Back to: MeTube: Infinite Loop | Forward to: The rising ebook wave [guest post]


In fiction, zombies are a metaphor: the soulless, soul-sucking horde that will never stop coming and will drag you down eventually, no matter how much ammunition you're carrying. And they'll turn you into one of them when that happens. The metaphor usually keys into xenophobic fears, such as plain old-fashioned racism (zombies offer a politically acceptable alternative to ranting about the asiatic hordes outbreeding the white master race and eventually diluting them into mongrelism and extinction), or fear of the underclass (again, it's open season on zombies). I suspect in the 1950s zombies could have stood in for Communism.

What can we do with zombies that is different?

I have an idea. Postulate a near-future setting, for values of "near future" approximating 20-30 years hence. A cure for cellular senescence is found, and it's cheap. One injection, and your physical condition gradually reverts to where you were at age 20, over a period of years. It's not a miracle cure: it won't re-grow lost tissues, it doesn't cure cancer, it doesn't cure diabetes, it doesn't stop heart disease ... but if you can beat all of the above, you can in principle live indefinitely and in fairly good physical health. Moreover, it comes along at the same time as much better treatments for cancer and cardiovascular disease, expensive treatments to re-grow damaged organs or limbs, and the ability to clone up a new pancreas from stem cells.

However, there's a disease that some researchers are referring to as Type III diabetes (warning: PDF). It's a neurodegenerative condition caused by abnormalities in IGF-I and IGF-II signalling mechanisms in the brain, and may be the underlying cause of Alzheimer's Syndrome. And nobody's got a cure for it. (The "clone up a new brain from stem cells" approach is generally considered a bit of a non-starter.)

So we have zombies. They look like fit, healthy 20 year olds ... but their minds are gone. They don't eat flesh and brains, and they're not infectious. Mostly they just shit themselves and groan deliriously. They die if they're not looked after: they can starve to death sitting in front of a full plate. The process of turning from a human being into a zombie takes years, and the early stages are marked by emotional instability and sudden rages, which leads to major social problems: when a dementia patient is as physically fit as a 20-something and cuts loose, they can do quite a lot of damage damage. (Unlike a pre-anti-senescence treatment 90 year old.) Extrapolation suggests that most everybody who makes it past 110 years of age will suffer from dementia; projections show that in another 30 years, fully 20% of the human population will be zombies. Then, some time around 2100, the demographic bulge left by the first half of the 21st century will hit 80, and everything goes to hell in a handbasket: by 2150 we'll be up to our collective neck in zombies.

We keep zombies around for three reasons.

Firstly, there's the faint hope that there might be a cure somewhere around the corner. In which case, it might be possible to restore some of their old personality and memories.

Secondly, we can't trivially dispose of them: they're our parents and grandparents, people we love, people we owe. (This is the point of rupture, where this scenario totally departs from the classic zombie story: the point where we throw away the inhumane excuse for a chainsaw-assisted gore-fest, and start looking for a new metaphor. The zombies in this scenario aren't disposable "others", they're people we know and treasured and can't now dispose of -- a metaphor for memories and past ties and ended relationships, the intimately known rather than the unknown, and for being overwhelmed by the dead past.)

Thirdly, if we don't discover a cure, sooner or later we'll be joining them ...



While I can see the appeal of living ~100 years in a 20 year old body I do not unconditionally buy the premise that society as a whole will use that approach under the conditions given here.

The problem is more or less homemade, without the artificial fountain of youth the problem would not have appreared in the first place.

So why would you assume that continued use of this treatment on a wide basis would be allowed by governments once the zombie problem was detected?


Have you been watching Torchwood - Miracle Day by any chance? ;-)


You could also argue the "zombies as the differently-neurochemical view of normality". Don't put me on lithium, you'll turn me into one of "them"...

You've covered the "zombies as a metaphor for commies", this is only a minor tweak - how does the typical "Socialist Worker" (in the sense of those of the radical left) see the broad mass of the population, i.e. those that they see as politically unenlightened?

Ken Macleod might be able to help :)


It strikes me that this would be a great story for outlining the problem of the greying population. At first these zombies could be taken care of by family, then as their numbers grow in dedicated care homes. Before too long though the majority of people will be zombies needing full time care and the majority of workers will have to be in the zombie care industry (unless some complicated national service of zombie care is enacted).

An interesting effect of this would be to shift the balance of economic power to those nations who employ the cheapest methods of care and those that don't use the treatment. Society crumbles due to zombie induced economic collapse, slightly different to the biting monsters of the past.


We can't just kill them without consent, but I wouldn't be surprised if governments came under a lot of pressure to legalise voluntary euthanasia.

Also expect a craze for absurdly dangerous hobbies.

On the "cure" front we can afford to spend a hell of a lot more of our GDP on medical research than we do, and people would be highly motivated to fund it.

The response to HIV in the 80s would be nothing compared to this. For starters politicians wouldn't be able to ignore it by pretending that it only effects the immoral, and all their voters would know that they are stuffed if nothing is done.


What can we do with zombies that is different?

"Bit Rot" did zombies differently, I thought.

(BTW your FAQ still lists "Engineering Infinity" as forthcoming)


Although not quite the scenario described above Harold's Gone Stiff has passing similarities, using zombies as a metaphor for caring for an increasing elderly population beset with the problems of old age.


This puts me in mind of a certain Scandinavian movie about non-zombie zombies. I can’t remember the name of it, but the synopsis goes something like this: One day everyone's deceased friends and relatives return en masse, shuffling down the road into the small town from parts unknown. Only they’re not zombies — they look rather well, in fact — and seem rather confused about why and how they’ve managed to return. They try to go on with their lives, picking up their old jobs or taking new ones, and resuming family duties… but strains soon appear, and social tensions arise in very interesting ways. Plus, they just aren’t quite the same as they were before.

It was a really thought-provoking movie. Wish I could find it again! (I’ve posted the question to Ask MetaFilter, so I’ll write back if an answer comes up.)


You should read Johan Ajvide Lindqvists "Handling the Undead" ISBN 978-1847244130 for a resurrection story soaked in sadness and realism. I read it in the original Swedish and haven't looked at the translation but you might have noticed "Let me in", his first book now filmed in both languages. He's got a certain ...ordinary perspective on supernatural fiction, like Sapkowski with fantasy.


Is that a television show, by any chance?

(I hate HATE HATE SF on television and -- often -- cinema, and go to great lengths to avoid it. Honourable exception: Futurama.)


Cue the building of matrix like pod banks, within which the zombie relatives are cared for. The application of appropriate drugs and soothing videos should maintain calm, and obviously food comes from a tube and wastes are washed away. Now would each town have it's own such hostel, or would there be one huge one hidden away somewhere miles from anywhere?

And what would be the effect on the people monitoring them, assuming we don't have fully effective AI? Or can they be made use of in some other way, what happens with their property when they are so incarcerated?


I was going to mention the Pterry option. I can't see much hope for a cure for degenerative brain disease that will bring back the same person, memories and personality more-or-less intact, unless it involves brainscanning the healthy brain, or creative use of life-logging records perhaps. But that level of brainscanning would be uploading only lacking the hardware to run a brain emulation.

And I don't know that it wouldn't be pitched as the result of immorality. Diabetes can be presented as a result of excess by body fascists quite easily. Even if Type III has nothing to do with diet, it won't stop the connection some will make. Not to mention that even random acts of gods can be and are presented as the results of immorality. Earthquakes and hurricanes on the Eastern seaboard of the USA are because Jeebus hates Obama, don't you know? (And lacks the aim to use a lightning bolt these days, I guess.)


Answer (as above) - no.

