Hell (2011)

OK, last night I watched a movie that was so unforgivably bad (The Dark Night Rises (2012)), that, like mouthwash after eating something bad, I needed another film to get the incoherent mess of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ from my brain. Netflix served up ‘Hell’ (2011); which is a good mix of movies like Frontiers and The Road served up in an understated form; the perfect antidote to that bloated Batman mess; thanks very much to Director Roland Emmerich for this one; do yourself a favor and watch it.

‘Hell’ is a German post-apocalypse film that is set in a Europe of the not-too-distant future… even though I know a bit of German, I assumed that the title, ‘Hell,’ was a reference to ‘Hell’ as in where the devil lives; as I was watching, it hadn’t occurred to me that ‘hell’ is also the German word for ‘light’ or ‘bright.’* In this dystopian future, solar flares and/or atmospheric decay have caused the sun to become so bright that the trees and grass have died, the ecosystem has collapsed and a few survivors scavenge precious commodities like gasoline, food and water.  ‘Hell’ is a film with a very small scope; we see the desolation through the eyes of Maria as she accompanies her younger sister Leonie and Phillip across a desiccated and sun-drenched Europe, trying to get Phillip’s dying Volvo station wagon (armored across the windows with bits of chain link and protected from the sun with paper taped over the windows) to the mountains, where, it is rumored, there might still be water.

The interiors of the car and the buildings that the characters shelter in are dark, dry and dusty; when the actors step outside, it is so bright they have to wrap themselves like bedouins for protection from the intense sun.  They can hardly see and the film image is massively overexposed. This simple narrative device is surprisingly effective; ‘Hell’ is one of those movies that works because of what it doesn’t show you rather than what it does. The film is brutal and violent but not gory; most of the violence takes place off screen. What makes the film effectively disturbing is the psychological distress that the characters are experiencing which is never stated outright, only hinted at. Young Leonie teases Maria over her sexual relationship with Phillip. Maria clearly wishes Phillip were a bit more emotionally stable, but it looks like sex is one of the few bargaining chips she has left; the car and most of the things in it obviously belong to him. Phillip, meanwhile, is clearly ready to snap and the more psychologically strong Maria is trying to get him to hold it together because his car and protection are the best hope that she and her sister have. The three stop at an abandoned gas station where they encounter another man, Tom, who is initially hostile, but Tom offers gasoline, mechanical expertise and the impression of being slightly less unbalanced than Phillip.  Tom makes a deal to help keep the car running in exchange for passage, food and water. The characters are constantly at odds with one another; they look and act like they are down to their last physically and psychologically.

Our little band of survivors are attacked; the car is stolen and Leonie is abducted. Maria and Phillip manage to get the car back, but the ‘fight’ with the bandits is extremely chaotic and they lose track of Tom in the process. ‘Hell’ is an interesting film because of what it doesn’t show us… during their raid on the bandit’s camp, we spend the whole time with Maria in the car as she tries to start it. All we see are brief glimpses of action occurring outside the car’s masked windows — we are as uninformed of the status of current events as Maria is. Suddenly Phillip leaps into the back seat and shouts that she needs to start driving, NOW.  As they pull away, one of the bandits attempts to drag Phillip from the car. Phillip manages to fight him off, but his ankle is broken as the car door gets slammed shut by a tree as they drive away. Maria wants to go back for Leonie and Tom; Phillip wants to just drive on, pointing out that they have no other realistic options. The strength of this film is that although as watchers we want them to go back and succeed at a daring rescue, within the realm described by the film itself, that does seem like suicide. Earlier in the film, as Tom and Phillip are a short distance away siphoning gasoline out of a crashed car, Leonie urges Maria to just get in the car and drive away. After those words are said, we can see Maria is thinking about it.  The drama of Hell isn’t in choreographed fight scenes or special effects — it’s in Maria attempting to make difficult choices and all about asking things like, “What should someone in a hopeless situation do to survive?” and “When loyalty and empathy decrease your chances for survival, should you discard them?”

Maria does manage to rescue at least some of her comrades from the ‘bandits’ (who are actually another group of survivors with very different plans), but the film’s resolution is ambiguous and anything but hopeful. I think the interesting (if bleak) story that the film makers told with very limited means, especially in an age of unbelieveably expensive films that are incoherent, boring and stupid (ahem – “The Dark Night Rises” – cough), make this worth watching — and the woman who plays Maria, especially, does a great job. I give it five out of five severed heads — I know that’s a high rating, but seeing it within hours of “The Dark Knight Rises” felt like ‘Hell’ was a film maker’s lesson in the ‘right way to do it.’

*This is not the only foreign film whose name has a double meaning in English; there is also a Bollywood film involving sex, money, jealousy and murder called ‘Jism‘ leading to the obviously ribald jokes (‘Jism’ apparently means ‘the body’ in Hindi).

Thank Q’uq’umatz!

Nasa officials recently offered up the cheerful news that the world really isn’t going to end on December 21st, 2012, as supposedly predicted by the Mayans and their impressive stone calendars. Someone once told me that the fact that the Mayan calendars ended on the day we describe as December 21, 2012 was of no significance; it just meant that by the time the Spanish arrived and started killing them, that was as far in the future as the Mayans had bothered to calculate time… although part of me likes the idea of some ancient Mayan calendar carver, dying of whooping cough, thinking to himself, “The joke’s on you, Spaniards — according to this calendar I just finished, in about four hundred and twelve years from now you guys are FUCKED!”

Of course, the skeptic in me thinks that if the Mayans had the power to predict the end of the world more than 400 years in the future, they also would have had the power to prevent a bunch of unwashed Spaniards with fancy hats to destroy their civilization. 

Q’uq’umatz is apparently the Mayan feathered serpent god whom some claim is much like the Aztec god, Quezcoatl (and others say that Q’uq’umatz is nothing like Quezcoatl — me, I don’t have an opinion because I don’t know). Quezcoatl is cool because they also call him, “The Smoking Mirror” which is an excellent name. I chose Q’uq’umatz’s name from a list because I was wondering how you pronounce it. “Kwu-kwu mats? Ku-uk-oo-matz? Kwuck-oo-matz?”

Note to self: Never agree to join any Mayan sport team. If I understand it correctly, the winners usually eat the losers and my softball skills are so woefully poor that I am more likely to find myself among the eaten rather than the eaters.

World War Z (part 2)

Do zombies have ‘swarm consciousness’ like ants or bees?

The other day I posted a bit about the World War Z movie and how much I was looking forward to it.  Since posting, I’ve seen a lot of negative comments about the movie from people who think its going to suck, which made me wonder if a) do I have really crappy taste or b) did we all see the same preview?

A lot of the negative comments about the movie focus on the fact that it doesn’t resemble the book that much.  People really liked the book and thought that the movie should be more like it… but I just can’t see a series of vignettes of different people talking about the zombie-pocalypse like a Ken Burns documentary really working as a Hollywood movie.  I think that using the ‘World War Z’ book title is misleading, but I didn’t like the book that much (I liked Brook’s tongue-in-cheek “Zombie Survival Guide” much more). If I had been a bigger fan of the book, I would be more upset about the World War Z movie bearing only a superficial resemblance to the World War Z book.

