Tag Archives: Walking Dead

This Plague of Days: Stress, The Apocalypse and You

Hurricane Katrina making its second landfall i...

Hurricane Katrina making its second landfall in Louisiana, as seen by NWS New Orleans radar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once upon a time there was a fascinating (and mean) experiment. A mad scientist made his subjects do math problems under stress. Loud music would play and a demanding experiment operator insisted the subject solve the math problems faster. Then the operator would tell them they got it wrong and had to try again. “Time’s was running out!” Sounds like an experiment designed by the Devil himself, huh? Mathphobics would burst aflame under such evil circumstances.

After the experiment, the mad scientist drew blood samples to track stress markers. He found them, of course, but it was the next version of the experiment that got really interesting. In Math In Hell Part II, the subjects had a button that could turn down the blare of acid rock (the most anti-mathematics music there is). It is no surprise that the stress markers went down in the second experiment.

That’s not where the surprise comes in. It’s this:

Stress markers decreased even among the people who didn’t turn down the music. The subjects had a button, but it may as well have been hooked up to a toaster. Simply knowing they had the option to control their environment brought their stress hormones down. It’s all about the illusion of control and the wear and tear and tears that illusion helps mitigate. 

But when the apocalypse comes, there is no button!

What fascinates about end-of-the-world scenaria is, what happens when there are no rules? When someone’s breaking into your home and the cops aren’t coming…well, bad example. That happens now. However, my point is, we all seek control, even if, perhaps especially if, it’s illusory.

To a large extent? Control is an illusion and the button isn’t really hooked up. Maybe you can control how you react to stress, but lots of the time, life happens to you. You don’t choose your parents or your country of birth or how smart you aren’t. Nobody feels much control sitting in a paper gown on a doctor’s examination table when the doc sighs and says, “Hmmmm.”

But how long will the inertia of our civilization last?

When disaster is cataclysmic, the rules change quickly. That’s Hurricane Katrina. But when the pandemic creeps in slowly (as it does in Season One of This Plague of Days — at least in the American theater of teh pandemic. Europe and the rest of the world get it in the shorts first.)

How will society break down from civilized expectations to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome + The Walking Dead + 28 Days Later + Gigli?

Drones, robots, zombies: We’ve all had jobs that made us feel like we are taking up space, have no will of our own and are out of control. Our stress levels are largely tied to issues around locus of control. When the rules are gone and the economy falls apart and we’re all out of work, however, it won’t be a libertarian freedom fantasy. It’ll devolve into cabbage soup for breakfast, lunch and supper. And no wi-fi!

That’s why we’ll need people who remember their humanity even when there are no rules imposed by authority. That’s why, at the end of Season Three, you’re going to be given a shred of hope. Death will be faced and Death will win, as it always does eventually. However, amid the carnage, there’s a few moments where, whether your favorite characters live or die, there is a point besides how many gory deaths we can expect.

One reviewer (a detractor) asked indelicately, “Why are the uninfected all assholes in the apocalypse?”

Answers:

1. Because an apocalypse without conflict, scarcity, fear and anger isn’t an apocalypse and a book without conflict sucks. 

2. One-dimensional people who always do good no matter what are predictable and therefore boring. We love them in real life (if we can find them) but fiction demands more. I must also add that not everyone is an “asshole” in This Plague of Days. Certainly not. However, they have complex motivations and face peculiar challenges. This is not about a bunch of soldiers holed up in a fortress with all the supplies they could ever need and endless ammo. The Spencers are pretty much regular people in extraordinary circumstances and every day is a test they did not study for. Failure = death.

3. And finally, plenty of people are assholes now and it’s not quite the apocalypse yet. Not quite. At least, not everywhere.

It is the apocalypse in some places. Author William Gibson said, ““The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” Similarly, the apocalypse arrives at different speeds. And as Arnold said, “Judgment Day is inevitable.”

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I wrote This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two. I’d be happier if you read it. If you’re happier after you read it, please leave a happy review, too. Thanks!

Oh, and Season One is available in paperback for Christmas.

Get that for your friends, enemies, family, barber, Weird Combover Guy at the shop, the lady at the front desk at the office with the huge, hairspray hair, that avuncular uncle you like and the teenager who doesn’t like to read much but you want to encourage his brain. And so on.)

 

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If you survived the apocalypse, what would you miss most?

The Walking Dead is about to come on, but I had to dash this off quick.

I was just listening to a TED talk about medical breakthroughs with gene sequencing, growing artificial bones and organs and individually tailored drug therapy. Despite how bad our schools often are and how nasty society can be, a lot of great things are coming our way, if the human race survives long enough to see the dawn of these discoveries.

In This Plague of Days, the Sutr flu killed sixty percent of the world’s population. That leaves a lot of screaming eating for the Sutr-Zs and the Sutr-As, but what does it leave for the surviving humans? Would you really want to survive such a harsh, uncertain future?

In World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler, the protagonist is a former businessman who, after the fall of the world as we know it, becomes a fiddler and carpenter. He has useful skills, is well-liked within his little community and things are fairly peachy for him. One thing that stands out for me about his new life is he doesn’t really seem to miss his old one. There’s no processed food to eat so most everyone’s healthier and, it seems, just about as happy.

I liked World Made By Hand plenty, five out of five stars, but that one detail didn’t ring true, for me at least. If and when the world collapses and there’s no steady power to depend upon, it shall sucketh.

