Thursday, November 8, 2012

Impossible Water Zombies

I seem to have a zombie fixation...

Blame it on AMC's The Walking Dead--as noted in part in a previous post reacting to the show (where is the military?) I'm having a hard time with how improbable the basic "Zombie Apocalypse" setting is. As I noted, any zombie attack would be easily dealt with by any halfway decent military unit. Seriously--I used to be in a US Army Reserve maintenance company which had some of its own vehicles and a little compound with a security fence. The unit had just enough weapons for each person in the unit but didn't keep any significant amount of ammunition. Still, I'm confident that if things started to get bad with everyone in the world turning into zombies, the Sergeant First Class in charge would have bought M16-compatible .223 caliber rounds out of his own pocket, would have arranged the purchase of fuel and goods to support the unit, and would have no problem organizing his handful of mechanics into a defense that would hold up against a zombie tide for a long time. Because zombies are so dumb, it's not really that hard to defeat them...

So if an Army Reserve maintenance unit would have no problem wiping out any zombies that dared come their way, imagine what a unit like the 82nd Airborne Division would do--or Navy Seals, Green Berets, Marine Recon, or the 1st Armored Division--or even field artillery guys. 155mm cannonfire would have little trouble blowing a whole zombie horde into a quivering pile of goo...

And look, it's not just military units. Any decent police department or volunteer fire-fighting unit or even a family-owned hardware (or sporting goods) store with a large extended family should be able to organize a basically zombie-proof defense. All you would need for that is some kind of even half-way secure building, some weapons and supplies, and enough people to pull shifts to thwart the unexpected night attack.

So while a zombie uprising would create chaos, I just don't see it taking over everything--not the AMC version of a zombie, anyway. Our society has far too many pockets of people that are too resilient and resourceful for that.

Of course, if you imagine the zombie plague spreading by a means other than you-catch-it-if-a-zombie-bites-you, such as a highly infectious plague spread by an airborne virus or through insect bites, the scenario becomes more plausible. Especially if the zombies are fast moving and aggressive. But, still, as long as zombies are brainless (and if they aren't, they aren't really zombies any more), they'd actuality have a hard time taking over all the institutions of society, even if they spread to all parts of the world and did enormous damage. People can be very resourceful when it comes to defending themselves--perhaps more zombie stories need to be written portraying them as such--I mean stories in which whole towns or regions and numerous government institutions have survived basically intact...

So the zombie apocalypse as portrayed in so many zombie flicks seems impossible to me, even if you grant a lot of artistic license on how people could actually become a mindless undead monster in the first place. Part of the problem has to do with water:

The relation of zombies with water forms its own particular stripe of objection to a zombie apocalypse--the beasts aren't portrayed as being coordinated enough to swim as a general rule. And while the traditional undead version of zombies would be immune to drowning (since they are already dead) the virus-borne types would have to drown eventually. Plus, while it would be easy enough for them to cross relatively shallow bodies of water, walking across the bottom is not an option for major bodies of water, especially those that have a current. I don't think zombies would ever successfully cross the Mississippi river, for example. Or the Rhine in Europe. If they did, it would be a sheer luck sort of situation and they'd probably not come in enough numbers to threaten alerted citizens.

So what does that mean for zombie stories? Well, why not make every island in such an apocalypse a refuge for those fleeing the undead? I don't really mean major islands, but little islands, like one in the middle of a fast-flowing river (and of course people would blow up bridges and use boats). Or any one not far off the coast, especially in a place with strong ocean currents. Like Alcatraz, or any of the castles in the middle of the Rhine--these would make a natural zombie refuges.

Of course, major islands would be interesting, too. Imagine shortwave radio broadcasting that Jamaica (for example, or Guam or somewhere else) is zombie-free, so a story could revolve around people killing each other over the transportation  to get them out to that zombieless ocean-surrounded land, wherever that might be.

But what if zombies attempting to cross water were regularly attacked by fish...and what if the fish caught the plague? And anyone who ate the fish with the plague would become a zombie? (It's noteworthy that it would be challenging to tell the difference between a zombie fish and a regular fish, since fish are pretty much brainless all the time...) Because fish form a major part the diet on nearly any island, this could prove to be quiet the threat. Imagine a story setting in which normal humans are trapped on a small island separated from a zombie-infested mainland. They are safe there, but have just discovered they can't eat the fish--and there is nothing much else to eat. They are forced between choosing starvation for most of them or going back into the hellish struggle for survival they thought they had escaped...

Or what if a zombie story featured a version of the monster that actually liked water--or preferred it even? Assuming these zombies floated well and had a simple instinct for swimming, perhaps they would be in effect like crocodiles in places in Africa...imagine extremely thirsty human survivors of an apocalypse wanting to go down to the river for some water...but they have to be very, very careful, due to lurking water zombies...

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