Aug 172015

Last time, I pontificated on what would happen after the events of the recent disaster movie “San Andreas.” This time… the decided non-classic 2008 remake “The Day The Earth Stood Still.”

A recap: in the original 1951 version of the film, mankind is beginning to tinker with space rockets and H-bombs. Humanity had been under observation by a galaxy-spanning civilization prior to this; they had been satisfied to leave us to our own devices prior to this, but now that we might pose a threat, an emissary was sent to give a message to Earth. The message was simple:

Little Bunny Foo Foo

The aliens don’t care what we do, so long as we don’t spread out troubles off-world. If we grow up, we can join the larger civilization; if we don’t, they’re perfectly capable and willing to simply erase us. To display their power, alien technomagic is used to shut down all human electrical systems across the planet, except for things like hospitals and airplanes. This is a temporary blackout to bop humanity upside the head. Power comes back on, alien flies off with a “don’t be a dumbass” message, credits roll.

In the 1951 original, the aliens are kinda dicks (lets face it: humanity armed with gigaton-yield H-bombs and 10,000-ton Orion battleships poses precisely no threat to the aliens given their vast technological superiority), but their motives are understandable and they demonstrate an unwillingness to kill unnecessarily.

But then there’s the 2008 remake.

In the remake, the aliens aren’t here to deliver a message. That task was left up to the film makers: the remake isn’t a warning about militarism and nuclear power, but rather about how evil and stupid humanity is for trashing the environment. The alien plan is to go straight to wiping out humanity. The reason? There are extremely few life-bearing planets in the universe, humans have messed up this one, so we are to be wiped out to let terrestrial life get on without us. The mechanism of the apocalypse is rather confounding, however. The aliens have a form of very small self-replicating robots that eat anything and make more of themselves. Not quite nanotechnology (the robots seem to be about the size of gnats), but the result is still a “gray goo” where cars and buildings and people and trees are converted into more little robots. Given the abilities of the aliens, you’d expect that the robots would eat all the people an all our stuff, but no: the robots are going to eat *everything.* The plan is to shave the entire biosphere down to bedrock, stripping the world of all life. The aliens would then re-seed the Earth with selected species that they have spirited away to safety in a few little “arks.”

Yeah. It really is that dumb. In order to save the Earth, they are going to wipe it out and start again, and just sorta hope that the limited lifeforms will be able to successfully take root and restore the planet.

So in 1951, the aliens are a bit dickish. In 2008… they are monsters. Worse, they’re *dumb* monsters. Given  their power, you’d think they’d ignore Earth and use their gray goo to terraform Mars and Venus… turn the Venusian atmosphere into a vast collection of carbon based fusion engines that can not only speed up the planets rotation to give it a reasonable day, but also move it away from the sun a bit. Shoot a whole lot of stuff from Venus to Mars. Build similar fusion engines on Europa and move it out of Jovian orbit and shove it in-system. Wander past Mars while chucking a good fraction of the water ice onto Mars to give it a real hydrosphere. Drop Europa into Venusian orbit, transfer more water to the planet. In the end, turn three dead worlds into three living worlds.

But… no. Because life is so rare and precious, the aliens are going to kill all life on Earth because they’re annoyed with one species.


Anyway, what actually happens in the movie? Well, the roboswarm is unleashed on the East coast (Virgina, I believe) and begins to eat its way to New York City. It’s shown converting a football stadium, trucks on the highway and other human-occupied vehicles and structures into more little robots. The swarm gets to Central Park and starts eating everything when the aliens change their minds, shut the swarm off, and take off. As they go, more technomagic used to shut down human machinery across the entire planet. Roll credits.

So, what happens next? Well, it can go two ways, based on your assumptions about that shutdown magic: is it a short-term phenomenon, lasting maybe a few hours, or is it permanent? As memory serves, some mention is given that this might be a permanent issue. So, let’s go with that.

What all shuts down? Clearly, all electrical and electronic systems shut down. But it also appears that non-electrical systems also stop. What looks like an old-school mechanical wristwatch is shown to have stopped. An oil refinery is shown shutting down… including a “flare” that simply stops burning. It would seem that the alien technomagic is really quite powerful.

So, mankind loses all out stuff. Given how bloodthirsty these aliens are, you can assume that the hospitals also shut down. Everyone currently opened up on operating tables can be assumed to be dead in a few moments. Airliners soon begin dropping from the sky. Crews of submarines suffocate. Crew and passengers on ships at sea start dying within a few days.

