Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Book Review: Each New Morn

Good day Zombiology students,

Thank you for stopping by the ZomBlog. Today I’ll be taking a break from science to review Each New Morn a post-apocalyptic thriller from L. G. Thomson. My usual caveat applies, I am a scientist, not a critic, therefore I can only share my personal thoughts of the book. I must also declare a conflict of interest, as I make a special appearance in the story! In fact the book holds a special place in my heart as the author found inspiration from some of our science in the creation of her Zombies - a most humbling honour.


Each New Morn follows survivors of a deadly prion disease named Falling Down Flu. I can hear scientists grinding their teeth, as influenza refers to a virus not a prion, but settle down, this is explained in the book. This isn’t your traditional Zombie story, in fact the word Zombie is rarely used and the disease has many unique factors that set it apart from the standard Romero model. The outbreak begins with patients falling into a sleeping state for a short period. Some wake up fine, some never wake again and others, well, they come back different.

The story begins with Chrissie, a woman alone in her home, where other members of her family haven’t woken up. Anarchy has overwhelmed the streets and she makes the decision to take a car and seek safer pastures. As is often the case, Chrissie discovers that the most dangerous element of the apocalypse is not the infected but other humans.


In the second part we are introduced to Shaw, a man who was trapped on a visit to his home village and like Chrissie, his family doesn’t awaken with him. He does have a lovely dog, Toby, for company. It is here that we have our first encounter with a ‘Zombie’. This doesn’t happen until more than 80 pages in, very unusual for a Zombie tale, however I found the story so gripping, that I hadn’t even noticed. After dispatching the first of many undead monsters, Shaw begins to assemble survivors and they struggle to survive against the conditions of the remote Highland area.

I’m cautious not to reveal too many of the exciting twists and turns in the book, spoilers I believe they are called. But I must discuss the Zombies because I really loved (and was terrified) by them. Those who awaken changed behave in some of ways we expect of a Zombie. They are aggressive, relentless and difficult to kill. In a break from the norm they do not moan – they scream. Nicknamed Screamers they roam the night wailing horribly. This is a nice nod to the banshee, a fixture of Scottish Gaelic mythology. These creatures are also vulnerable to injury in a more human way, meaning it’s not just a headshot that’ll take them down. I liked that because from a scientific perspective the lack of explanation as to how the body functions without blood flowing, or consumed food & drink being transferred to energy, is a bit confusing.

Overall the story is action packed – it covers a long journey and a long period of time. It explores areas many other Zombie stories overlook, such as the rise of feral animals, an explosion in the insect population and the realistic decay of the things we humans leave behind. The approach is different from other Zombies stories, making it a fresh and surprising read – and as an avid fan of all things Zombie this doesn’t happen to me often. It is set in Scotland, and being my home country, I liked that a lot. There’s something exciting about being able to visualize these events happening in your immediate world. My only slight confusion was why American terms were used, such as ‘gas’ and ‘store’, as the characters were not American. Perhaps this helps with international sales.

If you’d like a gripping, fresh take on the Zombie genre, packed with tension and surprises that are equally pleasant and horrible then Each New Morn is for you.       


L. G. Thomson’s Each New Morn is available on Amazon and more information can be found on the official website.

I’m going to the Edinburgh Fringe 2014 with two offerings from Zombie Science, details below;

Zombie Science: Brain of the Dead – Edinburgh Fringe 2014
30th July - 25th August (not 12th) at 7.10pm (1hr)
Tickets: £6.50 - £10.50
C Venues, Adam House, Chambers Street, EH1 1HR
Fringe Venue 34
C Venue Box Office: 0845 260 123 / www.cthefestival.com
Fringe Box Office: 0131 226 0026 / www.edfringe.com

Zombie Science: Worst Case Scenario – Edinburgh Fringe 2014
30th July - 25th August (not 12th) at 10pm (1hr)
Tickets: £6.50 - £10.50
C Venues, Adam House, Chambers Street, EH1 1HR
Fringe Venue 34
C Venue Box Office: 0845 260 123 / www.cthefestival.com
Fringe Box Office: 0131 226 0026 / www.edfringe.com

Stay safe out there,

Doctor Austin   

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep, is a Theoretical Zombiologist and Head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Zombies Write! II 'A brief too far'


Welcome to the ZomBlog,

This entry is a wee break from the usual science. I've been participating in the Zombies, Write II writing challenge. Using a prompt from Dan I composed the below story, set in the world of Zombies, Run

Please enjoy, 'a brief too far'...   

