Monday, May 31, 2010

They Want to Eat Your Brains: A Brief Study of the Zombie in Popular Media

Out of all of the terrors that roam in the horror books that I read, zombies have to be one of my favorites.  Nothing epitomizes ice old fear quite like an undead creature shambling toward you, hungering for your flesh.  What's worse, there's a good chance that monster nibbling on your noggin was once one of your friends or family members.

Zombies have been around for centuries, starting with the Afro-Caribbean belief in voodoo.  This dark magic could turn anyone into a mindless hulk that did whatever it was told to do.  After George A. Romero's movie Night of the Living Dead, zombies began to take their place in popular media.

One of the greatest things about zombies (like any other myth) is that with each new rendition, the monster is thought of in a new light.  It is very rare to see two depictions of zombies be exactly the same.  And so, in this short study of the zombie in popular media, I will attempt to sort out some of these differences.  That way, when the dead truly rise, you will have some idea of what you might be facing.

The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks (novel)
  •  Physical Appearance:  Brooks conforms most to the "zombie" ideal among the examples presented in this study.  His zombies are slow, ever hunting drones who only want to eat the flesh of the living.  The monster's body is dead, so it decomposes at a normal rate, leading to large wounds and destroyed limbs over time.  They shamble along at a slow rate.
  • Mental Ability:  The zombie is unable to process thoughts that go beyond their immediate hunt for food.  They are attracted to prey and use all of their senses (which vary in efficiency compared to those of the living) to spot morsels of brain.  However, reasoning and logic are beyond them.
  • Mode of Infection:  A living being that comes in contact with the Solanum virus (through bite wounds, scratches, blood-to-mucous membrane contact) quickly fades into a coma, dies, and is reanimated when the virus hijacks the brain cells.
  • Method of Disposal:  Anything that causes brain death will stop one of Brooks' zombies in its tracks.  This includes blunt trauma and decapitation.
Cell, by Stephen King (novel)
  • Physical Appearance:  Stephen King has always found a way of turning the genre on its head.  The zombies in Cell resemble their previous lives greatly, and even show some memory about who they were before.  They are fast and tend not to decompose as other zombies do.
  • Mental Ability:  These members of the walking dead are very smart, able to establish ambushes and pursue their prey.  They also have mental powers including telepathy, which makes them even more dangerous.  They also hunt in packs and show evidence of a strong hive mind.
  • Mode of Infection:  There is no infection between a zombie and a living person, which is a very distinct difference between King's novel and the rest.  Instead, one becomes a zombie by hearing a certain audio frequency (which is being broadcast over cell phone towers).This makes it hard for the infection to spread, but also cuts off one of our most important means of communication.
  • Method of Disposal:  The "phonies", as they are referred to in the book, are only active during the day.  Similar to vampires, they are banished to as near-comatose sleep during the night.  This makes it possible to destroy the zombies when they are sleeping and, because they often nest in large groups, methods can be employed to destroy large numbers of them all at once.
  • Physical Appearance:  In Zombieland,  nearly everyone has been transformed into a zombie.  They conform to the zombie standard (see The Zombie Survival Guide) in all but one way:  They are fast.  In fact, the first rule of Zombieland is Cardio.  How else are you going to outrun all of those brain-eaters?
  • Mental Ability:  The zombies in Zombieland don't show much intelligence.  They are driven by their hunger for food (much like a SFF blogger I know...), and they don't think about much else.
  • Mode of Infection:   A bite, scratch or contact with bodily fluids seems to do the job.
  • Method of Disposal:  Similar to other types of zombies, the Zombieland zombies can only be killed by brain death.  Also, please note the second rule of Zombieland:  The Double Tap.  If you think you've killed a zombie with a lethal headshot, it's best to make absolutely sure and do it again.
I Am Legend, by  Francis Lawrence (film)
  • Physical Appearance:  In the movie I Am Legend, there is only one living man against the masses of zombie-like monsters.  These zombies seem to be blessed with superhuman strength and speed, which sucks for Will Smith.  Luckily, they shun the light, only come out at night, and keep to the shadows.
  • Mental Ability:  These guys show remarkable intelligence.  They set up traps and ambushes, study their opponent's weaknesses, and compensate for their own.  If there ever was a zombie that retained the intelligence of his previous form, this would be it.
  • Mode of Infection:  The affliction was initially caused by a vaccine against cancer.  As the disease is similar to that of rabies, only contact between infected saliva and living blood (i.e., a bite wound)  will cause infection.
  • Method of Disposal:  It is very tricky to kill an I Am Legend zombie when he is awake and running at you.  Instead, it is best to wait until they are sleeping, or lure them into the light.
Feed, by Mira Grant (novel)
  • Physical Appearance:  Feed zombies start out looking like their previous (living) selves.  However, as the virus causing the affliction multiplies in their tissues, they begin to decay of their own accord.  This means that as their existence wears on, they become more and more like the stereotypical zombie.  But watch out for the fresh ones!
  • Mental Ability:  These zombies are usually only obsessed with feeding, and can be tricked and out maneuvered.  However, as more and more zombies enter the area, their intelligence scales exponentially.  This means that when a large horde comes together, they can reason and create ambushes and single monsters would be unable to do.
  • Mode of Infection:  Two viruses designed to kill cancer cells and the common cold were combined and produced a "super bug" that caused zombieism.  The standard modes of infection apply here, so don't forget to protect those mucous membranes!
  • Method of Disposal:  Brain death.
I hope this short study of the zombie in popular media will help prepare you for when the dead rise from their graves.  Good luck!