There is no food transport, so cities quickly devolve into horror zones. Of course, on the East Coast of the US, entire counties have simply ceased to exist, replaced with bedrock covered with a layer several yards thick of dead micro-robots. On the edge of that field of destruction would be horrors straight out of Lovecraft: people and animals consumed to greater or lesser degrees stuck in buildings converted to Swiss cheese. Survivors have to deal not only with the ragged edges of eaten-off bits, but also their bodies being full of multitudes of sharp-edged dead microbots.

Blood and screams everywhere.

Chemical factories and storage facilities on the edge of the swarm are toxic nightmares since the pipes and tanks have been partially consumed, letting fun stuff like hydrofluoric acid and the like spill out. Oil refineries and storage tanks are apocalyptic nightmares. Any nuclear powerplants that have been partially consumed can be expected to melt down in short order.

Longer term: a massive crash in human population. If the alien technomagic continues long-term, anything more advanced than steam power – and perhaps not even that – won’t work. This means tractors. No modern fertilizers. No food processing facilities. So never mind the trouble in transporting food… there won’t *be* any food.

The aliens ill-conceived mission was to save terrestrial life from the ravages of mankind. But after the power goes out… a lot of species would find themselves on the verge of extinction. Take a major city like Tokyo. Even though they will have no news from the outside world – (the last anyone heard from the TV, the aliens had unleashed some sort of nightmare in the US and now the power is down and even flashlights don’t work) – the people of Tokyo will, after a few days, largely come to understand that rescue ain’t coming. Tens of millions of people wholly dependent upon technology that no longer works would strip the city bare of processed food in a few days. And once all the canned veggies and packaged ramen and dehydrated kaiju has been consumed, there will still be millions of people who need to eat. People will start flooding out into the countryside seeking food. And what will they find? Farms. Unless the farmers are able to defend their farms – an unlikely prospect – the starving hordes will consume all the critters. Farms and ranches are able to support humanity because the critters are harvested in a rational, sustainable fashion, but in a world without power, people will slaughter what the find, when they find it.

Cows. Sheep. Pigs. Dogs. Cats. Horses. Deer. Chickens. All will soon be on the edge of extinction, and several will very likely go over the edge.

And then winter sets in.

You want to stay warm? Guess what you won’t be using: heating oil, electricity, even coal. All gone. So if you want warmth, that means burning stuff. What will there be to burn? Well, lumber and paper and building supplies and building, at least for a while. But how many home are equipped with proper fireplaces or wood burning stoves these days? If the cities haven’t burned to the ground, you can bet that a whole bunch of them will explode come winter. Forests will be chopped down just as fast as human labor can handle it.

And then summer comes… with no air conditioning or electric fans or water. Three cheers for heat stroke and cholera!

And all those nuclear reactors, sitting idle with no power to run their cooling systems? Meltdowns. Lots of ’em. With absolutely no way to deal with them, they will explode, burst into flame and remain glowing radioactive sores for the duration.

So, in short: the population crashes 90, 95% in the first year or so. What about long term?

Human society will be forever mutilated. Many regions will be in the dark about what happened, with perhaps not even a rumor about aliens. All they’ll know is that the power went out and they can’t get it back on. Most of the planet will know something about the aliens, and will be able to put two and two together. Much of the industrialized world will know a fair deal about the aliens, including the fact that an alien weapon was in the process of consuming the eastern seaboard when the lights went out. Their descendants will tell tales of the demons from the sky that came down and ended the Golden Age. Humans will *hate* and fear the aliens and incorporate that into new myths and religions.

An important point was that Klaatu the alien told a human woman and child what it was all about, about how humanity needed to get its act together. But this message is almost certain to not spread. The two are left alone in the meddle of Central Park, surrounded by a New York City that has been largely devastated by the roboswarm. It’s by no means certain that these two will even live to meet another human. Manhattan has been trashed; there’s likely nobody else left on the island. the bridges are probably eaten away, the tunnels flooded. Unless there are boats, they’re probably stuck there, on an island with no buildings that are not structurally compromised, with a good chance of no access to food and clean water. Additionally, they are surrounded by many square miles of the dead microbots. These little beasts are built like insects… insects composed of sharp edges and blades. When the wind blows, the air will be filled with microscopic razor blades. These two survivors will probably drown in their own blood by the end of the day as every breath brings in more little razors to chop up their lungs. So the aliens message will be lost on humanity: aliens showed up, butchered tens of millions of Americans, and then vanished.

Humans are reasonably clever. It’s possible that technology will survive here and there… perhaps the technomagic doesn’t work underwater or in deeply buried facilities. Perhaps the technomagic can be countered: one of the first things people will try is surrounding simple electrical devices with Faraday cages. Perhaps that will work, or some other countermeasure will function. If so, human society might survive in some recognizable, albeit limited, form. And if so, preparing mankind for the return of the aliens will be the main concern after simple survival. So if the aliens show up again a century or two later to see how things are going, to see if humanity has turned into nature freaks living at one with Mother Gaia, they might find a largely depopulated world stripped of much of it’s forests, with vast swathes of radioactive ruin, bristling with weapons – nukes, lasers, missiles, etc. – shielded against the alien technomagic. If the aliens unleash another roboswarm, humanity may well have discovered a way to simply shut it off. But even if so, the aliens are sure to still be far in advance of mankind; the fight will still be decidedly one-sided. But int he process, the planet will be wholly trashed.

In short: Aliens come to save life on Earth, because life is so rare and precious. In the end, they ruin the surface of the planet because they (in actuality, the writers) are monumentally dimwitted.

 Posted by at 6:51 pm
Jun 112015

A lot of movies end at a clear “ending point.” The story is over, done, it’s a wrap, go home. But a few throw up bits of information to let you know what happened after the story. For example, “Animal House” let you know that this character became a Senator, that character was shot in Viet Nam, etc.

Some movies end with massive question marks, even if they don’t really mean to. One of the most famous examples of this is “Return of the Jedi.” Sure, it seemed a happy enough ending… the Emperor is dead, the Death Star destroyed, all the characters are dancing and clapping. What’s to question? Well… the Empire spanned an entire galaxy; taking out the Death Star and the Emperor would be like taking out Hitler and the Bismark in one strike, but leaving the rest of the Nazi military machine and political structure in place. So there has been 35 or so years of fan-speculation on the subject of “what happens next.” And perhaps most infamously of all: the Endor Holocaust. What do you *think* would happen if you detonate a billion-ton space station a few hundred kilometers above the surface of an inhabited world? Especially when that station isn’t orbiting the world in the first place, but just hovering over it?

Yes, this is the sort of thing I think about. And sometimes the “happy ending” of a movie bugs me, because it’s what must happen next that could potentially be even more interesting, or at least important to the characters or their world.

And so. A few days ago I watched “San Andreas,” the new disaster movie about a series of incredibly powerful earthquakes that hit California. Some impressive CGI hijinks ensue; The Rock does some heroics and we’re left with this closing conversation:

“What do we do now?”

“We rebuild.”

Music swells, camera pulls back, credits roll.

But… what *do* you do now? Given what was just depicted, what happens next?

If you don’t want spoilers… too bad. Because I’m giving away the plot.

So, what is the state of things as the movie ends?

1) Hoover Dam is utterly destroyed. No hydroelectric generation there anymore, and a massive flood racing down the Colorado River.

2) Los Angeles is destroyed. It appears that ground waves on the order of twenty feet or more high raced through the area.  All skyscrapers are either destroyed or so damaged as to be beyond repair.

3) San Francisco is equivalently destroyed, but with the added bonus of a several-hundred-foot-high tsunami racing into the Bay and sweeping up over the city.

4) The pullback at the end shows that the California coast from LA to SF has separated from the rest of the US, and is now an island. The gap is on the order of a few miles, I think.

So given those, what can we infer?

All underground infrastructure – sewer, water, power, communications lines, subways, gas lines – has been shredded along the entire region. Not just LA and SF, but everywhere.

Millions are immediately dead. The population of San Fran metro is over four and a half million; considering what’s shown, at least a third of ’em are dead. LA has more at nearly thirteen million; at least a third would seem likely dead given the lack of warning. While San Fran got some warning, it also got whacked by a tsunami that would have washed away everyone trying to get on a boat to get across the bay to “safety.”

That tsunami that hit SF? Those things go *every* which way. So, a short while later it sloshes up against the ruins of Los Angeles. Seattle gets inundated. Some hours later the Hawaiian islands get hammered, with cities like Hilo getting effectively trashed (Honolulu is on the other side of the island, so it and Pearl Harbor may survive… unless the wave is big enough to wash over the island). Then it slams into Japan, Australia, China, Viet Nam, the Philippines, etc. Millions more die even with a massive warning effort.

While California was obviously trashed, much of the rest of the country would be as well. At the end TV screens show that reverberations were felt as far away as New York and D.C. While this might not have caused any real damage there… what about Chicago? St. Louis? Omaha? Denver? Salt Lake? With the shaking going around, what does this do to the volcanoes and faultlines in the Cascades? How about Yellowstone, or the New Madrid fault? Further south, does Mexico City get trashed *again* by earthquakes?

Remember 9/11? The US economy took a noticeable hit because a few skyscrapers came down. But in the wake the the San Andreas quake, the US economy would *crash.* We’d probably go into a depression worse than the Great Depression. We wouldn’t be able to afford *anything.* Goodbye space program. And goodby military forces around the world. The Navy, Marines and Army would almost certainly all be brought home to help deal with the California nightmare.

ISIS? North Korea? Russian expansionism? Y’all are on your own. As the US withdraws, expect a lot of people to take advantage of the vacuum. The Norks finally re-invade South Korea. The Chinese take over *all* of the South China Sea region. You know, for “stability.”  The middle east? Oh, yeah, that whole region will turn “entertaining” in a heartbeat. The Russian army will be saying “howdy” to the likes of Latvia and Estonia and Poland just as soon as they can.

Now, what’s going on on the new island of California? Well… power generation has probably come to an end. Nuclear plants would have shut down, as would fossil fuel power generators. But they also most likely would have been damaged enough so that they won’t start up again anytime soon. Solar panels across the state have likely been shaken to bits. Wind turbines have been knocked over. And power lines have been universally brought down. With a maximum effort, it’ll be years before the power lines are back up.

Water and sanitation systems have been destroyed. The only clean water is what’s in bottles and what rains down from the sky.

Transportation? You’re walkin’. The roads are trashed. All the overpasses have been brought down. The larger airports are rubble; even many of the smaller airports will likely have buckled, undermined or shattered runways so that only relatively small aircraft will be able to get in. Trains are *done.* It’ll be years before the roads are back. Given the crevasses shown, not only will roads need to be rebuild, many entirely new bridges will need to be built. A lot of the roads will be very difficult to rebuild, such as those on hillsides. A lot of those will have simply slid off the hills, and there’ll be little basis to rebuild from.

Fuel? Only what’s coming in on ships. Food? Lots of it in cans; that’ll be looted within a few days. The agricultural regions of California will from one point of view be fine… the crops largely won’t care that the ground shook and the topography changed. But the *farmers* will care that there is now a canyon or a ridge across their farm. The irrigation systems are trashed; streams and rivers have now dried up, while new ones appear out of nowhere. Tractors that survived the quake will quickly run out of fuel. Refugees will descend upon farms like locusts.

California will quickly turn into “Mad Max.” Fortunately for the rest of the country, there is unlikely to be a mass migration of Californian refugees for the simple fact that there are no transport systems capable of taking large numbers. In order to use boats to transfer masses of refugees from the east coast of California to the new west coast, you’d need:

1) Large numbers of boats

2) An effective way to transport the refugees *to* the new coast

3) Docks on both shores

4) An effective way to transport the refugees *from* the coast they’ve been deposited upon to centers elsewhere in the country.

As for #1, boats: a *lot* of the vessels on the west coast will now be at the bottom of the sea. A lot more are now well inland. And others will be damaged to varying degrees. Many boats will be available, but nowhere near what there once were.

As for #2 and #4: in both the island of California and the new west coast, the roads are trashed. For the most part, everyone is walking on Isla California, and they’ll be walking for miles and miles once they wash up in Otisburg.

And as for #3, the docks: obviously there wouldn’t be any. Additionally, it’s hard to say just how shallow the strait is; it may well be too shallow and chaotic for anything but small boats to get through. It would certainly be poorly mapped, with unknown underwater hazards and chaotic currents.

So… for all intents and purposes, those stuck on Isla California after the quake will be there for a good long while. Visitors, such as tourists, people on business trips and those simply there because their planes were on layover at LAX when things went screwy, will find that for the foreseeable future they will be residents.

Of course the problems will extend beyond California. Hoover Dam is gone. This means that Lake Mead has drained away to nothing. Las Vegas now has nothing to drink. Better, without the power generated by the dam, Las Vegas has largely gone dark. Even if the quakes haven’t damaged the city, it has still become essentially non-viable.

The cities and towns downriver from Hoover Dam are doomed as the flood – which isn’t composed purely of nice fluffy water, but is loaded with things like trees and smashed up houses and cars and trucks and a whole lot of dead folk – comes steamrolling through. One upside to this is that the Colorado River will, for the first time in decades, actually make it to the Gulf of California. Bulhead City and Needles and Lake Havasu City and Yuma had better be on the ball on evacuations.

