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Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead

Directed by Edgar White

I'll be straight up with you: I hate zombie comedies. It's not just because they're overwhelmingly stupid, but they have no redeeming value. They're usually just a vehicle for idiot frat-boys doing things to unrealistically portrayed undead. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that today's teen-age male population would be wiped out should we have another widespread outbreak given that they probably believe everything they see in those movies.

Let me be clear: Shaun of the Dead is NOT one of those movies!

Yes, it is a comedy. It is hysterical on many levels, not the least of which is the realistic portrayal of how folks typically reacted to the fact that their world is overrun with the undead. But don't let the hilarity fool you. Beneath it lies good advice and excellent examples of how to act (or not) in a catastrophe. Allow me to use the format described in The Unthinkable to describe the movie.

Denial: I'm not talking about those who were thrown into a mental shut down by their inability to cope with the concept of the walking dead, though this was a majority of the deniers and, indeed, several characters in the movie. I'm thinking of people like myself who went on blithely with their lives despite what was happening. Is my behavior any different than Shaun's? He stumbled to the store in a hungover stupor, while I boarded a plane to New York for business. Both of us could have seen the news or even the stumbling corpses in our streets, but didn't connect the dots. It's not really denial, but rather blindness on our parts. Good thing it didn't kill us.

Deliberation: It sounds so simple, let's make a plan and execute it! As the movie shows, it rarely worked out that way. What are your objectives? How best can you achieve them? It's one thing if you're acting alone (which I was in many cases), but the complexity increases geometrically with the size of your group. This is how groups fall apart AND coalesce. I liked how, in the movie, various groups kept encountering each other, exchanging information. Since the period covered in the film was just the first few days of the outbreak, people were inclined to help each other. It would have been interesting to see how the interactions would have turned out if their crisis lasted longer. They may not have been so friendly.

The Decisive Act: What this movie clearly demonstrates is that you cannot judge how someone might behave in a crisis based on their everyday, pre-SHTF behavior. Let's face it, Shaun was a loser. However, when it came to it, he stepped up. I'd've been proud to number him in my group.

I just offed my mum, don't ask me to do my friend.

There's only so much one can take. Shaun proved more able than most, but he still had his limits. That just proves he retained his humanity.

This is an entertaining movie worth watching purely for it's artistic merit. The fact that it ably demonstrates how a good group should act is just icing on the cake.


The Road directed by John Hillcoat
The Road directed by John Hillcoat

directed by John Hillcoat

As I mentioned before, I feel so strongly about Cormac McCarthy's story that I feared a movie version could do nothing but bring it down. That would have been an atrocity. It is this fear that kept me out of the theater for so long. To my great relief, though, I am happy to report that this is a movie I gladly recommend to anyone, regardless of their interest in the end of times subject.

Mr. Hillcoat takes just enough liberties with the story to keep it fresh for those who have read the book, but not so much that he subverts its meaning. Most of the scenes are there, but the order is slightly jumbled. There is a lot more dialogue than in the book (Bill, how can you tell without the quotation marks? Shut up, you!). He flirted several times with taking the story in a different direction such that it kept me tense, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was thinking that given the nature of the setting, an approach used in Beowolf or 300 might be best, but while the special effects were spot on, it was the acting of Viggo Mortensen that makes the movie. That man was born to play the role of the father.

Given the number of times I've read the book, I was surprised to gain a new insight into the story: The catastrophe had been going on for nearly a decade! I think actually seeing the boy brought this home for me, from his birth through to the age of what I guess to be nearly ten years. Think about that. Ten years of nothing but constant and ever worsening struggle. I don't think I could have done it. This is why the boy is so important to the story. He gives meaning to survival, the reason for the father to keep fighting. Without the boy, it truly would have been pointless.