One of the things I didn’t like about the book was that many of the characters from different parts of the world who were all relating how they spent the ‘Zombie Wars’ didn’t seem ‘different’ enough in voice in the book. It just kept me from buying the premise. Maybe writing a book from 100 different points of view is an impossible task — I don’t know if another writer could have carried it off, either, and I certainly like the concept, but Brooks’ prose just didn’t work for me.  I also found some of the characters were too close to stereotype for me to buy them.. the Japanese otaku who, faced with the end of the world, becomes a master of the samurai sword, for example. It just didn’t ring true for me. I don’t know if that is a failure of imagination by me as a reader or a result of failure by Brooks as a writer. I loved “Zombie Survival Guide.” I just found portions of “World War Z” a bit flat and melodramatic.  I seem to be in the minority in that opinion (my friend Jon C., whose opinion on all things writing I respect, loved Brooks’ WWZ book, so there you go).

I’ve mentioned it before, but if I had to recommend only one book of zombie genre fiction, it would have to be ‘Zone One’ by Colson Whitehead. I haven’t read anything else by Whitehead (although, based on how much I enjoyed Zone One, I plan to), but Whitehead’s novel was more effective because he kept the scope pretty narrow. Everything is told from a single protagonist’s point of view, even though he is just one man with PTSD in the army of ‘zombie clean-up crews’ that have been formed since the zombie apocalypse. As opposed to World War Z, Whitehead shows the emotions in his characters rather than tells — an important distinction that made it a lot more enjoyable for me to read.

It’s been a couple years since I read World War Z, so I probably don’t remember the book well enough to write an in-depth review, but I do remember parts where some of the different narrators described the zombies just moving forward relentlessly, in a swarm.  There was one battle described in (I think) India where the military retreated across a deep ravine and blew up the bridge behind them, and then just watched in horror as the zombies just started to pour over the cliff like a waterfall, slowly filling up the ravine, which was one image from the book I really found effective… and that’s what the exploding swarms of bodies in the preview made me recall. A similar ‘zombie surge’ figures prominently in the end of Whitehead’s “Zone One.”  Zombie surges are perhaps becoming all the rage in the genre. Maybe that’s what helps make zombies scary again… by this point, everyone knows you can defeat them by shooting them in the head and evade them by closing the gate of a chain link fence, but what if there are so many of the living dead, swarming like ants, that you know you can’t kill them fast enough to keep yourself safe and they will press and pile up against any barrier until they knock it down through sheer numbers? Maybe it’s the idea of all of these humans having lost their humanity that fascinates us — people are starting to say that the zombie genre is played out; I think it still has some mileage left in it yet.

Bait & Switch

Above was clipped from one of Dunham’s Weekly circulars, the “Sports Hunting Circular” with prices valid through 10/13/2012. For those not in the know, Dunham’s is the place to go for long underwear in a camo print, soccer jerseys for the kids, hockey sticks and skates, socks, athletic supporters, duck calls, etc.  It’s like a discount Cabelas that also serves as a one-stop-shop for people with kids playing school sports.

The item in question is a civilian model of the HK 416, supposedly one of the best automatic rifles in the world. I’m normally not that excited about civilian semi-auto carbines, but $549.99 seemed too good a deal to pass up.  Come zombie apocalypse or the rise of the machines, I’d want something with the combined accuracy and ROF of a semi-auto carbine, and the HK416 is not only better than the various AR15 clones in terms of fewer ‘failure to feed’ problems, but is also the weapon of choice for special forces around the world — and, at $549.99, cheaper as well. If my future involved manning the barricades, I wanted an HK416 in my hands. It’s the rifle that killed Bin Laden.

Well, I visited two Dunham’s and called several more, and not only did they not have it, everyone I spoke to said they never carry any rifles from Heckler Koch but they would gladly sell me a Bushmaster carbine for $999.99 if I used the coupon, $1099.99 regular price.  Bunch of bait and switch motherfuckers.

Tip of the hat for marketing genius goes to whomever came up with Hornady “Zombie-Max” ammo.  Yes, it is for real. Hornady is one of the many companies selling ammunition in the US and came up with “Zombie-Max” to sell more ammo to more people. The ammo is apparently a capped hollowpoint, but the plastic cap is green instead of the usual white or clear, which of course means it is better for killing zombies, because zombies are (apparently) sensitive to green plastic the way that werewolves are sensitive to silver. Who knew? If green plastic does kill zombies, I’m going to buy a bunch of green plastic army men, grind ’em up and pack ’em into shotgun shells. Just in case.

Post Apocalypse Survival Guide: Food and Water

Grabbing some neccessities!

Food and Water

Ideas for more and more entries in my ‘Apocalypse Survival Guide’ are coming fast and furious, especially when I am tasked with more mundane things like sorting socks or figuring out my insurance bill. For your handy reference, I have added a sidebar (look right) where these handy guides will be stored for your use.
Today’s subject is ‘Food and Water.’ A more accurate title might be, “Extended plans for Food and Water,” because it’s safe to assume that our short-term plans will all be pretty much the same — raiding the “Super Duper Mart” (or its real world equivalent) for packaged, preserved food and bottled water.

Well stocked survival shelter!

The first problem with the most obvious plan is that everyone else will have thought of it, too. Wal Mart, Krogers and Target are going to be busier than they have been on any black Friday, and it’s not going to be polite shoppers respecting the one-to-a-customer and first-come-first-served rules.  It’s going to be a bloodbath, and, if the Zero-day scenario we are thinking of involves infection or zombification or rage virus, the middle of a crowd of angry and possibly infected shoppers is the last place you want to be. Anyone else remember “The Day After” movie from 1983? This film followed a handful of people around Lawrence, Kansas just before, during and after the bombs drop.  The one scene that sticks out in my mind as unintentionally hilarious was the part where people are frantically shopping at the local grocery store and the cashiers and baggers ringing up and bagging as fast as they could as people buy up all the batteries and Frankenberry. I don’t know about you, but if I was a teen age grocery bagger, I would tell Mr. Whipple to fuck himself and start looting the liquor aisle.  When you see people trampling a store employee to death during a ‘Black Friday’ Christmas sale, it’s doubtful that they are going to patiently wait in line when they think bombs are going to start dropping.

Hopefully you have enough shit at home to can get you through the first few days or weeks and don’t even have to set foot in the stores on Zero day. I don’t think bottled water goes bad; buy a couple of cases RIGHT NOW and stash them somewhere where you won’t be tempted to deplete your chances of survival every time you come back thirsty from a jog or a bike ride. Maybe put up some canned food and other shit as well. And aren’t all Mormons supposed to keep a stash of emergency food at home? Mitt and his pals are going to be sitting pretty when zero-day happens.

Food distribution warehouses are probably also a no-go, unless you and your well-armed band of squatters get there first. Canned goods and sealed stuff will be your treasure — the frozen food, dairy and produce are going to start rotting as soon as the grid goes down.

OK, but what happens when the canned food runs out or those who have control of the existing stockpiles refuse to share?  I suppose you could go all ‘Fallout 3’ on their asses and grab your hunting rifle and Pip boy and try to pick-em-off one by one — good luck with that idea.  Here are some alternatives, presented in no particular order:

1)      Gretel the Dog: I have a dog that has (no shit) killed about 100+ squirrels over the course of a couple of years.  She’s a fast and fierce Chow/Retriever mix who, at 80 lbs, is all muscle. Her secret is that she will chase the squirrel into an isolated tree and then just bark at it with her really loud, hoarse bark and the squirrels (usually) lose their shit and decide to try to jump to another tree rather than just waiting the dog out. When they miss their jump because they are scared shitless over the strength and volume of her bark, she grabs them with the jaws of death and it is game over. One morning, the ‘squirrel killer’ joyfully practiced her deadly trade in full view of our neighbors who were trying to enjoy a brunch with some elderly relatives, so we decided to end the ‘dog versus squirrel’ gladiator show.  Now we let the slow dog out first.  The slow dog chases the squirrels away before killer can come out.

