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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.

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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.

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Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead

Directed by George A. Romero

Update: Saw this moving again for the umpteenth time. It keeps getting better with each viewing.

George is a post-SHTF Ken Burns. He has thoroughly documented the course of events that led to the end of the old world and on into the establishment of a new one. While he has made many masterful movies, this one, by far, is the best. It documents the period when the public at large became aware of the problem through to the first inklings of what to do about it.

Romero's genius is such that I can easily overlook the liberties he has taken. For example, the use of tools by zombies to get at the living, their fear of fire and the eating of flesh other than human. While there is still debate on these topics in the academic study of the undead, they play just a minor role in the movie. The true worth of this piece lies in the characters, for they run the gamut of the typical personalities prevalent during the catastrophe.

Barbara
Barbara

The Catatonic

They're coming to get you, Barbara!

Barbara is a woman who's mental map is completely out of sync with the real world. She will die unless she either snaps out of it or has someone to take care of her.

Therein lies the moral conundrum: Taking care of her will surely reduce your chances of survival. Not doing so makes you a passive accomplice to her death.

Ben
Ben

The Leader

Don't you know what's goin' on out there? This is no Sunday School picnic!

Unlike Barbara, Ben quickly came to terms with what is happening and is willing to do what it takes, rationally, to survive. He's the kind of guy you want to team up with in a crisis. Alas, he clearly demonstrates that no matter how well you have your shit together, survival is never 100% certain. One little slip or piece of bad luck is enough to kill you.

Harry Cooper
Harry Cooper

The Ass Hole

We'll see, when they come begging me to let them in down here.

I understand that his motivation is to save his family, but he is too narrowly focused on the immediate issue and is unwilling to consider options offered by others. Sometimes long term survival requires you to take the riskier option now. Likewise, you have to constantly re-evaluate your options and adjust your plans as new information comes to light.

I feel for Harry Cooper. I certainly would have behaved differently if I had been with my family during the crisis. I dare say that I may not have survived for some of the same reasons that doomed him.

Helen Cooper
Helen Cooper

The Mother

We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn't going to solve anything.

My sympathies lie with this character. She has her head in the right place, is willing to help and soothes those – like Barbara – who are having problems coming to terms with reality. I want her on my team. The very thing, probably, that gives her this strength, though, is what leads to her downfall: her child. You cannot ask her to take the rational action. That would be too much.

Tom
Tom

The Follower

Well... the television said that's the right thing to do.

Tom wants to do the right thing, he just can't figure out what that is for himself. He NEEDS a leader. I wouldn't want to team up with him if it was just the two of us because I cannot afford the time and effort it would take to tell him everything. However, in a large enough group, he would be quite useful. He's a hard worker with a strong back, he just ain't that smart.

Judy
Judy

The Hottie

You gonna let them get her too, huh?

This character comes in many variants, but Judy is the benign type. In general, she isn't a negative presence on the team. She assists where she can and it helps that she already has a mate. I've seen teams ripped apart by the competition to bed an available woman.

Like Helen Cooper, Judy suffers a brutal death because she let her emotions cloud her judgement. Unlike Helen, however, it truly was an irrational act. She was too young to know better.

Karen Cooper
Karen Cooper

The Kid

I hurt.

This is a true nightmare: An infected child. You know what needs to be done, but who is cold enough to shoot a kid in the head? You certainly cannot ask the parents, though I have witnessed cases where one has done so and then turned the gun on themselves. I have euthanized kids in this condition and it haunts me still. Even today, I avoid babies and little children.

The berieved will have to forego the dubious comforts a funeral service will give. They're just dead flesh and dangerous.

It is possible to survive on your own for short periods of time. However, you will eventually need a team, if only to allow you to get some real rest. Assembling a team, though, is not like picking sides in kickball. They coalesce somewhat randomly and it's not always possible, or ethical, to pick and choose who to include or not. Romero cleverly demonstrates this in a small, Pennsylvanian farm house.

If you haven't seen this movie, do so now!

