Friday, July 9, 2010

BYOR (Bring Your Own Research)

Call this a reservation of a topic for future research. In the fantastic anthology The Worlds of Philip Jose Farmer: Protean Dimensions, the "lost" story "My Summer Husband" aroused my interests.

The introduction by Michael Croteau states that the story of an Alaskan "bear-god" and his lesss than faithful human mate "doesn't seem to be related to any of his [Farmer's] other work." At this stage, I disagree; however, before I run off half-cocked and make a total idiot of my self, I need to reread a few of Farmer's later novels.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dripping Fangs or Rotting Flesh: The Correct Identification of the Creatures from Robert E. Howard’s ‘The Hills of the Dead’

In his short story “The Hills of the Dead” Robert E. Howard sets the Puritan adventurer against what he calls vampires. However, after reading the story I believe that the creatures described are not a loose tribe of vampires, but a human-flesh hungered mob of zombies. Throughout this article I will be referring to the Max Brook’s Zombie Survival Guide.

When the creatures attack Kane in his cave, they don’t use the vampire’s great strength or advanced speed, instead “the talon-like nails of the black were tearing at his face…” This is classic zombie tactics against the living. Interestingly, during the entire course of the story, there is not one mention of fangs. From all textual clues, it appears that the creatures possessed normal human teeth. (There is a mention during a later fight that the creatures were “sucking” at Kane’s wounds. While this is a possible mention of fangs, this fails to account for why there was no mention of this earlier.)

During this same fight, Kane makes the observation that the creature’s skin is hard as wood; later the creatures are described as “mummied monsters.” It is highly unlikely that vampires would have wood-hard skin, their unique form of immortality allows their bodies to continue replicating skin and blood cells—thus keeping their skin live-human smooth. Zombies lack this, and are consistently running down their walking corpse of a body as it decomposes ( Brooks; Zombie Survival Guide, pages 10-11). However with proper conditions, like an African desert, the zombies could have been naturally mummified by the shifting sands and winds.

Later, Zunna tells Kane that “Men and beasts flee them [the creatures]…” There is no record of animals fleeing vampires; most animals either treat them as living humans—though occasionally a dog will be mistrustful of a vampire. Zombies create terror in their local ecosystem as beasts flee to escape the virus.

After N’Longa takes over the body of Kran he tells Kane “Them vampires no talk nor yell; they dead.” As we know, all vampires talk; most seem to have an affliction that forces them to talk for pages, making these silent vampires almost unvampiric. Zombies are unable to talk; the only sounds they can issue are, at best, a low moan. Later it is mentioned that the creatures emitted “silent gibbering[s].” According to the dictionary “gibbering” is defined as “Unintelligible or foolish talk.” These two references do not apply to vampires, but quite handily match up with the moans of a zombie—what are moanings if not unintelligible talk.

When Kane and N’Longa cause the creatures to notice them, they attack in a hoard. “Out of the cave they came swarming, the terrible black silent shapes; up the slopes they came clambering, and their red eyes were turned toward the two humans who stood about the silent city. The caves belched them forth in an unholy judgment day.” Vampires rarely attack as a gang, and when they do, their numbers rarely reach over five or six. This, however, is a classic example of zombie behavior.

Finally, during the climatic fight where the creatures overrun Kane biting and tearing at his flesh, we find evidence that the creatures are incapable of feeling pain; as Howard records “skulls were shattered, their faces caved in and their limbs broken” yet they still continued to attack. If a vampire were given this rough treatment he would be forced to retreat until the great pain abated and he was physically ready for another round of combat. Zombies however, have been known to continue attacking even once more than 80% of their bodies were destroyed—and continued attacking until intensive trauma was induced on the brain. (As for the argument that Kane shattered the creature’s skulls, look again to the text. Right after “shattered skulls” Howard mentions “faces caved in,” it seems Kane was limiting his attacks to the front part of the head—dismembering their faces—thereby destroying the zombie’s sense of sight, smell, and (limited) communication, but doing little, if any, damage to the brain itself.

At this point in the article, I am willing to state that the creatures are unarguably zombies mummified by the African environment. Despite my wishes as author, a few pieces of evidence going against my findings need to be dealt with.