As a survival strategy, however, I don’t think my killer dog brings back more protein than she burns.  If things got bad I’m sure we’d be grateful for the contribution, but we’d probably just be better off eating the dog food.  Once you skin, clean and bone a squirrel, there’s not a lot of meat.

The more pragmatic and heartless might point out that a dog is a meal that hasn’t been cooked yet, but I’m not one of those people.

2)      Benjamin Air Rifle: When I was a kid, a friend had a ‘Benjamin Air Rifle’ that shot little pellets that looked like lead mushrooms. Instead of putting CO2 cylinders in it, you had to pump the forearm like a bicycle pump, which was a lot of work for our skinny little kid arms, but unlike to air rifles that used CO2,  you would never need to buy/find more CO2 cylinders. I’m sure you could take down a squirrel or a rabbit with it… plus it made very little noise so you wouldn’t let the other wastelanders know you were out there. Of course, the success of this strategy assumes that there IS any small game to hunt (see Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”). Perhaps a crossbow or compound bow would be good for larger quarry, but requires a lot more skill to use.

3)      I live in an older neighborhood that was in the middle of the country a few decades ago, but urban sprawl has grown up around the area where my house is.  As a result, deer wander through our backyard almost every night, eating our coleus and tomato plants and looking at us with amused expressions when the dogs bark at them. The deer are so accustomed to humans that you could get within 10 or 12 feet of one and shoot it between the eyes with a handgun before the rest caught on, but I suspect that when food gets scarce, every redneck within 100 miles is going to be hunting in my backyard whether I want them to or not. Less than $120.00 US can get you a surplus Mosin Nagant 91/30 rifle and a few boxes of ammo that will allow you to hunt deer — many vendors will also throw in a bayonet!  This is the rifle the Russians used to fight WW1 and WW2 and recently hundreds of thousands of well-preserved 91-30s have been dumped on the used rifle market in the US — the Russians use this as a sporting rifle to take down bears, so it would also knock down a deer or a human, no problem. The 7.62x54r cartridge, however, isn’t exactly common, so you better stock up now.  The 91/30 is also about 4’ long and 9 lbs heavy; I’d rather have a lighter weight classic Savage or similar bolt-action deer rifle with a scope in .30-06 or similar, although  that kind of hunting rifle is going to start at around 400+ clams.

4) Canada Geese: They are all over the place. You can probably hunt them with your car if you don’t have a shotgun. We also get a few wild turkeys in my part of the state, although both the turkeys and the geese are MEAN.  Some of the turkeys took out a dude who was jogging in the woods near my house. The turkeys flew at his face, claws extended, and he went down and broke his arm. Had this been a real post apocalyptic situation, he would have been coyote food in a few days.

5) Foraging: I know a couple of plants that are edible, but I don’t know how long I would live eating only boiled nettles, gooseberries, purslain, wild onions and cattails. In our foodless future, the national parks will probably be littered with the corpses of amature foragers who couldn’t tell the difference between morels and fly agaric. I’d suggest getting a good book with good illustrations, but I took one of these ‘natural food guides’ out on the trail and then looked at the mushrooms growing along the side of the path, carefully comparing them to the pictures and descriptions and still had no idea if the fungus I was looking at was going to be delicious with butter OR was going to kill me in less than 30 minutes if I ate it… so I went back home and opened a can of Cambell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.

6) Poor Man’s Lobster: I’m talking ‘Arthropods!’ Beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and similar bugs may be disgusting to you now, but just wait till you are hungry enough! True story: I once met a guy from South Africa who told me that he was really grossed out by the sight of people eating lobsters and shrimp… even though, back in the homeland, he and his family ate termites. I asked him why the shrimp and the lobster grossed him out, and he replied, “They look like bugs!”  I replied that termites looked like bugs, too, and he aswered that he knew his disgust was illogical, but he had never seen anyone eat lobster or shrimp until he was in his late teens and old enough to travel, whereas he had been eating termites all his life… so termites were the bugs he was used to eating, whereas lobsters were just gross — especially when he saw them scuttling around in the tanks at the grocery store. How long will it take hungry Americans to look forward to a meal of beetles or grubs?



The End of the World

The End of the World (Apocalypse Preparation #4)

A year ago, when this blog was a lot more popular, I did a “how do you think the world will end?” poll, allowing people to vote between such popular choices as “Alien Invasion,” “Zombies,” “Nuclear War,” “Asteroids,” etc.  Unfortunately, I think one of Blogger’s redesigns or my incompetence ate my poll and data — so the results are gone, but I think you can still see some of the responses. With my recent posts on apocalypse preparation, I thought now would be the perfect time to revisit the topic. After all, if one is going to prepare for the end of the world, one should consider what form this end will take.

Here are some possible ‘end of the world’ scenarios, in no particular order:

1) Zombies: I know that zombies have been done to death (hah hah, joke; previously I blogged that the living dead seem to have jumped the shark).  It seems as if everyone and his brother is writing a crappy Zombie genre novel, but zombies, as an end of the world proposal, still seem like a good bet. To start with, we have those Canadian statistical studies that suggest in a George Romero-esque zombie scenario, humanity is probably fucked.  Zombies continue to appeal to the imagination because the idea of shooting that annoying coworker because he’s turned into a zombie is something most of us would like to at least imagine doing.
I just want to make it clear that I was into zombies before everyone else thought they were cool.
However, we are also going to have to differentiate between actual living dead scenarios (like
Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’) and “rage virus” type scenarios like ’28 Days Later.’ The ’28 Days
Later’ infected are, technically, not ‘undead,’ but they may as well be because they certainly behave like zombies. They are also faster and meaner than Romero’s shuffling, bumbling undead. Romero zombies have to bite you for you to be infected, then you need to die from the diesease (which takes hours) and then, finally, you rise again.  This gives other people plenty of time to tie you up, lock you in a closet, decapitate you or take other precautions. 28 Days Later infected just have to bite you, spit in your eye or kiss you on your lips and, seconds later, you have become one of them.  I’m not as fast on my feet as Vice Presidential candidate Paul “Marathon Man” Ryan claims to be, but even I could keep up a brisk trot that would keep me out of reach of the slow “Dawn of the Dead” Romero zombies.  The 28 Days Later infected would be another story… those bastards are all adrenaline.
Other films, like Romero’s “The Crazies” (where a chemical weapon gets into the water supply and turns a whole town into homicidal maniacs — I reviewed both the 1973 original and the 2010 remake) are sort of like ‘zombie’ scenarios, but are more localized phenomena — unless you go to the town with the poisoned water and drink the water over a period of time, you are unlikely to get infected. And the question remains unanswered as to whether or not people who have been driven mad by the poison in the water supply can be cured. Sure, the ‘Crazies’ are not undead… but they are the next best thing.
Strategy: Avoid, hide, shoot-em-in-the-head. If it’s Trixie, don’t drink the water and get out of Dodge.