However, I do suspect he's been reading Feed by Mira Grant, which was a Hugo nominee this year. It engages with a world in which everyone becomes a zombie when they die, and the problems that occur when your nearest and dearest arise from their deathbeds only to raven for your flesh. What's interesting with the story is that it's a generation later, and everyone is dealing with it.


You just reminded me of something I vaguely remember from the early 90s. IIRC it was a documentary on attitudes to death, but it could easily have been satire.

It included an interview with a group of "immortals" who were convinced that they could live forever if they wanted to. The interviewer brought up the fact that several of them had already died, but they were dismissed as having the wrong attitude.


Aha, I was conflating two movies, but I only got the setting wrong. The movie in question is called “Les revenants,” and it’s French. Voila:

Highly recommended! (The other movie was the Swedish film “Songs from the Second Floor.”)


The most interesting part of this scenario, in my opinion, would be an investigation of how our sense of ethics depends on physics and biology following long-established fundamental rules. Zombies as a marauding evil horde out for the complete annihilation of humanity are illustrative of this - there is no question about the 'rightness' of the violence we inflict in self-defence. The leave no man behind/first do no harm/every life is precious doctrine is also, I would argue quite dependent on things working the way they presently do. Fundamentally alter the formula, and I would wager the attitude towards unquestioningly indefinite provision of maximal life support, as well as the attitude to suicide, would change quite drastically. Likely, the trend will be to start associating individuals more with their mind/memories/personality than with their physical bodies, so once the mind is gone, the bodies will start seeming like fair game.


Charlie. It is. Elevator pitch version:

One day people mysteriously and inexplicably stop dying. Injured and sick people don't necessarily get better, but they don't get worse. health care breaks under the strain and the sick and dying are herded into 'camps' Category 1 'patients' - i.e. those that really should be dead end up being shovelled into incinerators.

Ex-agents of the CIA - one of whom is borderline cat 1 - and the last 2 members of the secret UK 'Torchwood' institute (One of whom was once immortal himself and who equally inexplicably is now the only person who appears can now be hurt - and presumably killed) traipse around the US and Wales trying to figure out who is behind it all

Add in a shadowy secret organisation that seems to know what is going on and appear to be calling the shots behind a major drugs company, and calling the shots at the CIA - and presumably both US and UK gov, a convicted serial killer and pedophile who failed to die at his execution becomes a messianic televangelist type as mouthpiece of the drug company sprinkle with a bit of fairly gratuitous gay sex...

I'm fairly convinced the resolution will be unsatisfactory.

I used to actually quite like Russell T Davis' writing, but this is his first project since moving to hollywood and it reeks of US TV 'writing team' - People whose characters have been established for years respond out of character to forward the plot (I hate that!) Contrived social and political responses...

I really don't actually know why I'm keeping on watching it to be honest. (Car-crash TV I guess!)


Brian Kellett, blogging paramedic, posted a few episodes of somethign similar a couple of years ago:

health care breaks under the strain

And a bit worse. Imagine now an Ebola victim.

Ebola is not a threat because its victims die extremely fast. But before you die, you literally break down, and suffer a lot.

Now imagine that none of the Ebola victims die. They keep on living, they keep on pumping virus packets and their organs keep on spewing incapacitating blood all around them.

And when you go around them in your NBC suit, they keep on looking at you with the "aren't you going to do SOMETHING".

That's the Torchwood's nightmares scenario. The plague of undeath.


What if the zombies weren't mindless immortals? What if they merely had a very VERY slow metabolism? So if you played back their moaning at high speed you could hear something like "The unbelievably fast monsters are among us! Swarm them as quickly as you can! We may die by the thousands, but it is the only way some of us may survive!" A survival horror written from the zombie's point of view could be an interesting read...


Very slow zombies? ObSF: Eric Frank Russell's "The Waitabits"


Of course the small flaw in this scenario is that you need functioning organs in order to provide all the building blocks needed in order to make more cells so the virus can take them over. I'm beggining to notice that many 'great' ideas ignore even the conservation of mass...


Presumably the 'zombies' are reproductively active? that could lead to some - very - nasty scenarios.... I'm thinking brothels as battery farms, and rather wishing I wasn't.


Earthquakes and hurricanes on the Eastern seaboard of the USA are because Jeebus hates Obama, don't you know? (And lacks the aim to use a lightning bolt these days, I guess.)

Actually, it's because Jeebus/JHWH was never actually a weather deity in the first place - he's a solar/crop deity levelled up to the point of pointlessness more than anything else. For well-aimed thunderbolts, you're looking at your traditional thunder deities, so either Baal/Hadad for the traditional Caananite believer, or Zeus/Iupeter, Thor, or Taranis should be acceptable to a European mindset (depending on which bit of Europe your mindset is most directly from).


Peter Watts has zombies in the snippets of Dumbspeech he's been posting, in his mileu they're military personnel with induced suppression of their higher functions in order to turn them into remote controlled drones, ostensibly faster and more efficient soldiers who are perfectly obedient.

Your Alzheimer zombies scenario is not so much dystopian as simply depressing. But some people would be on the far end of the curve, 160 years old and still hale in heart and mind, and science would march on and society would adapt, I would foresee a medical industrial approach to confinement similar to the current US penal industrial system, and yes, laws and social mores regarding euthanasia will become more flexible.

And think of the medical experimentation you could run with test samples of thousands of healthy easily controllable subjects!


Involuntary euthanasia, with China leading the way. Problem solved.


Alternatively, surrogate motherhood (Bujold's replicators, in biological form) :(


The big changes I see in this scenario is professional sports.

Today, most professional sportspeople retire in their mid '30s. In ZombieFuture they will be physically fit indefinitely, with only senescence forcing their retirement some time between the ages of 60 and 110.

Better yet, while retaining their 2o year old physic they will become more crafty and skilled as they become older.

The extra benefit is that fans will be able to follow the career of their heroes not just for ~15 years but for ~70 years.


I remember reading "The River Styx Runs Upstream" by Dan Simmons, which had a similar idea - your loved ones are brought back, but they're not quite there, and they don't need sleep. They just sit around in the dark, waiting for you to come back and interact with them again.... of course, you had to pay a tithe to a company for the cost of bringing a loved one back.

Very chilling, as I remember it.


Secondly, we can't trivially dispose of them: they're >our parents and grandparents, people we love, people we >owe.

Today? Yes. Culturally we have a society that, in general, provides and cares for the elderly. Partly this is a product of our resource surplus and partly this is due to a longer term culture of 'respect' for our wise elders.

But the flaw in this argument is that your assuming that this is an immutable situation - remove the resource surplus and the fit and able will look after their own first and let everyone else hang. Let the old shift from being wise elders to dribbling burdens (and, in the west at least, dribbling burdens several hundred miles away in the cheapest OAP home you can find)and this culture starts to break down.

We already have granny dumping, abusive OAP homes and an NHS that implicitly assumes that most 70+ should be DNR.

The senile, due to being unable to care for themselves, are more prone to pneumonia, bed sores and a dozen different ailments that can be cured (and sometimes as simply as some antibiotics) - how many stressed, poor 50 year olds are going to let/make themselves ignore these conditions until it's too late and their parents pass on 'naturally'?


This is really about the silent holocaust of dementia that is already happening - isn't it?

Unless you live way, way out in the countryside most of us in the UK can leave home and find ourselves at the door of a real life zombie holding pen within a matter of minutes.

But we ignore this everyday and omnipresent horror - even to the extent of staffing these facilities with largely foreign labour on minimum wage or worse who we are unlikely to ever encounter other than as anonymous presences in the background during our infrequent visits to our own stricken loved ones and whose stories we never have to hear.

FWIW I do believe that our predilection for zombie movies is at least at some subconscious level related to our being the first generations in human history who have lived in a society where the old become not rare repositories of wisdom and experience but a source of constant sorrow and guilt and resentment and fear to their children who now have to watch them physically decay until everything that made them human is gone - and constantly bury the knowledge that we too are likely to end this way.

