2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Ten

Among the many well-known apocalyptic worries, the idea of supernatural creatures rising up and destroying our world, while hardly unlikely, captivates many people.

Doomsday Scenario No. 3: Vampires, Zombies & Monsters, Oh My!

Supernatural monsters have been a mainstay in many cultures going back centuries. They were convenient scapegoats for things that went wrong and filled in the dark void of the shadows. These monsters either won so that a moral could be learned or were vanquished by the forces of good. Lately, stories have appeared where the monsters have triumphed and defeated humanity en masse. Certain monsters are more popular than others and fit into a doomsday scenario more easily than others. Of course, these supernatural monsters are impossible, right? Well science fiction has found ways to make them plausible.

Vampires In The Blood

The stylish and grotesque vampires have populated many blood curdling tales for centuries. As true creatures of the night, vampires arose from their coffins after sunset to prey on the living. The way to become a vampire isn’t to just die but to be bitten by one. That suggests that these creatures probably transmit a virus that transforms a living person into a vampire.

Richard Matheson’s classic novel I Am Legend has a vampiric virus decimating humanity and resurrecting them as vampires and taking over the world. The book and the films based on it (The Last Man On Earth, The Omega Man and most recently I Am Legend) presented us with an empty, decimated world with a sole human survivor and his desperate fight not just against countless vampires but to develop a cure.  There are other works about viruses that turns people into vampires and imperils the world. Two books that come to mind are The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan and The Passage by Justin Cronin. The Passage is set in the near future where a virus quickly transforms most of humanity into vampire-like creatures who take over the world. The anthology novel Under The Fang features several short stories about humanity conquered by vampires.

As for films about vampires ruling the world, in addition to I Am Legend, there was Daybreakers, which took place a few years after a virus turned most of humanity into bloodsucking creatures. Daybreakers showed a world literally turned upside down as the vampire denizens populated major cities, but lived underground away from the sun and basically carried on with their lives. They just needed to farm the few remaining humans for nourishment. A variant of the vampire virus is the sci-fi film Lifeforce, which was based on the book The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson. This time vampire-like aliens were brought back to Earth by astronauts and it wasn’t blood that the aliens fed on. It was the titular lifeforce of people. As an added bonus, many of their victims also became vampiric and hunted humans for their lifeforce.

Zombie Apocalypse

The undead flesh eaters are undeniably the most popular monsters to use for post-apocalyptic tales. Look no further than the hit AMC series The Walking Dead. It wasn’t always so, until the late 1960s zombies were relegated to stale horror yarns usually dealing with voodoo. Then George Romero came along and changed the sub-genre forever. His classic film Night Of The Living Dead gave us a world on the brink of a societal breakdown as undead corpses roamed the countryside and feasted on the living.

Romero directed sequels that were very popular but the zombie apocalypse genre didn’t reach maturation until around the millennium, which coincided nicely with all the jitters about the coming apocalypse. Video games like Resident Evil, comic books like The Walking Dead, books like World War Z and films like 28 Days Later (not technically about zombies but it follows the same route) reinvigorated and amped up the zombie genre. The zombie apocalypse is so prevalent in pop culture that even the CDC put out  a comic book detailing how they would deal with such an event. Zombies are perfect metaphors for the chaos and decay that will follow the fall of civilization as humans are displaced as the apex predators. Also these stories are useful for illustrating how we would behave during the downfall of society. Will we return to our savage ways? Will we use our pluck and ingenuity to survive? How much stress can we withstand before we break down completely? And how will we find that perfect Twinkie? (Note: see Zombieland for more on that last question.)

Monsters, Etc.

Humanity has always feared monsters as seen in various mythologies. This morbid fascination continued well into modern times with countless books, stories and movies about monsters both large and small terrorizing the world. An often used motif is that of an ancient, slumbering giant that is awoken by modern humans and then wrecks destruction across the world. Godzilla is an excellent example and best personifies the Japanese kaiju films. But Godzilla had predecessors that need to be mentioned. One of the earliest modern imprisoned monsters is the famous Cthulhu first written about in H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Call Of The Cthulhu”.  An ancient entity described as part human, part dragon and part octopus, the Cthulhu had a cult that wanted to unleash the giant monster onto our world. This entity has been alluded to in other works by Lovecraft.

In film, the very first giant monster to be unleashed was the fictional rhedosaurus in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Loosely based on Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn”, the rhedosaurus was a dinosaur woken up by a nuclear blast and thus threatened the world not just with its destructive path but by its radioactive emissions. Destructive monsters have since plagued the silver screen with the Japanese kaiju films and American works like Q, Gremlins, John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness, Reign Of Fire, Cloverfield, The Cabin In the Woods and the upcoming Pacific Rim. In these films, the giants were mysterious and awakened inadvertently by humanity. Once unleashed they outmatched our military might and upended civilization as they destroyed cities and killed many people. Often entire cities and famous landscapes are decimated as seen in Cloverfield. And sometimes it was shown that the monsters won as the misshapen horrors from In The Mouth Of Madness  or the dragons in Reign Of Fire overran the world.

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Humanity Vs. Vampires: Our Advantages, Their Weaknesses

In many forms of media, vampires have been feared by humans and for good reasons. But one frightening element about them is their physical superiority to mere humans. Vampires in most stories possess superhuman strength, speed and reflexes. They’re also semi-telepathic and can fly, not to mention are nearly immortal. Recent tales have vampires living in complex secret societies and only tolerate humans who they consider to be glorified cattle.

So if it came down to it, how would humanity fare if vampires decided to take over? Well it wouldn’t be an automatic victory for vampires.

Think about it, sure vampires have all these fantastic powers but they have a severe weakness­­ ­— they’re vulnerable to sunlight. At best, as in the original Dracula novel, vampires while able to survive in the daytime are very weak. At worst, see an episode of True Blood or Being Human were vampires literally burst into flame when exposed to sunlight. If they were to actually exist that could be why they haven’t come out and conquered us. If there were an open war between humans and vampires, humans only need to wait until dawn to open coffins containing the vampires and expose them to direct sunlight. One thing that sunlight contains is ultraviolet radiation. Perhaps that radiation can be weaponized for night battles.

They have other weaknesses as well. Traditionally, they’re sensitive to garlic, holy water and religious symbols like crosses. Modern vampire tales like those written by Anne Rice have it that those so-called weapons are useless and have no effect on vampires. In Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, it’s stated that for a cross to work, the human bearing it must have religious faith. However, vampires in modern tales are still vulnerable to wooden stakes and sometimes silver (as seen in True Blood where the metal is used to incapacitate the night creatures).

Aside from sunlight and wooden stakes, a good beheading is a guaranteed way to kill vampires. Just ask the Winchester Brothers in Supernatural. In that TV show, beheadings are the only way to kill vampires, which early in the show’s run were considered an endangered species.

Movies like Blade and The Lost Boys feature heroes who come up with unique and clever adaptations of vampire weaknesses. For instance, the young heroes in The Lost Boys filled up ordinary water guns with holy water. Let’s not get into how formidable Blade was with his weapons. He was a bonafide one-man army against the undead with all the stabbing weapons and guns. In True Blood and the books the show is based on (known as The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris) vampires openly exist alongside humans, so police and militia groups routinely use wooden bullets against vampires along with silver. In one of the recent episodes when the Vampire Authority began to run amok, a human general threatened them. He revealed that humanity’s armies had already devised weapons to be used in the event of a war with the undead. Viewers got a taste of what a war would look like in second season episodes of True Blood where a radical, armed religious group threatened to wipe out vampires.

So if a state of war were to occur, humanity though physically outmatched has many aces up its collective sleeves. It’s been implied in many modern stories that humans far outnumber vampires which is one reason why they haven’t tried to conquer the planet. In the case of war, the huge numbers of humans will be a decided advantage and don’t forget that time and time again, we have shown an ability to adapt and refine battle tactics.

Probably the only way that vampires can counter humanity is in the form of a fast spreading virus. There are many page-turning books about a world overrun by vampires. The most famous one is Richard Mathesen’s I Am Legend, which was adapted three times into film. In I Am Legend, a pandemic is responsible for turning Earth’s population into vampire-like creatures. Other recent books that explore this theme of a virus transforming people into vampires are Justin Cronin’s The Passage and The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.

The recent film Daybreakers is also about a world where a virus transforms humans into vampires. The outbreak was so severe that in the space of a few years, vampires had overrun human civilization, reducing the few humans left into cattle.

But unless a virus  quickly devastates humanity in the same way as shown in I Am Legend, don’t be so sure to count out humanity if war broke out against vampires. Sure one on one, a human probably cannot beat a vampire but it’s being demonstrated in these tales that a vampire can lose.

Waldermann Rivera

2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Two

We’re in the middle of the cold and flu season but the next big pandemic is just around the corner. In fact, many doctors and scientists say we’re overdue for one.

Doomsday Scenario No. 11: The Killers Within

The idea of a pandemic is terrifying and in recent years we’ve dodged the bullet with the onset of AIDS, Ebola, SARS and recently with the H1N1 virus. The last really major pandemic that humanity faced was the Spanish Flu that occurred during World War I in 1918 and killed roughly 50 to 100 million people worldwide. The disease was so widespread and lethal to soldiers that many feel that the disease helped end the war. It is still considered to be the worst modern pandemic to strike humanity. The other horrible pandemic that threatened humanity further back in history was the Black Plague that wiped out a third of Europe’s population in the middle ages. But history is littered with waves of pandemics from assorted diseases like smallpox, typhus and many flu variants. Due to medical advances, we as a whole have been lulled into complacency until very recently. But recent events show that we are still vulnerable. Many fear that soon our antibiotics and other medicines will fail and we’ll be vulnerable to mass death just as our ancestors were.

Add to this fear is the specter of biological terrorism. This threat is all too real as seen with the anthrax terror attacks in 2001. It’s very feasible that some nut can obtain a rare flu strain or a manufactured disease and find a way to spread it to the populace.

Quarantines and Breakdowns

It’s all too easy for our society to fall apart in the wake of a deadly pandemic if a cure or treatment isn’t quickly found. With modern transportation, diseases can spread rapidly and before the medical community is fully mobilized, the contagion could have manifested everywhere.

Social norms will be frayed as the disease spreads. People will demand quarantines and closed borders but that won’t do anything to stop the disease. Nevertheless, fear and distrust will worsen with the new migrations of those wanting to avoid contracting the disease. Unfortunately, many of these refugees will be carriers themselves. Additionally governments will try to futilely treat victims and provide adequate health services. It’s easy to imagine hospitals and care centers guarded by mobilized soldiers, who would also enforce curfews and quarantines. But eventually public services will shut down as the death toll climbs. With fewer and fewer guards, cops and soldiers to enforce the law, anarchy follows and thugs will gain control. Once the disease has run its course, there won’t be much of anything left. Humanity will be forced to rebuild.

Fictional Examples Of The Aftermaths

Such fears have been the basis of many science fiction films, books and shows that postulate on the impact of a true pandemic today and the aftermath. The basic storyline usually goes like this: a disease wipes out 99% of the human (and sometimes animal) population. A handful of survivors then struggle to rebuild civilization. Other times, the story is about the valiant efforts to contain an exotic disease before it spreads.

Some popular books that deal with this include Stephen King’s epic The Stand,  Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Max Brooks’ World War Z , George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides, and most recently with Clemens P. Suter’s Two Journeys.

There are many films that deal with this subject. For example there are three adaptations of I Am Legend (the first being The Last Man On Earth and most recently the 2007 Will Smith version), which is about a plague that turns most of humanity into vampire-like creatures. In 28 Days Later (and its sequel) a man-made virus is accidently released that turns its victims in the U.K. into savage, zombie-like killers. Then there is George Romero’s film The Crazies about a bio-weapon that induces homicidal madness. The Andromeda Strain, about a scientific team trying to eradicate a supposedly extra-terrestrial disease, was made into a film released in 1971 and a recent mini-series. A similar approach was utilized with the 1995 film Outbreak but the disease was less exotic in origin but just as deadly. The Stand was made into a well-received mini-series in 1994 and there are efforts to have a remake done. Twelve Monkeys shows us a future where a disease has decimated the world and the protagonist time travels back to modern times to discover how the disease started. The most recent film about pandemics was Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, which covers in dismaying detail how our society unravels with the onset of a killer virus.

With television there are few examples of a modern pandemic wiping out humanity. Two that come to mind are Jeremiah, which is based on a Belgian comic book, and starred Luke Perry as the title character. In Jeremiah, a plague has killed off most adults in the world and it picks up a generation later when the surviving children have now reached adulthood. The other one is BBC’s Survivors, a remake of a series produced in the 1970s, and the premise was about the usual plague survivors finding a way to work together and rebuild society. UPN’s The Burning Zone wasn’t about a post-apocalyptic world but rather about a team of bio-agents who dealt with deadly, unusual diseases including some engineered by a mysterious group who considered humanity to be vermin that needed to be eradicated by diseases.

Like many doomsday scenarios there isn’t any way to anticipate the onset of the catastrophe.  A pandemic could arrive tomorrow or in a few years, but it will happen. So it pays to be alert and safe though and to wash your hands often.