2) Plague: Whether flesh eating virus, bird flu or bubonic plague, what if a diesease just killed ~90% of the humans? See Carriers, a movie from a few years ago that I really enjoyed but didn’t get a lot of popular attention.  There was also a BBC TV show called Survivors; I saw a few episodes on Netflix a while back. In the wake of having 90% or more of the people die, societies collapse and a few people are left, fending for themselves in a new dark age.  Of course, there are always the little Hitlers in these stories who want to take shit over and those frequent shoot outs over food supplies, a possible cure or that last can of gasoline. Survivors or Carriers were a bit like “Mad Max” but without the S&M outfits and the crazy cars.
The biggest problem, in my opinion, is how badly all those dead bodies are going to stink. Even if you are immune to the plague that wiped out most of humanity, cities and towns are rapidly going to turn into disease infected maggot piles which will eventually produce some sort of something that WILL kill you. The fact that dead bodies stink really badly and make us want to puke is nature’s way of telling us, “Stay away — this rotting flesh is dangerous.”  If the plague doesn’t get you, maybe something caught with trying to retreive a can Vienna sausages from the corpse filled ruin of a 7-11 will.
I suppose the medieval Black Plague survivors or the South American natives in the age of the Spanish invasion experienced what seemed like apocalyptic plagues; to those living through it, it probably seemed like ‘the end of the world.’ And then there was the flu pandemic of 1918 when somewhere around 100 million people might have died — shit, this is getting just too depressing.
Strategy: Inoculate, Evacuate, Isolate. Wear lots of rubber and use lots of hand sanitizer. Move to the country and learn to like the taste of venison. Cough into your sleeve. Wave instead of shaking hands. No glove = no love.

3) Meteors / Super Nova: These seem the least interesting to me, simply because there is nothing I can conceive of doing to improve my chances of survival. Faced with zombies, I can shoot them in the head; when the reptilian overlords take over, the machines rise up or the apes attack, I can join the resistance, etc. But the entire planet disintigrated in a ball of flame?  Unless we can send Bruce Willis up in a space shuttle to destroy the asteroid, it’s game over for all of us.
Strategy: None.  U.R. phuct.

4) The Day of the Triffids: I’m not sure where this one belongs.  “Day of the Triffids” was a sci-fi novel and then a BBC TV series and, maybe, a movie.  It applies several Apocalypses at once.  First, a night time meteor shower produces a wonderously colorful light show in the night sky.  Almost everyone stays up to watch it.  Unfortunately, the next morning they all wake up fucking BLIND! If that were not bad enough, mankind had domesticated some sort of a weird, walking plant called a ‘triffid’ that could be used to make an oil for fuel, thus solving the energy crisis once and for all (I guess it was written in the 1970s or so).  The triffids are dangerous (they have a whip with poison that can wound and (eventually) kill a human), but are easily managed through the use of electrified wire fences and other barriers.  When the humans go blind, the triffids escape and start hunting down the now blind humans who are bumbling around trying to survive.  There are a handful of humans who did not go blind (some were in prison and thus not permitted to see the lightshow, others were sleeping off a drunk, had suffered an eye injury and were wrapped in bandages, etc.) and the action revolves around these ‘sighted’ few. Triffids are sort of like zombies — they move slowly and are not very intelligent, but are dangerous in larger groups and they don’t give up. The whole ‘meteor shower causing 99% of the population to go blind” is an interesting wrinkle.
Strategy: If a ‘glorious meteor shower with astounding colors’ is predicted, draw the curtains, close your eyes, stay inside and hide.  Stockpile food and weapons. Avoid city centers where large numbers of decaying dead-and-blind people will be found.  Watch out for sighted megalomaniacs who want to lord it over the blind. Stock up on agent orange and other herbicides.

5) Rise of the Machines / Apes / C.H.U.D., etc.: The “that which was our servant has taken over” has worked very well for the Terminator franchise — we got a series of films, television shows and a robot Governor for the state of California out of the deal. And I LOVED the ‘Planet of the Apes’ movies when I was a wee sprat — especially the one with the army of mutated humans who lived under the ruins of a city fighting the apes (although the one where the other group of mutants worship a bomb was pretty cool, too). Planet of the Apes was from the 70s, a time when the ideas of social unrest were on the minds of a lot of people, so I  think those stories had a little more resonance then than they have today.
I guess ‘The Matrix’ belongs in here too, but it’s a lot more post modern so I’m gonna pretend I didn’t mention it.
C.H.U.D. doesn’t count as an ‘end of the world’ scenario (unless you are a hobo or a late night dog walker living in the early 80s NYC), but I loved the movie and the idea of mutants living in the sewers because the people who run the nuclear power plant are too cheap to truck the radioactive waste out of town and instead stash it in the sewers under Manhattan is pretty boss.
Strategy: Stockpile weapons, food, ammo. Grenades and Geiger counters would be useful in a C.H.U.D. scenario. Be nice to your pet monkey and when he wants another banana, give it to him. Knowing where the circuit breakers are, so you can shut the whole fucking system down if needed, is key, so respect the janitor and his big ring of keys. Stay out of the basement if it’s CHUD; head to the basement if it’s terminator.  If you are in the Matrix, the basement is in your mind (which I just blew, by the way).

6) War of the Worlds / Space Invaders: I’m showing my age here, but I remember when a video game where you were a little rocket that moved left or right and shot missiles out of your nose at advancing hordes of bug-like space ships was considered ‘cutting edge.’ A few months ago, I re-read H.G. Well’s “War of the Worlds” and, as a both a novel and science fiction I think it really held up well, despite all the references to cravats and horse drawn carriages and other late 19th century-isms. I guess that’s because Wells could write and Space Invaders just got boring after a while.
But what are we going to go if the Martian Tripods arrive and our orbital satellite defense platforms are not ready for them? I’d suggest running, hiding and allowing the tiny bacteria to eventually do to the martians what all our military might cannot (i.e.: kick their asses).  If you are in danger of being caught by the martians, try to have a cold so the martians that drink your blood will get sick and die. If the martians have anti-biotics, we are fucked.
Strategy: Good running/hiking shoes, a canteen and food, weather gear and quick wits and a will to live will serve you well.  Weapons are more likely to help you against fellow humans who want to fuck you over for a chocolate bar than the martians; don’t waste your ammo taking potshots at the tripods (it will only let them know where you are). Avoid mentally unbalanced travel companions and do not accept a berth on a ship named HMS Thunderchild. Hopefully it will all be over in less than a week.

7) Atomic War: My, how times have changed.  When I was a kid, a war to end all wars with ICBMs between the USSR and “The Western Democracies” was considered very likely. All these years later, we are more worried about terrorists than Ivan here in the US (although some worry about underpaid soldiers or disgruntled commisars of the former USSR selling nukes to the terrorists). When I was a youngster I played GAMMA WORLD and I thought after a nuclear war I would have 1d8 hp per point of CON and I would be riding around on a cactus-horse and fighting mutant rabbits with my vibro-blade in one hand and my slug-thrower in the other.  Then I saw a movie called “The Day After” in which the inhabitants of Lawrence Kansas got the shit blasted out of them by nukes and their hair and teeth all fell out and they were vomitting all the time and I was considerably less enthusiastic.
When I was a school boy, one of our teachers was talking about how he grew up with ‘Duck and Cover’ exercises in which an alarm would sound and everyone would scuttle under a desk to protect themselves. Someone asked why we didn’t do such exercises anymore and I remember him saying he didn’t know why but that hiding under a desk wouldn’t protect you against a nuclear attack, anyway. “Gee, that’s swell Mr. Ryan! I guess if they bomb, we are all fucked! Now that you’ve traumatized us, can we go to recess?” Good thing it didn’t come to that.
I wouldn’t mind nuclear war if it was more like Fallout 3 or Gamma World. Since it will instead probably be really dusty and everyone getting either blasted to atoms or slowly sickening and dying, I’m thinking, “no, thanks.”
Strategy: Hope that it doesn’t happen? If it does, have stored food, shotguns and assault rifles, geiger counters and a fallout shelter handy. Live someplace far from anything that the Russkis (or Chinese or whomever) want to blow up and learn to grow your own food.  String up lots of barbed wire to keep the mutants out. If you live in Fallout 3 and can afford it, buy space in a vault from Vault-Tec!

