Monday, November 27, 2017

Zombie 101

You Think You Know Zombies?
Ha, you say. Of course you do. A zombie is a reanimated corpse. You may even know the word zombie originated from the Kongo word nzambi which means spirit of a dead person. It was later altered to zonbi in Haitian Creole by descendants of African slaves, and eventually became zombie. How is a person zombified? Well, that’s easy. The innocent victim is infected by a pathogen. The origin can be natural or manmade, but begins with Patient Zero. The infection spreads with a bite and then the victim develops an insatiable appetite for human flesh, particularly tasty brains.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. That’s only the short history of zombies and like many myths, this one has some basis in fact.

Early Zombie Lore 
Fear that the dead won’t stay buried is common in folklore. Many Stone Age burial sites in the Middle East had corpses interred beneath large stones. In an ancient site in Syria dating back 10,000 years, the dead were not just weighed down with heavy weights, but also decapitated—an early link to modern zombie lore.  Although piles of rocks discouraged animals from digging up remains, removing grandpa’s noggin also kept him from a moonlight stroll.

Ancient Greeks were equally careful with their corpses. Archeologists working in Sicily unearthed a Greek necropolis called Passo Marinaro dating from 800 BC. The entombed, children as well as adults, were found in a variety of positions; staked, tied, or again weighed down by stones. According to the Greeks, certain deceased were more prone to walk among the living. These included victims of murder, a plague, or a curse. Greeks also piled on the extra big rocks for those born on unlucky days. Bad enough being killed by a plague or curse, now you had to spend eternity with a boulder on your head.

eHarmony Head Zombie
Early hints at the development of modern zombie lore can be found in places other than the Middle East. Norse mythology contains tales of the draugr or “again walker” who like to munch on locals. They pass on their curse by biting a victim (sound familiar?), but can also have supernatural powers such as shape-shifting or entering a person’s dreams.  Romania has its own native zombies with strigoi, a combination zombie/vampire. They drink blood and rise from the dead to stalk the living, generally a relative.  To stop them the grave must be dug up and the head and heart removed. One way to turn into a strigoi is to die single, so some communities marry off the corpse as a preventive measure. Take that, eHarmony.

Liquid Zombie
Modern Zombies
Present day zombie lore has two types (three if you count the mixed drink made with rum and fruit juices.) The first is the “not quite dead” created by voodoo magic. This one has a practical social application. A family or community decides a certain individual is an annoying pain in the rear.  They hire a bokur, a voodoo priest specializing in black magic. The bokur uses spells, incantations and a liberal dose of coup padre, a powder made from the poison tetrodoxin. It slows heart rate, respiration, and drops body temperature. Thinking the victim perished, the body is buried and then later removed by the bokur. The new zombie is in an addled state with memory erased and transformed into a mindless drone. All in all, an efficient method for removing undesirables from society and a win-win for both the community and the bokur. An annoying pain in the rear is gone and the bokur receives a docile servant. This type of zombie doesn’t consume flesh and is relatively harmless. He might even be happier. Leave him be.

The second type of zombie is a strictly Hollywood creation from screenwriters in La La Land. Patient Zero is infected by either a natural or manmade entity. Death is the result, but the corpse is reanimated by a mysterious biological process and develops an insatiable craving for human flesh. One bite from a zombie spreads the infection and chaos reigns. Although fictional, some folks take the threat of the zombie apocalypse seriously, like the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. The CDC is tasked with investigating dangerous pathogens and their scientists are apparently endowed with a cheeky sense of humor. People don’t like to think ahead and prepare for emergencies. The CDC realized the steps to slow the spread of a dangerous viral outbreak would be the same as needed to combat a zombie apocalypse, and people might pay more attention to the latter. Official zombie apocalypse guidelines are now posted on the CDC website. They include such things as items to keep in an emergency kit and how to make a disaster plan. The site went over like gangbusters and crashed the day it went live.
Check it out at can even join the CDC Zombie Task Force. Proceeds go to disaster relief efforts and health programs. Now, prepare your own kit, and keep your mitts off my tasty brains.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: The Comic Book Story of Video Games by Jonathan Hennessey

Comic books and video games are fun examples of the visual arts especially when author Jonathan Hennessey combines them in an entertaining and educational book certain to appeal to fans of both genres. Even though information comes in comic panels, this isn’t a quick and glossy overview, but rather a thoughtful and in depth exploration of the history of video games; how they got here, the state of the art, and where they’re going.

Hennessey starts off with the surprising statement that computers are not a must have to make or play video games, nor are all electronic games video games. To back that up he takes readers on a tour of game development history starting with experiments with electricity in the 1800s. That leads to pre- and post-World War II and the cathode ray tube. He touches on early contributors to computer technology such as Alan Turing and how the Cold War contributed not only to computer development, but also gaming tropes.

Hacking began a lot earlier than you’d think (the 1950s.)  Early hackers’ desire to understand the ins and out of computers went hand in hand with their yen to improve them and stretch the boundaries of what technology could do. Hennessey comes to the amusing conclusion that video games are themselves a hack since computers were only intended for military, government, scientific and industry use. The book is rife with stories of early pioneers such as Nolan Bushnell and Steve Wozniak along with many you never heard of such as Jerry Lawson, an early builder of arcade games. The author ends with the Xbox and Wii Minecraft and how home consoles changed the industry.    

This is a fast, fun book with nicely drawn graphics. It’s as up to date as can be expected, but considering how quickly technology changes, the last entries in the book are sure to be old news soon.  I received this book from Blogging for Book in exchange for a review.