Monthly Archives: December 2008

Lesson #8: Zombies come in two speeds: slow and fast.

I never feared an imminent zombie attack until I moved to New Orleans.  With an above ground cemetary only blocks away, the zombies can simply walk out of their graves rather than making the effort to dig out of many feet of dirt.  However, I’m in luck, because the zombies that come out of graves only come in “slow.”  It would be far worse if there were a viral outbreak, which tends to produce the “fast” zombies.

A slow zombie from Night of the Living Dead

A slow zombie from Night of the Living Dead

Slow zombies don’t seem too scary.  They are unending in their persistence and desire for human brains, but nonetheless, they’re slow.  Avoid wearing anything that could make you trip, and you should be okay.  Of course, the streets and sidewalks in New Orleans are so messed up that I might not be able to make it very far.  The only frightening part of slow zombies is their numbers and relentless pursuit.  Even a lone hand, cut off from its owner, could pose a threat.  If slow zombies come at you from all angles and there are enough of them, you had better be armed with a shotgun.  Fire and explosives are also an option.  If you fear zombies entering your house, you may want to keep these items under your bed.

Fast zombies have a less refined palate and will eat any part of the human, not just the brains.  Perhaps their enhanced speed comes from their more varied diet.  Fast zombies often are a horror made by humans and thus punishing us for our scientific arrogance.  They generally come from some sort of scientific advancement gone wrong, like a vaccine in I Am Legend or the T-virus i Resident Evil.

Of course, the two speeds of zombies are not this simple.  There are fast zombies with a particular taste for brains. There are slow zombies formed by viruses.  But there is one constant in dealing with zombies: Aim for the head.

Lesson #7: The cuter something is, the more dangerous it may be.

It seems that characters in sci-fi programs have not caught on to this one yet, as they keep being drawn in by the lure of cuddly creatures.  Tribbles in Star Trek (and again in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Gremlins, Ewoks in Star Wars, Nibbler in Futurama, and the newest adorable killer critter: Nubbins in Sci Fi Channel’s Sanctuary all have wrought havoc on those investigating new phenomena.  Galaxy Quest even paradied this lesson for those who still hadn’t learned it. Nubbins and Gremlins have overdone neotony, with their huge eyes and infant-like features and proportions lulling us into parental roles.  We almost have no choice.  It’s instinctual to love them, so we understand the failings of the characters to recognize the potential danger of our most huggable friends.

Of course, no fuzzy, cute animal is evil in it’s own right.  Instead, it is either incorrectly cared for or just trying to survive.  The rules of caring for these creatures are so vague it’s easy to mess them up.  When exactly can you feed a Gremlin?  Isn’t it always after midnight?  Between midnight and what can’t you feed them?  Can you feed them at 6 a.m.?  No one wanted Gizmo to spawn or potentially turn mean, the rules are just really vague, with no consequences given. Other cuddlies, like Nubbins and Tribbles, are just trying to survive. They don’t want to harm people or equipment, they just do.

The message of sci-fi is clear: Nothing that adorable can really be “evil” in any universe.  However, this level of cuteness is dangerous, working on the human and bipedal alien psyches to calm and comfort us, causing us to ignore potential dangers.  Be alert when surrounded by adorables.  Behold that golden retriever puppy with suspicion. Question its motives.  And never, ever feed it after midnight.

The sweetest creature of them all, Gizmo from Gremlins.

The sweetest creature of them all, Gizmo from Gremlins.

Lesson #6: Sci-Fi has a complex relationship to black leather.

John Crichton in all black leather by Season 3 of Farscape.

John Crichton in Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars. He was in all black leather by Season 3 of Farscape.

This lesson is hard to explain, as it is nuanced and complex. Often, the longer a sci fi show has been on the air, the more black leather is involved. John Crichton (Ben Browder) on Farscape began the series in a U.S. space suit. However, he gradually wore more and more black leather as the series went on until he was completely in black leather by the end of the series. Similarly, Jeremiah (Luke Perry) in Jeremiah was eventually in black leather pants. It is another question how those black leather pants were made in this post-apocalyptic world. In Stargate Atlantis, Dr. Jennifer Keller (Jewel Staite) wears a black-leather fitted jacket, almost at all times. These are all “good” people (if sci-fi teaches anything, it’s that it’s very easy to tell the difference between “good” and “evil”) and also “hot” people. Only good characters played by hot people are eventually wardrobed in black leather (they weren’t wearing black leather previously but are costumed in it later). A non-hot person in black leather is a strong signifier that the audience should consider that character a “bad” person.

There are also plenty of “bad” people who wear black leather. While the hero in Farscape eventually wore more and more black leather (perhaps he became badder and badder and also hotter and hotter), the villains or potential villains came decked out in it, such as Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) and Scorpius (Wayne Pygram). However, Aeryn Sun was also a hot person, not just a bad person. Therefore, the relationship between goodness, badness, hotness, and black leather becomes even more complicated. The Wraith, the first villains in Stargate Atlantis, wear head-to-toe black leather. They’re very bad, and not very hot. So I’ll summarize this complex relationship with the following equations:

Black leather + not hot = bad.
Black leather + hot = good or bad.
Good + (now in black leather but not previously in black leather) = hot

Lesson #5: What to do when I accidentally become invisible.

This appears to be a serious problem in science fiction. Accidentally becoming invisible is very different from becoming invisible on purpose, such as Harry Potter with his cloak of invisibility. When someone becomes invisible intentionally, usually the person knows how to become visible again. In sci fi, accidental invisibility is usually termed “out-of-phase.” When one is “out-of-phase,” the person cannot affect the world around her or him. Therefore, eventually the person will die of starvation and dehydration if the problem isn’t fixed. This is serious. Somehow, the out-of-phase-ees pass right through all matter, including walls, but do not pass through floors. Physicists are looking into the bizarre properties of floors which make them impermeable to those out-of-phase.

Make friends with Data, the clever one.

Make friends with Data, the clever one.

If this happened to you, what would you do? Since I could not affect the world around me, I would not be able to tell anyone that I was still there, instead of the common assumption that I was eaten by a space monster or vanished into a black hole. There seem to be two options in this case. First, I would take a look at the device I was messing with when I first became invisible. I may discover that it has some sort of interface to allow the out-of-phase to communicate with those in-phase. I may be able to see an entire display that those in-phase cannot see, like in Stargate SG-1. Usually, however, it will be written in an obscure alien language which I do not know. You may want to study up on alien languages in case this scenario happens, like Daniel Jackson. The device may allow some sort of direct communication with the in-phase world. In which case, if I can just get someone to look at the device, I’m saved.

In the event the device does not allow any communication, I really only have one option: hope I have smart friends. In general, surround yourself with brilliant people who will be able to figure out and fix the problem should this happen. If possible, make friends with an android. They seem to be good at deduction, like Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Secondly, be consistent and reliable. If you are an unreliable person in general, people will assume you just didn’t show up. However, if an otherwise reliable person fails to appear, intelligent people will think that maybe, just maybe, you’re out-of-phase. They are your only hope.