Tag Archives: zombie

wonder how many zombie film/tv/game creators are/were computer science nerds

As you all know, I am a huge zombie fan.

And, as you probably know, I was a CIS/CS major/minor at Elon.

A concept I was introduced to at both Shodor and Elon was ant colony simulations.

And I realized today that many people have been introduced to the basics concepts of ant colony simulations through films like Night of the Living Dead or World War Z and shows like Z Nation or The Walking Dead.

In short, ant colony optimization simulations, a part of swarm intelligence, use the “basic rules” of ant intelligence to game-out problems of traffic patterns, crowd control, logistics planning, and all kinds of other things.

Those basic rules the ants follow more or less come down to the following:

  • pick a random direction to wander
  • continue walking straight until you hit something
    • if you hit a wall
      • turn a random number of degrees between 1 and 359
      • loop up one level
      • if you hit food
        • if you are carrying trash
          • turn a random number of degrees between 1 and 179 or 181 and 359
          • loop up two levels
        • if you are carrying food
          • drop it
          • turn 180 degrees, loop up two levels
        • if you are not carrying anything
          • pick it up
          • either turn 180 degrees and loop up two levels, or
          • loop up two levels (ie, continue walking straight)
      • if you hit trash (dead ants, etc)
        • if you are carrying trash
          • drop it
          • turn 180 degrees, loop up two levels
        • if you are carrying food
          • turn a random number of degrees between 1 and 179 or 181 and 359
          • loop up to levels
        • if you are carrying nothing
          • pick it up
          • either turn 180 degree and loop up two levels, or
          • loop up two levels (ie, continue walking straight)
      • if you hit an ant
        • a new ant spawns in a random cell next to the two existing ants (with a 1/grid-shape probability, in a square grid, this would be a ~10% chance of spawning a new ant; in a hex grid, it would be a ~12.5% chance of a spawn), IF there is an empty cell next to either ant
        • if you are both carrying the same thing,
          • start a new drop point
          • turn around 180 degrees
          • loop up two levels
        • if you are carrying different things (or not carrying anything)
          • turn a random number of degrees between 1 and 359
          • loop up two levels
    • if you have been alive “too long” (parameterizable), you die and become trash (dropping whatever you have “next” to you in a random grid point (for example, if the grid is square, you’re in position “5”, and your cargo could be in positions 1-4 or 6-9:

There are more rules you can add or modify (maybe weight your choice of direction to pick when you turn based on whether an ant has been there recently (ie simulated pheromone trails)), but those are the basics. With randomly-distributed “stuff” (food, walls, ants, trash, etc) on a board of size B, an ant population – P – of 10% * B, a generation frequency – F – of 9% * B, an iteration count of 5x board-size, a life span – L – of 10% * B, and let it run, you will see piles of trash, food, etc accumulate on the board.

They may accumulate differently on each run due to some of the random nature of the inputs, but they’ll accumulate. Showing how large numbers of relatively unintelligent things can do things that look intelligent to an outside observer.

And that’s how zombies appear in most pop culture depictions: they wander more-or-less aimlessly until attracted by something (sound, a food source (aka the living), fire, etc). And while they seem to exhibit mild group/swarm intelligence, it’s just that – an appearance to outside observers.

So if you like zombie stories, you might like computer science.

vampires vs zombies

A few years ago I wrote about why I like good vampire and zombie stories.

I had an epiphany this week related to that, that I thought you’d all find interesting.

If vampires exist, zombies can not exist [long] in the same universe. Why? Because they’d be eliminating the only source of food for the vampires. And since vampires are, more or less, indestructible (at least to the wiles of marauding zombies), when they eliminated zombie outbreaks, they’d do it quickly and efficiently – and, most likely, quietly.

maggie

It had such promise.

Or, should have.

How could you go wrong? Slow zombies. Arnold Schwarzenegger. A plot.

It was also [almost] direct-to-video.

What am I talking about? Maggie. The worst movie Ahnold has been in since End Of Days (and boy was that one bad).