The same applies to the popularity of transhumanist fantasies - with such horrors to look forward to why shouldn't we dream of a singularity and of the melting of this all too solid flesh into some new matrix?


I agree, Torchwood Season 4 is an absolute train wreck. Pity.


"This is the point of rupture, where this scenario totally departs from the classic zombie story: the point where we throw away the inhumane excuse for a chainsaw-assisted gore-fest, and start looking for a new metaphor. The zombies in this scenario aren't disposable "others", they're people we know and treasured and can't now dispose of" snip

Eh? I'm not clear what you mean by classic zombie story here. Zombies that aren't faceless others, but are instead your family and friends, is an inherent part of all classic zombie stories, from the opening scenes of Romero's original Dawn of the Dead (where the apparentment block residents are refusing to turn over their zombie family members to the National Guard for extermination) to last years awesome Walking Dead (Morgan's struggle to force himself to kill his wife is heartrending).

I guess it might depend on your definition of classic. My definition would be outstandingly good and genre defining.


I'll go with Thor, or possibly Zeus. Iupeter was the result of the Romans stealing the idea of Zeus from the Greeks.


What a beautiful metaphor for the problems involved in elder-care! Here are some ideas.

Medical research on healthy but mindless zombies! Perfectly ethical!

In the tube farms: decrease expenses by cutting off the limbs of the zombies.

An IQ test to define legal personhood? And past 100, you have to take one every couple of years.

Lots of euthanasia clauses in wills.

Violent 180 among the right-ring Christians as regaurds Euthanasia (you are imprisoning the soul!) Fit the zombies with remote-controlled actuators to make meat-puppets (useful in space or radiation-clean-up zones).

Spin-off of the previous idea: Powerful executive begin to zombify, then make amazing recoveries! Only later does it emerge that their families or boards of directors have been remote controlling them for years.

And, as a cure (and I know this rejects part of your premise and goes against the deeper theme, but let's extend the logic here), you do not stop the degeneration, but you outpace it with neuron re-growth. Over time, the elderly lose their memories and become zombies, but they do not lose their capacity to learn. At worst, they become infants in adult bodies, and can be re-socialized to rejoin society. Of course, not everyone will be ethical about the kind of education they give the adult infants...


I suspect the social impact of a real leap in life extension would be very difficult to solve. How do you get those old bastards to retire and create opportunities for the young? Is female fertility restored by the treatment? Multi-generation family mixes could get really interesting. Which set of kids gets to decide which nursing home I go into?


Is female fertility restored by the treatment? Unlikely; the end of female fertility is caused by the woman running out of ova rather than by the ending of the physiological capability to bear a foetus to term.


Iupeter was the result of the Romans stealing the idea of Zeus from the Greeks.

No, Jupiter was the Roman equivalent to Zeus, derived from the same Indo-European root (the ancient Sanskrit version was named Dyaus-pita or Dyaus-pitar, which has obvious cognates with both Zeus and Jupiter).


Charlie, I don't think what you describe in your post count as zombies. They sound more un-alive than undead.

I imagine you might be able to write a good story around the subject, and people might read it as a metaphor for the stress aging Boomers will put on systems.

But as far as horror goes, this story would be of the mundane sort of horror that was addressed in this Gilbert Gottfried joke:


Didn't we already cover the issue of degenerative brain diseases in your posting about life extension? As someone who had a parent with Alzheimer's and is well aware of the diabetes link, I am very concerned about the practicality of life extension without ensuring the brain is functional.

The 4th reason to keep zombies - they are organ banks for those who need transplants after accidents, diseases that are not stopped by the life extension process, etc. Surely as ethical as organ donation at death, but ultimately with a larger supply.

What about zombie clones - as personal organ banks for the rich to allow more extreme experiences that require frequent body repair? IOW, the mind healthy prey on the zombies - a reversal of the usual scenario.


A side comment:

I suspect in the 1950s zombies could have stood in for Communism.

Mmm... I rather doubt that, since the 1950s fear of Communism (in the US, at least) tended to center on the idea of a sinister, hidden conspiracy -- something with a master plan, consciously implemented by outside agents, all of which contradicts the mindless-attack-from-below motif of modern zombie stories. Moreover, the usual suspects/victims of anti-Communist paranoia tended if anything to be members of the elite -- Hollywood writers and directors, scientists, government officials, etc. -- rather than people from the underclass.

The coded-fear-of-Communism 1950s film par excellence is probably Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, which arguably has some similarities with zombie stories -- ordinary people being "transformed" into lookalike enemies who have lost their individualism -- but the pod people are still capable of speech, and are acting very much as part of a Grand Plan.

What can we do with zombies that is different?

Ironically, there are early versions of "zombie" films which could be read as leftist critiques of capitalism: in the 1936 film White Zombie, the zombies are slaves working in the (white) zombie master's sugar factory, and the 1966 Hammer Horror film The Plague of the Zombies "... involves a mad Cornish squire, who solves an annoying labor crisis in his tin mines by turning local villagers into voodoo-controlled zombies."


Yes it is, and even worse it's a spinoff of Doctor Who... ;-) But basically the plot is that one day people stop dying, they can still be hurt though. But they won't die however horrific their injuries... Tbh I lost interest in it after 5 episodes, too much fluff and stupid scripting (if you scream at the screen at the characters calling them idiots, turn it off!)


Sunny retirement zones and personal robots armed with oxytocin and a spectrum of tranquilizers.

Total care at a budget. Happiness guaranteed. Optionally (depending on family' worldviews) outfitted with a monitored and safety certified sexual orgy themepark.


Last comment was a reply to Charlie... :o


If the disease progressed straight into an obvious vegetative state, then the story degenerates into a "simple" exploration of widespread euthanasia. It would need to be slower, and more subtle. A slower-acting Alzheimer's, so that the "fine line" between human and vegetable gets stretched agonizingly wide.

Let it progress so far that the cost of care & treatment of the legions of suffers becomes unbearable, then watch the governments institute forced euthanasia for the obviously vegetative. When this shows benefit, but not quite enough, they start sliding the threshold back, so that the definition of "vegetative" becomes looser and looser.

End up with periodic intelligence testing of the entire populace. You must be this smart to be considered healthy...


That good huh!? I gave up part-way through episode 3, when I realised that Gwen and Jack had both had personality-ectomies!


Depending on how soon this problem is caught:

Governments worldwide get together and sign a treaty completely ending sale of the anti-senescence treatment (at least until a cure is found). This might not be as strange as it sounds as there would be many grounds to do so (economic, but also religious for instance) so basic support might be very wide.

The long-living are now both blessed and screwed: they get to live longer, and are generally more successful (healthy body + experience + initially the better off took the cure). But they know they will likely one day end up a zombie and others generally look at them with a strange mixture of jealousy, pity and resentment ("we'll have to pay so they can live past 100").

A black market in anti-senescence treatment pops up. People who take it must hide their lack of ageing for the rest of their healthy lives. Constantly moving around to fool neighbours and governments. A witch hunt starts...

Some loose ideas, anyway. Now I know why I'm not a writer.


Optionally (depending on family' worldviews) outfitted with a monitored and safety certified sexual orgy themepark.

Expanding on that theme, zombies can become meat puppets. Neural interfaces, or complete neural replacement would allow them to be used like surrogates for sex, "off world" activities like replicants, all controlled by human intelligence.

For paid sex (like drugged girls), a simple Eliza-like "AI" control system perhaps to provide the appropriate body and verbal movements?


People who take it must hide their lack of ageing for the rest of their healthy lives. Constantly moving around to fool neighbours and governments.

Like Heinlein's Lazarus Long & Maureen Johnson


'T3DM' is - as Charlie notes - not diabetes at all, BUT appears to have many mechanisms in common with T2DM, just predominantly or completely CNS-located rather than peripheral.

