Tag Archives: Dawn Of The Dead

What Is A Zombie Apocalypse?

10 Jun

I sat down today intending to write an article on the different ways a zombie apocalypse could come to an end, but almost immediately I ran into a problem: before I could consider how it would end, I’d first need to know what exactly what I was talking about when I said a ‘zombie apocalypse’. As I thought about this, I realised that even though I commonly use the phrase, I’d never come cross a definition of what a zombie apocalypse actually is. So, in this post, I’m going to try to come up with some sort of definition.

One Zombie Does Not An Apocalypse Make: The first thing to sort out is whether all occurrences of zombies are indicative of a zombie apocalypse, and I think the answer here is a resounding no. If you only have a single zombie or small groups of them then, while it might be scary, it’s not an apocalyptic event. For a zombie event to be apocalyptic, it needs to involve a large number of undead, shambling around, or, if you’re into the more modern zombies, running.

Contagion: The second thing to consider is how the number of zombies changes over time. If zombies are just the dead risen and walking around, but normal people are not turned in them, then I would argue it’s not an apocalyptic event. This is because it can only become a truly apocalyptic event if it spreads through the human population, bringing civilisation to its knees as it does so. This doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be an infectious disease, though, instead it could be caused by some sort of environmental contamination that increasing numbers of people become exposed to over time. This means that uncontrolled growth in the number of zombies over time is an important characteristic of a full-blown zombie apocalypse. This is number five of my phases of a zombie apocalypse.

Location: I think the third thing that is needed for something to be considered a zombie apocalypse is where the zombies are found. Just as zombie-ism has to spread to more and more people for it to be apocalyptic, it also needs to spread geographically as well. This means it can’t be something that’s contained in a single place.

In these three characteristics, we have the basis of a definition of a zombie apocalypse: it must affect a large number of people across many locations and there must be an uncontrolled increase in the number of zombies over time.

Based on this definition, some zombie events, such as that seen in Dawn of the Dead, are apocalyptic right from the start. This is because they start with many people all becoming zombies at the same time. However, others, while they may become them, don’t start out as apocalypses. Instead, they start as more limited events that develop into apocalyptic ones because we can’t get them under control. For example, in World War Z (well, in the book at any rate), the zombie outbreak starts in China with a single village. At this stage it’s not a necessarily an apocalyptic event. This is because it’s confined to a small group of people in a single location. Instead, it only grows to become a zombie apocalypse once it starts to spread in an uncontrolled manner through the human population and out to other locations.

When dealing with non-apocalyptic zombie events, if sufficient measures can be taken fast enough (such as containment, vaccination or treatment), it’s possible to prevent them turning apocalyptic. Indeed, attempting to stop a zombie event turning apocalyptic is often a key element of zombie fiction. For example, in The Crazies, the entire premise of the movie is the attempt by the authorities to contain an outbreak of a disease that it causing people in a single small town to go mad and start attacking each other. Thus, we arrive at the situation where we have to accept that not all zombie events are necessarily apocalyptic, although most may well develop into one if they are not properly controlled.

Of course, this is all academic, and if you’re being chased down the street by a pack of slavering zombies, it’s not going to matter to you whether the zombie event you find yourself suddenly thrust into is apocalyptic or not. Instead, all you’re going to care about is staying alive!


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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 print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

My Top Ten Post-Apocalyptic Stories

19 Oct

Since my upcoming book For Those In Peril On The Sea is a post-apocalyptic novel, I thought I would put together my top ten post-apocalyptic stories. These have not necessarily influenced my own writing, they are just the ones I like best.  Here they are in descending order:

10. Dawn Of The Dead (2004 film remake rather than the 1978 original): Proving that a remake can, on rare occasions, be better than the original.  The inclusion of fast zombies upped the action, and the rather bleak ending for those who stayed through the credits was a nice touch. This is also probably the first true ‘fast’ zombie movie – or at least the first major one (see later entries for more on this).

9. Children Of Men (2006 film): An interesting take on the post-apocalyptic world.  There’s no big threat (no aliens, zombies, killer viruses, terrorists, nuclear bombs or diseases), just human infertility.  It emphasises how little it could take to tip the civilisation that humans always seem so proud of over the edge.

8. Zombieland (2009 film): Really great tongue-in-cheek zombie movie.  Stands up well as a story in its own right, as well as poking fun at zombie films in general. Great cameo by Bill Murray too.

7. Kraken Awakes (1953 book): One of two John Wyndham books on my list.  This one is a slow burn, building tension as unseen aliens invade the Earth and try to take over.  There are some really nice bits that appear to predict modern environmental concerns, including the melting of the ice caps and sea level rises.

6. I Am Legend (the 1954 book, and definitely not the 2007 film of the same name): One of the original post-apocalyptic stories, and an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic situation. It poses the interesting question: If you are the only one left unaffected by a global disease outbreak, is it you that is no longer normal?

5. Dead Set (2008 TV series): Written by Charlie Brooker, this one came out of nowhere. I think it is fair to say that there has been nothing like this before, but then again before about 2000, its basic setting (that of the TV series Big Brother), didn’t exist either. It is as much a critique of modern society, and especially reality TV shows, as it is about surviving a zombie outbreak, but it’s still a great zombie story in its own right.

4. Shaun Of The Dead (2004 film): Simon Pegg, the writer of this film, described this as a Zom-Rom-Com. It manages to be a great contribution to the zombie genre as well as a good comedy, a critique of the modern world and a homage to classic zombie movies.

3. War Of The Worlds (1898 book, or indeed Jeff Wayne’s 1978 album, but definitely not the 2005 film of the same name): This is the grand-daddy of all post-apocalyptic stories and one that is still worth reading today. While I’m usually not a fan of alien invasion stories, but this one works for me.

2. 28 Days Later (2002 film): In many ways, this movie rejuvenated both the post-apocalyptic genre and the zombie sub-genre.  Credited with being the first modern movie to use ‘fast’ rather than ‘slow’ zombies, the enemies in this aren’t actually zombies, but instead are infected, since they were not really dead.  In many ways it’s a homage to the number one on my list.

1. Day Of The Triffids (1951 book, or 1981 TV series, definitely not the 1962 Hollywood film, or the 2009 TV mini-series): Head and shoulders above any other post-apocalyptic stories (at least in my opinion), and the one that set the standard that so few have even come close to since.  The premise of moving, flesh-eating plants as enemies sounds so bad, yet it works so well, but that is because they are only bit-part players in an ensemble cast of threats that include blindness, disease and different groups of humans with different ideas competing to try and survive. It emphasises how fragile human society is, and how easy it can call apart.  It also proceeded modern worries about genetic engineering by almost half a century.

So that’s my top ten, but there are a few close runners-up that only just missed out. These include: The Mad Max series of films, Twelve Monkeys (film), Dying To Live (book), World War Z (book and upcoming film, hopefully), 28 Weeks Later (film), Doomsday (film), The Walking Dead (TV series), and, rather controversially, Waterworld (film).

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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, and available as an ebook and in print in the US from the 21st March 2013. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.