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“Moon Fishing” in the Shadow of the Three Gorges Dam
Still Life


Of all the reasons put forth against building gigantic dams, perhaps the most fantastic one we have ever heard comes from Max Brooks: if you build them, a zombie apocalypse will sweep across the globe.

Still Life


Patient Zero, we read in World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, was infected when the boy and his father was out “moon fishing, a term that describes diving for treasure among sunken ruins of the Three Gorges Reservoir. With more than eleven hundred abandoned villages, towns, and even cities, there are always hope of recovering something valuable.”

Quick to disavow any appearance of illegality, the patient's mother explains that “they weren't looting, that it was their own village, Old Dachang, and they were just trying to recover some heirlooms from the remaining houses that hadn't been moved.” When the boy resurfaced, there was “a bite mark on his foot. He didn't know what had happened, the water had been too dark and muddy. His father was never seen again.”

But just what (or even who) nibbled on the boy, the author doesn't elaborate. Just as well, since it makes it easier for us to imagine another moon fisher, another hydro-refugee displaced by the gigantic dam. He, too, was trying to recover his family's possessions and then some. With each dive, however, he was slowly being poisoned to death by the slurry of asphyxiated forests, leftover sewage and drowned cities. During one night of moon fishing, he just didn't surface. He is then reanimated by a landscape suffering from too much hydrology, but before it could resurface, the remnant wall of an abandoned house topples and traps his legs. Like an anemone siphoning off the waters for plankton, he flails about now in the deep, murky artificial lake, waiting until its hands and mouth touch living flesh.

And it does snare a couple of living flesh, a father and his son. The father dies and is consumed, but the son escapes with only a nibble. After the son returns to the surface, events unfold such that in the coming months, the world gets severely depopulated; governments after governments after governments collapse; Cuba ascends as the supreme economic and military power; and an oceanic society, called the Pacific Continent, develops out of shipboard refugees.

Still Life


All of which make us wonder two things:

Firstly, is the reservoir, then, some sort of a biological-warfare testing ground, where new diseases are hoped to be created and incubated? A gigantic petri dish where the toxic sludge of former civilizations mutates existing viruses into a bioweapon? (Is Lake Powell a collaboration between the Center for Disease Control and the Army Corps of Engineers?)

Secondly, are the events in World War Z a genrefication of current world events? For instance, is Max Brooks' story about China exporting phantasmagorical cargos to Africa an intended metaphor for the deepening economic and political ties between the two, a relationship with landscape and architectural consequences? Additionally, is the creeping invasion of these same cargos to North America a parallel to the increasing transoceanic reach of China's pollution to Canada and the U.S., and also a frighteningly uncanny forecast of this year's panic over tainted pet foods, poisoned toothpaste, and lead-covered Barbie dolls? Are the zombies' worldwide colonization yet another metaphor for the monumental physical effects of China's inexorable march towards preeminent global superpower on the landscape of whole continents?

Still Life

Still Life

Anyway, speaking of ancient cities drowned by the insatiable appetite of nations for energy, there is Hasankeyf in the Kurdish region of Turkey.

Located on the banks of the river Tigris, near the border with Iraq, Hasankeyf dates back 10-12,000 years and bears evidence of Assyrian, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk Turk and Ottoman civilizations. There are ornate mosques, Islamic tombs, cave churches, palaces, and centuries old houses carved into the limestone cliffs. And nearby is Allianoi, an ancient spa settlement dating back to the second century C.E.

All will be flooded.

Still Life


A year later, a moon fisher will try to loot priceless Ottoman artifacts, searching from one cave-mosque to another, only to be bitten, infected; the pandemic then begins in earnest. It'll be a realized metaphor of an escalated Iraq War.

(For clips from Still Life, see #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5. And for another film directed by Jia Zhangke, we highly recommend The World.)


Hydrology vs. the Apocalypse
1 COMMENT —
  • Anonymous
  • January 15, 2010 at 4:44:00 AM CST
  • You obviously didn't read the zombie survival guide(also written by Brooks). In the survival guide, at the back, there is a collection of stories of different supposed zombie interactions with our civilizations from the dawn of time. The patient zero was bit by one of the residue zombies from one of those stories. Way to completely go off of the deep-end, though, I suppose you are about as crazy as everyone on the internet... Also, I'm not saying they aren't doing tests to see what all is going in those bodies of water, but I mean, I can honestly say that I don't think it was Brooks intention to reveal a conspiracy theory of the chinese government trying to create zombies... He did make the book in a way so that it does show the good, bad, and ugly of the various civilizations mentioned in the book, though.


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