[Sidenote: the existance of this condition should be no surprise, given that essentially every molecule and signalling pathway used to detect and modulate feeding and metabolism in peripheral organs has also been shown to occur within the brain, both for metabolic control and for other roles (e.g. memory, see for example )]

On the other hand, it's not really true that we don't understand (i) where it's probably coming from or (ii) how to fix it. Short answer to (ii): go to the gym. That not only reverses peripheral insulin-resistance (i.e. the T2DM linked to obesity and being unfit) but also enhances brain (the data are best for hippocampal) function, including not only reversal of insulin resistance but promotion of neurogenesis, elevation in BDNF and so on; there's a direct link as part of this between metabolic control (i.e. how tightly glucose levels are managed) and brain glucose supply. Because our brains ru only on glucose as a fuel, glucose supply is a big deal to cognitive performance (citations skipped for fear of entering spam folder here!). Short answer to (i): it really does seem to be diet, not only high-fat but specificall high-ceramide and possibly with a contribution from specific fertilisers and hormonal mimics.

None of this detracts from the underlying neurodegenerative-zombie idea, but it's what I do. Suzanne de la Monte (who's been the lead proponent of the T3DM idea and is a trulykick-ass neuroscientist) and I shared a stage in Mexico back in June to discuss exactly these issues; there's a real sense of progress right now.


What can we do with zombies that is different?

Discussing elsewhere what a Chinese government-approved zombie film would be like. It wouldn't be about "loss of personality", that's not what Zhongnanhai is afraid of (and wants people to be afraid of); it would be about chaos. These would be fast zombies, the incarnation both of the chaos that CCP insists is the only alternative to its rule, and of various bouts of chaos in the recent past. ("We're holed up in this university classroom and outside our colleagues' flesh is being devoured by screaming mobs" - not fiction, Cultural Revolution.)


raven's a verb! I learn stuff every day.


Which means that "the ravening raven ravened into the dead horse" is a valid English sentence.


Well, for those who are interested (ie nobody) I really dislike zombie films, books, cartoons, stories etc and steer well clear of them.


Having seen some family members (and family members of friends) going down the road of senile dementia, I doubt you'll have them as real zombies for too long. By the point you loose enough of your neurons to loose bladder ans sphincter control, you also loose control of the deglution mechanism, meaning the food you eat ends up in the lungs, you get pneumonia and, depending how serious (or recurrent) it is, you die. Most of the people I know that reached such staged lasted no more than a year.

Now, if you're talking about a functional individual, who may eat if hungry but wouldn't remember where the kitchen is, or hold a conversation full of pleasentries but be unable to remember who you are, or who she is for that case, with the basic functions of the brain kept in shape by the treatment but not the higher level ones, then you may have a case for a long lasting zombie.


Wouldn't this be a stand-in for the TV generations -- even more clearly than the traditional zombie?

Zombies may come from xenophobia -- but all the latest zombie movies seemed to come at it much more from a "How can you even tell the difference between zombies and your neighbors?" kind of viewpoint. Rotten, empty minds in healthy enough bodies -- making them "ancestors" then is only an inversion of blaming it on the nasty next generation.


I've seen research that indicates that mammalian eggs are generated from bone marrow.

Forget the researchers name, but they did a study with female mice; one mouse expressing GFP (jellyfish green fluorescent protein) and the other wild type (WT). WT had bone marrow killed off, then got transplant from GFP mouse. WT mouse then had a litter which expressed GFP.

Mouse is a decent human model, so seems likely to be the case for human too.


Fourthly, they're made out of meat? ;)

By way of an attempt at redemption: In theory, in America, this would cause a religious uproar like you would not believe. It'd be Terry Schiavo all day, every day.

In practice, I'm not so sure. I think the demographic press of all these theoretically-ensouled zombies would exert irresistible pressure on the religious right to support euthanasia at least in their cases; and twenty-year-olds, while attractive, aren't nearly as cute as babies, and you certainly can't make the case that they haven't gotten the chance to live; and literally everyone would be confronting this issue personally, so there wouldn't be a big class of people insulated from this issue the way some are from abortion or more conventional forms of euthanasia.


Charlie, Not sure if anybody above has mentioned it, but have you read 'Handling the Undead' by John Ajvide Lindqvist (he of 'Let the Right One In'? Societal stress and panic as everyone wants to protect the zombies (sort of, due to being loved ones), who are basically mindless but alive. Anyway, great realist take on a zombie outbreak!


It would be best if you could find that paper. Female humans at least are born with all the eggs they are ever going to have, they do not generate more.


Cheers; me saying it again is repetition. Someone else saying it is backup.


I found a review that looks at this claim*. Basically there was a study in 2004 where a mouse had its ova chemically destroyed. Bone marrow transplant from another mouse seemed to replenish the ova.

However further work with a GFP+ and a GFP- mouse showed this result to be false, probably due to the chemical destruction affecting the data by not being absolute.

In summary there is no evidence that ova can be replenished, especially by bone marrow and GFP experiments give evidence that it is not possible.



Okay, I'll bite. ;-)

What Charlie is describing is precisely a Zombie, by the definition of the word. An automaton, or other non-conscious semi-living individual. The common, modern meaning seems to be taken from Romero, whose zombies were actually Ghouls. Non-living creatures that ate human flesh.

The advantage to ghouls is that you have an immediate, adrenaline-pumping threat for your characters to deal with, that nicely covers your subtler zombies-are-(insert present day fear). Using actual zombies is problematic in drama terms - more like The Andromeda Strain than Dawn of the Dead.

As for the underlying prejudice/fear of mass that zombies are meant to represent, I'd go with something far more contemporaneous and US-centric. Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers was a fine example of parodying commie-fear without becoming a parody. Why not do something similar with present day American phobias (for sake of drama seek extremity) - islamophobia deserves similar treatment.


Charlie, I love you. You're a genius.

Now what about the cure? If the person's brain has suffered widespread damage at the cellular level, a cure couldn't be instantaneous, it would only be able to begin a process of renewal similar to what an infant's brain goes through during child development During this process ("raising the undead"), the zombies would require care, feeding, love, and guidance similar to a growing child except they are now in the bodies of 20 year olds and their caregivers are their children, grandchildren, or younger spouses and their emerging personalities are similar, but different from what they were originally. How does a parent discipline a child without relying on physical superiority? What insights would the caregivers gain into their loved ones as new experiences shaped new personalities in brains that would be (structurally and genetically) closely related to the zombies' old brains? How would recovering Bosnian Serb Army veterans or Hutu militiamen deal with their vague memories of the atrocities they had committed in their past lives?


there exists a version that doesn't walk:

see this url from 2006 still works, replace dot.

www dot lewrockwell dot com/klassen/klassen99 dot html


Citations for mammalian female eggs originating in bone marrow:

press-release style reference to it:

Tilly lab which did the work:

Papers by him:[Author]

This paper (by him) reviews "support for and against the possibility that adult mammalian females replenish their oocyte reserve." (though I haven't read it in detail yet).

The presentation I saw from him several years ago on this pointed out that claims like "Female humans at least are born with all the eggs they are ever going to have, they do not generate more." though widely believed are essentially dogma.

Can you provide reference to a paper with experimental evidence that supports that claim? The GFP experiment was pretty compelling.


Hmm. Zombies being metaphor for xenophobia is an idea that had never occurred to me before. It does parallel the sorts of fears racists have in several ways (unstoppable hordes, if we aren't vigilant we'll lose our identity and join the other side, etc)... but the thing is, there are a lot of people who like zombie stories who aren't particularly xenophobic, so I don't know if that explains their popularity.

