Category Archives: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Newsflesh: Worst Case Zombies, Best Case Survival

Feedback, by Mira Grant

While reading Feedback, it occurred to me that Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series features the worst-case scenario of zombie design, and yet humanity survives with civilization mostly intact. That’s impressively optimistic.

I mean, look at the parameters of how zombies work in this setting:

Everyone who dies becomes a zombie, regardless of whether they’ve ever been near a zombie. This is fairly common, but there are settings where you can keep zombies out with a quarantine. Not this one.

Direct contact with a zombie is extremely contagious. Bites and scratches, sure, but imagine a zombie with late-stage Ebola. (A modified Marburg is one of the component viruses). Zombie drool landing on an open wound can convert you. The blood spatter from the zombie you’re shooting can get in your eye and convert you. The body of the zombie you just killed, lying on the ground motionless, is still a high-level biohazard that can convert you.

Anyone who goes out in the field must go through decontamination. Showers include a standard bleach cycle and won’t let you out until it’s done. Outbreak sites have to be hosed down with bleach, burned, or simply condemned.

Any blood that’s been outside the body long enough will trigger conversion on exposure, even if the person isn’t a zombie. Even your own blood.

Sometimes people spontaneously convert. It’s not common, but it’s been known to happen.

The newly-infected can be as fast as a normal person before their body starts decaying. (Yep, fast zombies and slow zombies in the same ‘verse.)

Any large mammal can become a zombie. Dogs. Raccoons. Horses. Bears. Cows. Red meat is now a biohazard.

Mobs of zombies can plan ambushes. Enough zombies together exhibit just enough rudimentary intelligence to set a trap. Even across species.

There’s a really scary twist in the virus’ transmissibility late in the second novel that I won’t spoil.

The only factor that isn’t maxed-out is their indestructibility. A zombie in the middle of the desert or at the bottom of the ocean will eventually starve.

Eventually.

And yet humanity survives the Rising and is able to rebuild civilization in many — not all, but many — parts of the world.

That’s…well, that’s kind of inspiring.

Why Kilgrave’s Power is Scarier than a Jedi Mind Trick

With Jessica Jones and Star Wars: The Force Awakens both out, it’s hard not to compare Kilgrave’s power to Jedis’ ability to influence minds. But while we admire “You don’t need to see our identification” and laugh at “Republic credits will be fine,” Kilgrave is terrifying.

It’s not just that Jedi are compassionate and Kilgrave is a total sociopath with no regard for human life who would casually make someone kill or maim themselves just because he was having a bad day. Darth Vader is just as ruthless, but doesn’t bother with the technique (in the films, at least).

It’s that the “Jedi mind trick” is explicitly shown to be limited. It’s used rarely, and only for specific commands. The first time we see it used in A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi describes it as “influence” rather than control and specifically says it only works on “the weak-minded.” Willpower is sufficient to guard against it. In Return of the Jedi, Jabba the Hutt even laughs it off when Luke tries to use it on him. The only time we see any sort of long-term suggestion it’s to “go home and rethink your life.” Presumably the dealer in Attack of the Clones will be in full command of his own faculties by then, having simply been prompted to start the soul-searching.

Kilgrave, however? His commands are absolute. No matter how hard you prepare mentally, no matter how strong your will, no matter whether your actions would go against your principles, or hurt you, or hurt someone else — even someone you care about — you do it. Immediately. None of the usual trying to stop your hand from moving that you see in a lot of movies where a mind-controlling character shows up. No apparent strain on his part to keep controlling you. Implanted commands can last for hours, and he can renew his control over and over as long as he wants to.

That’s scary enough right there. Putting that level of power in the hands (well, voice) of someone who sees other people as merely tools and playthings, and whose only behavioral boundaries consist in covering his own tracks? That’s nightmare-level stuff.

Think about it this way: Emperor Palpatine spent decades manipulating key people across a galaxy into putting him in a position of absolute control over thousands of worlds. Put him in a room with Kilgrave and he wouldn’t stand a chance.

Genre TV Update: Fall 2015

Somehow I’ve managed to end up watching mostly shows based on comic books this year. And amazingly, there are enough of them out there that I have to pick and choose. It seems I’m able to keep up with about 3 shows on a weekly basis, and still fit in family, work and other hobbies.

The Flash: I’m still amazed that 1. there’s a Flash TV show, 2. it’s good, and 3. it’s successful enough that it’s actually been renewed. This is the one show I make an effort to watch the night it airs, and I’m enjoying it a lot more than I’ve enjoyed the comic book in the last few years.

iZombie: The other show I’ve managed to stay current with. I’ve found that as fun as the case of the week is, it’s the continuing subplots that keep me coming back: the search for a cure, the back and forth with Blaine and the zombie population of Seattle, Major’s living hell, etc.

Supergirl: This has turned out to be a lot of fun, though I’m not *ahem* super-invested in it yet.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Uneven. I’m finding the Inhumans storyline tedious, but then I’ve never liked that sort of story much. Simmons’ adventures on the other side of the obelisk, though….I’m really intrigued by that. (Note: I’m behind a couple of weeks, so I haven’t had a chance to watch “4,722 Hours” yet.) Update: “4,722 Hours” was absolutely fascinating. The Hydra/Inhumans stuff is really turning into a slog.

I am really looking forward to Jessica Jones. I was a fan of the original Alias comics, and this group did an amazing job with Daredevil. Update: It’s fantastic. Even better than Daredevil. But it’s intense enough that I only want to watch one episode at a time, when I can follow it with something lighter.

The Librarians: Fun popcorn adventure with a literary bent to it. Not sure I’m totally sold on Prospero and Moriarity as the villains, but if they follow last year’s pattern, they’ll mix things up.

Heroes Reborn: It was a lot better than I expected, but not enough to keep me.

Meanwhile, I’ve given up on “Once Upon a Time” completely. It just slowly turned into a parody of itself. “Castle” was still fun last I caught it, but too far down the priority list to keep up with it.

Do Not Taunt the Octopus

Do Not Taunt the OctopusMira Grant has been writing yearly novellas set in the world of her Newsflesh trilogy. A generation after the zombie apocalypse, humanity has survived, adapted, and rebuilt civilization. While the trilogy focuses an a core group of characters, journalism, social media and American politics, the novellas have opened up more of the world.

“Countdown” reveals the early stages of the Rising, including a look at what two messed-up background characters were like before everything went to hell. “The Last Stand of the California Browncoats” looks at what would happen if an actual zombie plague wiped out Comic-Con. “How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea” jumps across the world to Australia, where the people take a very different approach toward managing the zombie virus. “The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell” explores the implications of life with zombies on the school system, and it’s really freaking disturbing. The newest one refers back to it (not in any detail — it goes out of its way to not describe what actually happened), and it hit me again. That story sticks with you.

“Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus” is the latest, and picks up the tale of Dr. Abbey, who runs an underground virology research lab where they’re trying to cure the zombie virus without the politics constraining mainstream organizations like the CDC (which has its own issues), as they deal with industrial espionage, hackers, and some…surprise visitors. She grudgingly accepts the label of “mad scientist,” though she insists that while she is angry, she’s not crazy.

It’s a surprisingly upbeat story considering the setting, as is “How Green This Land…”

One interesting observation: It’s now 2015. In the Newsflesh world, the Rising took place in 2014. We’ve now branched into alternate universe territory, but there are references to historic events and pop culture that happened after the first novel came out in 2010.

Another observation: I followed this up by finally reading Unlocked, a novella detailing the background of John Scalzi’s novel Lock-In. It’s an interesting parallel, in that both Newsflesh and Lock-In pick up a generation after a devastating virus has swept the globe, killing and transforming people — in one case taking over the bodies as the mind dies, in the other leaving the mind intact but cut off from the body — and the technological, social and political changes made to deal with the new normal.

Looking Forward to iZombie

iZombieiZombie has a premiere date! The comedy/horror/murder mystery show launches March 17 on the CW.

I’ve been describing iZombie as a mash-up of the Robeson/Allred comic’s premise (woman becomes a zombie, but can keep her mental faculties as long as she eats one brain a month…then starts picking up memories and personality quirks from the brains she eats) with Pushing Daisies (someone able to communicate with the dead in an odd, but limited manner teams up with a detective to solve murders) and Veronica Mars (produced by Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero), all of which sounded promising, since I liked the iZombie comic, Pushing Daisies, and Veronica Mars. Based on the previews I’ve seen online and at SDCC last summer, that description is (if you’ll pardon the expression) dead-on.

CW has the first look trailer for the show.

ComicBookMovie has the official synopsis of the show. Rose McIver stars as the main character, Liv, who takes a job in the coroner’s office to satisfy her need for brains, but gets found out by her boss…who is actually quite fascinated. As she picks up memories and skills from murder victims, she helps a detective solve cases while seeking the man responsible for her own zombification.

The Hollywood Reporter has an extensive article talking with the producers and stars about the show’s tone, characterization, how Liv differs from Veronica, the nature of zombies on the show (if they don’t eat brains regularly, they turn into classic Romero-style zombies) and so on.

It looks like it will be a lot of fun, and while it’s got half-season-wonder written all over it, you never know. I mean, the fact that we got a second season of Pushing Daisies qualifies as a television miracle!

iZombie Panel