June 1, 2013 10:57 am

This Sunday the Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us.

A scene from the first zombie apocalypse, Night of the Living Dead 1968

The birth of the modern Zombie Apocalypse: George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” from 1968.

Times have changed in the zombieverse, especially when it comes to pondering the causes of a zombie apocalypse. These days, nobody buys the George Romero, radiation-from-a-satellite-causes-the-dead-to-rise type of zombie apocalypse. And zombies created as a result of a voodoo curse seem so old-fashioned, even quaint. But a 28-Days-Later-Walking-Dead-zombie-virus/pathogen type of apocalypse? Somehow, that seems a bit more… plausible.

Because viruses are scary. Viruses like the ones in Outbreak or Contagion are scary enough. But viruses that turn people into zombies, like Rage does in 28 Days Later? That’s sleep-with-all-the-lights-on scary.

Not that I, myself, believe in the possibility of a Zombie Apocalypse, any more than I believe in super powered mutants like the X-Men or aliens like Superman. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love me some brain-munching entertainment whenever I can get it.

So I couldn’t wait to listen to Zombie Apocalypse Part 1, this Sunday’s podcast, in which Neil deGrasse Tyson interviews Max Brooks.

Max Brooks is to zombies what his dad, Mel, is to comedy: a master of the genre. His books, The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, may be the most “realistic” treatments of zombies ever written. Certainly that I’ve ever read. (Props to the Walking Dead comic books, but I have never read a more vividly haunting zombie scene than the one in the church in Topeka, Kansas in World War Z.)

If you’re a fan, you won’t be disappointed. In Part 1, Max talks about where he got his ideas for his zombie virus, the differences between fast and slow zombies from a storyteller’s perspective, and more. He even describes some of the most recent developments in “zombie science” – research papers, mathematical models of viral spread, and a book written by a Harvard doctor comparing the brain patterns of zombies to those of crocodiles.

But to be honest, nothing Max said was very scary. After all, he is just a writer, and however realistic his zombies, they are still science fiction.

No, what was truly terrifying about this episode came from Neil’s other guest: Dr. Ian Lipkin. Not only is Dr. Lipkin the Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University, but he is also a Professor of Epidemiology, as well as Neurology and Pathology. And he’s the Director of the Northeast Biodefense Center. (Just the fact that we have one of these (and need one) is scary in and of itself.)

Dr. Lipkin talked about Ebola, and Cholera, and SARS, and West Nile, and Rabies. And those weren’t even the worst. When he said his top 3 viruses, in order, were HIV, Influenza and “the one he doesn’t know about yet,” that’s when I started to get really worried.

Because the “one” he doesn’t know about turned out to be an understatement. There are actually between 500,000 and 1,000,000 undiscovered viruses out there just waiting to liquefy my internal organs and send blood pouring out of my eyeballs.

I don’t know about you, but given the choice between dodging a mindless, ravening horde of nonexistent zombies or outrunning an actual, mindless airborne pathogen whose only purpose is to use my body as a disposable breeding ground, I’ll take the zombies every time.

Listen to Zombie Apocalypse Part 1 tomorrow night at 7:00 pm ET, featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, Eugene Mirman, Max Brooks and Dr. Ian Lipkin. Whether you’re worried about a fictional zombie apocalypse or a real viral outbreak, you’ll find plenty to keep you up at night.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!

–Jeffrey Simons

Get the most out of StarTalk!

Ad-Free Audio Downloads
Ad-Free Video Episodes
Stickers & Mugs
Live Streams with Neil
Priority Cosmic Queries
Early-Access Videos
Learn the Meaning of Life
...and much more