Personally, I've always thought of it as a metaphor for employment. It touches on the fear, as you grow up, of losing your identity and becoming one of them when you join the so-called "real world", your life force drained, nothing left but a bleak monotonous hunger for more of something you can't even remember.

Or, there's also the other side of the labor/management divide, where zombie stories touch on the fears of the elite few sitting inside the (factory/shopping mall) while a mindless mob of (employees/zombies) walks around outside making demands. All the zombies need is picket signs and chants ("What do we want?" "BRAINS!" When do we want it?" "BRAINS!") and the metaphor is complete.

Neal Stephenson had an idea in Snow Crash that he touched on but didn't really develop fully, about a corporation trying to develop a kind of mind-control technology to make it impossible for employees to embezzle or steal company secrets: presumably, once it was perfected, acceptance of such control would become a condition of employment. I also read a story quite recently about a DRM technology that hacks your brain so it's impossible for you to think about cracking it--and, somewhat ironically, I've completely forgotten the author and title.

Zombie stories based on ideas like these would seem to me to have a lot of potential--playing on the fear of not just metaphorically but literally losing your mind, soul, and identity when you join the workforce. (Joss Whedon's show Dollhouse got into that area occasionally, but never quite hit the target.)


If anyone's interested (and feels like reading SF by a female writer), I wrote a story a little bit like this, last year. Rudy Rucker published it. It's called Zombies, Condoms and Shenzhen: The Surprising Link Between the Undead and the Unborn. In it, the narrator's Quiverfull husband says he loves zombie stories because they're about survival and self-reliance. Thus his forty acre farm and insistence on a strict reading of the Bible's advice on reproduction. Expository snippet:

Lan-Caihe is a degenerative brain disorder that, like Alzheimer’s, erodes the myelin sheaths around the neural synapses of the insular cortex. However, unlike Alzheimer’s or its pre-cursor, dementia, Lan-Caihe blooms first in the judgement centres of the brain, specifically the anterior insula, which is crucial to “simulating” or “predicting” outcomes of a particular situation, as well as generating reactions of empathy by hosting mirror neurons in other brain centres that process feelings of pain and disgust. Sufferers are seemingly incapable of accurate threat assessment, seeing subtle shifts in posture or tones of voice as indicative of another person’s violent intent. They react to the slightest provocation with intense fear or rage, their brains having short-circuited their ability to understand the difference between the jostling of a crowded subway car and a group assault. As the disease advances, random explosions of uncontrollable violence are the result. Patients grow increasingly dissociated from reality, often remembering threats and insults that never happened despite being presented with evidence to the contrary in the form of security footage and other documentation. In the final phase of the disease, patients enter “zombie mode,” suffering a complete break with reality that often causes accidental death or requires lethal intervention from police or other authorities.

For me, zombie stories are all about the temptation to be overwhelmed with rage. However, I wrote about the story as way of talking about both the Quiverfull movement and the Foxconn suicides. In it, a researcher gets infected and is shot down by police. The Shenzhen factories get a handle on the disease and re-distribute everyone so that they don't infect each other (it has to do with the McClintock effect on luteinizing hormones), and things get hushed up until a whole other, unrelated crowd finds out. If anyone here reads it, I hope you enjoy it!


Typo alert: "damage damage"?


Hmm. Few have explored the longer-term implications of Richard Matheson's original "I Am Legend" zombies. I'll not describe it further, for those of you who've only seen the film . . . but there are some hellacious stories to be told about the next hundred years of Matheson's zombies.


I posted one above that reviews Tilly's work. Also, whilst I make this claim lightly I find it generally a bad sign when one scientist starts accusing others or the field of being "dogmatic".


I like the thought of turning the traditional formula on its head -- if traditional zombie movies are about fears of the underclass or latent nationalistic xenophobia, why not invert the formula and answer it with the counterfactual answer to Socialist Realism?

Somewhere on the margins of society, some populations are beginning to find that their dead won't stay that way. Shades of Pratchett here ("Undead yes! Unperson no!"), but I like the idea of focusing on the posthuman condition of people forced to spend their everyday unlives in the shadow of a culture whose only ideas about them are formed by Romero et al, and an examination of the way both their natal communities and wider society have trouble even accepting their existence. Double bonus points for finding a plausible reconciliation in the case of the former.

This probably wouldn't sell. >>;


traditional zombie movies are about fears of the underclass or latent nationalistic xenophobia

I don't think they are about xenophobia really, unless you mean racism; I can't think of any films in which the zombies are an actual invading horde. (Though this trope pops up a lot in Max Brooks' "World War Z", understandably.)


Few have explored the longer-term implications of Richard Matheson's original "I Am Legend" zombies.

Interestingly, George Romero admitted that I Am Legend was one of the main inspirations for Night of the Living Dead, which is what really defined the modern zombie trope that Charlie's referring to. (As opposed to older stories about voodoo priests creating/controlling zombies as personal slaves.)


re "dogmatic", don't remember if that's the term he used, just the general impression of the presentation he gave. I think it's a good sign when scientists decide to carefully review assumptions underlying their field.


I can see a straightforward progression to full meatpuppet zombie robots based on Charlie's premise and health care costs. If you have an otherwise healthy human who can't feed, clean, or move itself then you have an invalid. If chipping one of these invalids allowed you to have them take care of simple tasks like eating, bathing, and excreting then you have just saved yourself tens of thousands of dollars a year in assisted living costs. The logic for chipping makes even more sense if we assume that the invalids get dumped in mass "assisted living" care centers.

As the technology improves, the MZRs could take on more other self-care tasks like dressing or exercising. Eventually the economics would drive development to more complex capabilities such as gardening, cooking, and other manual labor jobs. At this point the MZRs become capable of certain types of jobs and now become an economic necessity. Meatbot Programmer would quickly become a fast-growing profession.

Now for the fun part. What happens when we take the life-log records for Grandpa Joe and load them into chatbot database for the MZR? You get a full interactive simulacrum of Grandpa Joe that is operating through his original body. Dial the AI up high enough and he even thinks he is the original.

Bonus prank points for linking someone else's life-log chatbot to Grandpa Joe's MZR.


You're trolling, right?

It's not China that warehouses seniors somewhere out of sight — they're far more integrated into society there than over here in the West…


I've never cared for the whole zombie thing, along with vampires and werewolves, and whatever the next trendy thing will be. But since this is somewhat different, here's my attempt at contribution.

I've only skimmed the last half of the comments, but it doesn't look like anyone's touched on the last bit:

Thirdly, if we don't discover a cure, sooner or later we'll be joining them ...

So, why would we be joining them? Two possibilities that come to mind. First, and obvious, the so-called Treatment appears to be a raging success, and everyone gets it. Only later do the side effects become noticeable. Boring.

Second. The Treatment is given by modified virus, or bacteria--your choice--but mutates and becomes pandemic. The Treatment only becomes active once you've reached the end of your telomere strings, and you start to 'grow backward'. But wait! There's been another mutation that causes something like a non-lethal Meningitis that destroys upper brain functions.

Perhaps, eventually, a cure is developed, but only the wealthy can afford it. In an ironic twist to the usual story, only the poor are immortal, but are in no shape to enjoy it.

Eh, whatever.


Your new take on zombies reminds me of the 'new' (maybe 60s-to-70s era) take on ghosts -- complete with unfinished business, impotent rage, and emotional connections with mixed feelings. That said, there never really was a way to cover that angle without bringing in some kind of new age theosophy-by-any-other-name, while this take might be able to move the idea into the field of hard sci-fi where the sci-fi hard men lurk.


well, and there is the rule 34 with 20 years old and good shaped zombies ... (and this will be for the sequel of course ..) :)


The "new" flavour of zombie seems to be the infection or contaminant that turns people into highly aggressive and amoral psychopaths while retaining intelligence, a few examples would be the Reavers from Firefly (Product of an experiment to tranquilize a whole world's population towards nonviolence that backfired spectacularly, 90% of the population became listless to the point of death while the remainder became the fearsome reavers, smart enough to run their own spaceships.