During his first encounter with the creatures, Kane manages to kill the things by stabbing them with his cat-headed wood staff. It would seem obvious that the wood killed the creatures (giving good evidence that the beasts are vampires) but I don’t find this the case. Kane is first shocked by this event—one so knowledgeable should not be stunned by finding a wooden stave useful against a vampire; second, Kane rationalizes that the magic within his staff is what killed the “vampires.” I am inclined to agree with him.
Several times in the short story, the creatures are noted as possessing red eyes. In truth, I can find no explanation for this phenomena (Max Brook’s The Zombie Survival Guide helpfully notes: “The eyes of a zombie are no different than those of a normal human.”) Red eyes only seem to exist in the skulls of vampires and demons; one category of beings with red eyes remains untapped for an explanation—normal humans afflicted (in life) with albinism.

It is possible that a thousand years before Kane arrived at the lost city, a number of albino children were born, and due to the fear of the city leaders were only allowed to breed among themselves, after several generations (and a lack of fresh albino children from the normal population) the slightly inbred albino population was allowed to intermarry with the normal population. This caused an explosion of albino population, and thus created a civilization of albinos. [1]

These albino zombies may provide explanation for one of the most curious events of the story. During the climatic battle, Solomon Kane’s flesh is bitten and “sucked” by the creatures many times. Kane is not turned into any type of monster and continues on his adventures. Some types of vampires need several feedings to transform a victim into a blood-sucker, but as shown above, the chances of these creatures being normal infective zombies is low to nil. From this we can conclude that the zombies in “Hills of the Dead” are inflicted with a noncontaminatory strain of the Solanum virus. (Note: the Solanum virus is the official name for the zombie plague, as divulged in the Zombie Survival Guide.) Perhaps the albino genes altered the Solanum virus into a genetic cocktail that can only be contracted by other Albinos.

One final puzzling note is worth pointing out: when Kane first encounters the creatures they exhibit both an attraction and fear of his fire. Neither vampires nor zombies have a fear of fire. A vampire would laugh, or at the very most back away, if a torch was waved in his face; a zombie would fail to recognize the fire and set himself alight—slowly burning himself to death. This is one of the more puzzling elements of the story, and the lone factor that could make a future researcher assign the creatures as a completely different type of monster.

Despite several odd features, I fully believe that the creatures Kane encountered in the African savanna were zombies. This historic encounter would dovetail nicely with the recorded history of zombie attacks recorded by Max Brooks (in his Zombie Survival Guide), where a reasonable argument is built that the Solanum virus progenated somewhere in the African continent.

Works Cited
Brooks, Max. The Zombie Survival Guide. New York: Three Rivers, 2003. Print.

Howard, Robert E. "The Hills of the Dead." 1930. The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane. New York: Del Rey, 1998. 223-53. Print.

National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation. "NOAH — What Is Albinism?" The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation. Web. 22 June 2010. .

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Size of Self-Importance: Gulliver as Agent of Identity Politics

In the realm of nonsense political psychobabble we already have the ichorous depths of sexual-politics and race-politics; leave it to master satirist Jonathan Swift to invent and castrate the identity-politics movement four hundred years before its invention--in his immortal classic, Gulliver's Travels. Swift’s own periodic addition may be best termed Size-Politics.

When Lemuel Gulliver crashed upon the shores of the nation of Lilliput, he was a giant among tiny men—or like Godzilla among Japanese—and treated with awe and terror. In an effort to regain their self-importance, the Lilliputians attempt to teach this “Englishman” the greatness and ultimate superiority of their race and beliefs (they are especially fond of showing the extranational traveler the proper end of an egg to break—the only thing separating them from savages). Here the Lilliputians fall into the classic mindset of minority politics; Gulliver makes them feel the tang of nihilism, that their race is small and useless—thus they must strike back at him through legislation. The council demands that Gulliver’s eyes be struck from his face with the nation’s toothpick sized swords—all done in the name of fairness (and to a lesser extent, national security) to the little people. Gulliver escapes onto his next adventure.

Gulliver proves his ill-luck by getting abandoned on the shore of yet another island nation (Brobdingnagian) not long after the Lilliput fiasco—this island however, was filled with men proportionally the size he was to the Lilliputians. Here Gulliver, rather than being the person of strength he was in the nation of Lilliput, he reverts to attempting to prove the greatness to any Brobdingnagian that will give him their ear for a moment. Here the extra-national traveler plays the other part of identity politics, trying to be accepted as better than all majorities. Unlike those who play identity politics in America, Gulliver’s rantings about the glory of England are treated as an after-dinner joke.

