If there would be a civilisation similar to humans that would conquer space travel and successfully colonised a few to a dozen planets but would be mostly non-violent people.

Still, the government has decided that to mine a rare mineral from one of the planet they would need people to work there non-stop to constantly produce the highest possible quantities of the material.

A drug would be invented that would in one use turn a person into a mindless zombie that would have: no need for sleep or rest, no sense of self, could be fed through a tube by automised system and go back to work instantly. The zombies would, however, keep their creativity to an extent that they could take administrative roles and creative positions that computers could not do.
NOTE: it is important that the drug is taken only once and cannot be stretched out to be a part of an addictive drug to make people use them.

Also, the government cannot use force, it cannot be applied to criminals (unless desired by the individual), it cannot be a part of blackmail or intimidation tactics, the user must completely agree on this fully knowing the consequences.

The motivation of government in not that of greed, but the information value that the mineral provides, allowing space-travel, teleportation and space-time manipulation on a grand scale comparing to that what the aliens currently have.

Finally, the drug is a one-way gate - the effects cannot be retracted, the state they would be in is permanent.

So far I have thought of following conditions where people could agree to take the drug:

  • A form of suicide the would help others.
  • To pay off the dept and elevate ones family out of poverty.
  • As a price for being a celebrity with vast fortune for X years.

However, that would make a few hundred thousand people, the planet's population should be around 10 billion. How to make people accept that on such a large scale?

EDIT: the whole population must be zombies, it cannot have human overseers or staff.


After considering many great ideas I have chosen the best solution in my opinion:

The aliens who need a whole planet population to be zombies would have painted the role of being a hero, similar to the military service. The people would receive high praise for their decision and their families would have a honourable status in the society. I would like to note again - it's only one of 10-12 planets currently colonised by the alien species.

While some corruption and violence could take place, in my design the aliens would come to a society beyond crime ( punishable crime rate is at less than 0.0001% and serious crime is hundred times smaller ).

At the same time the government would not address the details of the horrors on the planet: people often working themselves into the grave within 10-15 years with working conditions suitable only for zombies - only work 24/7.

Thus with proper social engineering it wouldn't be impossibly hard to get 10 billion zombies with the total population over ~500 billion.
(For all those who likes math, I'd like to note that it's not 1/50 of the population every year, the zombies can exist anywhere between 10 to 50 years).

As for the zombies themselves, the drug would have following effects:

  • Almost complete lack of notion of self - somewhat similar to lobotomy, but with more work capability.
  • Rapid cell degradation with rapid regeneration. Thus the effect of rotting as the zombie works too hard and capacity for prolonged work as most stressed parts of the body is regenerated.
  • From the previous rule the zombies brains would also lose brain cells and thus complete wipe of memory ( even long-term memory ); the new cells would not have the connections to maintain the old memories. As the zombie "exercises" a part of the brain constantly ( motor skills, language, administrative duties that require loner-term memory ) that part would remain intact. So they would be fully capable of work but family/friends and personal ambitions would simply degrade with the brain not "refreshing" the memories.

And some notes for to answer as to why zombies and not robots:

  • Lack of AI to take complex decisions that only a person could do. The zombies would lack the notion of self, but not brainless.
  • Zombies would operate heavy machinery, and there would be partial automatisation, but someone has to operate the machines, repair, fix and take decision.
  • The story has an idea of government being able to produce selfless workers that would give their all. Albeit at a horrible cost. And the realisation of "what have we done?" later by the people as an individual and as a collective.

I hope my world is "watertight" in sense of the events are plausible and could somehow draw parallels to our society by the reader himself.

Thanks to all for their answers and comments, it's truly amazing of how many great ideas and criticism I received.

