R.U.R., 28 Days Later

Word count: not looking good

I picked up a Dover Books edition of R.U.R. by Karel Capek (there’s supposed to be a Czech hat on the C but I can’t find it in the HTML entity set) and read it on the T. R.U.R. stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots and is the source of the word “robot.” See Maxfield & Montrose Interactive for the full derivation.

The play was written in 1920 and became an international hit. The theme is hubris and the dialogue is quite striking at points. The men who run the world’s first robot factory are flooding the labor market with cheap, soulless labor created using their secret recipe. For reasons which are never specified, this leads to a drop in the human birth rate. Between that and wars fought with robot soldiery who have no qualms about genocide of civilians, mankind seems to be taking the express train to extinction even before the robots turn on their masters. It may be the end of the world.

Speaking of the end of the world, I also saw 28 Days Later tonight. (That’s my excuse for not writing anything.) I include it here only because I’d heard it described as science fiction. There is actually no sci-fi content - it’s just a disaster movie. Think Day of the Triffids (sans triffids) meets Night of the Living Dead. The disease around which the movie revolves is an eclectic mix of ebola, rabies and bleeding ulcers.

[Spoilers ahead] I can’t resist - I have to nitpick. Can anyone name a disease that manifests itself fully in 10 to 20 seconds? I thought not. I understand that for plot purposes (that is, having to hack your friends to death with a machete within 10 seconds of exposure), the unprecedented incubation time keeps the movie moving along, but it’s never justified.

First things first - when we first meet Our Hero, he’s been unconscious in a hospital for twenty-eight days. Later developments would seem to imply that he’s been abandoned for at least six of those days. That’s a long time to go on one IV bag and no bedpan. (By long I mean medically impossible.) Somehow Our Hero misplaced his johnny, so we get that Full Frontal shot American audiences have come to expect from British movies.

So Our Hero gets up, drinks some Pepsi, and explores the empty hospital and empty city. Eventually he runs into some of the Infected and is saved by some of the Uninfected. Although there’s nice Molotov-cocktail action to start with, the disinfection process switches quickly to the manual machete approach. And that’s not even the gross bit.

[Gross spoilers ahead] The grossest thing in the movie is some violence against eyeballs near the end. The second most icky thing is the projectile hematemesis. (And you thought there wasn’t a word for it!) At random but frequent intervals, the Infected manage to vomit huge clots of blood, preferably onto the Uninfected, but any nearby surface will do. They don’t seem to do anything besides grunt, spit, twitch, and barf - such as eating to replenish all that lost blood.

Some of the Uninfected are smart enough to wear biohazard gear to prevent just such projectile eventualities. You’d think more of them would catch on to such a lifesaving fashion trend, but no

I’ve barely begun to scratch the nits, but there’s one I just can’t overlook. I know that survivalists never end up the main characters of post-apocalyptic stories, and that nobody stuck on a savage, deserted island (in this case, Britain) has ever read Robinson Crusoe, and I accept that. However, some of the survivors were army officers, so there is no excuse for this nit. I’m only going to tell you this once, and you, too, will have no excuse. If you’re ever wondering whether a disease has wiped out all mankind or just Britain, there’s a very simple way to find out. Turn on a shortwave radio.

I’m not saying don’t see the movie; I’m not even saying it was bad. The characterization was pretty good, for horror. I’m just saying that if the hero can’t put a shortwave radio together out of, say, shortwave radios and batteries, and instead has to watch the sky for planes like some sort of cargo cultist, then don’t call it sci-fi. It’s an insult to the genre.

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