Swift’s work exposes the idea of identity politics as little people trying to convince their betters (usually in truth, though sometimes betters by cultural luck) that their Lilliputian souls and ideas are better than the Brobdingnags themselves.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Road to Iran; An Irate Reader's Review of "Zombies of Mass Destruction"

Zombies of Mass Destruction (or ZMD as its creators like to call it) is a mishmash of good ideas poorly executed, and mind-numbingly stupid ideas executed with all the aplomb of a bored four year old. This was written by Kevin Grevioux (blarg!) and drawn by Geraldo Borges & Dave Youkovich (who tried to save this series from itself).

The first issue starts with the only great idea the creators seem to have come up with. An American freighter flies overhead and drops metallic tubes over an Iranian nuclear bomb testing facility; zombies burst forth from the tubes and in a matter of hours overrun the entire complex. Fourteen hours after the tubes first struck the Iranian earth the zombie virus inside of them burns away, killing all chance of the infection spreading and causing a World War Z like global apocalypse. One zombie, however, does not burn and wonders off into the desert.

Now, five pages in, all the crap gets thrown at the poor reader. We are introduced to a shell-shocked almost parody of Captain America. This guy lacks the suit and shield, but in personality (when he has one) and looks he matches up perfectly with Steve Rogers. Apparently Not-Cap married a girl during the first Gulf War and then ditched her when she didn't move to America--or something: the creators are never quite clear what when on between them. For all the difference it makes we can assume that her Mother in Law tried to kill Not-Cap.

We are also introduced to a group of shadowy Republicans who are not sorry that zombies were unleashed on the Iranian site. Because of this, they are shown as the face of uncaring evil--all that is wrong with the American government.

But what did the Shadow Republicans do that was really wrong? Did they use a technology that was maybe best left unused? Yes. But by wiping that Iranian testing facility off the face of the Earth, lives were saved. Iran was then unable to produce the bombs necessary to blast Israel (something the current Iranian leader is itching to do); The Iranians are unable to bomb any other Arab country that fails to fall under their hand. Thus, by unleashing a small scale zombie outbreak on the nuclear facility countless lives were saved from an atomic holocaust.

Not-Cap complains about the Shadow Republicans then agrees to go and kill the escaped zombie. The escaped zombie's been doing what zombies do and eating people, converting them into his own undead army.

Not-Cap spends four pages introducing his team to the reader; but since the reader is given no reason to care about these morons they don't stick in the readers head and bleed together. Some of them right quick, making their introduction all the more pointless. Not-Cap gets bit, but since they have zombie-antidote it doesn't matter.

Not-Cap's commando team gets shot down by zombies with RPGs. The team is attacked by mutant scorpions, then saved by a team of Christian Iranian commandos (???).

From this point, the commandos are kidnapped by zombies and taken to Zombie Village where the Zombie King and Zombie Queen rule over the Temple of Dagon (this last bit was advertised in the blurb, but there is no appearance of any Lovecraftian reference). The Zombie King turns out to be Not-Cap's old Commanding Officer and wants to eat every human in the world. The Zombie Queen is, for even less of a logical reason, the ex-wife that Not-Cap abandoned in the Iranian deserts. She mocks him, and the commandos are thrown into a holding cell.

In the cell, two commandos try to set up a nuclear bomb and wipe out Zombie Village, but all the other commandos beat them up so they don't die. Thus, we can further determine that Not-Cap is a coward. Since this comic series makes no sense, Not-Cap's idiotic actions are presented as heroism.

Through a series of events that make no sense--including the leader of the Christian Iranian Commandos past as an expert on Iranian Temple Design (???)--the commandos escape. Not-Cap rescues his (for some reason still living) daughter and runs into the desert. The Shadow Republicans pull one final bit of "villainy" and carpet bomb Zombie Village to dust. I have no idea why the series wants me to feel sorry for the zombie army that wants to EAT US ALL.

I'm guessing that in this series, the zombies are supposed to be a philosophical stand-in for violent Islam. This is troubling because the message passed on to the reader is: They want to kill you; letting them kill you is the morally right thing to do. What a load of madness. The only characters in this series who acted logically again the undead were the Shadow Republicans with their policy of shutting down any threat with the most logically fitting action.

I normally love the comic books put out by Red 5 Comics (like the fantastic Atomic Robo) but this miniseries is the trash that makes me wary of independent comic publishers.

Final Grade: D-

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Awesomer Lyrics: Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" Made into a Song Worth Listening To

Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" is a song of punishment; in order to be enjoyable is needs a certain something. Scientific research has determined that something is Zombies. In a spirit of kindness for those oppressed by the musical taste of their girlfriends, I present you with the lyrics "Paparazzi" should have had:

We are the dead, we're c-comin' up
Cut my flesh off it's true
Still gonna eat you
It so magical you'd taste so fantastical

Shotgun and jeans, redneck amorous
Not sure what it means
But this Apocalypse of ours, it lacks all price
Ready for those blazing guns
'Cause you know that baby I

I'm your rotted ghoul I'll shamble after you until I eat you
Zom, Zombie
Baby there's no other humans, you know that I'll be
Your Zom, Zombie

Promise I'll be savage
And I won't stop until that brain is mine
Hunter you'll be dinner, chase you down until you're food
Zom, Zombie

I am the ghoul, in the back of your car
knotted ropes and grenades
Yeah cause you're my food, I jump from between the seats
KBar and splattered brains

Rites were fulfilled, Yellow King and return
My eyes are plucked out, clotted gore I cry
It don't have a price, being Zombie Patient One
Cause you know that baby I,

I'm your rotted ghoul I'll shamble after you until I eat you
Zom, Zombie
Baby there's no other humans, you know that I'll be
Your Zom, Zombie

Promise I'll be savage
And I won't stop until that brain is mine
Hunter you'll be dinner, chase you down until you're food
Zom, Zombie

Real good we devour the Earth
Nom Nom on the brains of the army
Don't stop for anyone
We're undead but we still must feed

I'm your rotted ghoul I'll shamble after you until I eat you
Zom, Zombie
Baby there's no other humans, you know that I'll be
Your Zom, Zombie

Promise I'll be savage
And I won't stop until that brain is mine
Hunter you'll be dinner, chase you down until you're dead
Zom, Zombie

(Original lyrics by currently unknown songwriter, provided by

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Slow Moving Reptile (Essay About Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath

“All the thoughts of a turtle are ‘turtle.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

The turtle, in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, begins its unknown quest pulling itself from a dusty ditch, then getting sidewinded by a car and spinning around in a glibbering spinning ride. After this he is captured by the villainous Tom Joad and tied in the eternal binds of a heavy winter coat; he escapes and is captured again, this time with little hope of a final escape. But, in the end of his appearance, he is freed, and though briefly chased by a hungered orange cat, he continues on to his goal. At the end, he continues on his reptilian pursuit of the mysterious end.

The turtle’s adventure mirrors the journey of the Joad family through the Midwest. In the beginning the family rips themselves from the dusty land—just as the turtle pulled himself over the embankment. The family is then shocked—one could say sidewinded—by the heartlessness (and the heartless technology) of the world beyond their dust pits, just as the turtle was spun about by his own encounter with modern machinery.

Then, the family lived at two different styles of styles of camp—escaping from the first in the dead of night as the proper Law Enforcement agencies burnt the Red Hostel Camp to the rich Californian earth. The second camp held them tighter in communist grip than before as the darkly eternal philosophy of Karl Marx took its tool on the family and others at the camp. Surely this grip of the camps and its change of their philosophy directly relates to the captured turtle vainly attempting to escape (twice, no less) from the against-nature bonds of young Joad’s coat.

In the closing events of the novel, the Joad family escape from a raging flood that dashes the family; though the flood has, in some ways, the ability to end their lives, it does not because the family finds shelter in a barn. The turtles final events, find him chased by a cat, which he avoids by closing himself up In his scute shell. Consider the connection between cat and flood, both serve as a near life ending experience, yet are arrayed directly against each other for the simple reason that cats hate water.

Thus the turtle serves as a symbolic foreshadowing of the exploits of the Joad family. As to why Steinbeck included such a monstrosity, I can only think that he wished to earn the awards for his novel by adding in such blatant foreshadowing.