‘How to Survive a Sharknado’

(Courtesy of Three Rivers Press)
(Courtesy of Three Rivers Press)

Last summer, “Sharknado” struck a world entirely unprepared. The Syfy documentary about a hurricane that blew ravenous sharks all over Los Angeles caused a tidal wave of excitement — mostly on Twitter, the official social media platform of the Apocalypse.

And here we go again: On July 30, “Sharknado 2: The Second One” will dump mayhem on New York. But this time, we’ll be ready, thanks to gonzo biologist (and popular satirist) Andrew Shaffer. He’s just published an essential guide called “How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters” (Three Rivers, $14.99). We spoke to Shaffer from his bunker in a secure, undisclosed location somewhere in Portland, Ore.

(Don’t wait for the sharks to start falling from the air: Read this now.)

Being an expert on arachnoquakes, firenados, bataclysms and other unnatural disasters, how do you sleep at night?

Tylenol PM.

Most of the unnatural disasters and monsters in your guide were “first observed” in the last three or four years. Why is the earth becoming so dangerous lately?

From genetic engineering to exploratory drilling, we’re messing with Mother Nature at an unprecedented pace. The “unnatural disasters” in the book can be read as cautionary tales. Can you draw a straight line between the way we treat the planet and threats like sharknados? Probably not. But you’d have to be a fool not to see that everything on Earth is interconnected.

(Courtesy of Andrew Shaffer)
(Courtesy of Andrew Shaffer)

I’m curious about the Official Naming System. Most of these creatures sound terrifying, like the Mongolian death worm. But then there’s dinonami. That sounds cute — like folding colorful squares of paper into lizard shapes.

Don’t discount paper cuts; they can be quite painful, as I’m sure someone in your line of work is well aware of. However, you do bring up a good point: When it comes to disasters, names matter. For instance, people take hurricanes with male names more seriously than those with female names, which in turn makes masculine-named hurricanes deadlier. I would hope that people treat dinonamis with the respect that tsunamis filled with dinosaurs deserve.

So many of these horrors — sharknado, whalestrom, pteracuda — come from the sea. If we avoid large bodies of water, can we radically increase our chances of dying a natural death in old age?

While the farther you live from the coast, the better your chances of avoiding sea-based unnatural disasters, the threat is overblown. Statistically speaking, coastal states like California, Florida, New York and Massachusetts have some of the lowest mortality rates in the country. Moving to the Midwest is no guarantee you’ll avoid unnatural disasters entirely. You never know where the next basilisk will emerge from hibernation.

An artist's rendition of a deadly piranhaconda. Do not approach! (Courtesy of Three Rivers Press)
An artist’s rendition of a deadly piranhaconda. Do not feed by hand. (Courtesy of Three Rivers Press)

I see that you’ve listed bigfoot in this survival guide. Are you concerned that including a mythical creature might raise doubts about your legitimacy?

The lack of evidence surrounding the bigfoot legend suggests that if they do exist, they rarely attack humans. Sasquatches are most likely gentle creatures that live on diets of root vegetables and small game. Every day, though, it seems like there’s a new bigfoot-hunting show on TV. We don’t need tips on how to survive bigfoot: Bigfoot needs tips on how to survive us.

T.S. Eliot claimed, “This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.” But what if he’d known about the possibility of a beeclipse?

Eliot may have revised his poem to read, “This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but OH GOD IT’S SO DARK/ I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING/ WHAT IS THAT BUZZING SOUND?/ BEES?/ ARE YOU KIDDING ME??!!/ THEY’RE STINGING ME ALL OVER,/ OH GOD THE PAIN!/ MAKE IT STOP/ OH GOD ARGHHHHH—

I was impressed by your inclusion of a quotation from Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby-Dick.” That really classes the whole thing up.

The excerpt concerns a giant squid with electric tentacles (an elektrokraken). Can you believe there are some readers who think I wrote this previously unreleased passage from “Moby-Dick” myself? Frankly, I’m not a good enough writer to pen a line like, “If that damned squid shows its face again, call me, Ishmael, for I shall take it out with my own fists.”

What are your plans for July 30?

I’ll be throwing a “Sharknado 2: The Second One” viewing party at my house with fish tacos and Kraken Rum. You’re all invited! The party is BYOC (Bring Your Own Chainsaw).

 

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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