Origin of (Undead) Species
I wonder if Charles Darwin was a zombie fan.
Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, and you’re probably aware of the resulting, yet-to-be-settled battle between Evolutionists and Creationists. But there’s also another great Darwinian debate, affecting not just zoologists but zombologists, too:
What actually is a species?
In science, this is known as the ‘species problem,’ and it arises when bickering biologists attempt to classify two nearly identical species of animal. Take the Baltimore Oriole, for example, that beloved black-and-orange bird of baseball mascot fame. The truth is, it’s really the Northern Oriole. Or wait — no, it isn’t. Fifty years ago it was the Northern Oriole, but after lots of nasty debate and name-calling, scientists finally decided that there’s no such thing. They split the species into two: the Baltimore Oriole and the Bullock’s Oriole.
So, you ask, what does all this have to do with zombies?
I don’t know if you’ve ever braved a visit into an online zombie fan forum. (If not, what are you waiting for?) In those discussion boards, you might notice that while biologists haggle over birds, many zombie fans are divided over what constitutes a ‘real’ zombie. Is the zombie slow or fast? Alive or dead? Mute, or able to talk your ear off, right before it bites your ear off?
Or… can a zombie be all those things?
As a fan myself, I’ve resisted that last hypothesis for years now. Oh, how I’ve resisted. But perhaps the time has come; at last I should channel my inner Darwin and admit to zombie evolution. My favorite monster, once classified solely as Zombi Zombus, has gone the way of the Northern Oriole, split apart into separate unique species.
Presenting the new taxonomy of living dead:
• Zombi Voodooicus. 19th century ancestor, believed extinct. Victims of dark Haitian sorcery, summoned from the grave to work as slaves in sugar cane plantations. A bit like Oompa Loompas in Willa Wonka’s chocolate factory, but without the singing and awkward cartwheels.
• Zombi Romeros. George’s breed — dead, slow, and mindless. Purely carnivorous, with a diet of fresh human meat. (Note: subspecies Zombi Fulci may eat sharks.) Territory includes suburban America, urban sprawls, and even Arizona deserts in my novel THE RETURN MAN.
• Zombi Sprintus. Built for velocity, reaching land speeds up to 10 mph, but lacking the cardio to outrun Jesse Eisenberg in Zombieland.
• Zombi Speechifysis. Specially adapted vocal chords allow this species to talk; common vocalizations include a wish for brains and requests for more paramedics.
• Zombi Twentyeightus. Not technically dead, but close enough; disease-carriers infected by viruses that cause wild, murderous rage and shaky-cam violence across the UK.
• Zombi Supersmartus. A rarely occurring but very functional species, able to use reason, tools, even drive motorcycles. Highly evolved, but can’t kick the cannibalism habit.
• Zombi What-the-effus. The most questionable of zombie specimens — imbued with powers that often make fans think WTF?, including the ability to climb walls, spit acid, use ESP, take flight or travel between dimensions.
So there you have it. Zombies sorted and tagged for easy identification, ushering in a harmonious new future for zombie lovers. Hold it… what’s that you say? The species overlap? The original Romero zombie uses a rock as a tool in Night of the Living Dead? Running zombies can talk in Return of the Living Dead, and rage zombies can run in 28 Days Later?
Crap. You’re right. This is harder than I thought.
Screw it then — arguing is half the fun, anyway. So go ahead, scream and yell about the species problem. I’ll be outside, watching birds in the yard. I think I hear a Northern Oriole singing.