NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The (Zombie) GUIDE: "Why can't we all just get along?" [Full link to blog for email clients.]

Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness (1992)
I always find it ironic that zombies in  media are depicted as brainless, but that same book, TV show, movie, etc. insists that the only way to kill a zombie is to either shoot it in the head, or cut off the head.  SF author Michael Z. Williamson has been known to ask the question: How do we kill zombie chickens?

The problem is that same, and frankly folks, you can't have it both ways - an animated corpse with no brain is not going to be killed simply by destroying the (useless) brain, just like a misplaced chop which spares the brainstem allows a chicken to hop up off of the chopping block and run around the barnyard. If we want to use logic (dangerous, I know) then we might presume that the "T-virus" or whatever has created the zombies is somehow tapping into and/or replacing the existing neural connections from motor cortex to muscles.  Removal of the head, or scrambling of the brains disrupts the connections, and once disrupted, postmortem decay prevents restoration. 

Like Mike the Headless Chicken, perhaps all of that movement really is residual impulses from the hindbrain and brainstem.  In  that case, a thorough scrambling of the remaining contents of the skull really should finish off the creature.  In that case, I would much prefer Bruce Campbell's "boomstick" to the .22 caliber rifles in Max Brooks' World War Z.  While a .22 long rifle bullet will enter the skull at close enough range, that's a pretty weak powder charge for longer range work.  In fact, while buckshot or shotgun slugs are more of a close-in weapon, anyone who has shot skeet or trap can tell you that the sight of clays disintegrating in flight gives one much more confidence in being able to stop ambulatory corpses.  However, for what it's worth, I prefer the classic approach from Jason and the Argonauts when dealing with the animated skeletons - just keep chopping until the pieces are too small to hurt you. 

That brings us back to serious and humorous (and messy) ways to kill zombies.  If a mere removal of head or appendages is sufficient, then blast and/or dismemberment should suffice, and the best weapons are essentially shotguns and sharp blades.  On the other hand, if the zombie was created with a virus, it is important to maintain universal precautions to prevent contact with blood and bodily fluids.  In addition, mere decapitation will not stop a virus-animated corpse, so more complete destruction of the zombie is warranted.  The best approach may be to take a cue from the Centers for Disease Control and approach the problem as one of creating a sterile field.  Antivirals, chlorinating agents, ultraviolet light, microwaves and intense heat are all typical CDC-approved means of destroying infected tissues.  Of course fire and harsh chemicals will do a pretty good number on zombies as well.  Again, it is essential to avoid contamination of one's self during the procedure; hence the future of anti-zombie squads is likely to entail MOPP gear and suicide squads of those already infected (but not yet turned).  [Then again, it may ultimately be necessary to take off and nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure!]

For our late addendum to the list of zombie types - the hag-ridden zombie -  destroying the brain might very well be an appropriate means of defeating the creatures.  In order to control it's host, the parasite would likely need contact with the brain and upper spinal cord.  Decapitation, shotgun blast or even .22 should do the job quite well, but it might also be advisable to destroy the chest cavity as well, just in case any baby Aliens are incubating there. 

Which brings us to the poll which ran this past week regarding messy ways to kill zombies.  Howitzer won the vote, and I'd have to say that the combination of total body dismemberment coupled with a weapon that allows a stand-off distance measured in miles is rather appealing.  I know that Mike Williamson favors industrial snowblowers - the ones used to clear airport runways - which adds one uncounted vote for spinning blades of death, as does the write-in entry of "Vitamix of Doom," bringing the slice and dice option into second place.  The second write-in was for a variation on chlorine trifluoride, resulting in a third place tie with liquid nitrogen.  The actual write-in was for pressurized darts filled with chlorine trifluoride, which if you don't know about ClF3, it's an oxidizing chemical that burns with just about everything - spontaneously combusting with living (or unliving) flesh.  I enthusiastically endorse this notion, as it combines maximum explosive dismemberment potential with sterilizing flame.  Truly the best of both worlds! 

For those of you interested, Mike Williamson and I will be hosting a panel on "Messiest Ways to Kill a Zombie" at LibertyCon in Chattanooga, TN this July.  We tested the concept earlier this year, and it should prove to be very entertaining.  I promise to record it and notify blog readers when it is posted to YouTube.

So, that's the serious and humorous side of zombies in science and popular culture.  Friday's blog will take a look at the popular meme of "Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse" and show how such activites can also help you prepare for storms, natural disasters and civil emergencies.

Until next time, don't try singing "Kum-Ba-Ya" with the Zombies, unless you want to join them!

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