Runner Five rested her hands on her knees, welcoming the chance to catch her breath. She barely flinched as the gate Warden inspected her sweat soaked body for scratches and bites. It was a procedure to which she'd become long since used to.

'You're clear Five, good to have you back,' the Warden proclaimed with his usual unwavering, cheerful manner. Five nodded and made her way to supply depot.

The contents of her backpack were emptied unceremoniously across the table. Batteries, ammo, pain meds, antibiotics, sports bras, and underwear formed the bulk of the pile. The team got to work sorting. Five did her best to avoid the smirks and stifled laughs.

'A few close calls out there Five?' asked Mike, the head of the storage team, sarcasm dripping from every word.

'No more Zoms than usual', Five replied curtly.

'As long as its just your legs that are running.'

The entire group erupted into fits of laughter. Five scooped up the underwear and bras, stuffed them into her backpack and stormed off.

---

Back at her shack Five was relieved to find no one else around. She reached underneath her bunk and pulled out a battered old tea chest. She popped the lid and swung it open, revealing a cache of underwear and sports bras. She added the new arrivals to the collection and shoved it back out of sight.

'Nice chest Five', came a voice from above.

Startled, Five spun to face it, heart pounding. Sam Yao lay on a top bunk, dog eared copy of the instructions for Darkness & Demons spread across his lap.

'Bite me Sam', snapped Five, and angrily stomped out.

'What? No! I meant the tea chest', Sam called after her.

---

The next day Five stalked the wilderness alone again, well almost. She truly loved the silence, perhaps one of the few positive aspects of the apocalypse. Even the Zombies no longer bothered her. They'd become little more than an inconvenience, she dodged them as one would a fallen tree. 

'I'm about to lose you on the cameras Five.' Sam's voice on her headset snapped her back from her thoughts.

Perfect. Five had been waiting for this opportunity. She pulled off her backpack and undid the buckles. From inside she removed a sports bra and set of underwear.

Behind Five a branch snapped. Slowly a Zombie emerged, stumbling toward Five from between two trees. 

Stuffing the underwear into the cups of the bra Five hooked the strap behind her thumb. With her other hand she grasped the bra between the two cups and stretched it back. Closing one eye she took aim at the incoming Zombie. She steadied her breathing, and began counting down in her head.

Three. Two. One.

Five released her grip. The elastic contracted, sending the underwear hurtling toward the rotting target. The airborne briefs made contact with the Zombie's face, lightly bounced off, and landed on the ground.

Runner 5 cursed to herself.

The Zombie paused briefly, staring at her in what Five thought was a mixture of amusement and confusion. It was as if the Zombie was astounded anyone would do something so pointless and so stupid. No, that was her imagination, Zombies always have that look.

Rummaging in her backpack Five grabbed another pair of boxer shorts. This time she carefully placed them into the bra, open end toward the front.

Five fired again, aiming slightly higher than the Zombie's head.
The boxers flew through the air, almost gliding, in a perfect arc. The wind puffed them partially open, and they descended onto the Zombie's skull. The boxers sat at a jaunty angle. Five laughed quietly to herself. Thank God Sam can't see her, this must look ridiculous.

Satisfied her plan would work, and having got to grips with the method, Five loaded another pair of boxers into the bra. As she steadied her aim she took a step back. Something pressed against the heel of her shoe. Without thinking Five fired her pants based payload just as her world turned upside down.

Five felt as if she were falling in slow motion, gracefully sailing downward, hard ground rising up to meet the back of her head.

Darkness.

When her vision cleared Five was looking up at the Zombie. It towered over her, appearing massive. Five smiled. Sitting neatly upon the Zombie's head were the pair of boxers. Her aim had been spot on. Its eyes were completely covered.

In one fluid motion Five rolled toward her pack and pulled a bat free from its holder. With cat like agility Five rose to her feet and began circling the blinded monster. She was careful not to make a sound. The Zombie kept lurching forward, toward the spot Five had fallen. Wherever Five moved, the Zombie stayed on its original course. Five smiled with satisfaction. Her theory was bang on. There's nothing mystical about how Zombie's hunt. Sight and sound. Like everything else.

'You okay Five?' Sam's voice asked over the headset, laced with concern.

It startled Five, such had been her focus on the task at hand.

'Nothing I can't handle Sam', Five replied.

At the sound of her voice the Zombie began turning, seeking the source. Five moved in front of the Zombie.

'Thanks for your assistance sweetie, you were a big help.'

Five brought her bat firmly down on its head, popping it like a melon.

---

Back in Able Five paced nervously outside the Major's office. Despite the success of her experiment she still remained somewhat hesitant about how her idea would be received. The Major's staccato call echoed from the office, ordering Five in.