This gets to the point of survival. I believe those whose had their children by their side at the outbreak were more likely to survive. True, in the short term, they were disadvantaged: their movement was encumbered; extra food was required, but little work could be expected in return; and, the constant fear of what may happen. But that made you fight hard, gave you a reason for going on. The Road is ultimately an optimistic story because of this. Because as long as the flame survives, there is hope.


The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley
The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley

by Amanda Ripley

I almost didn't read this, didn't feel I needed to. After all, I survived an unthinkable that was inconceivable to the author when she wrote this book. Also, I have absorbed Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales into my DNA. I didn't believe that Ms. Ripley could add anything useful. I'm glad I had the opportunity to learn that I was wrong.

From My point of view, The Unthinkable provides insight that differs from Deep Survival in two general ways. First, the later focuses exclusively on individuals and how they interact with their environment, while Ms. Ripley widens her focus to include that of groups large and small. Second — and this addresses my initial thoughts regarding the book's utility going forward — The Unthinkable, I find, is a great tool to allow me to understand what happened during the catastrophe rather than as a guide for my actions in the future. That's not to say this couldn't be useful for those in the future who did not live through the Zombie War.

Ms. Ripley's thesis is that there are three mental stages one goes through in a crisis: denial, deliberation and the decisive moment. This matches my experiences, personally, and what I witnessed in others over and over again, from the outbreak all the way through the War. The author talks about this in two stages: dealing first with your immediate situation, then the realization that the world at large is affected, too. Think 9/11 and an escape from the World Trade Center only to find that you aren't yet safe from the collapsing towers. My personal experiences are similar to others who survived and I probably cycled through that process a dozen times in the first week alone.


This was the primary cause of death during the outbreak. How could pre-SHTF folks possibly deal with the dead rising? And what if that zombie was a loved one? I'm surprised anyone survived. But that was just the beginning. How many people were in denial that their fellow survivors could be more dangerous than the zombies? How about that first winter? It felt like each succeeding crisis made it harder to move beyond the denial stage.

This is where The Unthinkable complements the work of Mr. Gonzales. One's ability to keep your mental map in sync with reality goes along way to predicting who gets out of denial quicker and able to act effectively.


This is the critical step. Once you accept that the shit has hit the fan, what do you do? Unlike the crises detailed in the book, we had to think in the long run. It wasn't enough just to get through the immediate situation, you had to also think of shelter, food and rest. It was too easy to let that slide in the name of hasty escape only to ensure you eventual death.

Another factor in deliberation is that most people were unable to get through this stage alone. They needed someone to lead them through it. I fear I was not always the person I wish to be during this stage. I didn't always help those in need. It's not hard to find an excuse in a crisis: I need to get to my family, I have only enough food for me, etc. And there was once or twice where someone snapped me out of it in time. Ms. Ripley talks of heroes being a rare breed, but our situation was long enough, replete with plenty of opportunities, that I dare say everyone, at one time or another, was both a hero and a villain.

The Decisive Moment

If denial gets harder to shake off over time, the ability to act gets easier. The less you have to think about it, the likelier it will happen. How this played out varied greatly with the type of crisis you faced, but there was one commonality: suicide. From beginning until even today, years after the end of the War, suicide seems like the only viable option to some. I've talked about this before, my feelings are known, so I won't discuss it here.

Think of this book as a call to action. You cannot blithely go on about life as if nothing bad will happen. You need to be mentally prepared. I'm not saying you should live in constant fear. I am suggesting that it couldn't hurt to always be aware of your surroundings and to at least play out certain scenarios in your head. You don't want the first time you think about escape to be when your life depends upon it.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

by Cormac McCarthy

The author uses words like Monet applies brush strokes. Mr. McCarthy takes ordinary scenes, frames them in unusual perspectives and creates a story that is both beautiful and horrific. I admit that I am not objective when it comes to his works as he is my favorite author. A movie based on this book was released, but I'm a little hesitant to watch it for fear of what it may do to this great story. Before I do so, I wish to get my thoughts down.