The crossed from Garth Ennis' comic of the same name, a virulent infection that turns people into highly aggressive psychopaths, according to the author it's a study in a world that has no possible good outcome.

And Black Gas by Warren Ellis which is a limited series with basically the same premise, gas turns people into evil cannibals.

The key fact is these neo zombies are alive and unlike the ones in 28 days later retain their full intelligence and capabilities.


Just read Paolo Bacigalupis Pump Six short story collection - and found some resemblances between "Pop Squad" and the idea of Zombies-that-still-are-relatives. Not on the surface level (Bacigalupi combines longevity with illegalizing childbirth), but resonating in the deeper themes.


in his mileu they're military personnel with induced suppression of their higher functions in order to turn them into remote controlled drones, ostensibly faster and more efficient soldiers who are perfectly obedient

Watts is violating MacLeod's Law here. No army has wanted perfectly obedient soldiers since 1916 at the latest (and for the really smart ones, much earlier). Perfectly obedient soldiers are only useful if you have a perfectly competent and perfectly efficient command structure to tell them what to do, which is impossible. Obedience only ensures that orders will be carried out. It doesn't help - in fact it hinders - if orders have become irrelevant because the situation has changed out of all recognition, as it always does, or they haven't arrived because no decision has been made or the communications network is down, or the orders are catastrophically stupid and really need Nelson's blind eye.

In fact there's a MilSF story to be written about the perfectly obedient, perfectly stupid supermen marching bravely...into the trap that the scrawny snaggletoothed humies hack together on the fly, because they don't need to wait for orders and can assess the situation, coordinate, and take action on their own responsibility. Nazis as zombies, if you will. But the Germans were always very good at decentralised mission command.

Perhaps he intends a satire of the military ethos, but for SF reasons he should really google "Auftragstaktik" and also read a book called Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France in which the French are the superior, superbly equipped, hyper-disciplined horde that gets beaten ironically by the Nazis because the Nazis or more accurately the German Army are more able to question their leaders' stupid ideas.


Liberals and zombies: the zombies are the forces of conformity.

Existentialists and zombies: zombies are the mindlessly existing majority, soullessly plodding on, not-living a life they don't choose to live. But there are so many of them...

Cold War anti-totalitarianism and zombies: zombies are the regimented masses of either communism or fascism.

Marxists and zombies: zombies are what capitalism reduces the workers to, alienated, dead, opposed to or just unaware of the revolutionary vanguard.

Frankfurt school Marxists and zombies: like ordinary Marxists, but the zombies are volunteers.

Fascists and zombies: zombies are the feminine, irrational, inferior horde without the elite leader.

Racists and zombies: see fascists but add blacks or Jews as desired.

Managerialism and zombies: life could be so much better if we could fix the zombies so they'd be more productive and perhaps even happier.

What do you mean, they used to be people?

Anarchy and zombies: do you see the police helping?

Libertarianism and zombies: I demand a tax cut so I can buy my own slaves, sorry, zombies!

Tories and zombies: the living dead have always eaten the brains of the living around here. It's traditional! I'm half zombie myself...BRRRAINS!


Zombies as 'personal robot' is essentially the plot of Fido (great movie - with Billy Connolly in an interesting role). And endemic 'old school' zombies a generation on is the premise of Feed (which I liked very much). Shaun of the dead was a fun 'old school' zombie romp.

However - more O/T: I agree with many of the earlier posters.

Expect a major societal shift in support for euthanasia.

Shorter term... we'd see more 'rage' based violence... People will have the physique to do significant damage (even sans weapons) without the psycho-social controls. So going postal will become 'doing a zombie' and will be more frequent.

Perhaps real twenty-somethings will take to dressing/looking older (or younger) than they really are to avoid being stereotypes as being 'potentially unstable and dangerous'.

It will be the end of the 'cult of youth' -- if you look older than 40 you are definitely 'safe' and will be sought for primary customer relationship roles (think walmart 'greeters' but at the reception desk in hotels, in businesses, and on TV)

Being 'carded' will be a badge of honor - youth will WANT to show their real birthdate proving their youth is real, not 'induced'.

Potentially, a growth in societal apartheid - for security reasons, of course: if you look young, and are actually older, you need to sit at the back of the bus (behind the razor wire, in the cage)


Yeah. Really original zombies were a projection of the horror of slavery in societies (on either side of the Atlantic) where it was a real threat. On one side, you had to worry about being grabbed by the King's men and sold into slavery; on the other, well, something like the Frankfurt school of zombiedom. We're all slaves, but some of those traitorous bastards ACCEPT it.

Presumably Haiti got into zombiedom even more because it was the first black nation to end colonialism - if you think slavery is bad, imagine that it ends and then the revolution fails and it's baaack. Like the Restoration, if they'd tried to re-establish feudalism.

(Inner resistance/inner emigration is a big SF theme, no doubt because of the German Jewish or just German exile backgrounds of so many of the founding generation.)


What can we do with zombies that is different?

Eat them! (Soylent green is good for you!)


Oh I think Watts understands that, in Blindsight the military crewmember who is in charge of the drones is noted to be an apparent weak spot since taking her out would deprive the drones of leadership, but as it turns out she's more of a leash and once she is removed the drones are unfettered.

We'll have to see how the military zombies play out but I think it's largely an argument about how our higher functions substantially slow us down and taking out the neocortex from the equation makes for a more efficient warrior (Again the nonsentient intelligence theme).


How about Zombies as a metaphor for the economy?

Let's imagine that scientists develop the ability to connect the human brain to a computer, more or less directly as a peripheral. Thus one can write a program and the human brain will attempt to execute it.

Let's also imagine that the corrupt governments step in and help the banks by making legal all the banking frauds of the past ten years, including the idea that even the worst liar-loans, 2-year option ARMS, and other forms of predatory lending are legal and must be paid off in full. There is no more bankruptcy

So people without other means of paying their loans get themselves chipped and put their brains to work for Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, and other banksters. The idea is that since humans must be alive to act as computers, they give the banks every other clock cycle their brains run. Thus they move and act very slowly, injure themselves easily, and don't take good care of themselves. They are, essentially, the walking dead. They don't care what they eat, they don't bathe, and they don't dress very well. Oh, and they're crap when it comes to disciplining their kids.

The main use the banks put their zombie brains to is discovering how to bankrupt other people so they can add to the Zombie Hordes. Hurting someone, particularly if they don't have insurance, is a good way to bankrupt an entire family. So is destroying a car which is underinsured. You can bankrupt someone by destroying their store, or by keeping them from getting to work...

Something must be done, but nobody has the nerve to bring the banks back into line, because the zombies are still voters, and the human brain remembers and patterns itself from the "programs" it runs, just like in the case of normal memory. This means that just before election day the banks can run a program that tells the brain to output "Vote for Michelle Bachman" 100,000 times, and most humans will then vote for Michelle Bachman.

Does that sound familiar?


The researchers on progeria have figured out why the kids age so quickly and it compares well to how the rest of us get old. Maybe you could turn that around to be the way they live forever.


AlexR -- I think I'm going to have nightmares!


I can just remember the first (big) B/W zombie fic on TV. I missed most of it, but the good guy was black. Right before the zombie hunters line saved the ones in the house the black guy ran out waving his arms, and was shoot by a redneck. One of the other zombie hunters called him on it. He said it did not matter, nig or zombie. All the same.
I was way too young to get it, but it stocked me. I think that fic could have moved up civil rights. Not hurt it.
As for today's zombies, if you can go into something tall, put fuel in the bottom. batterie powered nose makers at the very top, chain all the doors as you work your way out. Make noise and when it's full to the top with zombies start the fire at the bottom. All you must do is make it out and away!!
People over think things here.