      Saturday, May 29, 2010

      BEA and Book Blogger Con 2010 (or, the point of view of a total noob)

      Happy weekend, fellow book lovers!  As you know, I have been in NYC for the last couple of days, attending Book Expo America and the first annual Book Blogger Convention.  As I have only been blogging for a few months now, I didn't know what to expect.  The first surprise?  Upon checking in, I was handed a PRESS PASS, which entitled me to entrance into the special "press only" area and, of course, bragging rights.  Of course, with great press pass comes great responsibility.  If you didn't get a chance to come out to the events, read on for full coverage of BEA and BBC.  I may be a total noob, but hey, let's muddle through it together!

       I couldn't get very good pictures of the whole event... it was too big!

      After a 40 minute drive, a 20 minute train into New Haven, a 90 minute train into Grand Central Station, and a 15 block walk to the Javits Center, Heather and I finally arrived at the BEA, which can be summed up in two sentences:  Tons of books.  Tons of people.  My goodness, what a zoo!  This place was packed with publishers, authors, bloggers, journalists, people in colonial-period dress, an odd looking clown, a man wearing nothing but black underwear, and Tony Hawk!  It was very overwhelming, but the great part was that everyone there had the same passion for books.  Each publishing house had their own section of the massive floor.  I turned to Heather and asked "Do you think they will be able to take a debit card, or only cash?"

      Oh, how naive I was.

      If there's anyone out there who knows less than I do about the book world (which is unlikely, the doors to Borders was pretty much the extent of my knowledge), let me explain:  BEA isn't a big book store.  You don't buy any of the books.  The publishers give them to you.  What?  Yeah.

      Each "booth" featured a slew of books, some released already, some having yet to see their final printing (ARCs, galleys, what have you).  They all hand out complimentary catalogs that feature some of their up-and-coming stuff.  Audio books, Ebooks, magazines, novels, comic books, encyclopedias, the list goes on and on.  There was simply TOO MUCH too look at in one day, which is kind of upsetting.  So, how did the BEA pan out for a Sci-Fi Guy?

      Not as well as one would hope, actually.  The first thing I noticed was a stunning lack of representation of the SFF genres.  It seems the biggest sellers were non-fiction, young adult, and "literary fiction" (still trying to figure out exactly what that means...).  I got depressed pretty quickly, but then I figured that this would be the perfect opportunity to broaden my views and try out different genres.  And what do you know, even this young male scifi/fantasy blogger (another demographic that was severely underrepresented this weekend) was able to find a few diamonds.  This brings us to... the Swag Bags.

      Yes, you get free stuff at BEA.  Publishers bring out stacks of books for passersby to take in the hopes of a good review, and you are only limited to however much you can carry without having your arms being ripped out of their sockets.  Between the BEA and the Book Blogger Con, I collected two bags of literary "swag".  And boy are my arms killing me.  Here are some of the highlights:


      Picture The Dead, by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown.  From the jacket:  "After losing her parents and her brother, falling in love with Will was Jennie Lovell's last opportunity for happiness.  But then she lost him too...  As Jennie tries to mend the pieces of her broken life, she feels an eerie presence from something otherworldly... something that won't let her leave the past behind."  Chick-lit?  Possibly.  But I am actually looking forward to this one.