  • $\begingroup$ How comfortable are you with deception? Are you happy to invent a scenario to make people think they have no other choice but to take the drug, even if it's not true? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Nov 17, 2015 at 10:07
  • $\begingroup$ It does seem plausible for a government to deceive or use propaganda, but it felt like an easy way out. I really want it to be dramatic in a way that people would know what they subscribe to fully and show the emotions and conflict within one self. $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2015 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ Your scenario makes me think: "THIS is why robots were invented." Even with current technology we could build robots to handle any such scenario with the aid of relatively few technical staff to handle corner cases the system doesn't know about. And +1 on proganda, modern consumer society does pretty much what you want and people are happy to be more efficient. (If not the methods...) $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2015 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Samuel your comment is somehow mean rather than just funny. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2015 at 1:28
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    $\begingroup$ @T.Sar you're just wrong. Amazon, for example, has the richest man alive and ever run it. They have the newest tech and AI that helps navigate warehouses and automate a lot of labor...and still people working there are worked to exhaustion and don't have time to go to bathrooms because machines can't do everything. And people will still use such services because of convenience and because it's not them working a hellish job. Now imagine a different planet dedicated to such slave labor. F them, they're not us! ...Right? $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2020 at 7:17

7 Answers 7


To answer this question you've got to consider the following:

Why does everyone need to be altered?

Genuinely, why? Do the zombies not work if there are humans on the planet? Do you just need a large enough workforce there? If the former, then you can relocate those who don't want to take the drug and ship in those who do. If the latter, you can ship in people who want to take the drug and just overcrowd the planet. If neither of these is true, and it has to be that way because plot, then the question is:

Why should everyone want to be altered?

As you noted in your question the vast majority of people aren't going to go for 'helping others' as a reason for this, and if the entire populace has to be zombified then the only people they will be helping are offworld, and frankly: Who cares about offworlders, amirite?

So the reason has to be something that the entire populace can get behind, that isn't motivated by some form of on-world incentive, and that doesn't require force, coercion or deceit to implement...

You've got nothing... Any reason that's good enough to cause every single person on the planet to individually choose this is going to be good enough to cause every single person in human space to want to choose this. If you assume there is a reason (Epic euphoric effects, planet-wide shared dreamstate, 'aargh, we need to fight the aliens and this is the best way to do it') then the question becomes:

Why isn't everyone on this drug?

Which is much easier: Cost.

Essentially you need a reason to take this drug that's so good everyone in the universe wants some, but then make it prohibitively expensive (or flat out impossible) to produce and use anywhere except this planet. As a result: Everyone on the planet will gain access to the drug and want it (for whatever reason you choose. I'm behind the aliens attacking), and people elsewhere in the universe will want access to the drug but not be able to get it, which is a much more stable state of affairs.

Of course, in any situation there will be outliers: Crazy people who don't want the drug that's going to save/unite/elevate/space out (see what I did there?) humanity, but they can safely be relocated to the camps for the crazy people.

And as for those poor unfortunate souls who can't become mindless space zombies: Pity them.

  • $\begingroup$ Your answer gave me a great idea. Maybe the government would have a rule that every third child would be given to join the planet upon reaching certain age. Like the military, only permanent. Not much info is given on the "feeding through the tube" thing, but the idea of sacrifice would be there. That would also make all the other family members well-provided for and respected in the society, while those who refuse are shamed, like escaping service in the military is considered cowardly. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2015 at 1:34

For people to pretty much agree to 'die' knowingly, they would have to feel that that is a better alternative to their current life, or their sacrifice causes a gain to someone or group they feel justifies it.

Maybe they are condemned criminals to death. Taking the drug allows them to 'live' and so they might take it. I do believe that several countries used voluntary criminals on death row to do chemical weapons tests. By doing so their families were provided for.

Some people have a life not too much different than that, but they are aware of their problems, so taking the drug would relieve them of the tedium and knowledge of their disappointing life.

However, you would have a hard time convincing extremely large numbers of people to agree to such, without quite a bit of trickery, or social engineering. Say convince people that families should provide one 'volunteer' to help the 'cause'.

I also don't see why you would need to have every worker as a 'zombie', I would think that if the need is as much production as possible, zombie or not would be wanted. On top of that it seems that pregnancy and child rearing would be almost impossible so a constant supply of new bodies would be needed to replace those that wear out and die. At a certain point it seems it would be much more reasonable and cost effective to use robots for the bulk of the work. They can be any size needed, are easier to 'fix' and replace and only need energy, vs. food, so a much more efficient way to keep them running.


Note: This post is written with a human (or at least human-like) population in mind. If your society is made up of aliens, however, you can invent anything you like. They could lack a strong sense of self, and thus be completely unperturbed by this kind of sacrifice. Anything human-like, however, would need to be indoctrinated/brainwashed, or forced. