'Game of Shadows' meets 'World War Z'*. Or, H.G. Wells writes his own version of 'The Walking Dead' as a brilliant newspaper serial. 'Around the World in Eighty Days... CHASED BY THE LIVING DEAD!!!' Yall know you want to read this story. It's a genius concept, if I do say so myself, and sooner or later somebody is going to write an awesome book with it, if it hasn't happened already.
So much has been said about how to survive a zombie apocalypse, from Max Brooks' authoritative Zombie Survival Guide (cited and linked later in this post) to the blog from the CDC. The basic principles remain the same no matter what era you are in. But it's all about the details, folks, and I've done my homework and found some details that your Victorian Zombie Novel may find useful!
Before the advent and widespread use of the automobile, people walked. A lot. Yes, there were horses. And yes, there were a lot of horses. But horses, then as now, had a price tag affixed, and if you were a poor factory worker in an industrial city, you probably didn't have a coach and four to get you to the fish market. You likely walked.
But sometimes just walking isn't enough. Especially when you hear the moanin' and the groanin' and the shuffling feet. And running only gets you so far. What do you do?
Horses are a fairly good option, particularly if you're going to spend time offroad. But I think that there is a better-in-general, much more distinctly Victorian option - The Bicycle.
Yup. Bikes have been around in one form or another since the mid 1800s, and by the Victorian era, they had reached the point where they were as widespread and recognizable as modern bikes. 1888 saw the first air-filled tire, which made the ride much more comfortable than wooden wheels would ever be, but even before then many people were turning to the bicycle as a means of transportation.
As made clear in Max Brook's indispensable 'The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead', bicycles are one of the best ways to transport yourself from one place to another during a zombie apocalypse. They're fast, relatively silent, easily repaired, can be carried short distances if necessary, and are powered by your own caloric intake. In the Victorian era, if you already have horses and are good with them, sure, use a horse, as long as you can feed it, house it, water it, and properly care for it. It'll provide, if nothing else, good compost for the garden you're going to have to grow. But for everybody else - get a bicycle.
Canned food is a lot older than one might think - the development of this technology actually began in 1795, when the French military offered a big fat reward for anyone who could find a way to preserve food in large quantities for the French army. In 1810, they awarded the prize to a guy who created a way to put food inside hard containers, and in the many years between then and the Victorian era, steady improvements to the science of food preservation were made. By the Victorian Era, canned food had been around for the better part of a century, and it had come a long way.
Of course, your average Victorian era folk were a lot better at prepping and managing fresh food than your average modern American. They didn't eat out nearly as much, and didn't rely on pre-packaged food to anywhere close to the extent that we do - TV dinners and Hamburger Helper were scores of years away. While food would definitely still be an issue, especially in heavily populated and industrialized cities, it would not be nearly as much of an issue as it would be in modern day America.
The best defense from a horde of zombies? Distance. Barriers. Speed. Agility. Yeah, you can fight them if you want, but when you do you run the risk of getting swarmed and eaten. Discretion, my dears, is the better part of valor.
But when lurch comes to shove, you don't want to caught empty handed. There are, of course, the usual weapons (guns, knives, swords, etc.) but here are a few more interesting options that you might find handy during the Victorian Zombie Apocalypse.
Nope, that's not a typo. I meant to type that U there. A slungshot is not a slingshot, although slingshots (following the advent of vulcanized rubber) were on the scene in the Victorian Era. A slungshot, however, was a much nastier weapon. It involved a length of rope, onto the end of which a metal weight was tied. It was common and widespread, and with enough force, it could probably do the requisite damage to bash in a rotten zombie skull.
As swords fell out of fashion due to the increasing availability and quality of firearms as a personal defense weapon, people started using them more as wall decorations, though there were still a fair amount of people who used swords, particularly in the military. But the days of openly wearing a sword as part of your daily wardrobe were over.
Enter the swordstick. A sword, inside of a stick. Brilliant. There were other variants on the secret-weapon-inside-a-cane idea, included canes weighted with lead and gun-canes, but the swordstick is my favorite.
The MULTI-BARRELED PISTOL
Guns are loud. Guns attract zombies. But sometimes subtlety and silence must be set aside, and when you set it aside, you want something that will more than compensate for the loss of stealth. A firearm might be just the trick.
There were a lot of options, as far as guns go. Here is a link to a more intriguing, if not the most effective option - a six barreled pistol. Because why not?
I hope you found this a useful beginning to your research into Victorian Zombie Preparation!
Between you and me? I'm pretty sure that late nineteenth century folks were hecka better prepared to deal with the practical concerns of a zombie plague than you or I. The really fascinating part, then, would be the cultural impact and societal reaction to a zombie plague. How do you think the people would have reacted to such a thing in Victorian London or San Francisco? How would it change the way things developed? Would significant later events such as World War I have occurred in the same way, or would they have been drastically changed? Let's talk about it in the comments.
*Minor note: in my opinion, the World War Z film sucked. And I'm not just saying that because the book is brilliant and Hollywood totally disregarded the book.** I'm saying that because there were plot holes that made the first draft of my last NaNoWriMo look like a ALA finalist.
**Although it did, and that irritated me.