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Posted by on Aug 7, 2014 in Books, Featured, Science | 6 comments

Help on zombies needed

I am hoping to get my zombie book written over the remainder of the summer holidays. I have written some 30,000 words of setting the scene but now it is coming on to interacting with the victims of the outbreak, I have a problem.

You see, I want my zombies to be realistic, to be scientifically viable. There are two general options:

Bodies and parts shut down

The first most common zombie idea is that the bodies are somehow running off energy which they do not derive from the bodies, and the organs are useless. However, they still desire to eat human flesh, even though they can apparently survive with most of their body parts missing. Generally, they need a blow to the head.

This is thoroughly problematic. In watching the 4th series or whichever of The Walking Dead, you wonder how these zombies are still alive and kicking after so long. The Law of Conservation of Energy means that there needs to be some input of energy into the system for these things to keep expending kinetic, sound and probably heat into the wider, more open system. Would these zombies not also dessicate in the heat and open air without a consistent intake of fluid (water?)? Why do these zombies still crave human flesh if they have no bodily, digestive need for it? If they do have this need, then slicing their stomachs open will surely eventually kill them…Evolution 4

My conclusion is that this type of zombie is not at all viable when you look a little more closely.

Bodies still need feeding

So this version of the zombie seems more probably viable. The brain is shut down, and the body changes physically as a result of the virus or whatever. The craving of human flesh ifs for a reason: these creatures need that type of sustenance. OK, fine. But then they need all of the body parts to make that work. OK, so how about they can feel no pain, so such creatures can go way past what humans would be able to because they feel no pain etc, and will attack continually in the short term. But they would bleed to death, and having their stomachs cut open will kill them eventually. Essentially, they have lungs because they need to breathe. This renders them just very nasty humans.

There is perhaps scope here for the bodies to eventually fight back the virus; to have some type of development over the series of books of some kind of hybrid…

What I would like from readers here is an account of how the virus might work, and what the outcome would be for the victim. Please!

  • SmilodonsRetreat

    Here’s my ideas on the subject.

    The Zombie virus actually attacks the blood. My thought would be to make Type O people survive the virus, but become zombies. Types A and B people would tend to be killed by the virus. Type AB people would tend to be immune to the virus. I’m sure we can come up with justifications for this. Probably something to do with how the virus bonds to the red blood cells.

    That binding to the red blood cells is the key issue for how zombies behave. The virus becomes an endogenous retrovirus. That is, the viral DNA is copied into the human DNA and cells produce the viral particles in addition to whatever their normal cellular function. The viral particles then enter the blood stream and bind (or not) to the red blood cells.

    This also make the virus a permanent part of human culture. Type AB people tend to survive, but 50% of the offspring of two type AB people are either Type A or Type B, which would lead to death. There’s some interesting population biology effects that could be explored here as well… the founder effect on a global scale.

    The virus is released from the blood in slightly acidic environments, which explains the saliva containing the particles. Don’t get bit. BTW: Urine would also tend to have the viral particles. Don’t get peed on by a zombie.

    Anyway, the virus binds to the red blood cells and reduces the ability of the blood cells to carry oxygen. This causes the characteristic shambling and low brain activity (brains use a lot of oxygen). The people aren’t really dead, but the higher functions of the brain are massively impaired.

    Since the body can’t get very much oxygen, the body tends to switch over to anaerobic respiration, which produces lactic acid. This actually begins to destroy the body, resulting in the characteristic decay of zombies. It’s not that they are dead and decaying, but being destroyed just by their movement.

    Since the brain is oxygen starved, it exists at a very primal level. Food, pack behavior, etc. Theoretically, sex between zombies is possible, but no one has observed it.

    Zombies do need to eat. The infusion of food (primarily organs) restore some of the zombie for a little while. Organs contain lots of proteins, minerals, vitamins, etc that the zombie body can’t manufacture efficiently without oxygen. On some instinctual level, they crave the organs (including the brain) of living things.