Cities that today are stuck in the overheated, over-dry central part of the state will find themselves beachfront property. I don’t know that rainfall patterns will really change much, but being close the water will surely change things a great deal for cities like Bakersfield and Sacramento and Fresno and Palmdale and Barstow. The possibility exists that channels will open up and the ocean will fill in Death Valley.

Long term, the possibility is that America will be a more interesting place, with a giant island just off the west coast, with many hundreds of miles of new shoreline for developing. But in the near term? We’d be looking at on the order of ten million dead pretty much instantly… with perhaps a few dozen million more deaths in the months that follow due just to the *basic* effects of the quake. This does not take into account the deaths that will be due to the crop failures in the Midwest due to the ash darkened skies and increased radiation due to the India-Pakistan nuclear war, the Israeli-Iranian nuclear exchanges, the burning of the Korean peninsula, China going after the Japanese and the Russians invading Europe. Millions elsewhere will likely die due to the prompt stoppage of American economic and humanitarian assistance.

The economy would of course collapse. But this would be *good* for many people in the long run. Steel and concrete producers, construction companies and construction workers, would be looking at an unbelievable payday… once it’s figured out just *who* is going to pay and where the money is coming from.

There would be some serious cultural shifts. Hollywood is of course gone. San Francisco is also gone. There are those elsewhere in the US who would see this as an act of an Angry God, cheesed off about how wicked those places were. Expect to see a rise in religions and cults. Expect to see politicians blaming the other side for the disaster, not based on any real evidence or logic, but because that’s what politicians do. Expect to see Californian refugees become as popular in the rest of the US as Okies were in California back in the day, or as popular as Hurricane Katrina refugees were in places like Houston.

If religious nuts who see the event as the act of an angry God are good at their jobs, they could well greatly alter the political landscape, perhaps to the point that the reconstruction of California is delayed, cancelled or throttled. You wouldn’t rebuild Sodom, would you?

And with the massive death toll and scattering of refugees, the next census is not only going to be a challenge to carry out accurately, it will result in a serious drop-off in Californian Representatives in Congress.

There will be some weird real estate doin’s. Some of the most expensive real estate on the planet has been reduced to rubble; the owners in many cases are dead people or wiped-out businesses. But it’ll be clear that *eventually* the region will get rebuilt, though initially nobody’ll be entirely sure just how. So real estate speculation is going to be rampant. Given that the US economy is in the toilet… perhaps Isla California will wind up being largely owned by the Chinese or Indians? Or perhaps laws will be quickly passed by Congress that nationalize the area, or only permit ownership of land by citizens or US-based companies. That may sound good… but keep in mind that Mexico has essentially those laws. And rebuilding Isla California to have the same level of governmental corruption as Mexico seems a bad idea.

How about unemployment? Well, with all the reconstruction needed in California and surrounding regions, there will be a *lot* of work, once there’s someone who can pay to do it. Presumably the US Federal government will produce some “New Deal” types of programs, borrowing heavily from the future or from other nations in order to pay for rebuilding. But with the inevitable population drop, it’s less than clear just how much rebuilding will be needed.

After Katrina, much of the rebuilding was done by non-citizen construction workers. They are of course cheap, and the refugees – exactly the people you’d think best for this role – found that jobs or government benefits were available elsewhere. But after the San Andreas quake, the government wouldn’t have the funds for a whole lot of welfare, and due to the economic collapse jobs elsewhere would be thin. So, a lot of the rebuilding would be done by the refugees. Of course, a lot of non-US citizen construction workers would try to get in on it. But if reconstruction work was the *only* way that millions of people could get a place to stay and food to eat… immigrants would find themselves *real* unpopular, real fast. Expect riots. And expect conspiracy theories to run rampant, with tall tales being readily believed by millions of desperate people. This sort of thing often leads to Very Bad Things. So expect those riots to trend towards race riots, and expect them to be quite bloody.

Much of the American aerospace industry is located within the region affected by the quake. Thus even if NASA, Congress, the President and the American people all wanted to keep the space program going and were willing to pay for it… much of the industry needed to support it would be underwater, burned to ash, flattened by rubble, cut off from resources and the staff run away or dead. The same will apply to much of the American electronics industry. Many businesses elsewhere in the US – and around the world – will simply freeze up due to the stoppage of parts coming from Californian factories.


In summary: after the credits begin to roll on “San Andreas,” that note of dogged determination and optimism will be replaced with the realization that life just got really, really bad for a really, really long time.

 Posted by at 12:20 am