8) Mutants/Food of the Gods/The Blob/Monolith Monsters/Last Man on Earth: Growing up, I used to watch monster movies on the local independant channels (KPLR-11 in Saint Louis and/or the local UHF station TV 30 back when TV sets still had knobs you had to twist). I loved these B-movies because they were always coming up with monsters from some mysterious source (usually radiation or outer space) which would have humanity pinned to the mat and be about to rip our collective throats when someone would come up with a solution and the movie would end with the equivalent of, “Whew, that was close!” (or, in the case of the Blob, it would end with the US Airforce dropping the frozen blob into the arctic wastes via parachute…. and just when you started to feel safe, an enormous question mark came surging up out of the screen— The blob isn’t dead… it is only dormant!  Who knows what will happen!?!).
I don’t remember if they ever explained where the ‘Food of the Gods’ came from in that movie — it was some sort of mysterious substance that caused chickens to grow to enormous size when mixed with their feed.  Unfortunately, rats broke intot the barn and ate the chicken feed and the heroes of the movie spent most of their time trying to escape the resultant giant rats.  They managed to kill the rats by blowing up a damn and flooding the valley, but, at the end of the film we saw broken jars labeled “Food of the Gods” lying in a stream… the stream flowed into a river… that flowed into a cow farm where the cows drank the F.O.t.Gs contaminated water… and… in the last scene… a bunch of snot nosed school kids happily slurping milk out of little paper cartons in the school lunch room…. “WHAT WILL HAPPEN!?!” Plus we had ‘THEM’ which was about giant ants attacking people in California.
Carpenter’s “The Thing!” was a direct descendant of these B-movies but with special effects that were more special and Kurt Russel. Again it ended with a “WHAT WILL HAPPEN!?!” and a sequel (or was it a prequel?).
“Monolith Monsters” deserves an honorable mention because it was perhaps the weirdest apocalypse idea that Hollywood came up with.  There are these giant crystals (I don’t remember where they come from) that keep growing out of the ground until they grow so huge that they snap off and fall over, crushing whatever they fall on. They are easy to avoid, but, like a game of Tetris, you are likely to get surrounded by them and cut off and they just DON’T STOP! I don’t remember much about this movie other than I couldn’t decide if it was cool or stupid when I saw it (I would have been about 10 or so)… which makes me think it was probably pretty cool.  I’m going to have to see if I can find it on netflix or something.
Strategy: If you are dealing with giant ants, shoot them in the antennae and they will go crazy and kill each other. Steve McQueen defeated the blob with fire extinguishers. You are gonna have to handle these things on a case by case basis, but, in most cases, stick close to the star of the movie and don’t downplay the danger — the people who wander off on their own or doubt the danger are always the ones who get killed.

9) Let’s get Biblical — Noah and the Great Flood: Did you know that Russel Crowe recently starred in a yet-to-be-released movie about Noah’s ark? Ironically, he and a friend also recently got lost while kayaking and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. Noah would have been able to deal with that shit on his own is all I’m saying.
Strategy: I’m tempted to say you ought to just carry an inflatable life raft around with yourself at all times, but, IMO, the God of the old testament would have just sent a swordfish to pop your raft while you were floating above the waves in order to drown your ass. He was always setting up these situations where humans would fail and then destroying them. If god didn’t want people having anal sex, why did he give people assholes and let them build a city called ‘Sodom’?  And what kind of god puts two naked people in a garden and says, “You can do anything you want… just don’t eat the apple,” and then acts surprised when they eat the apple? Of course they ate the apple.  And if he’s all knowing and all powerful, he would have known they were gonna eat the apple before he even made the garden.
You just can’t win with a god that acts like a spoiled jerk.

Improvised Apocalypse Survival Part 3: Accessories make the Plan

The only question is when.

I’m really enjoying writing these ‘Apocalypse Survival’ posts, wakeriding, as I am, on the success of Max Brook’s “Zombie Survival Guide” and similar books. Brooks has pretty much put all his chips on ‘zombies’ being the form the future apocalypse takes — but what if it’s mutants, killer bees, rage virus, returning retilians overlords, ancient Mayan curses, flesh eating bacteria or bondage wear wastelanders a la Mad Max? Plans must be adjusted accordingly. Relying on a single source like Brooks for 100% of your post apocalypse planning needs will mean that unless he is right (and I’m not denying that he might be), using ‘Zombie Survival Guide’ as your only contingency plan might result in you fucking your future self!

I’ve already touched on “A good defense involves a strong offense” (weapons: part1) and “A good defense involves a good defense” (armor/fortifications: part 2).  I’m sure plenty more needs to be considered on both of those subjects; I’ve only scratched the surface.  Welcome to part 3, where I talk about your ‘bug out bag.’

Nods to Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One” (excellent book; I’ll give it 5 out of 5 severed heads!) for introducing me to the concept of the ‘Bug Out Bag.’  Whitehead’s protagonist, “Mark Spitz” (post apocalypse, everyone has a nick-name; his is “Mark Spitz” because he doesn’t know how to swim) describes the ‘bug-out bag’ as a small cache of supplies that every survivor stashes somewhere known only to him/herself.  If the shit goes bad and your camp is overrun and it’s every man-woman-child for themselves against the undead, you can snag your bug-out bag when you are heading for the hills — it should contain a few important things to help you survive the next couple of days because, more than likely, when the time comes to bug out, the enemy won’t give you a chance to pack your shit and you will be on your own.

So, what belongs in YOUR bug-out bag? Here’s what’s (hopefully) going in mine without making it too big or heavy — I may have to make some hard choices once I gather all these items and find out my pile is too big to fit in my knapsack:

1) Pry bar: You don’t wanna go crazy with the tools, since they are heavy and clanky and bulky, but I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a small pry bar. It can help you open doors, windows, manhole covers, etc.  Plus, in a pinch, you can bust a skull if you have to.

2) Knife: You didn’t see this one coming?  I’d probably include a lock-blade or sheath knife AND something like a multi-tool.  I would want something with a can-opener on it in case you manage to loot some canned food. There is nothing more depressing than the idea of finding the last can of baked beans left on earth and being too weak with hunger to get it open.

2) Flashlight: OK, so I’m stating the obvious. But make sure it’s in there and has batteries and you can thank me later. I’ve got TWO in my car.  Yeah, I’m that paranoid.

3) First Aid Kit: See flashlight, above. In some cases, like apocalypse via contagion, it might not be much help, but it will at least keep a cut or a sprain from slowing you down too much. And, who knows, maybe if you douse that bite wound in hydrogen peroxide soon enough, you’ll at least get a +2 on your save versus ghoulification.  Worth a try, isn’t it?

4) Water and food: Especially water. If survival means being able to keep moving, clean water is a must.  Something to eat that’s lightweight and small, like granola bars and beef jerky, could help keep you going. Water purification tablets might not be a bad idea. I’m also gonna pack a spoon.

5) Matches/lighter: Yeah, I know that in THEORY one can ‘make fire’ by rubbing sticks together, but when I’m tired, cold and still mourning the death of civilization, I won’t be in the mood to play cave man. Maybe after a few weeks I’ll be ready to go full-on boyscout, but until then I want my instant fire source.