      Think of a Number, by John Verdon (July, 2010).  A murder mystery in which a "seemingly clairvoyant" serial killer matches wits with a retired homicide detector.  I'm looking forward to this one too.  I usually shy away from murder mysteries because they all feel the same to me, but this one seems much more interesting.

      The Bucolic Plague, by Josh Kilmer-Purcell (June, 2010).  A non-fiction (What?  You're reading non-fiction Nick?  Why yes, I am) memoir about two guys who move from the city to adopt a life of farming.  The cover alone is awesome, but it really looks like an interesting story.  Go check it out!  Also, one of them is an ex-drag queen.

      The Monkey Bible, by Mark Laxer (September, 2010).  Pretty excited about this one, folks.  A novel that follows a boy who is striving to discover the story of his creation and attempting to define his identity.  There is a war going on right now between creationists and those that believe in evolution, and Mark Laxer's novel tries to blur the line between the two and reconcile some of their differences.  Keep your eyes on this book!

      Hellfire and Damnation, by Connie Corcoran Wilson.  A book of short stories inspired by Dante's nine circles of hell.  Ghost stories, horror stories, and the like.

      The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks (preview, August, 2010).  The first novel in a trilogy about Gavin Guile, an all-powerful man who must decide what his life is worth in a land of war and shifting power.  I previously read Weeks' Night Angel trilogy, and was ultimately left with a luke-warm feeling.  But this one sounds pretty exciting.

      Hull Zero Three, by Greg Bear (preview, November, 2010).  Reminiscent of The Matrix, a science fiction novel about a man who wakes up from a beautiful dream and finds himself in a hostile space station.  Unsure of who to trust or how to survive, he tries to discover who and where he is.

      Choker, by Ben McCool and Ben Templesmith.  The first issue in a series of comics.  From  "Johnny 'Choker' Jackson, once one of Shotgun City's most promising police officers, is a bitter private detective with a terrible case of Alien Hand Syndrome. But he's unexpectedly been offered a job back on the force: provided he can nail a twisted drug dealer selling a very exclusive product, that is..."

      So Cold the River, by Michael Koryta (audio book).  A novel about a woman who wants to discover the secrets about her late, billionaire, father-in-law.   And stuff happens, I suppose.

      Feed, by Mira Grant (audio book).  We'll eat this one up folks.  It's about bloggers who discover the truth behind a virus that turns people into zombies.  Cool?  You betch'a.

       Waiting in line.  One of the sacrifices that must be made.

      So!  That was my BEA experience in a nut shell.  How about Book Blogger Con?  That was a pretty unique experience also.  Around 250 other people who like to blog just like I do.  There were numerous panel discussions on topics such as "generating content" and "public responsibility" aimed at improving the blogging community at large.  I also got to meet a few awesome bloggers, including:

      T. Olmsted, from BookSexyReview
      Gayle, from Everyday I Write The Book
      Allie, from Hist-Fic Chick

      I can't wait to share all of these great-looking books with you guys!  And now it's you turn!  
      • What content would you like to see on Lions and Men?  
      • Any tips for some great books you'd like to see? 
      • What genres should I consider reading?
       And you thought I was kidding about Tony Hawk...


        Saturday, May 8, 2010

        Update: Bookshelves and BEA

        Happy weekend!  Just thought I would tie up some loose ends before posting more book reviews.  A couple of real-life events that coincide with the blogosphere:

        Heather and I just set up our new bookcases in our "library"!  Check it out!

        Impressive, n'cest-ce pas?  To be honest, my books only take up about 25% of the space, but they are still great additions to our new apartment!

        Also, I have firmed up my plans to attend this year's Blogger Expo of America in New York City at the end of this month!  Very exciting stuff - will I see you there?  I will be sure to post all about it, so keep your eyes peeled!

        Finally (and partially because of the BEA),  I decided to design a business card for my blog.  What do you think?  It's supposed to look like the bottom half is torn off, but I'm starting to think that it kind of looks like black mountains against a white sky.  Oh well.

        Wednesday, May 5, 2010

        Brandon Sanderson, on his novel Warbreaker

        Hi folks! Today, I started a new read: Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson. This stand alone novel features a colorful cast of characters, a sprawling metropolis, and a truly unique magic system. Stay tuned for my First Impressions post. While you wait, watch this great video of Brandon Sanderson speaking about Warbreaker!