This IS great literature. It may be hard to grasp at first, if The Road is your first book of his. You'll have to get used to his unusual style, especially the fact that he doesn't use quotation marks. You'll be wondering if a line was spoken out loud or even who said it. I implore you to stick it out, though, as it will be worth your while. The fact that you are forced to think about what's written, rather than mindlessly plowing through the pages, gets you into the story. With your mind thus engaged, you'll gain greater insight.

Beyond being a great TEotWaWKI story, this also appears to be a personal allegory for the author. Mr. McCarthy is an elderly man with a very young son. I could not help but see those two at times in this story. But I do not wish to delve into the literary aspects of the book, this review will focus on the lessons for end of the world survival: food, security and the philosophy of survival.

Despite all of the horrors in the Zombie Wars, the lack of food was never more than a short term problem, except for those in the far north during that first winter. Everyone experienced hunger at one time or another, sometimes quite severe. But the fact that the catastrophe was not an environmental one and the greatly reduced human population (at least the non-undead), meant that as long as you were able to devote time to the effort, you'd be able to find sustenance. I cannot imagine ALWAYS wondering when my next meal would occur. Heck, even the thought that there was a finite supply of food that will run out eventually would drive me insane.

The food situation in The Road directly impacts the state of one's security. EVERYONE realizes there's only so much food. All bets are off. It's not just a matter of protecting your own supply, but you, too, could be considered food. This is different than dealing with zombies. First, you cannot form large groups. Even if you tried, they would tear apart during the first lengthy period without food. Second, you have to be constantly on the move. You will either exhaust the local food supply or others will learn how good you have it. It must be difficult to walk away from food that you cannot easily carry. Finally, what do you do when the food truly does run out?

That final reckoning, I believe, is the major TEotWaWKI point made in this book. What is the point of survival? It becomes extremely difficult to argue with those who want to end it all. Why struggle and suffer when everyone's going to starve to death or meet with a brutally violent end anyways? This was an issue during our catastrophe. I knew a number of people who swallowed a bullet rather than deal with the world as it now is. I took everyone of those as a betrayal. But in The Road? I don't know.

Read this book and think good and hard. What is the point of it all? I did not fight the Zombie War just so I could return to a life where I worried about making my credit card payments.


Subject: Experiences from the Zombie War
Date:    October 29, 2009 6:18:44 PM EDT

To whom it may concern,

I am writing in regards to your request for remembrances 
from the war. Please feel free to contact me if you have any 
questions or need clarification.

Lt. Col. Z. William Drinkmore, Ret.

The child is dead.

I can see him, down hill about 200 yards away, just off the road.

And, yes, despite his longish blond hair gently waving in the wind like a prayer flag, he is a boy. I can tell even from this distance: his head is about a foot too far from his shoulders and his hands are bound behind his back.

The raiders wouldn't have done that to a girl, too valuable. Even if it means walking miles with her slung over a shoulder. But a boy? A small one? Probably couldn't get enough work out of him to justify the food he'd eat. Certainly not someone they would have slowing the group down.

The shade and breeze just inside the tree-line takes the edge off of the early spring heat. It's a good spot to catch my breath.

It's sad, really. Not the fact of the dead boy, but that it means so little to me. I've seen too much to readily give a shit anymore. It's energy wasted on what cannot be changed.

I look at the boy again. Thankfully, I cannot see his face. I gnaw some jerky.

The zombies don't worry me. Though raiders are truly an ill wind, they do have one side benefit: They leave no undead in their wake.

I break cover and stop, looking for movement in the bushes opposite signaling, perhaps, the rousting of a guard. Nothing.

I move along the tree line until I'm directly above the boy. Still, nothing.

I run down hill, more of a controlled fall. I lose my balance on the last stride, slamming into the road in a near face plant.

The only noise is the sound of the air I struggle to suck back into my lungs. If they're out there, I'm dead, or worse.

No, I hear the birds now. That's always good. They go quiet when Zed's around.

