By David Dunwoody
For the purpose of this series – in which the zombie threat will be weighed against technologies, creatures and people both real and imagined – I’m going to stick with the classic Romero model of undead. Although there are roughly ten billion different varieties of zombies in the fiction world (as there should be), I want to keep things as simple as possible. With that said, let’s look at a technology I barely comprehend.
Zombies Versus...3D Printing
A couple years back I heard a radio segment about 3D printing and its possible future applications. In the piece, a scientist dude claimed that 3D-printed organs and limbs were on the horizon. I immediately thought of poor Miguel in Romero's Day of the Dead (1985), whose arm is amputated in order to prevent an infectious bite from ravaging his entire body. If only Dr. Logan had been in possession of a 3D printer that could fabricate a fully-functioning arm - bones, ligaments, vessels and all - for miserable Miguel. Maybe then the guy wouldn't have let all the zombie clowns into the facility. (They were all clowns, weren't they? That's how I remember it.)
3D printing uses a method known as additive manufacturing to fabricate products from raw materials. The printer itself, essentially an industrial robot, takes a digital model, slices it up into virtual layers, and then "prints" the actual object layer-by-layer. Not only have countless potential commercial, military and medical applications been proposed (and produced), 3D printers are available in relatively inexpensive home models. For around $1500 you can print your own pasta, screws, forks and other practical items, in addition to insane shit.
So, assuming we can power the machines, does this give us an edge in a zompocalypse? Well, not if we have a shortage of raw materials. However, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so we ought to stock up now. We may as well since 3D printing is already set to revolutionize both the time and cost involved in manufacturing - everything from clothing to glasses to food to weapons. And let's not forget Miguel, in whose case an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of flesh.
Not yet possible, but said to be on the way: prescription lenses, pharmaceutical medicines and working human organs. Already here: prosthetics, implants for things like your pelvis or jaw, and the potential to make just about any simple tool one may require, whether today or on Z-Day.
I foresee zompoc preppers printing light bite armor (perhaps not bulletproof, but bite-proof for sure). And, lest we forget, guns. Surely you've seen YouTube vids of home-printed handguns exploding on their first use. Not exactly encouraging. But there is at least one US group who have designed a more durable AR-15 style firearm. Said group had at one point posted plans to print a plastic gun on their website, but the State Department had it yanked. (Of course, the plans are still floating around out there.) Functional 3D-printed guns are coming one way or another.
Let's talk post-apoc now. Assuming that you have a power source and the necessary materials, there are general-use 3D printers which work with any material that can be squirted through a nozzle. One crowdsourced professional-grade model (the $1500 one) works without producing fumes or the sort of incessant rattling that could attract undead to your hidey-hole. Instead of having to scout for specific supplies, you could print many of them from the safety of your shelter.
Back to Miguel again, and anyone else who has lost body parts to accidents, human combat or the need for a quickie amputation. Human cells set in a gel or sugar medium could be fed into specialized printers to produce working systems. The Chinese have already rolled livers and kidneys off their 3D assembly lines - not that you could simply slap one into a patient, but that may change within 10-20 years. 3D printing may accelerate the process of medical testing and developing treatments. Again, if the infrastructure is still standing, 3D printing could be instrumental not only in helping the injured and infirm but in finding a cure to a zombie plague.
Zombies Versus...The Invisible Man
HG Wells’ mad scientist Griffin develops a serum which alters the way light interacts with his body. No longer absorbing or reflecting light, he is invisible to the naked eye. Unfortunately, there’s no way to reverse it, hence the “mad” thing. It goes downhill for Griffin from there.
Being invisible certainly seems like it’d provide a leg up in the zompoc (hell, I wouldn’t mind it right now). It also raises some fearful questions. Forget about invisible assholes trying to steal all your shit in the PAW (post-apocalyptic world) – what about invisible zombies? In Wells’ book, Griffin becomes visible again upon dying. But what if the same didn’t apply to someone who was turned by a bite?
You already want to be as inconspicuous as possible when navigating terrain infested by undead. It becomes even more important when there’s no way to tell if the terrain is infested or not. We’re a highly visual species and we’d have to learn to rely just as much on our other senses. I’m guessing you can smell a horde of zombies – then again, if there’s no running water, you might smell just as bad as they do. Nothing like apocalyptic BO to mask the odor of an encroaching predator.
Even if the number of Invisidead™ is minimal, it wouldn’t take many to sow chaos among a group of survivors. Someone feels a tearing pain in their arm, glances down and sees a chunk of said arm floating away. Panic erupts. No one knows where to run. Very bad news in close quarters. The work required to clear a building and declare it safe would consume even more time and perhaps resources (as in Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man, in which the bad guys have to spray paint everywhere in an effort to locate Chevy Chase’s former sense of humor). If you were a survivor in a world with transparent zombies, what methods would you use to identify and deal with them?
Suggestions for future versus scenarios? Tweet me @daviddunwoody – or use the Facebook page for my Permuted zombie series: https://www.facebook.com/empireseries. You can also get ahold of me through www.daviddunwoody.com.