1. I'm painfully aware that zombiepocalypse has two key elements of wish-fulfilment, which are a) culling the zombie hoard is essentially guilt-free and trigger-happy. You get to take out scores of people because they aren't really people any more. b) the personal currency (value, esteem or appreciation) of any individual survivor is vastly increased. In other words, no matter how idle, lame and useless you are, the other survivors will surely appreciate you for something.
I don't like wish-fulfilment when it is built into the scenario, as it tends to make tensions difficult to develop. Lazy writers get around this by building artificial character incompatibilities into the personalities of their small group of survivors - conveniently forgetting that most people will set aside their differences in order to cooperate for mutual survival. Of course, once a group of survivors is whittled down to a few dozen (far too many for a film, of course), all of those remaining will be very good at maintaining group cohesion, as this is the key to survival in this sort of situation. Tensions within the group are more likely to arise from their attitudes to theoretical questions such as their long-term prospects and strategy. These will not arise until the survivors feel secure.
2. I have a very hard time getting around the science. The film 28 Days Later does it best in my view by dispensing with the dead-raising capability - meaning of course that the zombies are still alive. I think this is essential unless the origin of your infection is an extra-terrestrial parasite or a prelude to an extra-terrestrial invasion. I suppose that either of these is acceptable in SF, but for pulp schlock to hit home, the science has to be a no-brainer (or near).
I feel that the science should at least be defensible. Resident Evil's T-Virus is utterly objectionable as it reanimates at a local, cellular level, but restores systemic features such as muscle coordination. Unless it is a Who Goes There?* style organism which has a sort of proto-intelligence that can piggyback on the host's brain. Mysterious atmospheric or cosmological events, while they excuse the author from providing an explanation, also limit the duration of his story - as does everything where the science doesn't add-up - since at some point, the survivor's strategy, short, medium or long term, will depend upon their understanding of the causes and especially future prospects of the pathogen or pathogenic event.
Survival of zombiepocalypse is extremely highly probable. Moviemakers, and to a lesser extent, novelists, need small numbers of main characters to keep a connection with their audience/readers and to maintain a cohesive narrative. This is fair enough, but misrepresentation of human behaviour, especially capacity for rationality combined with instinctive survival activities, is not a fair way of establishing a small group.
Below is a sort of prologue, where I have put myself in the mind of a slightly obsessive emergency management agent, such as you might find at FEMA, who, presented with the beginnings of a possible zombiepocalypse, records his thoughts on the best responses.
*see the film "The Thing"
Strategy is taking a broad view. A long view. Long in time, long in space. Strategy includes not just tactical advantage, but economics, sociology, politics ecology – geography as well as topography.
As soon as a crisis hits, someone has to be in there, thinking strategy.
On the ground, you need people who think tactics. Thinking on your feet; improvise; make the rules and the game as you go; evolve your objectives; take – and refuse – opportunities.
As soon as a crisis hits, there are people on the ground, thinking tactics. You need them. They get you through the first few hours.
The strategist spends a lot of time on theoretical problems. A strategist, after all, deals in the probable and the possible. There are factors that are the same between real and imaginary situations. The strategist's goal is to identify the desirable among the possible and make the possible probable.
He wonders, therefore, often, about how to strategise near extinction events. The most probable of these is epidemic – and the least probable epidemic is zombie attack. However the model of zombie attack serves as a strong symbol for society, and is a useful thought experiment for a strategist thinking of a society hit by an epidemic that has knocked out it's core institutions – those that provide food, shelter and organisation.
The zombie movies have it all wrong. There would be lots of survivors. Maybe as many of half the people would survive the onset of the crisis. One way or another. Even the cosseted, ignorant, dependent inhabitants of our most developed societies have not eliminated the basic survival instincts, which in reality resolve in human beings to two things: friendship and efficiency.
As soon as survival from one day to the next is the primary goal of an individual, far from becoming paranoid and selfish, the overwhelming majority of people become more sociable, and altruistic to a point of aggressive self-sacrifice. The group becomes vastly more important than any one individual, and noone needs to be told. People make friends and enemies more easily – but concern themselves with making more friends. They don't concern themselves about their enemies. They become efficient about them.