Most roads clearly show the fact that there hasn't been traffic for nearly a year. The build up of dirt and the weeds growing in the cracks. Not to say they're useless, just unused.

This road, however, clearly shows the passage of a large group. These guys have no fear of the undead or other humans. And why should they? They are reavers from what passes for any type of power and authority in the whole mid-Atlantic region.

I can see the soles of his feet, or what remains of them. They're mostly raw. Damn, that must have hurt to walk. I won't complain about the hitch in my side.

They didn't even waste a bullet on him, just a quick swing of an obviously sharp blade. I see foot prints in his pooled blood, most going in the same direction. Most, not all. Looks like a scuffle. A knee down? Is that a hand print? Whoever it was, she wasn't killed here. Was she his mother? Would that have been a good or a bad thing?

I have seen enough of those who have joined the so-called White Republic up around Front Royal to know that they were not all bad people, just hungry. They sold their souls for a regular meal. That makes them worse than evil.

How far gone do you have to be to just lop a head off like that?

I can't bury him. I don't have the tools and the soil here ain't easy to dig. The thought that coyotes will get him disturbs me. I can't burn him, that will signal my presence. I'll cover him with rocks.

I cut his binding, but the arms don't move, frozen in place. He hardly weighs anything and the rigidity of his body makes it obscenely easy to move him. I put his head back where it belongs. His purplish face distorts his expression, the torment exacerbated.

How old are you? I cannot tell. Is that Sponge Bob on your shirt? Were you a fan? At first glance, you could pass for an old man.

You survived the outbreak, that's gotta mean something. Though, by the looks of you, even before your capture, you weren't that far from death. Couldn't have been a local, those who have survived are well stocked with food and are fortified enough to deter the raiders, at least for now.

The smoke I saw yesterday evening, bet it was from the refugee camp just outside Culpeper. That's a long reach for the White Republic. Their power is growing.

And what do we do? Those of us who still consider ourselves to be members of that nearly forgotten entity, the United States? We cower in fear, worried about our next meal, about the undead infecting a new wave, about enslavement up north. Well, those of us who are white. The agony is shorter for minorities who fall into their hands, but several orders of magnitude worse. Did your blond hair prolong your suffering?

Who are you? What is your name?

There's nothing in your pockets but a worn piece of paper with writing too faded to read. Looks like it could have been an address. Yours? Did one of your parents write that last year, in case you were separated? Where was your home?

In the ditch I find plenty of silt washed down by the last storm. I know you'll be carried away in the next heavy rain, which, being March, won't be too long, but this is the best I can do.

Did my children meet the same fate? I don't know. I haven't considered that until now. But what right do I have to complain, to beg mercy for them when I did nothing for you or others?

I use a branch to brush away traces of my work and place it on top of the grave. As close to flowers as you'll get for your funeral.

I'm sorry.

I've heard it sung that it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive. And I suppose it's true, the part about being glad. But shouldn't survival be a means, not an end?

I head back up hill, the way I came. I must get back before dark.

Back within the tree-line, what was cooling is now cold. Anger, guilt or relief? I feel all three. That is good.

Thank you.

Subject: Re: Experiences from the Zombie War
Date:    November 5, 2009 17:45:53 PM EDT

Dear Col. Drinkmore,

Thanks for your submission to our collection of stories we 
are assembling. Unfortunately, we are looking for something 
more upbeat. However, we will reconsider your story should 
we publish another volume with a theme more inline with 

Jennifer Smith
Editorial Assistant

Man Called Zombie While Ordering Food, Punched Twice

OK, I can appreciate this guy's initiative, but please, when confronting the undead, follow this protocol:

  1. Clear the premises.
  2. Alert the authorities.
  3. Monitor all exits.

Let the professionals deal with the situation. That's what they're trained to do.


directed by Ruben Fleischer

I so wanted to hate this movie. It's another instance where I got screwed out of the recognition I deserve. I signed on as a consultant to help the screen writers get the details right. I do a fair amount of this kind of work due to my varied experiences during the zombie war. And what happens? They base the two male characters largely on me and yet, no mention of my name in the credits. True, they took some artistic license with the facts: I am better looking than either actor, wear a much nicer hat and had a thing for Hostess apple pies, not Twinkies. Just once, I'd like the world to know my story.