Are Toxins in Seafood Causing ALS, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's? What started as the discovery of an unknown disease in Guam has spread to a line of ominous findings about some of our most debilitating conditions and potential toxins lurking in bodies of water around the world. (global warming making it worse?)


Having thought about the premise a bit more, here goes:

*I'd sign the equivalent of a DNR. Maybe a DNP, for Do Not Prolong. While my (imaginary) children and grandchildren may have an attachment to my chassis, I think the spectre of my undead self (the one who fails to recognize them, who can't even speak to them and might get violent with them), would be far more traumatizing to them than losing me forever. I wouldn't want any good memories of me that they might have to be utterly tainted with the memories of my zombie-hood.

*You'd get a huge societal division over what counts as "dead." This controversy already exists (cf the Terry Schiavo case, and the famous "think of a tennis game" test with coma patients and an MRI), but would increase exponentially. "Dead" and "alive" would essentially become articles of faith -- a woman presenting the symptoms you describe would be dead to me, but maybe not to you. Now imagine that woman is the mother we share, and we must decide as siblings how to care for her in an ethical and humane manner when "dead" is no longer a hard clinical diagnosis. So, you're looking at people kidnapping their zombie families before they can be hospitalized.

*You'd get a zombie control department, much like animal control. Love your zombie? Great. License it. Keep it indoors. If it runs out in the street and starts making trouble, then it belongs to the z-catcher.

*Assuming America still lacks a nationalized healthcare system, expect fewer zombies there. In a nation where cancer can bankrupt those still in full possession of their faculties, those who cannot argue for their own survival will not last very long. Meanwhile, new generations will continue arriving as the undead continue to crowd up. You'll be faced with choosing between extending your own family, and keeping dear old dad around just as he regains both the physical strength and the mental infirmity to snap your child's neck if she cries too much.

*Following this line of thinking, you'd probably also wind up with some sort of "three strikes" rule. Sex offenders are already registered; zombies with no control over their own aggression will likely be registered, too. If you decide to keep your zombie, you won't be allowed to maintain a residence within a certain distance of schoolyards, parks, and other spaces. But even if you comply, an incident record might be enough to get your zombie euthanized.

I know this is all terribly Othering, which you did not ask for. On the other hand, a lot of what arises from this particular scenario as described involves treating human beings like pets -- pets who go through a rabid phase that lasts years.


Incidental sidenote: we would end up giving the anti-senescence treatment to sheep, once it becomes affordable to, because it would guarantee tasty produce.


Seems to me that if this is really a normal type of neurodegenerative disease, then eventually so many of the original synaptic connections would be lost that even if there was some way to "cure" it and grow healthy new neurons, the person would have to relearn everything from a baby-like state, and wouldn't really be the same individual. Of course many religious people might want to keep the "zombies" around anyway, but I think if this was a widely-accepted medical fact most educated people who weren't from very conservative religious sects would be willing to "pull the plug" once the degeneration was judged to put the brain beyond any hope of recovering the original personality.

Of course, since this is science fiction, we might also imagine some type of strange condition which causes a lot of neurons to stop functioning correctly, but doesn't kill them or distort their overall physical shape, so that it's plausible a "cure" would actually restore the person's old memories. In this case I wonder about the possibility of a medically-induced coma--can such induced comas be made to last as long as the doctors wish, or is there a limit beyond which it becomes dangerous to do so? I also imagine that this civilization would work hard to find a way to induce hibernation (or some other form of "suspended animation") in humans, no guarantee they would find a way though.


Right before the zombie hunters line saved the ones in the house the black guy ran out waving his arms, and was shoot by a redneck. One of the other zombie hunters called him on it. He said it did not matter, nig or zombie. All the same.

You're thinking of the original "Night of the Living Dead," which originated the modern notion of zombies as undead shambling flesh-eaters. You misremember the end scene though, no one called the shooter on killing the man, they just seemed to assume anything still moving in the house was a zombie (and it was from a great distance so it's not clear the shooter even realized the man seen almost silhouetted through the window was black). There may have been some racial subtext implied, but the director Romero claims that he wasn't thinking about the race of the character when he wrote the script, and just hired that actor because he was good for the part. You can see for yourself, about 4 minutes into this video:


Eh?!? I'll have you know that some of us prefer the flavour of mutton over "lamb"!


No, I'm just postulating the effect of plain ordinary Alzheimer's ... if we all lived long enough to succumb to it while remaining physically youthful.


I'm ignorant of mutton as a delicacy, but I still think the agricultural industry would chase the opportunity to keep their livestock at post-adolescence maturity ("peak" maturity), because it would guard against other factors which would diminish the worth of their investment. (Sick animals get stressed, their muscles tighten, and their meat doesn't maintain its market value.)

In your last post on the subject you established how cheap this drug might get, so I can easily imagine them slipping it in with the drug cocktail they already administer to their livestock. They might even get away with taking a few things out. I don't know, does the senescence drug do much against parasites?


This is presuming that this treatment can be used on animals as well as humans, though I do agree with your point that if it could (or even if it couldn't there would be a move to develop it for such) the uses in agriculture would be fantastic.

Though perhaps it would do odd things for breeding. If I have a prize cow I could just have it for decades continually giving birth to good calfs, there's no longer any need to raise any more animals. All I have to do is keep the good ones I have in a barn and breed from them.


Indeed, what would be the economic point of treating a meat animal with anti-senescence? The current model is to feed the animal until the initial growth spurt is over, and then to slaughter it. Keeping a meat animal alive after that point is just using resources to no point, unless it is building flavour, or unless you're keeping it for other purposes as well as its carcase. Hence the fact that lamb is prevalent, mutton almost unobtainable (in this area at least).

(It might be worth me asking the stock-man at Wimpole Hall Home Farm what they do with their older sheep.)


@70: Few have explored the longer-term implications of Richard Matheson's original "I Am Legend" zombies.

Nit-pick: Technically they were vampires, not zombies. Some had died, been buried and come back, like zombies, but it was a vampire plague, hence Neville's greenhouse full of garlic plants and the test subject dying when a cross was held in front of her eyes.


As it so happens, one of my colleagues is a crofter, and he says that he can be sending sheep for slaughter up to 8yo.

The only reason I can see why he'd treat ewes with anti-senescence would be if they die (or at least stop carrying to term) well before they run out of ova.


Well, via "L'ultimo uomo della Terra," which is where he got the 'shambling' zombie. Vincent Price, Charlton Heston, Will Smith. Richard Neville's been played by some seriously high-powered actors. ",)


I assume those animals are not ones raised purely for the meat then, since you mention ova. The 'original' comment seemed to be on animals raised for slaughter.


Okay - sucked into a blog discussion - bad sign. Apart from the rejuvenation sounds like a case of a typical case of Struldbrugs Swift's not Niven's


Ebola would be really bad, but in one of the first episodes somebody got torched in an explosion, and what was left of him was still alive. His head was separate from his body.


I would think that once people saw what happened to the first ones to become zombies, they would take matters into their own hands for the most part. If they were diagnosed early enough they would probably decide not to let things go that far. Either a lot of "accidents" resulting in deaths, or outright suicides. Then some would work to get assisted suicide legalized federally, so that those who still know who they are but are sliding down into the zombie oblivion could make sure that they don't get to that final stage.


Kyonchi! My daughter loved Chinese kyonchi (zombie) movies when she was little. Kyonchi zombies hop around rather than shuffle and they stay quiet if you plaster pieces of paper with certain magic (Taoist?) incantations written on them. And yes, the issue in these movies (not that they were intended for too high a level) was chaos, not loss of individuality. Perhaps chaos being a big issue predates the communists in China. Certainly paying an unimaginably high price for chaos did. In the 1800s, the death toll from a couple of uprisings was well into 8 figures, possibly approaching 9 figures if you go with the highest estimates.


