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  1.  (7289.1)
    Anybody here read Guillermo Del Toro's The Strain?

    I haven't yet. I got about a chapter into it and put it down, because it really wasn't engaging me. And then I had to give it back to the library, so I never picked it up again.

    I had it recommended to me again today, and I went on Wikipedia to read more about the plot and concept. Can anyone verify for me that it's about vampires that are brought back from the dead... by a virus?

    Perhaps I'm just over-sensitive about this stuff, because I write a horror/medical drama comic that's inspired by actual biology. I spend my days wondering things like, "Is the petrification found in creatures like gorgons, trolls and basilisks in folklore based on permineralization, like in fossils? Or is it more like an alchemical transformation of one element — the carbon in a living body — into another element?"

    But even apart from how seriously I take this stuff, having zombies or vampires that are caused by a "virus" is one of my pet peeves. If you write that into a story, you're basically waving an enormous flag that says you wanted to give a "believable" reason for the magical elements in the plot, but didn't care enough to actually do research. Any research.

    Let's say, at some hypothetical point in the future, the dead start rising. Authentically dead bodies, bodies that demonstrate all the clinical signs and stages of death, rise from their graves to drink our blood or eat our flesh.

    In response to this strange threat, scientists get on television. What might they say?

    "We're not sure at this time what is causing this activity," they might say, "but we can say one thing for sure: It's not being caused by a virus.

    "Because seriously. Did any of you chumps take a biology class?"

    Let's ask Mr. Random House what a virus is, shall we? Here's what he says: "An ultramicroscopic (20 to 300 nm in diameter), metabolically inert, infectious agent that replicates only within the cells of living hosts, mainly bacteria, plants, and animals: composed of an RNA or DNA core, a protein coat, and, in more complex types, a surrounding envelope."

    That's right. The defining thing about a virus is that it's an agent that can't replicate itself... unless it takes over a living cell. Bacteria, fungus and parasites can all effect dead cells in one way or another, if only to eat them — but a virus can't do anything to a dead cell.

    Writers like writing about "viruses" because "virus" is such a sexy word. It's, ooh, sleek and dangerous-sounding. Much better than "bacteria" or "germ," or even "parasite." And man, HIV and Ebola are scary, and they're viruses, right? So I understand the impulse to define everything in terms of "viruses." But, having a very basic understanding of what a virus is, what it does and how it works...

    ... Why don't you just say "magic did it" instead, when you're talking about walking corpses? Because that's more realistic.
    • CommentTimeNov 29th 2009
    But for something like zombies, what if the people were actually alive and the virus itself was a human strain of rabies? No death, no parts rotting off, just rabies-infected humans.
    • CommentAuthorOddcult
    • CommentTimeDec 1st 2009
    I've read it.

    First, it's not a virus, it's a communicable parasite. It's not explicitly made clear, but it seems like there are two levels of infection. In one, the host is dead, but the parasite is using the body and moving it via... electrical pulses... or magic... or something. These infected folk are barely sentient, if at all. In the other, the host doesn't die, but is mutated into a hybrid human/parasite thingy, and is fully sentient.

    It's not really explained why it sometimes works one way and sometimes the other.
  2.  (7289.4)
    @oldhat — If the people are *alive*, that's a completely different thing. But I imagine you've seen the people who say that movies like 28 Days Later are not actually "zombie movies," because it's not about reanimated corpses. (And in a lot of zombie movies, it simply *isn't* a case of the people being alive but mistaken for dead — they're definitely dead, so it can't be a virus that's animating them.)

    @Oddcult — Good to hear it's not a virus. Thank you for letting me know!
    • CommentAuthorTam-Lin
    • CommentTimeDec 22nd 2009
    Hi, Brandon. If you're not aware of them, you might enjoy the Bob Howard/Laundry series, about a magical troubleshooter, whose job it is to keep the eldritch horrors from elsewhere becoming known to ordinary humans. He spends a lot of time in them trying to justify things scientifically, including things like what petrification is, and what the repercussions of an element transmuting into another in large enough quantities to petrify something would be, along with explaining why the British government is so hell-bent on covering the country with surveillance cameras.

    But, yeah, a lot of what is known as science fiction is sorely lacking the science portion of it. And there's nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but they shouldn't pretend Star Trek's mystery particle of the week is any different from the One Ring, and they're not so much trying to explore the future/explain the present as they are trying to tell a story.
  3.  (7289.6)
    Hey Tam-Lin! I've read the Laundry series, which I find pretty enjoyable — and I definitely liked the one about petrification (even if I can't remember any of the details anymore). As far as Stross' Lovecraft-inspired stuff goes, I liked The Coldest War the most — very cool extrapolation of what the Cold War powers would do with the supernatural, and somewhat similar to a project I'm hoping to get started next year.