Five entered and set the sports bra, with its underwear ammunition, on the desk. She would never forget the bemused look on the Major's face. It alone was worth the risk of being dismissed.

---

Dawn was breaking as the crowd of Able residents assembled in the training area. The Major stepped forward, a hush descended, and she began to address them.

'All of us know too well the challenge we face in combating the Zombie threat. They are an enemy unlike any other the human race has faced. To gain victory, and I am convinced we shall, requires new thinking, unique thinking. I have been presented with a tactical advantage, one we must all learn to master. Runner Five, your demonstration please.'

Five stepped forward, bra and underwear in hand. The supply team, led by Mike, fought to hold back laughter. The mirth infectiously rippled out to the rest of the crowd.

Two of the Major's Officers dragged something through the flaps of the tent. As it came into focus, the laughter ceased immediately. It was a Zombie, writhing forward, straining against its restraints.

'Major are you mental?' A deathly hush came upon the crowd. They strained to eye who had spoken. It was Sam.

Sam became nervous as the looks fell upon him, and added, 'Sir'.

Without even looking at him the Major shot back, 'be silent and watch Mr Yao.'

Every eye was on Five. Controlling her breath she counted down and repeated her skillful shot. The blinded Zombie bumbled around, its putrefying brain unable to figure out why it was blind, its extended arms never considering to simply remove the underwear.

'We have heard many stories', continued the Major, 'the undead are mystical, magical, they have enhanced powers that lead them to find us wherever we hide. The stories are wrong.'

The Zombie was moving toward her voice, as it reached her, the Major casually stepped sideways, and the Zombie crashed into the podium falling with it to the ground.

'Not only has Runner Five proven this today. She has given us a new weapon against the monsters. One that requires no bullets, and little maintenance. Once blinded the Zombies are easily taken down in hand to hand combat.'

Illustrating her point the Major pulled a large combat knife from her waist and sliced into the Zombie's head, nearly parting its entire skull in two. It fell down limp. 

'We owe Runner 5 a debt of gratitude.'

The entire crowd broke into applause. Grudgingly Mike joined in and Five fired him a smug wink. 

As the applause faded out at single hand rose. The Major followed it to its source and let out a heavy sigh.

'Question Mr Yao?'

'Does this mean I have to start going commando?' All eyes turned to him. 'Sir.'

                              ---

Thanks for reading,

Doctor Austin

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep, is a Theoretical Zombiologist and Head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK.

Joining me on the 28th & 29th of October 2013 for the brand new lecture Zombie Science: Brain of the Dead at the London Horror Festival. Book your tickets online or by calling 020 7482 4857. The lecture is part of a 3 year project supported by a Society Award from the Wellcome Trust.


Monday, 30 September 2013

Angry Zombies

Fit like there students, help yourself to a cup of tea and let’s get into today’s ZomBlog.

I’m preparing our new public lecture, Zombie Science: Brain of the Dead, for it’s debut at the London Horror Festival. In this lecture I’ll be delving into the Zombie brain. Today I thought I’d share some insights into a part of the brain called the amygdala, and what its role is in Zombieism.
The amygdala lies deep within the brain and is about the size of an almond. It plays a key role in the display and control of aggression.

During a study involving monkeys, their amygdalae were stimulated electrically. This led to an increase in aggression. The fact that monkeys react angrily to having their brains electrocuted isn't exactly a revelation, but us scientists have to pass the time somehow.
The size of the amygdala is known to correlate with how aggressive a species is. If a male is castrated, the amygdala can shrink by up to 30 percent. This may offer one method of calming down male Zombies, but, as opposed to the head, usually offers a smaller target.
I'm personally uncomfortable just looking at this tool, never mind attempting to use it on a Zombie
A reason that Zombieism may want to manipulate this area, and cause increased aggression, is to help it spread.
Recent research suggests that parasites often take up residence in the amygdala. The parasite, toxoplasma causes the disease, Toxoplasmosis. Its preferred host is a cat however if it infects a mouse or rat, it changes their behaviour to make them attracted to cat odours. This will increase their chance of being eaten by a cat thus placing the parasite in the host it desires.
Unless of course the mouse has a basic understanding of explosives
In a similar way Zombieism could twist the amygdalae to do its bidding by altering Zombie behaviour, making Zombies more likely to bite, and therefore improving the odds the disease will be transferred.

Zombies biting is a bit of a ‘three for the price of one’ bonus. It’s how they breed, feed, and make us humans take heed.

Find out more about the undead brain by joining me on the 28th & 29th of October 2013 for the brand new lecture Zombie Science: Brain of the Dead at the London Horror Festival, find out more here, and book your tickets by calling 020 7482 4857. The lecture is part of a 3 year project supported by a Society Award from the Wellcome Trust.

Don’t forget, if you have a question you’d like me to answer here in the ZomBlog why not leave it as a comment below? Or visit our Book of Faces and ask your question there.

When it comes to the science of Zombies we’ve got it covered, or at the very least, we can make it sound like we do.

Keep up the good work my students,

Doctor Austin

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep, is a Theoretical Zombiologist and Head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Zombie Vs Predator

Ahoy-hoy Zombie Fans, good to have you here for today’s ZomBlog.

Once again I’ll be endeavouring to shine some scientific sense over your Zombiology questions.


The first question we have today is from Lee who asks,
“How do zombies sense their prey? Their eyes are often portrayed as cloudy, so can they see? Can they just 'see' movement? Do they develop other senses, to pick up heat for example? As their infected brains can barely function enough to move their atrophied limbs, how difficult it must be to use barely functioning senses.”
A real Zombie would of course be more like a human being than their fictional counterparts. They’d have the same senses as we do. In movies they are often shown as being super sensitive to smell, noise, and so on. This of course makes for a more dramatic and scary scene, but isn’t based in reality.


The same is true for the eyes. It is creepier to have a Zombie with cloudy, grey, and generally dead eyes. In the book World War Z, one of the characters explains that Zombies don’t blink and their eyes become cloudy as scratches form. 

First we kill the Zombies. Then we kill the spirit of the book.
For us un-undead blinking is an important function. It provides moisture to the eye, allowing us to see nice and clearly. If a human with the Zombie disease didn’t blink, their eyes would dry out, and they would eventually become completely blind.


Real Zombies would be primarily guided by sight and as I mentioned in this previous blog, humans are naturally good at seeing living things compared to inanimate objects.


Unfortunately gaining thermal vision, like the Predator, is out of the realms of possibility for the moment. If we could see the infrared spectrum it would completely overwhelm our eyes.     

Is that the former Governor of California?
So the answer to Lee’s question is that Zombies sense their prey the same way humans do, by seeing, hearing, or smelling them. Lee is right to point out that the damage to their brains is already causing them problems in moving, and in interacting with the world around them. So they’d be utterly terrible at hunting humans - luckily for us!


Next our inquisitive student Nico got back in touch with another question, “What should you do before a zombie crisis ? Buy guns?”


Here at the Zombie Institute we believe that all life is sacred, even Zombie life, and we would never condone or encourage the use of involuntary euthanasia to deal with a Zombieism outbreak. That’s a practice Hitler used, and as a rule, anything Hitler does, we avoid. Tiny mustaches, VW cars, Hugo Boss, etc.


In the event of a Zombie outbreak taking off, there are many excellent government and international agencies who would swoop in to help deal with it. If you look at recent disease outbreaks, Mad Cow Disease, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, and so on, you can see how well they have been dealt with without becoming extreme pandemics akin to the plagues of old.


However, if we take Nico’s question as wondering what to do if, for reasons unknown, the Zombieism disease spreads like we see in fiction there are some things you can do to prepare. As Sun Tzu said, know your enemy. 
All great minds know the work of Sun Tzu. And Paris Hilton, who thinks 'that's hot'

By learning all you can about how diseases work, how to control them, and how to treat them you’ll know how best to proceed. For example, if the disease is viral, swallowing a movie star quantity of antibiotics won’t help a bit. If the disease is spread by a bite, and moves through the body very quickly upon infection, there is little point in chopping off your limbs as a preventative measure. Knowledge is power, and by studying this blog, as well as the information on our Institute website you can begin to get educated. You can also attend our live lectures or tutorials. Find one near you on the Tour Dates section of the website .


There are many excellent guides on the internet to preparing for apocalyptic scenarios, so get researching if you’re concerned. Don’t forget the simple stuff, Zombieland taught us the importance of cardio and I personally love this running app, Zombies Run!
I always find sports bras, amazing how these apps know you so well
It has a splendid story intertwined with terrifying Zombie chases. Although, my neighbours have been avoiding me since I began running around shouting about invisible Zombies. And since I got the app too.


So to answer Nico’s question, there are many ways we can prepare for a Zombie disease crisis scenario. But don’t be too scared, here at the Institute we’re looking out for you. As I told the freshman students this week at STD Awareness Day, prevention is better than cure.    


My thanks to Lee and Nico for asking today’s questions. If you have a question you’d like me to answer here in the ZomBlog. Why not leave it as a comment below? Or visit our Book of Faces and ask your question there.