In This Plague of Days, Jack and Anna lament the loss of Facebook. I would, too. Maybe that makes me pathetic, but getting together with people on social media and keeping in touch with friends is a worthy thing I don’t want to do without. I’d adjust given no alternative, of course, but I sure wouldn’t embrace being Amish.

Most of us went without the Internet for many years. We didn’t know what we were missing, but now that we do… There’s an old song about WWI that asks, “How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” That about sums it up. Nobody wants to go backward in time.

Here are things I’d miss, post-apocalypse:

Clean, running water and a hot shower each morning, as easy as turning on the tap. Working toilets also rock. Outhouses stink.

Hot coffee (Starbucks and Williams and even Tim Hortons.)

Access to medical care. Like I said in TPOD about the ever-so-cool Walking Dead, what are these people fighting so hard for? I don’t want to die of appendicitis or pray for death, enduring an abscessed tooth, waiting for the septicemia to shut down my brain.

Facebook, Twitter, news, politics, and easy access to the world’s knowledge with a Google search? I love being plugged into the hive mind.

While looting is easy and cheap, everything I would want runs on electricity!

My secluded fortress/log cabin in the woods is awesome. Love the fireplace and the stock of wood out back…but when you don’t want to cook, it’s great to be able to pick up the phone and order in Chinese food, isn’t it?

Gosh. I hope we make it. I’d rather live in a world with working hospitals and medical miracles on the way.

What about you? What would you miss most?

 

 

 

 

 


Season Two, Episode One: The Spencers Flee East

The complete first and second seasons are up. Season 2 Episode 1 launches Monday. Click carefully so you get the right ones. Cheers!

The complete first and second seasons are up. Season 2 Episode 1 launches Monday. Click carefully so you get the right ones. Cheers! Or just click this cover to get Episode One if you want the serialization.

 

About the bathtub scene from Season 2, Episode 1: 

There’s something about that scene which reminds me of American Werewolf in London, or maybe some of Stephen King’s work. 

In all post-apocalyptic fiction, the hope for the future must be greater than the horror, no matter how bad things get. I love The Walking Dead, but to be honest, I’m not sure what they’re fighting for. I even said this in Season One and I mean it honestly. We need more than the hope of taking one more breath to sustain us. Sometimes the reason to live doesn’t come from us, but from our children or spouse.

That’s ultimately what the bathtub scene is about. It sets the stakes. As long as her family is alive, Jack knows what she’s fighting for. As Season Two continues, it seems her grasp on hope is tenuous. The lure of the quiet death is something all survivors must consider. When confronted with continuous horrors without hope, suicide is a reasonable choice. At the bathtub, choices are made that give gas to the narrative engine of This Plague Of Days.

I hope you enjoy it.

~ Chazz

 


To prepare for the end, start with a new beginning

English: Schematic of a deadfall or cage trap....

English: Schematic of a deadfall or cage trap. The schematic was based on a schematic found in the book “SAS Survival Handbook” by John Wiseman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last episode of this season of The Walking Dead captured the problem perfectly: If you’re going to survive, you have to depend on other people and bring them together. The notion of the lone survivor is a dangerous and common fantasy. Preparedness has greater value than toughness. Community will save you and being a loner will kill you.

Sure there are mountain men out there who do survive alone…sort of. The problem with the lone survivor model is first you have to eliminate the psychotics and schizophrenics who are running around in the woods, but not really out of a rational choice they made. Next cut out the people who don’t slip in and out of civilization for supplies and rely on technology (bullets, radios, canned food, MREs, etc.,…). Those animal traps last forever, but unless you’re fashioning a wooden trap, somebody smelted the steel somewhere and at some point you might want to use a little WD40 instead of beaver skin grease.

Who does that leave? That family in Russia who spent generations out in the cold eating bark and didn’t know about World War II. Not optimum for most people. Still think you’re a tough guy? Who’s going to do the hunting and gathering when you twist an ankle or come down with a fever?

I think I’ve established how we need people, but what does emergency preparedness really mean?

Start with yourself: How’s your cardio? Can you change a tire without getting winded? Do you know how to do something useful other people don’t know how to do? One of my favorite post-apocalyptic novels is World Made By Hand. The hero is a musician (so he can provide entertainment) and but he’s most valued as a carpenter. The novel chronicles the conflicts that rise when a community is forced to go it alone, pool resources, trade and adapt to changing times in a world without an oil supply. (Check it out. Lots of interesting ideas in there, including the benefits of an outdoor kitchen when summer heat waves come.)

One of the lessons my family of survivors in This Plague of Days learns too late is that they’re better off working together, not just among themselves but with whoever else is left. Instead of defending just your home, you’ll do better and live longer working collaboratively to defend a neighborhood. The SAS Security Handbook has it right: the young and the very old are good for watching for strangers and dangers. Everyone else is on patrol duty. Instead of spending thousands of dollars fortifying your home to make it safe for a short time, get to know your neighbours, establish a sense of community, get some exercise and develop skills. Become a person of value to your community. When your wood stove burns your house down, you’ll have somewhere to go.

In building a network of friends and allies, you’ll be healthier. One of the predictors of a long and happy life is to be embedded in a caring, compassionate community. When one of those lone survivors shows up looking for supplies and trouble, he’ll be met with a group. And instead of shooting him, maybe he can show why he should be taken in. You don’t build a future out of endless violence. That’s civilization falling, not getting back up.

~ I’ve written eight books. My post-apocalyptic/plague/coming-of-age/Aspergers thriller, This Plague of Days, will be published soon.


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