle between humankind, and the shambling undead. It tracks events from their earliest beginning in China, to their brutal conclusion with mankind pushing back against the zombie hordes. Along the way there's a lot of death, a lot of destruction, and a lot of surprisingly interesting writing. For example, the author spends a lot of time thinking about what our military strategy would look like in a zombie apocalypse, thinking about refugee streams, and even pondering global economic conditions.*** As such, it's actually a pretty thought provoking read. It's also "fun," in the sense that it depicts a fantastical situation although, I must confess, it is well-enough done that I got pretty into it. Reading about the near-annihilation of mankind isn't exactly "fun" but it can be engaging. It's a good book and deserves a read.****

Oddly, though, what kept entering my mind as I read the book was that it could easily stand in as a metaphor for something else. The zombies of the book were mindless, almost totally insensitive machines that existed only to consume. They were not particularly fast, nor intelligent, but they were relentless and could not easily be stopped. Moreover, they possessed no real "genius" in battle or special advantages***** and instead simply overwhelmed the opposition with force of numbers. Crushing, unstoppable numbers. Given time they would dig up and eat every burrowing animal, chase every herd until they ran out of space or energy and then set upon them, and in short consume everything through inexhaustible patience.

And as I read this horrifying, unsettling depiction one uncomfortable thought kept entering my mind: I wonder if this is how other species perceive mankind? Don't get me wrong, I don't think most non-humans are sentient and so doubt they have any particular thoughts, much less beliefs about humans. That said, I think there are some interesting resemblances between the zombies' pursuit of animal life and our own rapacious appetite for resources. Our behavior has shown that we are willing to hunt species into extermination, to traumatize the natural environment, and even to stress our world to the limits of sustainability and beyond. Indeed, we have done so even as our numbers continue to rise, an unquenchable horde of humanity marching forward consuming everything in its path with the same mindless, thoughtless, relentless ferocity exhibited by fictional zombies. What was most frightening to me about this book was that I saw in the zombies what my own species must resemble to others: an unstoppable tidal wave of hunger.

Am I reading too much into the book? Oh, hell yes. At the same time, the comparison is interesting and certainly adds a layer of thoughtfulness to an otherwise fluffy book.

Read it- if not for the zombies, then for the self-discovery.

* See, it's a book full of methods for dealing with the undead. Makes sense to me.

** Or, dare I say, prophetic?

*** For example, Cuba becomes a free-market economic superpower after being nearly inundated with North American boatpeople.

**** Of course, if you want to do the Cliff's Notes version, see the wikipedia entry.

***** Aside, of course, for only dying as a result of brain trauma. That, I will concede, is a major advantage. Particularly given that many of our modern infantry rifles are designed to wound rather than kill so as to tax the enemy's support infrastructure.

As a side note: You should also check out the book's website which, among other things, has a tool for estimating your survival probability in a zombie apocalypse. I scored a 33% chance. Let's see how well YOU do.

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Blogger Tom Bozzo said...

You should check out Charlie Stross's recent novella, Missile Gap, which effectively (and at the risk of mild spoileration) asks what can become of distributed computing networks with very slow communication between processing nodes.

Though for my part, I'm more concerned (Terminator 2 dep't) with what someone might do with the very large number of relatively powerful networked computers that could, in theory, talk to each other pretty fast once a few nodes got 'smart' enough and started to rope in others.

Thursday, March 08, 2007 12:31:00 PM  

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