Infected, Zombies And Triffids

20 Oct

In the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea, the survivors are kept from the land by humans infected with a mutant form of the rabies virus that turns those infected with it into violent and cannibalistic killers. While they have much in common with zombies, and while For Those In Peril On The Sea could be considered a ‘zombie’ book, the infected are quite different.

Zombies are, by definition, humans that have risen from the dead. This means that they are not living creatures, and are subject to rot and decay. Also, traditionally they can only be killed by damaging the remnants of the brain, making them difficult to dispatch. Zombies are also usually portrayed as slow and shambling, and their greatest weapon is sheer mass of numbers rather than speed of attack.

Infected, by contrast, are still alive. While they don’t feel pain, they can be killed in the same way as any other human. They also need to eat to sustain their bodies and are at risk of starvation if them don’t. Infected are generally also capable of fast, almost super-human speed, and they can be thought of as humans with the brakes taken off.  This speed is often their key to success when they attack humans, although they may also win by over-running them with superior numbers.

With the advent of fast zombies in recent years, the difference between infected and zombies has narrowed somewhat. This is often attributed to the file 28 Days Later, but the fast ‘zombies’ in it were actually people infected by the rage virus, so this attribution is incorrect. However, whether fast or slow, there is one thing that zombies and infected have in common. This is that they are not capable of rational thought and instead are driven by internal desires (to eat brains in the case of zombies and to attack and kill in the case of infected), and this is enough to unite them into a single ‘zombie’ genre.

The distinction between infected and zombies within post-apocalyptic literature and films, is often not clear-cut, and they range from those that are clearly infected (as in For Those In Peril On The Sea or 28 Days Later) to those that are traditional undead zombies (as in World War Z). Other examples that fall somewhere between these extremes.  For example, in the TV series The Walking Dead, people are infected with something that means they come back as zombies when they die. Therefore, they could be considered both infected and zombies. However, its worth noting that the infection seems to remain dormant until people die.

The most common reason for a book or a film to feature some form of infected rather than true zombies is that the writer wants to explain why people become like they do. In traditional zombie stories, there is often little or no reference to what has cause the dead to come back to life.  When a reference is made, it is often vague. Instead the emphasis is usually on the horror elements of attacks and fleeing from pursuing zombies. This usually puts them firmly within the wider horror genre. In contrast, when infected are featured, the exact cause is usually specified and is a key element of the story itself. For example, in 28 Days Later, the rage virus, its origins within a scientific lab, effect on people, the length of time it takes to turn someone and how it is transmitted are all clearly defined and form key elements in the story. The same is true of the genetically modified rabies virus within For Those In Peril On The Sea.  The emphasis in these books and films is usually on survival and they often follow one person or a small group of people.  As such, they are usually more character driven than those that feature traditional zombies. This usually puts these stories within the post-apocalyptic science fiction genre rather than in horror.  In other words, the real difference between infected stories and zombie stories are not in the creatures that humans become, but rather how much we are told about why and how well we get to know the characters within them. In this respect, zombies and infected can generally be considered as being inter-changeable.

However, not all infected within post-apocalyptic books and films are analogous to zombies. For example, in the original book of I Am Legend (and not the recent film as it shared little it common with it but the title), the infected could never be confused with zombies. They are intelligent and capable of rational thinking rather than irrational, unthinking beings.  Similarly, infected and zombies are not necessarily the only interchangeable creatures in post-apocalyptic stories. The plants that take over the world in Day Of The Triffids have many characteristics of zombies. In particular, they are slow-moving and can be dealt with one on one (as long as you’re not blind that is), it is when they appear en masse that they can over-run almost any human defences.  In this respect, you could replace then with zombies or infected and the story told would remain pretty much the same. This proposition is supported by the fact that this is what happened with 28 Days Later, which is almost scene for scene a homage to the original Day Of The Triffids book but with rage victims replacing the eponymous predatory plants.

This means that while some cite George A. Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead as the first story in the modern zombie genre, Day Of The Triffids represents an earlier example of this type of story, and so it has a greater claim to being the father of the genre. This discussion, however, is rather academic. When the apocalypse comes and you’re running for your life, it makes little difference whether the creatures pursuing you are infected, zombies or triffids. Whatever they are, the chances are they will get you in the end.


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

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One Response to “Infected, Zombies And Triffids”

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  1. Hiding From Zombies In Plain Sight | Colin M. Drysdale - 26/03/2014

    […] up against zombies which are the re-animated corpses of the dead. If you’re up against still-living, humans infected with a disease which makes them act like zombies, the chances are none of these approaches will work. So, make sure you know what you’re up […]

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