No, it was worse than End Of Days.

I don’t know where to begin. So let’s start with the conclusion. It sucked. Bad. And not in the Red Heat kind of bad – more in the Gigli kind of bad.

The zombies in this movie are slow (a plus), but they also take weeks to turn into one after being bit (which, conveniently, gives the non-turned ample time to plan to eliminate them, and time for the turning to get their affairs in order before being dispatched). In the whole movie, I think, there’s only two encounters with “real” zombies – which could have lots of promise. Focusing on the humanity of the situation could have been good.

But it wasn’t. The pacing was atrocious. Good Night, and Good Luck was this slow, but for a reason. This movie was slow, I think, so that they could call it a “movie”. It’s listed at 95 minutes from IMDb. Pretty sure it’s really only about 52 minutes long.

And even that was about 41 minutes longer than it should have been.

I’ve only not seen a couple Arnie films – make sure you add this to your list of ones of his to skip.

blackout by mira grant

I finished the Newsflesh trilogy this week, which culminated in Mira Grant’s book Blackout.

The basic storyline and character development continued apace, and the story does end admirably.

If you’ve read the first two, you should finish the trilogy. This one adds human cloning as a core plot point, and does it well.

However, I have a couple things to complain about:

  • Grant upped the vulgarity in the last book over the second which was more than the first; most of the vulgarity seems like it was put in just because she could
  • The relationship between the two primary characters gets, well, uncomfortable; debatable as to the morality of it, but suffice to say it could have been done without

People you want offed don’t get it, people you want saved aren’t, and overall the character list changes in ways that would allow further writing in the Newsfleshiverse, but I doubt Grant will do any more therein. She didn’t approach the stories the way Tom Clancy did with his Ryanverse. It’s nice that you won’t feel compelled to read more of her writing if you really enjoyed these characters, but it’s sad, too, that she chose to only do a trilogy (though there is an eBook-only prequel previewed at the end of Blackout).

Trilogies seem the be de rigueur in writing these days (The Hunger Games, Newsflesh, and many more come to mind). Personally, I’d prefer that an author write as much as they have to write that is a good story – if it’s one book, awesome (authors like Alistair MacLean and Michael Crichton come to mind); but if it’s multiple, then keep going as long as you have good stories to tell.

Now that this series is over, looks like I need a new one.

Next on my reading list is Germline.

zombies and vampires

Many people recently have asked me why I like [some] zombie and vampire stories (and, more generally, why they’re so popular right now), and after taking the time to think carefully on the topic and explain it to them in person, I thought I’d do my 3 readers a favor and write it out here as well.

First, the two apparently-different genres have several similarities:

  • fantasize about what could be done with [effectively] unlimited power
  • fantasize about existing as an amoral being – one who is no longer bound to human standards because of their “conversion” to something other-than-human
  • follow a “scorched earth” scenario to clean the slate and allow individuals to create new societies (also, consider The Postman and other apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories)
  • fantasize about how humanity as a whole can recover from an unconventional apocalypse (so many stories have gone the “nuclear option” that it’s almost passé)
  • explore the dark side of the human condition without being criticized [as much] for talking about taboo topics (eg racism and [healthy] feminism in Night of the Living Dead)

Second, the history of the undead in mythology goes back a long time before the modern era of Twilight and Night of the Living Dead.

In many ways, zombies and vampires are the prototype supervillians we love to hate in comic books.

Vampires

Vampires (in some form) have been mythologized for at least a thousand years. That wikipedia page goes further to note that dating back to at least the Mesopotamians there were stories of protovampires. Additionally, various recent archaeological news stories show “vampire graveyards” being found all over Europe – some dating 2000-4000 years ago.

Modern fascination with vampires started a long time before the paranormal romance section in your local bookstore started (which predates Twilight) – we can backup to Dracula by Bram Stoker for igniting the interest in vampiric stories over the last ~120 years in the West. However, until Twilight came along, there were very few vampire stories which had “good” vampires in them – Wesley Snipes’ Blade trilogy did, as has Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Dark Shadows (which, as a sidebar, starred characters with the last name of “Collins”, which has made me wonder whether Stephanie Meyer picked “Cullen” for her prime protagonist family’s last name because of the “positive” vampires in the previous series), and, arguably, Interview with the Vampire.