6) Poncho: Keeping yourself dry goes a long way towards keeping yourself warm.  Some warm clothes wouldn’t be bad either, but let’s not go crazy. I’m thinking olive drab or camo pattern instead of safety orange in case the future involves roving bands of cannibals who think I look like food.

7) mini-packs of Kleenex: OK, not a necessity, strictly speaking, but I find nothing interferes with my continued feeling of well being as much as an itchy butt.  If I’m suddenly out in the wild or unexpectedly trekking across the devastation, eventually I am going to have to go number 2. And afterwards, I will want to wipe. Clear your mind and your ass will feel better; clean your ass and your mind will be able to concentrate on more important stuff. Probably wouldn’t mind some toothpaste, floss and a toothbrush, either.

8) Cash-stash: Probably not going to help once the rest of the world figures out that ‘shit and fan have met,’ but, in those early hours, some cash-on-hand might help you bribe your way past checkpoints, convince others to part with needed supplies or make room for just one more on a boat, etc.  Besides, a few dead presidents don’t take up a lot of room and can serve as back-up TP or tinder. Paranoids and Glenn Beckeroids talk about the importance of having gold on hand for emergencies, but unless you think your end of the world scenario involves leprechauns, I wouldn’t bother. I wonder if cramming a few bags of Hanukka gelt into your bag would be worth it? They might look enough like Krugerrands to allow you to ‘pidgeon drop’ some greedy fool out of his bottled water, and, if all else fails, everyone likes chocolate.

9) Bug dope: Time was, they used to make a bug repellant lotion that came in little squeeze bottles.  I bet they still do.  I want at least one of those because I hate mosquitos that much.

10) Map and compass. Post electronic pulse and/or after the aliens have swept satellites from the sky, GPS devices and google maps will be useless… better get used to ‘grandpa’s GPS’ and start raiding the glove compartments of abandoned Monte Carlos and Galaxy 500s during your trek, looking for old fashioned paper maps that will at least let you see where the roads lead.  Of course, you may need to revise your maps as you go along (perhaps replacing some cities with big black blots that mean “crater of radioactive slag”), but that’s half the fun of the brave new world!

11) Gat: I’ve been debating the utility of a small handgun; maybe one of those cheap .380 semi-autos or similar that you could pack in a small dry-bag with a few magazines and a box of ammo vs a 9mm or similar.  This would be a spare weapon that live in the bug-out-bag, so, should I lose everything else, I would still have at least one sidearm.  Also very tempting is the Henry AR7 rifle — a collapsible 22lr rifle that disassembles and packs inside the waterproof plastic stock that doubles as a case for a total weight of 3.5 lbs unloaded. 

12) Rubber gloves, filter mask, hand sanitizer, soap, goggles, etc.: You can’t plan for every contingency, but even if our end time scenario is not a plague, once the world goes to shit and there are bodies in the streets, avoiding infection might not be a bad idea.  Goggles might be overkill — but eye protection of some kind plus a mask might not be amiss if you are dealing with enemies that explode like handgrenades of infected pus once you kill them (and I think a future of ‘exploding pus zombies’ are a distinct possibility).  Gotta keep contagion out of your own eyes, nose and mouth!

13) Transistor radio: Do they even make these any more? Once the grid goes down, cell phones are going to be useless.  If you have a car, you probably will have a radio, but when circumstances force you to hoof it, an old fashioned pocket radio with which you can (hopefully) pick up emergency broadcasts might not be a bad thing to have. Make sure it has an earphone jack and earphone; you don’t want to advertise your location to the infected when you are listening to those emergency broadcasts.

14) Walkie-talkies: How many movies have you seen where someone is in trouble and his/her companions remain blissfully unaware? $14.95 spent at K-Mart and a couple batteries solve this problem. Just remember to switch it off at the right moment so your homies don’t call you “just to say hello” while you are trying to sneak past that wandering monster.

15) Extra batteries. Why isn’t this #1?

16) Duct tape: Emergency repairs and bandages! 

17) Rope: You can always use a small coil of nylon rope.

I suppose there are more things that COULD go in there — fishing line and hooks might not be a bad idea (although, at the rate at which we are killing the oceans, there may be no fish in our future) and a small metal pot to boil water or eat out of, but I think you get the general idea.

What’s going into YOUR bug-out bag?

Improvised Apocalypse Arsenal Part 2: Self Defense

I’ve been musing more on the ‘Improvised Apocalypse Arsenal’ concept that I introduced on Saturday. I think I have more posts in me on the subject.  Sorry. 
Today I’d like to talk about ‘Self Defense.’  No, not ‘self defense’ as in having weapons with you — I would categorize that as ‘defense of self through self offense.’  When the shit comes down. whether it be ravenous undead, Mad Max type wastelanders armed with hand-made crossbows, feral children with tooth and nail or mutants with super powers, you are going to want something to protect yourself from harm — a barrier between you and danger that can be as big as a castle or as small as a shield improvised from a trash can lid.  Self protection becomes doubly important in an ‘infection’ scenario — when the bite of one zombie = eventual zombification, then taking pains not to get bitten seems a worthwhile investment.

It’s just a matter of time…

1) Don’t get out of the car: Is this good advice?  I don’t know.  I guess it depends. The good thing about the car is that you can lock yourself inside of it and drive away.  And maybe you’ll have some bottled water, road flares or a blanket in the trunk. But when the apocalypse comes (and come it will), the roads are going to be jammed with bumper-to-bumper vehicles, each containing a happy-meal for the undead, mutants or cannibals in the form of a commuter who is probably armed only with a smart phone and a coffee.  Easy pickings.
Also, most cars have a lot of glass, so, unless you are moving down the road at considerable speed, any determined adversary who can pick up a rock or other window smasher is going to eventually get you.  The car is also a crappy place to hide; anything taller than a schnauzer is going to see you trying to hunker down in the driver’s seat of your Corolla.  Be smart.  Know when to make a break and hoof it.  I suppose there are exceptions — if you have a helicopter instead of a car, you can thumb your nose at the proles stuck on the freeway below, but what goes up must eventually come down (and, if the apocalypse scenario is flying monkeys or fire breathing dragons, perhaps up in the air is the last place you want to be).
Max Brooks recommends vehicles like armored cars and the like, but good luck in getting your hands on one of those.  If you try to jack the dudes who work for the armored car company, they will just shoot you; end of your story, or maybe they will just smile and wave at you through the bullet proof glass as the rabid mole rats or whatever rip you apart.

Zombies: more persistent than Amway people.

2. Don’t go outside: Good advice? Again, it depends.  If you are shopping at ‘The Sunglasses Hut’ and suddenly the irradiated ghouls attack, unless you can lock down the whole mall immediately, get your ass out of there.  If the threat is outside and you are inside, that’s probably more good than bad — figure out where they are going to get in and either barricade or surrender indefensible parts of the territory.  But always leave yourself an exit! That upstairs bedroom might seem like a good place to hide, but if they are coming in the bedroom door can you go out the window?  Have an exit strategy.
 Also: how defensible and well supplied is this place you want to call home?  Shopping malls seem to be a movie favorite for zombie survival, but Hollywood has some peculiar ideas about the defensibility of a mall… too much glass and not enough moats and machine-gun nests for my taste. Most malls seem to be a good source for stylish clothing, designer purses and jewelry, but these items are going to be less useful than shotguns, iodine and canned beans, which, in my experience, are left for more prosaic shopping destinations to provide.  Some place like Wal-mart might be better, but those big box stores are also going to be ground zero for infection as panicking suburbanites pack in there, trying to grab all the toaster pastries and bottled water that they can fit into their mini-vans.
The last urban high school I taught in might have made a pretty good fortress.  The kitchen was provided with industrial sized cans of cling peaches and fruit cocktail. The pre-war building had thick walls and bars on the windows. The nurses office had at least some medical supplies. There might have even still been some dated supplies* in the fallout shelter. Best of all, it was a run-down place with an undesirable zipcode, so few people are going to contest you for it’s ownership.

