Saturday, December 29, 2012
From the Telegraph:
In the event of an apocalypse brought about by an army of the undead, civil servants would co-ordinate the military's efforts to "return England to its pre-attack glory", according to a Freedom of Information request that has revealed the country's contingency plans.
The MoD would not lead efforts to plan for such a zombie attack or deal with the aftermath because that role rests with the Cabinet Office, which co-ordinates emergency planning for the Government.
Details about the authorities' surprising level of readiness for a zombie onslaught emerged in a response to an inquiry from a member of the public.
The MoD replied: "In the event of an apocalyptic incident (eg zombies), any plans to rebuild and return England to its pre-attack glory would be led by the Cabinet Office, and thus any pre-planning activity would also taken place there.
"The Ministry of Defence's role in any such event would be to provide military support to the civil authorities, not take the lead. Consequently, the Ministry of Defence holds no information on this matter."
From Wired Magazine:
What might lurk beneath Antarctica’s 5 million square miles of ice was the subject of speculation by sci-fi writers in the 1930s. One of the icy products this subgenre of Antarctic Gothic horror spawned is HP Lovecraft’s novella, At the Mountains of Madness, in which scientists drill beneath Antarctica’s ice — only to discover horrid things preserved there. Now, scientists are finally enacting Lovecraft’s scenario: Over the next several weeks they are drilling into three subglacial lakes hidden beneath thousands of feet of ice in Antarctica.
What they will find as they sample the lakes and send cameras into their bellies remains to be seen. But one thing is already clear: Lovecraft was actually right about far more than his readers could have realized.
In Lovecraft’s story, a team of researchers from Miskatonic University flies into an unexplored region of Antarctica and bores through the ice. They discover fossil dinosaur bones with disturbing puncture and hacking wounds that cannot be attributed to any predators known to science. Soon after, they uncover the source of some of those wounds: fossils of a leathery-skinned beast with a “five-ridged barrel torso … around the equator, one at [the] central apex of each of the five vertical, stave-like ridges are five … flexible arms or tentacles.” The beast’s body is topped by a “five-pointed starfish-shaped” head.
The fossils aren’t quite dead.
As they thaw in the sun, the beasts reawaken. They slaughter 12 members of the expedition, carefully dissecting one of them and carting away another as a brown-bag lunch.
Two surviving members of the expedition find an ancient city entombed in the Antarctic ice sheet which once belonged to the beasts. There, they discover a disturbing truth: This race of five-armed Elder Ones had arrived from space over 600 million years ago. They spawned all life on Earth, including that destined to evolve into humans … in order to provide a source of food.
... Not all of the deep-time holdovers are dead, though. Antarctica’s cold coastal waters preserve an ecosystem like no other Earth. Scientists call it Paleozoic, reminiscent of between 250 and 540 million years ago. It is dominated by echinoderms, the ancient phylum of animals including starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars, and lily-armed crinoids, whose bodies have five-fold symmetry — which brings us back to Lovecraft’s race of five-tentacled Elder Ones mummified beneath the ice.
“They sound like echinoderms to me,” said Richard Aronson, a veteran Antarctic marine biologist at Florida Institute of Technology. “Hilarious.”
Lovecraft points out that his Elder Ones inhabited the deep sea before emerging onto land. He goes to great lengths to describe the holes at the top of their heads, analogous to the water circulation pores in starfish. The author may have been more correct than he ever knew.
... A combination of ice-penetrating radar, seismic sensing, and laser altimetry has revealed well over 100 subglacial lakes hidden beneath Antarctic’s ice. Between now and the end of January, teams from the United States, Russia, and Britain are drilling into three of them.
The British team is preparing to drill into Lake Ellsworth, which sits beneath 10,000 feet of ice and has not seen the light of day for millions of years. (Update: The British team has ceased drilling this season due to technical issues.)
This week, a convoy of tractors will depart from the American-run base McMurdo Station. Those 13 tractors, towing 24 massive sleds of equipment and fuel exceeding half a million pounds, will cross 600 miles of ice before stopping at a nondescript spot 370 miles from the South Pole. There, almost in sight of Lovecraft’s “mountains of madness,” beneath 2,500 feet of ice, sits Lake Whillans, which has not seen daylight for 500,000 to a million years. Two kerosene-fueled generators, totaling nearly half a megawatt, will power a hot-water drill. Once activated in mid-January, that drill could bore an 18-inch-diameter hole into the lake within as little as one day.