Efficiency can take many forms. Among the first that most people notice is that they eat and drink less, even though they exert themselves more. Another is ruthlessness, both in taking choices and taking opportunities. Indeed, when, as some inevitably will, they give their lives to protect the group, this might be seen as an obvious extension of efficiency to its logical conclusion. Efficiency is, of course, about thriftiness. All resources increase in value. However individual hoarding is rare – since it is both inefficient at potentially harmful to the health of the group.
All of this healthy survivalism leads to the presence of many survivors – and not just in isolated pockets, either. Even while the threat is still present – beit threat of infection, enslavement by extra-terrestrials or being consumed by flesh-crazed zombies – people will rapidly seek out other groups and establish regular links with them. Networks will develop.
So the strategist expects this to emerge – and emerge quite rapidly. These networks will establish rules, mostly with regard to the boundaries of territory and behaviour, which in a short time will become indistinguishable from laws. Lawlessness is therefore not a worry.
The strategist's main concern, indeed, is from a certain type of individual. These individuals are usually called sociopaths. The most dangerous are those who develop a strong understanding of the dynamics of human societies. Such people can and will move in and take over. The less intelligent ones will make their attempt too soon, and be recognised, identified as the enemy and encounter the aforementioned ruthless efficiency.
The more intelligent ones will wait until a sense of security has settled in a community or network of communities, and go about instilling a sense of unease that will eventually develop into paranoia.
Strategies for dealing with zombie attack:
1. Assure supply lines. This applies to all scenarios. Subsequent strategies derive from the number of zombies, defined as the z to non-z ratio.
a. Anything up to 4:6 (4 z for every 6 non-z), search and destroy is the general strategy.
b. Anything from 2:8 up to 6:4, an offensive siege strategy can be applied. This is where well backed up defensive lines are moved steadily forward into enemy territory, broadly seeking strategic dominance, rather than attempting wholesale eradication of the enemy. Once strategic dominance is acquired, strategies for eliminating the threat may be considered "at leisure" (as the old military textbooks put it).
c. Anything from 5:5 upwards, generally dependent on the mobility, durability and viability of the enemy, defensive siege may become necessary. Perimeters are established around key resources and the links between key resources. These perimeters are defended with minimal force required to maintain them in order to preserve resources. Strategies for eliminating the threat are then examined, though with rather less leisure.
d. Anything from 8:2 upwards, remote concealment, or in the worst case, nomadic concealment is required. Raid/forage and search/rescue operations are mounted at controlled intervals. The intervals are strictly governed by the rate of attrition to raiding and search parties.
Any one of a through d can become a long-term way-of-life.
Strategies for dealing with a highly infectious agent will all be based on infection control, which is achieved through isolation. Knowing the infection vectors is the first priority. Without knowledge of them, no long term strategy is viable, but in the short term, all known possible vectors are to be assumed. Havens are set up in remote locations, and between these and centres of population, a line of relay settlements is set up. The longer a person goes without showing signs of infection while taking all possible precautions, the further up the line they go.
The system is adapted as infection vectors become known. Further strategy is developed according to infection and survival rates, as well as the viability of the infectious agent outside of a host, and indeed outside of a human host.
Strategies for dealing with hostile extra-terrestrials must not involve any form of military opposition unless the entire population of the invader's race is present and marooned on Earth. When this last is not the case, it must be assumed that the invader's population and resources are vastly greater than ours. Strategies must be economic or environmental.
Economic strategies are those which make the invader's presence on Earth costly. In the early stages, sabotaging his equipment may be viable, but this will not work in the long term. You have to find ways to make whatever he wants on Earth annoyingly expensive to obtain, without giving him cause to suppose that the expense will be relieved by exterminating you.
Environmental strategies are those which make the Earth an unpleasant place to be. Once the invader resorts to robots and remotely operated machines to conduct his activities this method may become less effective, however cohabitation may become more viable.
Personally I consider invasion by hostile extra-terrestrials highly improbable, which is good, because I also consider almost all strategic responses highly unlikely to succeed.
Strategies for dealing with sociopathic Napoleons in post apocalyptic societies.
Option 1. Once the sociopath is identified, assassinate him at the first opportunity.
This is the only strategy I propose. I think there are very few situations where killing a human being solves more problems than it creates. This is one of them.