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Last year, I wrote about the timeline and life cycle of a TEotWaWKI event. I'd like to provide a more depth to this.

The first ingredient to any end of the world scenario is the affected population. This could range from a single individual all the way up to the human race. Whose world is ending? In this approach, nearly every story has a TEotWaWKI element to it. Not only that, but every individual proceeds through the course of events at their own pace.

The other main ingredient is an event that changes the rules by which the affected population lives. It could be the diagnosis of cancer in a spouse or the start of a nuclear war. The key is that the phenomenon is one that requires those impacted to rediscover how to survive in this world. As an added complication, multiple events may be in play at once either through the first event triggering others or just plain bad luck.

So, to assess the state of the TEotWaWKI, you must ask the following questions on a continual basis:

TEotWaWKI States
TEotWaWKI States
    1. Is there an event?

The event could cease to be an issue for no apparent reason whatsoever. However, that may just uncover a new event that's about to wreak havoc.

    1. Is the affected population aware of the event?

While, effectively, for the world at large, this is no different than no event at all, it makes for a great story and after-the-fact second guessing. "If only..."

    1. Do those impacted know what the problem is?

The level of fear is several orders of magnitude greater if you have no idea what you're facing or how to deal with it.

    1. Do they know how to solve it?

Just because you know what to do doesn't mean you know how to d o it or that you even have the capacity to act.

  1. Do they succeed?
TEotWaWKI State Transitions
TEotWaWKI State Transitions

When you have multiple such events, the one in the most critical state is what monopolizes people's attention. This is indicated by the state with the highest number.

For example, human society understands the problem of the dead rising to eat the living and are working toward a resolution. However, all of those responsible for maintaining the world's nuclear power plants have been zombified, so the world is annihilated when those plants melt down.

While the specifics vary greatly within the context of the event in question, in general, the transition events fall into these categories:

    • Trigger

The event is born.

    • Crisis

The event has busted loose.

    • Knowledge

The problem is understood and possible solutions may be implemented.

    • Resolution

The world returns to normality.

    • Apocalypse

The world ends in a big bang.

    • Failure

The world ends in a whimper.

Wheels within Wheels

This can get quite complex if you think of every single person cycling through this state machine. Individual's awareness of the problem and how to solve it varies. Indeed, the problems themselves vary for each person. The deft story-teller will weave multiple threads form an astounding, yet believable tale.

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Zombies!!!
Zombies!!!

Designed by Todd Breitenstein, published by Twilight Creations, Inc.

I take it as a good sign that a game such as this is no longer considered to be in bad taste. We've moved on from the Zombie Wars enough so that we can view some of the events tongue in cheek. And now we can game them.

Zombies!!! has 2 to 6 players vying to be the first one to the helicopter pad in order to make an escape. Between you and safety, though, are a horde of the undead and your opponents. Just because this is no longer in bad taste, though, doesn't make it a good game. I have some serious problems with it.

The designer brings some innovative ideas to the table. The board starts with just one tile that makes up the city center. Each turn, a player draws a new tile and uses it to build out the city. Towards the end of the deck is the helicopter pad. Once that is revealed and placed, it's a race to the finish. And therein lies the problem. In addition to the tiles, each player has a hand of event cards that either help you or hurt your opponents. You would think that the race to the helicopter is the end game, but, in fact, it was just the half way point. Those event cards make it nigh on impossible to finish. I enjoyed, barely, the one game I played, but no more.

The other problem I had with the game is that it imparts the wrong lessons. I don't care what is in a hospital, police or fire station. During an outbreak, I would never even approach those locations. Also, while I agree that healthy humans of nefarious intent are a far greater menace than the undead, a trustworthy ally is invaluable. In this game, not only do you have no incentive to help others, it's actually in your best interest to see them become the next course on the all-you-can-eat zombie buffet. Ultimately, this is why I've given this game a low rating.

What? This is supposed to be just a game? OK, I guess. Perhaps I haven't moved on.