At the same time, the Russians are drilling just above Lake Vostok, which sits under 12,350 feet of ice and has remained isolated from the outside world for up to 30 million years. The drillers at Vostok will extract fresh bits of ice, frozen lake water that gushed into the bottom of the borehole when the lake was first punctured last February.
The light that these explorations shed on Antarctica’s sunless waters will drive the monsters further underground.
The subglacial lakes will probably be found to harbor microbes, but not much more. Finding those organisms will reveal plenty about life’s limits, particularly, about the ability of ecosystems to survive in places with minimal nutrients and without sunlight as an energy source. This will provide clues to what life, if any, could survive in liquid oceans that lurk beneath many miles of ice in other parts of the solar system, on Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
The teams are sterilizing drill equipment to avoid contaminating the pristine subglacial ecosystems, using a combination of ultraviolet light, hydrogen peroxide, and water filtration. But their work is still bound to have impacts on the ecosystem of fictitious monsters.
Aspiring sci-fi horror writers needn’t necessarily forsake Antarctica altogether, says Reed Scherer, a paleontologist from Northern Illinois University, who is part of the team drilling into Lake Whillans. But monsters capable of ripping heads off or chasing down frightened geologists as they flee on snowmobiles will require more carefully though-out habitats. That kind of stuff requires a speedy metabolism. “In order for something to have a high enough metabolic rate that it would be scary to us, it would have to have heat,” says Scherer. Volcanoes sealed under the ice sheet could provide one possible niche, he says. “There’s lots of water and a heat source for things to have a high metabolic rate.” Aerial surveys of irregularities in the Earth’s gravitational and magnetic fields have revealed a handful of possible volcanoes beneath the ice of West Antarctica.
Monsters of the Lovecraft variety — the kind that will butcher a tenured university professor and take him along as camping provisions — might also find credible habitats on Europa or Enceladus, at least until space probes can disprove their existence.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Decoded Science looks at whether there is a scientific basis on which a zombie apocalypse could occur. One possibility they look at is the toxoplasmosis parasite, which is known to cause rats to lose their aversion to cats' odor. The story indicates:
Doctors Torrey and Yolken found that an acute infection of toxoplasmosis results in personality changes similar to those seen in people with schizophrenia. Toxoplasmosis likes brain tissue and has the capacity for long-term infection, which can start early in life. How one person reacts to an infection of toxoplasmosis depends on a variety of factors, including genetic predisposition, the person’s immune system, virulence (the capacity to cause disease) of the strain, and the part of the brain that it infects. We humans can become infected with toxoplasmosis by eating under-cooked meat or coming in contact with cat feces – studies have shown that people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were more likely to have had a cat in childhood.
A South African ad agency has come out with a "zombie" bikini calendar to promote the "Walking Dead" program. It might have been more interesting if they had actually been "zombiefied" but they just have done a little makeup here and there to look like scrapes and scabs. Anyway, story (with a link to a behind the scenes video) here, and you can download the calender as a PDF here.
While immensely popular, the Twilight saga clearly has debased and watered down the vampire legend. Rather than being monsters, they are merely another type of "bad boy" for young women to fix. Unfortunately, zombies may be the next "bad boy" type. The Examiner discusses an upcoming move called "Warm Bodies":
We’re not given an exact date on when the zombie apocalypse but Earth has been taken over by zombies. There are a very few human resistance groups still out there just trying to survive. The story of “Warm Bodies” is actually told through a zombie named R. He goes through his day like every day in the airport where he’s lived for awhile. He wants to remember what he did and where he came from.Ugh....
A group of resistance fighters show up close to the airport to get medical supplies. R and a group of zombies set out to find food and run into the group of humans. During the fight all the humans are killed except two girls. R sees one of the girls and instantly has love at first sight. He wipes some zombie blood on her and tells her to be quiet. He gets her all the way back to his airplane that he stays in from time to time to keep her safe. He finds out her name is Julie and that her dad is the head of the local resistance group.
Julie agrees to stay with R for a while until it is safe for travel. R really just wants to get to know her and notices that he’s able to talk easier and that he’s able to start to remember things. Julie notices the changes but doesn’t think her dad will fully understand that zombies are coming back to life. She ends up leaving R when they get close to the city to protect him. R heads back to the airport but is met half way back by his only friend who tells him all the zombies are changing because of him. He also informs him that the zombies who have turned into skeletons are chasing after them. R decides to take the zombies to the city to help the humans fight the “bonies”.
The Daily Mail describes mysterious animals attacks in Kentucky:
In a ghoulish mystery, an unknown beast is terrorizing Kentucky farmers as it attacks their livestock, tearing parts from the animals but not eating them.
The residents of rural Shelby County have no idea what is stalking their livestock in the night.
'I heard the goat, the dogs going off and I ran out there and looked and saw the goat laying on the ground,' said Kevin Cox, an area farmer who's had one animal fall victim to an attack.
The goat, named Polka-dot, is now missing all of one ear. Polka-dot almost lost both of them.
'I noticed my whole steer bull looking a little different,' Cox said. 'It was covered in blood. Then my other two bulls come up and they had their ears all chewed up.'
Another area farmer had to euthanize five of his goats because their injuries were so severe.
The attacks have come mostly at night, and area residents have been unable to track the culprit.
A woman who chased after the beast with her daughter told county officials that the sound it made was 'indescribable.'
Friday, December 14, 2012
When the film 28 Days Later hit the screen in 2002, it signaled a huge shift in the zombie genre. Prior to 28 Days Later, zombies were slow and shambling. If I had to compare them to something from nature, I’d say they were glacial. Once 28 Days Later came out with its sprinting non-zombie zombies, everything changed. Zombies were now fast and agile. They could climb and could run, seemingly forever. Zombies were now more of a pissed off horde of fire ants, running at full tilt forever without taking a breath. The remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2004 cemented the idea of the sprinter zombie.
Shamblers allow the human characters an opportunity to prepare, and time for introspection. Survival seems possible, but not probable. The glimmer of survival, of being able to defeat, escape or evade a slow moving mass of death, gave characters a reason to live. Suicidal characters do make their way into a shambler’s narrative, but only by weaker characters or those assured certain death.
Sprinting zombies, if explored logically, would never allow for the humans to do anything more than scream “HOLY SHIT WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” Sprinter zombies deprive the human characters of a realistic chance for success, and accelerate the action to such a pace that it does not allow for the study of the human condition. Romero’s zombie films and the Walking Dead comic book are good because the slow speed of the zombies allow for narrative pacing. Sprinters, if done properly, would not. There would never be a chance for an introspection of how people can be brave or cowardly, generous or selfish, because a tidal wave of runners would smash any hope for survival.
. . . If the trailer is any indication, the World War Z movie is about how amazing Brad Pitt’s character is, and how he’s one of the “only ones” with the specialized training to combat what’s going on. Who else is going to fight a horde of pissed off fire ants? A superhero-like character. The sprinter zombies present such an overwhelming foe that the protagonists have to be even more incredible.
And that is the opposite of what the zombie genre has always been.
Zombie fiction has been more about human interaction, or humans as the true monsters. Someone’s kid gets bitten, and the parents refuse to do the right thing. The kid turns and kills a lot of people. Or someone wants to leave a shelter, or stay too long, or makes a decision to split the group, and the decision kills a lot of people. The human characters are just as responsible for their deaths as the zombies. The shambler is just a foil.
When the zombie is a sprinter, it becomes the menace. The humans become purely the defender. It’s hard for me to imagine the slow, grinding drama of survivors running low on supplies when a giant stream of sprinters stack on top of each other up a sheer wall:
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
From the Daily Mail:
A new archaeology report tells of the discovery of a skeleton, dating from 550-700AD, buried in the ancient minster town of Southwell, Nottinghamshire, with metal spikes through its shoulders, heart and ankles.
It is believed to be a 'deviant burial', where people considered the 'dangerous dead', such as vampires, were interred to prevent them rising from their graves to plague the living.
Only a handful of such burials have been unearthed in the UK.
The discovery is detailed in a new report by Matthew Beresford, of Southwell Archaeology.
. . . In his report, Mr Beresford says: 'The classic portrayal of the dangerous dead (more commonly known today as a vampire) is an undead corpse arising from the grave and all the accounts from this period reflect this.
'Throughout the Anglo-Saxon period the punishment of being buried in water-logged ground, face down, decapitated, staked or otherwise was reserved for thieves, murderers or traitors or later for those deviants who did not conform to societies rules: adulterers, disrupters of the peace, the unpious or oath breaker.