You might also claim The Munsters and The Addams Family romanticized (along with comedicized) paranormal relations (both human to non-human & non-human to non-human).

However, the vast majority of stories surrounding undead creatures who appeared human but drank the blood of mere mortals, or who could morph into bats was far more prolific than any “good” rendition of the genre. Surely there is a reason that, in general, when we hear “vampire” the first thing we think of is something coming to suck our blood and make us like themselves (or dry us out like the creature Imhotep did in The Mummy).

Zombies

What about zombies? And no, I am not referring to the voodoo zombies (though it’s where we get the term from). The undead who come to prey on the living have been glorified in Western pop culture horror, scifi, and fantasy stories for at least the last century. And they have existed in mythology dating back to at least the Epic of Gilgamesh.

The basic background always falls into one of a few camps:

The zombies portrayed always fall into one of three types:

  • “believable” – ie, slow, uncoordinated, existing only to feed and replicate their infection/condition, and gradually getting worse / more decomposed
    • may include non-human zombification, but generally within certain “guidelines” (eg the animal size and type (mammal) limit in the Newsfleshiverse)
    • traits of the recently infected/”undead” most closely resembling the uncontaminated “living”
    • may have zombies display apparent semi-rational activity as the virus (most often) in control decides whether to feed or replicate (generally related to the time elapsed from contamination and/or from last feed/spread activity)
    • may display hive/swarm “mentality” in large enough groups (Mira Grant and George A Romero)
    • any of George A Romero’s works, or the AMC (and graphic novel) series The Walking Dead are good examples of this classification
  • “superhuman” – fast, ravenous, unintelligent, but displaying swarm/hive mentalities
    • because the adherents of this theory tend to discount decomposition to some greater or lesser degree, the universes tend to be substantially more violent and bleak than in the “believeable” category
    • the Dawn of the Dead remake 9 years ago, 28 Days Later, and the movie adaptation of World War Z are prime examples of this zombie theory (interestingly, Max Brooks’ book World War Z (my review) did not have the superhuman zombie type on display)
    • not all superhuman zombie examples are outside the realm of plausibility outside their own worlds, but most stretch believability past where you could think, “hey – that could happen” (especially when dealing with “infections”)
  • “transhuman” – research / engineering gone wrong
    • this category tends towards the superhuman
    • may (and often does) include non-human zombification
    • can only exist in the world created by the imaginers – ie, the background explicitly makes known that it is not “our” world, but the one of the story-teller’s making (though, of course, it may closely mimic our world)
    • Resident Evil is a perfect example of the transhuman category

Thoughts

The CDC released a “Zombie Preparedness Guide” in the last few years. Some people have scoffed at the concept, citing the guide as a prime example of government waste – up there with the $7600 coffee pot on the C-5 Galaxy and congressional pensions.

However, especially because of the recent spike in interest of the topic of zombies among the general public, such a guide is a fantastic way to raise public awareness to general emergency preparedness, under the guise of humor and fantasy. Such techniques have been employed throughout history (thinking in somewhat recent past, consider the cartoons that accompanied movies in the 30s, 40s, and 50s or the “duck and cover” songs with the turtle propagated during the height of the Cold War; you could also cite the “this is your brain .. this is your brain on drugs” ads from the 80s and 90s with an egg and then the same egg cracked and sizzling in a frying pan).