Perhaps chaos being a big issue predates the communists in China

It does, by several millennia.

My daughter loved Chinese kyonchi (zombie) movies when she was little. Kyonchi zombies hop around rather than shuffle and they stay quiet if you plaster pieces of paper with certain magic (Taoist?) incantations written on them.

Hah! I already knew that! Because watched the Jacki Chan adventures with my daughter! The things you can learn watching Saturday morning cartoons . . .


I've only ever seen Jiang-Shi described as chinese vampires-


Err, from wiki:

""Jiangshi" is read as Gangshi in Korean and Kyonshī in Japanese."


And in any case, mice are bad models for humans - with regard to the original topic, for instance, insulin signalling in the brain is similar in humans and rats but completely different in mice..


I can see why Brit's are so worked up over funny cow disease. But it seems ß-Methylamino-L-alanine, or BMAA, a neurotoxin could be a lot more common. And with global warming is more common with the warmer waters. < br>Test-tube experiments showed that BMAA can kill motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, the very ones destroyed by ALS. More evidence came from a study of monkeys fed high doses of the compound. The monkeys began to move more slowly and to tremble, and their faces froze in a masked expression, mirroring some of the symptoms of lytico-bodig. On autopsy, moreover, the animals’ brains showed damage to motor neurons.
When consuming BMAA-tainted food or drink—fish, shellfish, or contaminated water—the molecule is not discarded it is taken up and deposited in the brain. Once there “BMAA gets incorporated into proteins, potentially causing them to truncate or even collapse.” That could be how it triggers neurological malfunction and disorders like Alzheimer’s.
It has been found in the body's of the brain damaged. Has it been looked for in English dead? It's in soil and the blue-green algae that is ever more common and over larger areas of both freshwater and salt water. The microbes reproduce more rapidly in warmer waters and thrive on runoff from sewage and agriculture. One more big reason to war on global warming.


When the UK riots began recently, I had a flashback to 28 Days Later - with the 'rage virus' afflicting people and causing uncontainable riots with no real trigger....

Charlie, what I think you're may be talking about is the idea of the 'super zombie' - a strong, fast, mindless force - which pretty much describes a mindless 20 year old. Excepting of course, your diabetes zombies are truly 'mindless', not reanimated with anger, or aggression.

As other posters have said, the vampire/zombie split was a fairly recent phenomenon - which has been rejoined with the idea of the 'super zombie', reinitialised in "I am Legend", "28 Days Later", and also, interestingly in Cronin's "The Passage" - the last of which, though turgid in parts was quite a good holiday read.

I know you're not into science fiction TV, but there was a great Tom Baker Doctor Who in the 70s - "The Robots of Death", which equated fear of the manlike androids/servitors with fear of the undead - fear of reanimated corpses. The "Uncanny Valley" phenonemon - where 'people' or automatons just don't respond the way they should (facial expressions, body language - all triggers which if not done properly can give you the willies), and the affect is worse the CLOSER they are to the human norm - just ever so slightly off. Those Japanese androids are absolutely terrifying!

Perhaps we would end up using these Super Zombies as some form of 'residual human resource" (Copyright, Charles Stross)? Programming them, just like some other posters have mentioned?


John Barnes has a good take on zombies: they're people whose minds are running a sort of super-meme which makes them better, nicer, happier, work well with others, and incidentally supports a distributed overseer program that coordinates all of them. Most of the time they behave relatively normally, but they turn into zombie-like phalanges of the overmind whenever necessary. He's written stories about the early days, with different competing versions of this super-meme; the middle period (with some holdouts desperately trying to keep their minds free of the mental virus); and the end stage (spoilers). The books are good light reads, recommended.

As for Charlie's version, they're too far removed from the popular conception for me to think of his patients as zombies. There's no visceral need to get away from them or any sense that they're working for something (or someone) creepy. They're just people with brain damage.


Not really what was intended, but reading the intro to this what I thought of was the "Tea Party"...

"zombies are a metaphor: the soulless, soul-sucking horde that will never stop coming and will drag you down eventually, no matter how much ammunition you're carrying."

Replace "ammunition" with logical thought, and assume that never stop coming refers to the inability to compromise or actually consider what the effects of the policies that they pursue... Plus having to hear about them constantly (I live in the US) could refer to the part "drag you down eventually"...

"And they'll turn you into one of them when that happens. The metaphor usually keys into xenophobic fears, such as plain old-fashioned racism (zombies offer a politically acceptable alternative to ranting about the asiatic hordes outbreeding the white master race and eventually diluting them into mongrelism and extinction), or fear of the underclass (again, it's open season on zombies)."

While I doubt I'll turn into one of them, they have done studies that show that people surrounded by radicals tend to become more radical themselves...

So I guess in some aspects the Tea Party could be the zombie party... Any group that would consider Michelle Bachmann a "leader" would show some signs of a mindless horde.

Sorry for going political, but that's my two cents...


the idea I always had in the back of my head was the old zombie horde of the infected closing in and besieging a guy in a house, hes shooting and shooting, and the radio is on , telling of containment plans,, and then it joyously announces that the zombies are getting better and are now behaving like people again. guy on the roof surrounded by spent cartridges, looking at the corpses he made... whoops


How about... some widespread and difficult to avoid food additive causes a particularily nasty form of violent dementia with a long incubation period, with symptoms emerging suddenly after the disease has already progressed beyond simple diet changes being a cure. This new additive is widely touted as cheap and safe and going to feed the world, perhaps its a new miracle food preservative, based on a compound already in our digestive system.

Little did we know our digestive system holds sway over our psychology in a way we didn't fully understand.

Suddenly you have a large part neurodegenerative disease that causes criminal behaviour through to eventual psychosis. Being widespread in food, and importantly this super-preservative makes food cheap, it ends up a huge fraction of the population has been eating it for years. Unfortunately for western civilsation our already troubled underclasses ate more of the cheap food and where the chaos begins. We also fed the third world almost entirely on cheap preserved foods that could sit out of the frige for months. Naturally these nations experience the rage syndrome first, this helps to hide the food link.

I like this theme, because already there are western diseases (heart disease, cancers, diabetes) that are caused primarily by western diet. (don't care for the debate, there's ample evidence to declare causation).

It adds the guilt factor, rather than some mysterious act of god or infectious pathogen. The "OMG. We fed our kids this crap" issues.

Once people realise whats in their food, the scare results in food supply collapses and starvation, even in affluent nations. There's a plot path there to tackling canabalism if the author so chose.


Not sure how I'm liking the Watts take on vampires (Blindsight) and zombies (Dumbspeech). Had a hard time with Blindsight in general, and while the vampire raison d'etre was both interesting and deeply disturbing, it seemed weirdly bolted on to the narrative. Felt a bit like something his publisher demanded when he pitched the book. "You're making all the right noises Wattsy my boy, but it needs a little something. The undead are hot at the moment - can't you work something in? Werewolves, Frankenstein monsters, that sort of thing?" (Fatcat publisher twirls his cigar.)


I agree, I enjoyed Blindsight but did find it a little clunky, but being a SF fan I'm not unfamiliar with the notion of building a book around cool ideas, of which Blindsight had a surfeit of. The biological vampire as subspecies is one I'd even seen before, but Watts explored the psychology of the hominid predator better (Niven's vampires, now that I recall them, didn't need to be smarter than their prey, they just used supercharged pheromones as a trap)


Heh. Nice to see another EFR fan. "Unconquerable".



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on September 1, 2011 9:00 AM.

MeTube: Infinite Loop was the previous entry in this blog.

The rising ebook wave [guest post] is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog