The Biology of Zombies
I am that girl who is the least fun to watch movies with (or the most fun, I guess, depending on your idea of fun). I love science fiction and respect artists and writers who alter the science of our world to tell stories — but I’m still going to want to have that talk at the end that starts with, “But it wasn’t actually that realistic when…”
For about a year now I’ve been interested in doing some writing about the biology of zombies. They’re ubiquitous in modern culture and stories tend to take a half-assed shot at the science, as if they feel they need to provide a mechanism for the spread of flesh-craving, but they can’t quite figure out how to make it work.
So when Krystal D’Costa of the fabulous blog Anthropology in Practice brought up Zombie Awareness Month last week on twitter, I couldn’t help but throw some ideas out there. And when she suggested that we do some organized zombie blogging, I couldn’t resist. She has a great post up about the anthropology of zombies — check it out here!
And then when I got down to research … I had so much that I wanted to say that one post was not going to be nearly enough. So get ready for a fun-filled week of zombie science!
What I’m mostly interested is the science fiction aspect of it — not trying to make up my own theory for how zombies could actually exist (though that is obviously part of the fun of this analysis!), but rather exploring the theories of different stories. I’m going to write about several causes of zombie-ism (bacteria, chemicals and viruses) focusing on a particular work or two, plus a day for zombie neuroscience and one for zombies in nature. I’ll update this post with links as the week goes on.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially comparisons to other books/movies/television, since I have not come close to exhausting the possibilities.
- Zombie Biology, Pt. 1: Richard Matheson’s bacterial symbiosis (on the 1954 novel I Am Legend)
- Zombie Biology, Pt. 2: Zombie neuroscience (on the 2010 TV show The Walking Dead and 1985’s Return of the Living Dead)
Don’t forget to visit Anthropology in Practice to learn about the public fascination with zombies.
Other zombie science resources (to be updated all week chronologically so tell me about yours!)
- “The zombiesm bacterial story is central to Left 4 Dead — the first person shooter” (tweet from Troy Christiensen, @ShalimarTroy)
- The Strain — “The vampirism in that book is caused by a virus carried by parasitic worms” (tweet from Matt Henry, @greenideas)
- James Byrne of Disease Prone has two great posts up: The first contemplating whether zombies are technically alive and the second enumerating zombies in nature
- Zombie Neuroscience expert (seriously) Bradley Voytek answers a question on Quora: What are some ways to survive the zombie apocalypse?
- Bradley has also given a talk about zombie science at Nerd Nite San Francisco which is posted on his blog along with some lovely words about why he cares about zombie neuroscience