Unlike aliens (and demons, djinn, and similar otherworldly beings), vampires and zombies do not come from anywhere but “here” (excluding the intergalactic space dust creation theory of Fido and others – where the zombies are terrestrial, but the cause is not). The purely terrestrial – though typically unexplained, and certainly not understood – nature of the creatures that want to eat us gives them an unusual power over our psyche that cartoonish or non-terrestrial evil cannot. If aliens, a la those in Independence Day, come to invade earth – there’s not much we can do (because by now they’ve all seen the movies we’ve made, and know not to come here if they’re allergic to our bacteria (War of the Worlds), hygrophobic (Signs), or running compatible-with-a-Mac-and-CodeWarrior computers susceptible to electronic infiltration by a cable guy with a master’s from MIT).

If vampires exist, depending on which vampireverse is most true, there are ways of destroying them … though it’s hard (fire, silver weapons, the sun, etc).

And if zombies can exist, we all know from every good zombie story (though first promulgated in the Night of the Living Dead) that we can kill them “in the brain and not the chest, headshots are the very best”.

If vampires and zombies are our most primal supervillians, who are our superheroes to deal with them?


Though mentioned, there are many of other myths of the undead, third-world, and/or otherworld inhabitants, including jinn (include Vikram the Vampire in Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson (review), aliens, and daemons. Perhaps I’ll get around to writing about them someday. But for now, I’ll keep them as mere passing references.

deadline by mira grant

I read Feed (review) a few weeks ago, and just finished the 2d installment in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy, Deadline. The frenetic pace of book 1 was upped a level in book 2 (along with some more language).

Mira is a fantastic author, and I cannot wait to read Blackout (it’s on my library queue).

“You know why corporate espionage keeps happening, no matter how bad they make the penalties for getting caught? … People stop caring. Once you reach the point where you’re working with more people than can comfortably go for drinks together, folks stop giving as much of a shit.”

“There’s always been something nasty waiting around the corner to kill us, but … [t]his constant ‘stay inside and let yourself be protected’ mentality has gotten more people killed than all the accidental exposures in the world. It’s like we’re addicted to being afraid.”

“It never pays to insult computers that are smart enough to form sentences. Not when they’re in control of the locks, and especially not when they have the capacity to boil you in bleach”

feed by mira grant

After some time of not reading fiction, I saw Mira Grant’s Feed recently in a store, checked my local library, and reserved a copy.

Now I need to read Deadline and Blackout. Grant’s writing, while typically female in style (first person dialog – both inner and outer, and the main character is a girl), does not confine its audience to needing to be female to fully enjoy it. I’ve read (or tried to read) many female-authored stories that are intensely difficult for me to really get into because it’s largely internal dialog in the female protagonist’s mind. I’m not a girl, and what ramblings are conveyed don’t jive with my brain 🙂

Exceptions to the rule have only come from Stephanie Meyer (The Host), Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games trilogy), and one other that I purchased in Britain several years ago but whose name escapes me.

Back to Feed. Our heroes are an adopted brother and sister, Georgia and Shaun, and their tech friend Buffy. They’re all bloggers with licenses to travel into contaminated areas (ie, where zombies are freely roaming), but all blog differently – Georgia is a Newsie, Shaun is an Irwin, and Buffy a Fictional – so they report the news in an objective fashion as possible; educate by “poking things with a stick”; and write poems, stories, etc based on their type of blogging.

After a short introduction to our main crew, the backdrop of being selected to blog Senator Ryman’s presidential campaign in the substantially-post-zombified world of 2040 (the Rising happened in 2014) is the main setting.

Interestingly, Grant uses references to other pop culture zombie portrayals (including ample nods to George A Romero who more-or-less created the ‘ideal’ zombie world we all love today with his groundbreaking work in Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, and Diary of the Dead, and which is also typified in AMC’s TV production of The Walking Dead (also a graphic novel series)). This is unlike perhaps any other horror/scifi writer I have ever seen before: she uses those stories to exemplify both “what we got right”, and “what we got wrong” in her universe.

If you’re queasy at the thought of flesh-eating zombies roaming the world, don’t read Feed. (Also don’t read World War Z – another of my favorites). If, however, you love a good whodunit, and are intrigued by the backdrop of a man-made-but-survivable apocalypse, go read Feed.

I’ll tell you how the rest of the trilogy is after I’ve finished them.