Like I said, I went into this movie filled with a rage burning brighter than a thousand suns. But those bastards made a great movie! I can't hate it. Sure, I can quibble with some of the details — explain to me how rotting flesh can run a 4.4 forty? — but over all, sound advice has been packaged in an great story.

The list of rules that Columbus generated is absolutely brilliant. I wish I could lay claim to that idea (though I did live by rules, I never wrote them down, dammit!). While some of these are obvious and covered in other sources like The Zombie Survival Guide, he came up with a few that I had not considered, such as:

Rule 2: Beware of Bathrooms

A very good idea since they usually have only a single entry point, it would be easy to become trapped.

Rule 7: Keep the Dumb Dumbs Close at Hand

This is a variant of the "You don't have to be faster than the bear" rule. It's kinda cold, and I wouldn't use this strategy with just anyone (say a child or the elderly), but with someone who should otherwise know better and is a pain in the ass? Sure. Better him than me.

Rule 24: No Drinking

Ah, I would have thought that this would be a tough one for me, but given that I didn't have time to chill for the first few weeks after the outbreak, I never even considered taking a nip. But it's true, in a world where you are prey, you cannot afford to check out mentally, even for a few hours.

Rule 4: Doubletap

This is one rule with which I might have an argument, but if you listen closely to Columbus's explanation, he limits its applicability. Still, it's important to remember your goal when combatting zombies: you don't necessarily want to kill them, you need to eliminate them as a threat. If you're on the run and you put a zed down, it don't matter if he's still a twitcher. Don't stick around to finish the job, get the hell out of there!

Go see this movie! Yes, you will be riveted by the well written story and believable characters. More important, though, you will learn useful tips that may save your life should we experience another outbreak.


Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Think back to long before the zombie outbreak and war. How would you have reacted if someone told you there was a one in a million chance that zombies would over run the planet in 6 months? You would have laughed, wouldn't you? What if that someone was an authoritative source and she then said it's a one in a thousand chance that it will happen in one month? Even if you had listened and taken steps to prepare, given what you knew then, what could you have done? It is a dilemma similar to this that the authors document in Lucifer's Hammer.

This is another of the old school TEotWaWKI books I told you about about, this one written in the late Seventies. The end of the world mechanism in this case, though, is a comet. Despite that, the lessons the authors impart are perfectly applicable to any real world case. The differences lay in how that catastrophe played itself out. The amount of time between the start and SHTF was measured in minutes for many, hours at the most. And the catastrophe came in three waves: the initial blast, earthquake and tsunami; then the torrential rain that lasted for weeks; and, finally, the complete breakdown of civilized society.

First, there is the issue of how to prepare. In the book, as in real life, people chose a variety of paths: do nothing, flailing about or actually thinking this through. Given that the window for reaction was extremely short, it shouldn't be surprising that most didn't prepare or did so in a panicky manner. I loved the lady would bought a bunch of frozen food. But even for the ones who approached this rationally, what would have been the right thing to do? Most died in the cataclysm that no preparation could have prevented. Those who survived the initial calamity were presented with a completely different world: seas where none existed before, no law enforcement to prevent others from taking your stuff (or your life), transportation network in shambles. There was no way to truly ride this out because you could not predict where parts of the comet would land. Even if you could, preparation would have required a large group of united people on a large piece of productive and protected land with a large amount of supplies stashed away. Again, the chances of TEotWaWKI in this case were quite miniscule, but the preparation required to survive massive and unreliable.