3) Learn from the ancestors: Time was, our ancestors defended themselves by scampering up a tree.  And a tree still makes a good refuge… consider the dog and squirrel.  If dogs had hands instead of paws, squirrels would have been wiped out years ago.

4) Clothes make the man: We need to divide this into sub-categories:

Survival skills for post-collapse America!

4a) Hooray for the SCA: I never did the SCA thing, myself.  When I heard of it, I envisioned people in armor whacking each other with blunted weapons, which seemed to me like a very good way to train for many possible versions of the apocalypse. Unfortunately, most SCAers seem to spend most of their time wandering the Ren Faire in floppy hats, bodices and cloaks; garments that offer little or no protection from bites, claws or bullets and probably are impossible to run or climb a chain link fence in. If you an SCAer, leave the pirate costume in the closet and stick with the chain mail instead. Accessorize that battle armor with a decidedly non-period shotgun and replace the rattan sword with a machete or baseball bat. Armor will slow you down, however, so stay close to a vehicle in case you need to make a quick get away.

Dress for success

4b) Road Warrior: Leather motorcycle gear is probably a good choice – a nice compromise between protection and maintaining a decent movement rate. Stylish AND lots of zippered pockets for extra ammo, etc. Plus it makes you look like a tough guy… and, in case you dress for the apocalypse on a day when it fails to come about, you can just tell people that you are on your way to Sturgis. Accessorize with boots, leather gloves and helmet.  Leather won’t stop a bullet, but it will probably slow down the teeth and claws of the undead or offer at least some protection from the teeth of rabid doberman pinchers.

Kelley was a badass, no doubt.

4c: The Sporting Life: Football players wear shoulder pads that would make damn good protection while battling other post-apocalyptic warriors armed with chains, boards studded with nails, lead pipes, etc.  Lacrosse helmets offer great impact protection and high visibility — probably as good or better than those buckets most SCAers wear on their heads. Hockey offers shin guards, elbow protection, knee protection and gauntlets.  Baseball offers the ever important groin protection: preserve your ability to repopulate the earth! About the only thing I can’t see being that useful are those giant shin guards that Cricket players wear — maybe if the apocalypse involves low-to-the-ground attackers like prairie dogs.

4d: Full Metal Jacket: Modern body armor, made for the military and law enforcement, offers medieval style protection with less weight, easy on-easy off velcro fasteners PLUS it is the only garment that can have a chance of stopping a bullet.  Unfortunately, it is also expensive.
For those of us on a budget, I suppose there is the Ned Kelley “Hillbilly armor” option.  A few visits to the scrap yard and hardware store, a few hours with the blow torch and pop-rivet gun and maybe you, too, can walk through a hail of bullets like Kelley.

He who smelt it, dealt it.

4e: Hazmat: To be truly prepared, you gotta figure out a way of getting at least one of those Hazmat suits and masks into your life in case the future apocalypse involves contagion, chemical menace or similar. The problem is, of course, that unless you KNOW that the risk is and what form it will take (is a painter’s particle mask sufficient?  Or are you going to need the full body condom with bottled O2?) and you know exactly when to put your gear on, you are either limited to living your life like ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble’ (i.e.: assume 24-7 that you are under attack from some sort of unseen chemical or biological menace and spend your life inside a giant zip-lock bag — sorry; I’d almost rather be dead than succumb to that level of paranoia) or hope for an early warning from the CDC. Perhaps a few filter masks and latex gloves in the glove compartment couldn’t hurt…

4f: Less is More: I envision that the future might belong to the fit and athletic practitioners of the art of parkour. Dressed, at most, in Adidas, jeans and a hoodie, they seem to effortlessly leap from parapet to fence to rooftop, always one step ahead and out of reach of whatever menace the apocalypse holds.  I envy them and wish them well; the future probably belongs to them.

*On a dare I once ate some “survival biscuits” that we found sealed in tin cans in an abandoned building. I think they dated back to when Nixon was in the Whitehouse. They were dry and tasteless; like Saltines without salt.

What’s in your Improvised Apocalypse Arsenal?

School of Hard Knocks

Last night I watched about 1/2 of ‘Battle Royale,’ a circa 2000 Japanese movie/novel that some say inspired the more highbrow novel, The Hunger Games. The basic premise is that in the near future, the school kids of Japan start to behave so badly that the adults decide to pass a ‘Battle Royale’ law in which classes of kids are chosen at random and dropped on an uninhabited island where they have to battle one another to the death.  Each student is given a bag that contains food, water, a map and one weapon. The weapon is chosen at random; it might be an Uzi or it might be a spork. In addition, the students are fitted with explosive collars and certain regions of the island will randomly be chosen to become “get out of here NOW or your head will explode” zones to keep the kids moving around. I don’t know how it all turned out because I was tired and I couldn’t bring myself to keep watching it — maybe I’ll finish it when I am less tired.  It’s not as unwatchable as some Japanese popular cinema, but the acting conventions of Japanese popular cinema are something I think I just don’t get. People are always convulsing with anger, fear or sadness which usually involves screaming through clenched teeth, doubling over like they have been hit in the stomach and having their eyes bug out… in short, they behave like cartoon characters.  This Gaijin just doesn’t get it and will leave it to the bloggers who are Japan-o-philes to explain.

The genius of having the kids get random weapons, however, is hard to ignore. Which made me want to wonder, with my morning coffee, about the question, “When the shit hits the fan (be it attack of space aliens, the rising of the disenfranchised classes, zombie outbreak, etc., take your pick), how are YOU going to defend yourself?”

1) Guns are the obvious choice, especially if you live in the US where there seem to be as many guns as people.  Unfortunately, unless you are a concealed carrier of weapons or in a job that gives ready access to guns (like law enforcement or working in ‘Firearms’ at Bass Pro Shop), you are only likely to have your guns with you if you know the shit is about to come down or you are at home (or wherever you keep your gun(s) if you have them).

My sidearm of choice would be my .38 Special revolver or a shotgun (only because I am familiar with these tools), but people who are into guns will probably have Glocks with 30 round magazines and semi-auto rifles illegally modified to class 3 status with 75+ round drum magazines, so my shootin’ irons are probably woefully outclassed and I’ll be dead in the first few minutes.

The Decider.

Speaking of gun porn, if one had to choose just one gun, you might want to go for the Kel-Tec shotgun. It features twin magazines that hold 6 shells each, so you could load one with buckshot and the other with slugs and then blast away, switching back and forth with buckshot for close range and slugs for further away.  Plus it looks like it’s from the future. Kel-tec says the ejection port is underneath so southpaws won’t have it ejecting spent shells into their face. $800.00 MSRP means it’s not the most expensive option, either. 

The good news is that if you live in the US, guns are cheap and easy to get, so you can easily add a .380 to your wardrobe, a pump shotgun to your hall closet and a 9mm to your nightstand.  The bad news is that if you live in the US, guns are cheap and easy to get, so when the shit goes down we will all probably be shooting each other.  We won’t have to wait for the zombies to kill us; our neighbors will probably shoot us because we look a little off or we were about to grab the last pack of Twinkies from the floor of the looted Wal-Mart.