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No Need to Argue by The Cranberries
No Need to Argue by The Cranberries

YES, I realize this song is about the pre-SHTF troubles in Northern Ireland (interesting that we now think of that horrible time as less than completely catastrophic). And, NO, I do not think of this song as being about the undead. It still strikes the chord which the author, Dolores O'Riordan, intended: those who have died in the violence of the outbreak, of whatever cause, haunt us, drive us insane. We must be careful not to lose sight of the fact that survival is not the ends, but the means to create a new life. If we are consumed by the violence that was necessary during the outbreak, we not only decrease our chances for survival, but also make it less likely that the new world will be worthwhile.

Oh, and it has a great, driving beat.

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Max Brooks, despite my past disagreements with him, got it right when he called attention to the Primary Enticement Mechanism (PEM). Once humanity counter-attacked, it seemed each group of survivors independently determined that loud, pulsating music served two purposes: The first, stated reason would be to lure the undead into a kill zone. The second, but most important reason was to psyche you up.

I have my own, personal playlist from the time that I served as a Sky Watcher. Whatever the artistic merits of these songs, they still get my blood up. Each song on the list has a personal story behind it. I will relate those as time allows.

TEotWaWKI Soundtrack

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Though the world has moved on and a younger generation is leading our society, I still try to keep busy. My role as Director of Zombie Defense is largely ceremonial. Literally, it takes just an old man with an SIR and a good machete to protect the community from the undead. So I have lots of time on my hands.

I find particular joy in digitizing pre-SHTF print media. In processing recently uncovered issues of The New York Times, I ran across this article: Mr. Darcy Woos Elizabeth Bennet While Zombies Attack.

I personally find nothing about zombies to be funny, but I suppose I can understand the old world's ability to laugh at the subject. What did they know? I hope I can find a copy of this book. I'll read it and let you know what I think.

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I am the Director of Zombie Defense for the Rappahannock District. That sounds more important than it really is. My jurisdiction covers about 1,000 square miles, yet last year we had only a dozen zombies and all of them were crawlers. However, it takes only one idiot who's been bitten and doesn't do the right thing for a renewed outbreak. So, I offer this advice to prevent such a catastrophe:

  1. First of all, don't panic! There's no need to be in a constant state of readiness for another widespread resurgence of zombies. We understand the situation far better than we did in pre-SHTF days and can react quickly and efficiently to quell an outbreak. Always being on alert is expensive and wears down your nerves. So, chill out!
  2. A Zed Dog is your best friend. You can never go wrong if you have a dog who's been trained to alert you to the presence of the undead. Just remember that these animals should not be treated as pets. They are working dogs. They should have free access to the outdoors and know their role in your pack; that is, you are the alpha. When you hear the dog bark, your response should be pavlovian.
  3. Good landscaping can be beautiful and effective at dealing with the undead. I don't recommend that you tear down the fortress you built during the crisis, but if you're on the look out for new digs, there is no longer a need for Fort Knox. You can take simple steps with low walls, fencing, hedges and other foliage to make your house more defensible in a time when a zombie attack may not number for more than 5 - 10 creatures. Look at ways to channel their unthinking movement into areas where they can be easily seen and/or trigger sound such as bells.
  4. Know your neighbors. This may be the most important piece of advice. What are they like? Will they have your back in an outbreak? Or are they idiots who may be fresh fuel for it. In either case, interact with them regularly. So that you don't come across as a nosy neighbor, I'd bring gifts on a regular basis. Helps you to get on their good side and provides a good excuse for a visit. I usually bring freshly picked fruit or a book.

I truly do not believe we will ever see anything like the catastrophe we experienced, but neither will things return to the old normal. A common sense approach to life will help to greatly extend your life expectancy.

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Today's good weather should be enough to finally thaw out any remaining undead out there. Double check your defenses and make sure your have enough ammo on hand.

Just saying.

UPDATE: The folks at the Zombie Research Society are a great source of insightful information. I particularly value their studies of zombie (un)biology.