'Which of these the Southwell deviant was we will never know.'
. . . He said: 'People would have a very strong view that this was somebody who, for whatever reason, they had a reason to fear and needed to ensure that this person did not come back.'
The discovery comes five months after archaeologists found remains from a third grave in central Bulgaria linked to the practise.
The skeleton was tied to the ground with four iron clamps, while burning ambers were placed on top of his grave.
The bones of a man in his thirties were believed to be at least several centuries old, and experts believed he had been subjected to a superstition-driven ritual to prevent him from becoming one after his death.
Hints that our ancestors may have had to fight off the scourge of the undead. From Mother Nature Network:
Archaeologists working in Europe and the Middle East have recently unearthed evidence of a mysterious Stone Age "skull-smashing" culture, according to New Scientist. Human skulls buried underneath an ancient settlement in Syria were found detached from their bodies with their faces smashed in. Eerily, it appears that the skulls were exhumed and detached from their bodies several years after originally being buried. It was then that they were smashed in and reburied separate from their bodies.
According to Juan José Ibañez of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona, the finding could suggest that these Stone Age "skull-smashers" believed the living were under some kind of threat from the dead. Perhaps they believed that the only way of protecting themselves was to smash in the corpses' faces, detach their heads and rebury them apart from their bodies.The archaeologists suggest that the smashing of the faces may have been some ritual means for tribesmen to emotionally separate themselves from the dead, by ridding the dead of the their identity. That would only make sense, however, if it was done upon burial, not much later; and certainly doesn't explain why only corpses were selected for this treatment.
But here's the creepy thing: many of the 10,000-year-old skulls appear to have been separated from their spines long after their bodies had already begun to decompose. Why would this skull-smashing ritual be performed so long after individuals had died? Did they only pose a threat to the living long after their original burial and death?
If it was a ritualistic exercise, it also raises questions about why only select corpses were chosen. All of the smashed skulls were from adult males between the ages of 18 and 30. Furthermore, there was no trace of delicate cutting. It appears that the skulls' faces were simply smashed in using brute force with a stone tool.
Of course, there's almost certain to be a rational explanation for all of this. Then again, it's also fun to consider the possibility that these findings represent evidence for a Stone Age zombie uprising.
Let's consider a few key facets of zombie mythology. Zombies, as we know, are hungry for the flesh of the living, and the only way to stop them is with a head shot. In many zombie movies, this involves shooting them in the cranium. One might surmise that the Stone Age equivalent of this would be to instead smash in their faces with a big rock. Perhaps the lopping off of their heads was then performed to ensure that the job was done.
Perhaps the reason the original dead bodies seemed to be exhumed before their heads were properly smashed in was because the dead had risen from their own graves, under their own power.
Maybe, just maybe, Stone Age Syrians battled against and saved the world from an imminent zombie apocalypse some 10,000 years ago. The theory may not make great fodder for a scientific thesis, but it sets up the plotline for a B-grade horror movie to perfection.
Okay, this is kinda old, but in August the BBC reported on strange doings in the South Pacific:
A vast "raft" of volcanic rocks covering 10,000 sq miles (26,000 sq km) of ocean has been spotted by a New Zealand military aircraft.
A naval ship was forced to change course in order to avoid the cluster of buoyant rocks, located 1,000 miles off the New Zealand coast.
The unusual phenomenon was probably the result of pumice being released from an underwater volcano, experts said.
One navy officer described it as the "weirdest thing" he had seen at sea.
Lieutenant Tim Oscar told the AFP news agency: "As far ahead as I could observe was a raft of pumice moving up and down with the swell.
"The [top of the] rock looked to be sitting two feet above the surface of the waves and lit up a brilliant white colour. It looked exactly like the edge of an ice shelf," the officer said.
Researchers aboard the ship, HMNZS Canterbury, suggest that the source of the pumice was an underwater volcano (seamount) known as Monowai, located to the north of New Zealand.
The pumice is likely to have been formed when lava from the seamount came into contact with seawater, and as it is less dense than water it quickly rises to the surface of the ocean.
Vicky Hards from the British Geological Survey said the raft of volcanic rocks on this scale was a "relatively unusual occurrence".No reports, though, of people having strange dreams, or mysterious shafts of light shooting up into the night.