2) The kitchen provides a lot of potential improvised weaponry. My first impulse is to grab a “chef’s knife” with as long a blade as I could find, perhaps 8″ or more.  I like the chef’s knife because it could be used to stab or slash and has a little more reach than the paring knife or cleaver. Since it’s made for chopping, the blade has a little more heft than some of the longer knives.  AVOID the wavy bladed bread knife.  It looks like it would hurt like hell (and it probably would if your enemy just stood there and let you saw at him) but the blade is usually too thin to stand up to living sinew and bone (which is a lot tougher than cooked meat).  Let some other fool take the bread-knife. Remember, although a lot of people show up in emergency rooms with cuts from bread knives every day, those wounds are always self inflicted by bagel eaters who are too lazy to get out a cutting board (yes, I have thought about this… wait, don’t look at me like that…).

Whacking someone with an iron skillet seem like a no-brainer (get it?), but the cast iron skillet has become a relic of a bygone era in many US kitchens, probably because you can’t just stick ’em in the dishwasher, so unless you are in the kitchen of a foodie or a southerner, the likelyhood of finding a plain old iron skillet is greatly reduced.  The problem with the iron skillet is that it is damned awkward to wave around… in order to do damage with it, you are going to need a lot of wind up for your swing, and the short handle combined with the big round pan makes it just too damn top heavy. These space-age material pots and pans usually have all the disadvantages of the iron skillet (awkward shape and you need a lot of swinging room) with none of the heft; I’d leave ’em on the shelf unless you really have no better options. Rolling pins seem like a good idea, but they are usually too light to give a good whack. I’d probably grab a meat tenderizer mallet instead, although, honestly, go for the chef’s knife if you can.

People in the movies often seem to throw hot water or coffee on an attacker, but, honestly, unless you standing right beside the stove and the liquid is REALLY fucking hot, you really can’t make this your battle plan.  It’s also  a one shot weapon — afterwards, you are just a guy holding an empty carafe and facing an enraged and wet opponent.

Be nice to the groundskeeper; maybe he’ll let you live.

3) The garden shed / storage area provides some very good options.  Baseball bats, axes/hatchets or a machete might be my first choice, but a shovel shouldn’t be underestimated. Erich Maria Remarque discussed the possibilities of the shovel as an effective hand-to-hand weapon in ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (go for the throat with it!).

I’d take the hardwood ‘Louisville Slugger’ over those $100.00 aluminum bats simply because I remember seeing a kid in grade school take a whack at a phone pole with an aluminum bat and bending the thing in half… and he wasn’t that strong a kid. Remember that you can also use the bat as a baton in close quarters — a good poke in the gut with 3 feet of ash or hickory is going to slow most tough guys down, although you should swing for the head if it’s a zombie situation.

Axes or crowbars are also good for getting through doors, windows, etc., in a hurry when you don’t have a key.  Speaking of axes — why are there so many ‘fire axes’ in office buildings in movies?  I’ve been in hundreds of office buildings in real life and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fire axe just hanging on the wall, but in every movie it seems the hero is always breaking the glass and grabbing that bright red axe when he needs to do some chopping.  Fucking Hollywood bullshit is what that is.


Speaking of Hollywood, LEAVE the chainsaw in the garage for some Tobe Hooper fan-boy to take. Chainsaw injuries are horrific, but are, as far as I know, almost always self inflicted accidents.  The chainsaw is only dangerous when it is running… and while it is running it is so fucking noisy that you might as well tie bells all over yourself to tell the zombies, “Here comes dinner!”  If you switch it off, good luck in starting it when the shit hits the fan; your opponent will have chewed out your throat or stabbed you 100 times with a pointed stick before you can get it started.  I’m no Hercules but I can cut tree trunks lying on the ground all afternoon with a chainsaw, but when I have to reach out from my body to get the high branches, I’m exhausted in about ten minutes… imagine trying to hit a moving target with that thing?  And, if you are dealing with an infection situation, do you really want all that blood flying around?

I hope my little essay has helped you consider YOUR apocalypse plan.  Remember, we don’t know what form it will take or when it will come, but unless Murphy’s Law is wrong, we know it’s coming so BE PREPARED!

How to write a book that sucks 90% of the time…

How do you write a book that sucks 90% of the time?  Write books about zombie survival scenarios.  I shit you not. Those books suck 90% of the time (or maybe more — I’m being conservative here).  And there are A LOT of them.  A fucking shitload.  And they multiply faster than the walking dead.  It seems that anyone who ever took a creative writing class is cranking out an ‘apocalypse scenario’ book involving zombies or ‘infected’ and the like. Most of them include cute lingo that survivors employ or more detail about firearms than NRA gun porn.

Let me back up a bit.  I have a Y chromosome, therefore it can be safely assummed that I am 90% likely to enjoy movies where people are running around shooting the undead in the head while trying not to get bitten or eaten or swarmed or whatever. Annie hates those kinds of movies; she finds them that awful combination of “gross and boring and scary,” which is kind of how I feel about TV shows like “Sex in the City.” Shoe obcessed narcissists prattling on about their man problems make me want to become a knuckle-dragging pig purely as a defensive mechanism.  But it’s OK.  I don’t make her watch “a really good headshot!” and she doesn’t make me watch shows about relationships. You don’t have to share everything.  In fact, it’s probably good if you don’t. But I’m off topic here — back to zombies.

Keyless entry becomes a selling point.

For decades now there have been zombie apocalypse* movies and some of them are good and some of them are bad and most of them are somewhere inbetween… but they all shared one thing in common: they feed my deep rooted desire to see the whole world of corporate culture and work and school and parking tickets and putting up with douchebags all go to hell in an afternoon by introducing a scenario in which you can murder your fellow humans and it’s OK because they are not humans anymore — they are zombies.  So, not only are you free from guilt about shooting your zombified co-worker in the head, you are also freed from having to go to jail because of it — as everyone knows, in zombie scenarios, the cops are the first to go because they get calls telling them to go to infection central before anyone else knows it’s infection central.  Imaginary mayhem without moral or social consequences.  Who can resist?

Unfortunately, no one.  Which is why all things ‘zombie’ are being rushed to the production stage whether they are ready or not and whether they are worthy or not.

A notable exception is Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One.” Whitehead is apparently a ‘real author’ who has made waves by dipping his toe into ‘zombie genre fiction.’  I don’t know what other fans of all things undead think of it, but I think “Zone One” is great. I enjoyed Max Brook’s “Zombie Survival Guide” but thought his other Zombie book, “World War Z,” was weak.  But, almost without exception, every other book I’ve tried to read about zombies has been shit.

A funny things happens when you finish reading a book on an Amazon Kindle.  After you hit the last page, your Kindle tells you, “People who enjoyed ‘Zone One’ also read…” and then it gives you a list.  And you can just click on them and it will let you read the first chapter or two for free.  I know they say that ‘you can’t judge a book by it’s cover,’ but I would suggest that one could make an educated guess by the first chapter… and I read a lot of these first chapters the other night while I waiting for some software to download (another sad story)… and, without exception, they SUCKED (except for “After the Apocalypse” by Maureen F. McHugh, which is great but doesn’t really count because even though it was in Amazon’s auto-generated list, I read it before I read Zone One… and McHugh’s is a collection of short stories, only one of which deals with zombie matters anyway).

*For purposes of this rant, “Zombie Apocalypse” movies can include movies where people are getting infected with some sort of virus and becoming ravenous cannibals or whatever that are not ‘undead.’  Let’s just say that ‘infected’ movies are a sub-category within the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ genre and leave it at that.