    Since the cells are already oxygen starved, but functioning to a degree, there is less of a need for the lungs and heart. For a zombie with damaged skin, I would think that just rolling in a fresh kill would get some of the nutrients it needs.

    It’s not a perfect zombie, but it’s not too bad.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Thanks – you gave me this before, but thanks for putting it here.

      This is fascinating, though might make me need to rethink the zombies quite a bit.

      An interesting idea that they might come round a bit from sustenance. Does that mean if they ate anything heartily, they would become temporarily more human?

  • D Rizdek

    Maybe zombies require very little energy…more on the order of reptiles because they don’t maintain body temperature? Maybe they don’t eat flesh for sustenance, but for some other primitive reasons unrelated to getting energy? If so, their stomachs wouldn’t play any part of what is gained by them eating human flesh. Maybe do something along the lines of Andromeda Strain, where the alien life that is at first deadly mutates into something harmless, in this case the virus that caused it mutates, allowing zombies to eventually die or, in some cases recover.

    As far as energy, since they require less (don’t maintain body temperature, etc.) they could get energy from a combination of…I dunno (how much you want to make this fantasy) other sources, but there IS a lot of energy that reaches us on various wavelengths and various particles that pass through us every second. There is a lot of energy welling up from the earth…heat, radioactivity and even emanations due to geologic activity, earth quakes, tectonic shifting, shifting due to magma movement. If the virus (or other mirobes in the zombie) react with any, some or all of those particles that might be sufficient. IOW the virus not only changes the human, it also assumes some of the energy creation so it helps the zombie survive, at least for a while. Perhaps these other sources work in combination with how the virus (or other microorganisms that also attach the body) slowly “eat at” the organs, muscle and fat stored in the original human bodty…maybe fat folks would last longer as zombies.

    Why isn’t the moisture in the air (make thriving of zombies require a certain level of humidity) sufficient. I am reminded of the Atacama desert…the driest desert in the world (based on rainfall measurement) but still supports wildlife and plants. Plants gets moisture from mist that blows in from the sea to the west (just the way the huge redwoods get lots of their moisture from mist off the Pacific) and then animals get moisture by eating parts of the plant.
    Just some ideas{:

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Thanks for all of this. The more realistic one wants to be, the more contrived you have to make the scenario. I guess otherwise, if it was likely or realistic, it would have happened!

      Lots to think on here. Cheers.

  • Andy_Schueler

    What I would like from readers here is an account of how the virus might work, and what the outcome would be for the victim. Please!

    Hmm… that´s a really interesting question. I think rabies is already very zombie-like, the disease / the virus would have to be modified quite a lot in order to create something truly Zombie-like but it is a good start. If one would modify rabies to a) reduce the incubation time from 1-3 months to a few hours or days at most and b) make the encephalitis that rabies causes more severe but limit it to the neocortex, so that the infected quickly lose the ability to speak and all other higher brain functions, while keeping the motoric skills intact (I think an encephalitis that is limited to only specific brain regions is not very plausible but I´d have to look that up…). Most of the remaining rabies symptoms are already perfect as they are for a zombie scenario (you have drooling, spasms, insomnia, aggressiveness (although the aggressiveness in infected humans is not as pronounced as it is in other animals that can contract rabies, this could be changed as well – make infected humans as aggressive as a rabid dog)), some other rabies symptoms like hydrophobia and photophobia are more compatible with vampirism and could be removed (although one could keep that to give the zombies a unique touch).

    In summary, that would give you zombies that are at least somewhat biologically plausible and they would still rely on pretty much all of their body parts and could bleed and starve to death – they could still feel pain though, but inflicting pain couldn´t stop them just like inflicting pain doesn´t stop a rabid dog (overall, they would be very similar to the 28 Days Later Zombies).

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Thanks Andy. Most people seem to favour a rabies hybrid. I think i will leave it as an unknown but with rumours, and this will be a frontliner. Thanks for fleshing out some details. If you can think of any other details, post ‘em here!

      Cheers