The second relevant issue that the book discusses is how the human mind coped with the disaster. The lessons Lawrence Gonzales chronicled in Deep Survival play out in this story. A good proportion of those who lived through the comet's impact lacked the mental faculty to continue living or at least operating within the new environment. This event required you to radically alter your mental map of the world. Starvation became a real threat, both short and long term. You could not rely on the kindness of strangers. Truly, when you yourself could very easily go hungry in a month, how willing would you be to give a portion of your food stash to someone who cannot reciprocate? It's a sad fact, but a harsh reality. Most starved, especially the elderly and the very young, those who couldn't contribute. Others turned to cannibalism, which itself, though staving off immediate hunger, led to other issues such as the spread of disease and the horror it inspires in others.

The final issue is, as this story clearly demonstrates, that politics abhors a power vacuum. If you do not take steps to fill the leadership void, someone will and you may not like the results. Just ask Cesar Millan. You cannot just hope that things will work out. If you are not willing to step up, then you should find someone to whom you are willing to submit and work your ass off to ensure that you both prevail.

I will discuss further how this story plays out in the TEotWaWKI life cycle after the jump, but there will be SPOILERS.

...continue reading "TEotWaWKI Book Review: Lucifer’s Hammer"


It is becoming clear that World War Z could have been prevented. Between ludicrous positioning of medical research labs and the less than stellar performance of the authorities, it's a wonder that humanity is not extinct.

We now learn that scientists had developed a model of a potential zombie outbreak before SHTF. This is documented in When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modeling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection (pdf). The conclusion of this is quite prescient:

In summary, a zombie outbreak is likely to lead to the collapse of civilisation, unless it is dealt with quickly. While aggressive quarantine may contain the epidemic, or a cure may lead to coexistence of humans and zombies, the most effective way to contain the rise of the undead is to hit hard and hit often.

The inference in the paper is that the collapse of civilization is equivalent to extinction. It did not seem to occur to the authors that a new civilization would arise from the ashes, albeit one largely based on the world as we knew it. Truly, that which did not kill us, made us stronger.

Zombie CSU by Jonathan Maberry
Zombie CSU by Jonathan Maberry

by Jonathan Maberry

This is an odd reference book that was apparently rushed into publication just as the outbreak became known to the world at large, presumably to take financial advantage of the situation. I say odd because it is both an examination of the pre-SHTF cultural obsession with zombies as well as speculative conjecture about the origins of the outbreak and how to combat the undead. And I say rushed because of the number of typos and factual errors. I am fairly certain that the First Amendment was not signed into law by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Perhaps the author is referring to the Freedom of Information Action, which was signed by Johnson, but in 1966. My first inclination is to rate this low because of the amount of incorrect advice. However, if you take into account the speculative nature of the piece and filter out what is obvious wrong, in the absence of other books, you have a reference for dealing with TEotWaWKI situations that is good enough.

The practical sections of Zombie CSU seek to convey advice through a criminal justice context: What would the police reaction be to the first call received and how would they handle the undead? I find it interesting that biting is a common reaction even among the living, so the police were psychologically equipped to handle this event, at least in the short run. Alas, his optimism that the police response should keep the outbreak in check was misplaced. True, the severity of the outbreak was postponed where the authorities put up a solid defense, but just as with New Orleans during the Katrina disaster, the thin blue line was not alway solid.

Ultimately, its this unfounded confidence in society's ability to handle the outbreak that keeps this from being an excellent reference. You need to know more than just tactical details in order to fight the undead. You need a solid strategy that takes into account food and shelter, psychological well being. The assumption that the wave will not carry away life as we know it means that you don't have to delve into those topics. You would be better off, as much as this pains me to say it, with Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide if you're looking for TEotWaWKI advice.

What I value in this book, though, are the leads the author provides to relevant books and movies (I will pretend not to notice the inclusion of the so-called author David Moody). I will track down what I can and review them for you. In the meantime, I recommend this book to expand your understanding of the undead zeitgeist, but not for the practical TEotWaWKI advice.