Whatever Zombie knowledge you desire, I’ll do my utmost to oblige.


Take care out there students,


Doctor Austin


Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep, is a Theoretical Zombiologist and Head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK.


The brand new lecture Zombie Science: Brain of the Dead is premiering at the London Horror Festival on the 28th & 29th of October 2013, find out more here, (http://www.londonhorrorfestival.com/whats-on/zombie-science-brain-of-the-dead/) and book your tickets by calling 020 7482 4857

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Vegetarian Zombies

Greetings Zombie Seekers, and a warm welcome to another edition of the ZomBlog.

Today I’ll be answering a pair of questions from our fine Zombiology student body.

The first is from Jim who asks, “If someone is a vegetarian in their pre-zombie state would they refrain from meat? And along the same vein could a zombie be able to recognise nuts and berries as food and survive on non-meat products?”


A famous slogan of vegetarianism is “nothing with a face”, and if fiction has taught us anything, it’s that Zombie’s love nothing more than sucking and tucking into a human’s face.

Vegetarianism comes in many forms, some eat eggs, but no other dairy products, and vegans exclude all animal products including clothing such as leather. There are various reasons people abide by these diets, it might be part of their religious practice or for moral reasons but ultimately it is an active choice.

Our current research indicates that a Zombie’s diet stems from the disease affecting an area of the brain known as the hypothalamus. 


The hypothalamus helps regulate appetite by letting us know when we are hungry, or reversely, full. Dysfunction in this region can make us feel like we are never full, causing us to continually eat. This is called hyperphagia. We believe that a Zombie would be hyperphagic and therefore be compelled to eat continuously.

Areas of the brain also play a role in moral sensitivity. In the 19th century a man named Phineas Gage was involved in an accident. An iron bar was blasted through his head, damaging the frontal lobe of his brain and severely changing his personality. Prior to his accident Phineas was a calm mild mannered man, afterward he became an angry womaniser. By studying Gage scientists learned much about the brain, and that the damaged areas were partly responsible for moral sensitivity.

Phineas had great difficulty finding suitable hats after the accident
We must also consider that the Zombie disease is likely to affect a person’s memories, and personality.

If we combine all of these factors it is unlikely that a vegetarian who subsequently becomes a Zombie could remember their previous diet choices, nor care about maintaining them - on top of this the burning compulsion to eat would lead them to devour anything that is available, including meat.

To answer the second part of Jim’s question, could Zombies survive on non-meat products, our current theories indicate that they could and would. A real Zombie, unlike a movie version, does not have a purely cannibalistic diet, and has similar nutritional requirements to a regular human. Read more about our theories in this handy online guide: http://www.zombiescience.co.uk/#!vstc0=zombieism-guide       

In conclusion, a pre-Zombie vegetarian would not carry on this dietary choice once infected, and would be happy to eat anything from meat to veg.
Our second question today comes in from Nico who wants to know, “Do you think its possible for zombies to become useful members of society? For example get jobs etc.”

Of course in some professions no one would notice a difference
The answer to this depends on whether we could develop a treatment for Zombieism that would remove the disease, and whether we could then repair the damage it leaves behind.

If we could do both then Zombies would essentially be human again and able to return to their previous lives.

If we could do neither it would be more difficult, as we’d need to ensure we kept the disease contained and therefore keep infected people away from the uninfected.

If we could remove the disease, but not repair the damage, a Zombie could be left with significant brain injuries leading to difficulties ranging from movement problems to aggression issues. However the human brain is capable of rewiring itself in a process known as neuroplasticity. The aforementioned Phineas Gage overcame many of his initial personality problems over time. So the longer a disease free Zombie lived, the greater the chance it’s brain has of resolving any problems.

Advert for 'In the Flesh'


The television series ‘In the Flesh’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Flesh_(TV_series)) examined this scenario with fantastic creativity, and if you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend you check it out.

So in answer to Nico’s question, I’d optimistically say that yes Zombie’s could become useful members of society. It might take some time for treatments and cures to be developed but we’d never simply give up on helping our fellow humans. Eventually we’d find a way.

A big thank you to Jim and Nico for today’s questions. As always I can answer your questions right here on the ZomBlog. Why not leave yours as a comment below? Or visit our Book of Faces (www.facebook.com/zombiescience) and ask your question there.

No matter how gruesome or tricky, or trickily gruesome, I’ll endeavour to answer them.

Have a Zom-tastic day students,

Doctor Austin

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep, is a Theoretical Zombiologist and Head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK.