Even the Pentagon Thinks About Zombies!

I wrote a book review about Undead last week which is a zombie novel, and was planning to review Unfed, the sequel this week. However, I came across this item about the Pentagon and zombies and could not resist departing from the norm…..http://news.yahoo.com/5-strange-facts-pentagons-anti-zombie-plan-191006523.html

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Best Places To Be If You Want To Avoid An Apocalypse

It seems that most apocalyptic novels I read are either about:

a) zombies created by some mutated virus

b) a natural or an environmental disaster of some kind

So it was with interest that I came across this list of the Ten Safest Places in the U.S. from Natural Disasters:  http://finance.yahoo.com/news/top-10-safest-u-s–cities-from-natural-disasters-183608693.html

Maybe apocalyptic readers can create a Top 20 List, since this only covers places safe from some natural disasters and not from other factors….food for thought.

The Math of a Zombie Apocalypse

When I started this blog I was more into The Hunger Games and Divergent type of YA dystopian/apocalyptic stuff. Somewhere along the way I found myself reading a lot of zombie novels, so when I came across this article from LiveScience.com I was intrigued…math was never my strong subject in school but the topic was interesting enough that I read it through thinking, “now if only my school math teachers had used examples like this, I may have done better in math class.”

This equation could spell your doom: (bN)(S/N)Z = bSZ. That is, if you ever found yourself in the midst of a zombie pandemic.

That’s because the calculation describes the rate of zombie transmission, from one walking dead individual to many, according to its creators, Robert J. Smith?, a mathematics professor at the University of Ottawa who spells his name with a “?” at the end, and his students. Smith’s work has inspired other researchers to create zombie mathematical models, which will be published with Smith’s work in the upcoming book, “Mathematical Modeling of Zombies” (University of Ottawa Press, 2014).

Though of course done tongue-in-cheek, Smith’s study demonstrates why zombies are the viruses of the monster world. Their likeness to viruses makes the creatures ideal subjects for theoretical epidemiological analyses, which can be used to capture the public’s imagination as well as explore scientific principles, Smith said. [Zombie Facts: Real and Imagined (Infographic)]

As for a zombie apocalypse, Smith’s model shows that a zombie infection would spread quickly (with N representing total population, S the number of susceptible people, Z the zombies, and bthe likelihood of transmission). It also shows that zombies would overtake the world— there’s no chance for a “stable equilibrium” in which humans could coexist with the undead or eradicate the disease.

Only coordinated attacks against the zombies would save humanity, the model shows.

Epidemiology and ‘WWZ’

Models of disease outbreaks, like the one Smith developed, play a prominent role in real-life epidemiology, Smith said.

“Unlike most popular monsters, zombies are inherently biological in nature,” said Mat Mogk, founder of the Zombie Research Society. “They don’t fly or live forever, so you can apply real-world biological models to them.”

Zombies are walking representations of a contagion, because they depict flesh-devouring monsters who spread their affliction by gnawing on the healthy. Some recent zombie flicks, notably “28 Days Later” and “Zombieland,” even explicitly portray zombieism as a virus.

“A zombie is a bit like giving a virus legs and teeth,” said Ian MacKay, a virologist at the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre, University of Queensland, who bloggedabout “World War Z.” “This is basically a virus taking over a host, and spreading very quickly and efficiently. … It’s an extreme virus-transmission event, if you like.”

In “World War Z,” Brad Pitt plays a U.N. inspector searching the globe for the origin of the zombie outbreak, paralleling the quests of many real-life virus hunters, Mackay said. “Trying to find the index case, or case zero, bears quite a resemblance to conventional epidemiology,” Mackay said. The movie is (somewhat loosely) based on Max Brooks’ novel of the same name, which included unprecedented, true-to-life detailabout the political, medical and sociological ramifications of a zombie outbreak, earning the thriller a spot on a U.S. Naval War College reading list. [Outbreak! The 5 Most Likely Real-Life Contagions]

Math tackles the hordes
World War Z: The Real Plan for Apocalypse – DNewsPlay video.”
World War Z: The Real Plan for Apocalypse – DNews

Analyzing zombies adds a couple of new wrinkles to traditional disease modeling, Smith said: Dead people can be resurrected as zombies, and humans will attack the infected. “Usually, the dead aren’t a dynamic variable,” Smith said. “And people don’t try to kill the people who have an infection.”

Those elements — infections and attacks on zombies — made the model more complicated, because they introduce two nonlinear factors, or factors that don’t change at a constant rate, said Smith, who has modeled outbreaks of HIV, malaria and West Nile virus. Most disease models include only one nonlinear element: disease transmission. Having two nonlinear factors makes zombie math extremely sensitive to small changes to parameters, Smith said.

The most important parameter, however, was the infectivity of the zombie disease. In zombie movies, the affliction spreads fast, Mackay said. In “World War Z,” for instance, Pitt’s character counts out the seconds from bite to zombification, whereas most infections take days, months or even years in the case of HIV to manifest.

That high infectivity makes the zombie epidemic unstoppable in most cases, according to Smith’s model. “Because it only takes one zombie to overtake a city,” neither quarantine nor a slower disease progression could stop the Zombie Apocalypse — only delay it, Smith said. Only frequent, increasingly effective attacks against humanity’s transformed brethren would win an actual zombie war, he said. [End of the World? Top 10 Doomsday Fears]

To model that kind of human-zombie tangling, Smith used a relatively new mathematical technique called “impulsive differential equations,” which show how abrupt shocks affect systems. Commonly used to model satellite orbits, the technique didn’t appear until the 1990s, whereas most mathematical tools date back centuries, Smith said.

Zombies IRL

Applying such techniques to the flesh-devouring masses provides more than geeky entertainment, Smith said. It also serves an educational purpose, with a number of colleges and even high schools using the paper to introduce mathematical modeling to students, he said. “Teachers say it’s the first time they’ve gotten their kids interested in math.”

Tara Smith, an infectious disease professor at the University of Iowa, uses the paper to show how math models can predict the effects of quarantines, vaccines and other public health measures.

The zombie model’s methods have already proved useful in at least one real-life analysis. While working on a model of HPV (human papillomavirus), Robert Smith’s team noted that transmission via both gay and straight sex introduced two nonlinear variables to the equation. Fortunately, the zombie model had already blazed this path, demonstrating how to handle multiple nonlinear factors.

That real-world relevance in part explains the pop-culture resurgence of zombies over the last few years, Mogk said. As epidemics and emerging diseases like SARS and swine flu have grabbed the headlines, zombie fictions like “Walking Dead” and “28 Days Later” have brought the undead a new cultural cachet, he said.

“With increasing urbanization, you’re getting all these new diseases,” he said. “It’s almost a disease of the week or disease of the month now.” And those flesh-hungry viruses-with-teeth are poised to reflect the public’s pandemic-related anxieties.

Follow Michael Dhar on Twitter @mid1980. Follow us @livescience, Facebook& Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

Zombie House Hunting

I never had any interest in zombies.  Then I picked up the book The Forest of Hands and Teeth and was enthralled by the lyric style of the writing.  Now that the door was open, I also read Enclave.  Most recently, I have been reading the Rot & Ruin series, the morality and good guys vs. bad guys reminded of reading Shane in junior high.

Now that I have opened myself to the whole zombie thing, now I am seeing zombie stuff everywhere.  When I am not reading dystopian YA fiction, you will often find me watching shows on my favorite TV station, HGTV.  There was an episode where a man and his wife wanted to buy a private island in Florida.  Apparently it wasn’t for privacy, prestige or the other reasons you might think.  The guy kept mentioning their house would be a no zombie zone, based on the theory that zombies wouldn’t be able to swim to wear he lived.  I thought the guy was definitely off his rocker.  Then I came across this article this week on zombie free real estate and it made me chuckle: http://homes.yahoo.com/news/anti-zombie-strongholds-for-sale.html?page=all

The Rise of the One Word Titles

Why are so many YA dystopian book titles one word?? For the past two years for my fiction reading I have been reading YA dystopian fiction almost exclusively, so maybe this is a trend in other genres too and I haven’t noticed.    From the Chemical Garden series (Wither, Fever, Sever) to Ally Condie’s (Matched, Crossed, Reached   ) and  Anne Aguirre (Enclave, Outpost, Horde) among many others  there seems to be a strong naming trend in YA dystopian fiction.

It’s almost ironic that these books, so complex in terms of world building and the emotions of the characters are summed up by their one word titles.   Where did this trend start and are the YA authors aware that they are following the trend?    Do they ever agonize after writing and coming up with the title for the first book, how they will find a name for the next?

Since we are talking about post-apocalyptic fiction here, why haven’t any YA dystopian authors used these for their series? Distressed, Devastated, Screwed

I Miss Monsters

When I read a blurb for Dayna Lorentz’s No Safety In Numbers I misunderstood.  It mentioned something strange being discovered at a suburban shopping mall causing teens to battle to survive.  So I instantly assumed there would be monsters, probably zombies, involved as haven’t there been a number of films where survivors take refuge in a mall where there is access to food, clothes and potential weapons?

Well without giving too much away I will say that the mall part was accurate, but instead of monsters, there is a device discovered that has deadly consequences.  Have I become too hooked on monsters as an element in dystopian fiction?

Not all YA dystopian fiction has to have monsters to be good reads.  In books like The Hunger Games, Tomorrow When the War Began, Delirium and plenty of others, the monsters are really just us, humans.  Even in the Rot & Ruin series which does have zombies, the bounty hunters and cult fanatics are the bigger monsters than the actual monsters, which is why I am loving that series so much.   Maybe that’s the problem, maybe I find it actually more comforting when I read about a dystopian world where the ‘bad guys’ are someone other than us.  It’s easier to blame the woes of a post-apocalyptic situation on monstrous creatures, than to look to ourselves and our flaws that create disastrous events or worlds.  It hits to close too close to home when we are our own worst enemies.

It’s funny that I got to a point where I had to reduce time spent reading and watching news reports because I felt like I was drowning in a sea of bad news….dictators and authoritarian governments who control their citizens, environmental crises, violence and a loss of civility, and the greed of the rich and powerful.   I reduced my news absorption a few years ago, then a couple of years ago I got completely hooked on YA dystopian fiction!   It’s so ironic.

I am asking myself do I find it more palatable to face these issues in a work of fiction rather than real life?  At least in books, there are heroes; sometimes I am not sure whether there are many heroes or good leaders left  in real life.  However, that’s the thing I guess about apocalyptic or dystopian events, until one happens you never know how people will react, sometimes it’s the most ordinary or unassuming people who arise to meet the challenges at hand and emerge as heroes.

Sometimes it feels safer to read about a disaster between the pages of a book than to observe one in real life or to wonder who I would become in a crisis…

What About the Before in YA Dystopian Books?

So I rented and watched the film Seeking a Friend For The End Of The World last night.  First, I thought it was interesting that Hollywood would even dare make a movie about the end of the world, usually the only time they do is when the heroes of the movie manage to divert the disaster, such as Independence Day.  However, I guess if you have actors such as Steve Carell and Keira Knightley signing on, anything is possible.

Anyway, the fact that the plot takes place BEFORE the apocalyptic event happens got me thinking about all the YA dystopian fiction I have read.  Most all of it has taken place after an event, and oftentimes generations after an event.  Even the couple of books I have read which are exceptions, take place right before the event such as the amazing, Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  The event in this book, likethe movie is an asteroid, but in the movie civilization knows the event will be happening enough in advance that we get to see how people might handle it.

Since it’s a movie and it stars Steve Carell, most of the reactions are absurd and funny.  Carell’s character, Dodge, continues to show up for work as ironically an insurance salesman.  Many people in the film do which seemed strange to me, as I thought in real life no one would, but it did start me wondering how many people maybe would continue at work either because they find the routine comforting or because they think somehow the crisis will be averted.  Scenes in the film of wild parties with drugs and orgies  taking place seemed more accurate, as were later scenes of riots.  Also, the idea of people wanting to find closure in their lives, or reaching out to lost loves or families happens in the film. I guess no one truly knows how they themselves would react if they knew such an event was coming, but how do you think you might behave?

I thought to myself that this is untapped territory in dystopia fiction, writing about the lives of characters before the event.  Yes, books like Pure make references, but the main characters were children and the book is written when they are teens, therefore they don’t understand the enormity of the loss as they don’t remember life before very well.

I would like to read a book that develops characters through a transition from young innocence and carefree years to having to mentally and physically adapt to a coming disaster.  Many zombie books take place right after the zombiefication of the world like in This Is Not A Test, so we get to see some of the evolution of characters such as the teen pothead who becomes a leader by default.  However, if there was a book where there were weeks of advanced notice beforehand, what would happen?  What would people’s reactions be?  Would they cling to hope?  Would they not prepare because they don’t believe the worst will happen?  Will they rebel against what is happening by acting out through drugs, violence or sex?  How will their relationship with their parents be effected?  How will they deal with the idea that the milestones they have not hit, such as graduation, college, marriage and children might never happen for them?   Will they be more resilient than adults in a crisis?  Maybe the state of the world before the event happens is one which the characters find hard to survive as things spin out of control.

What do you think about a book like this?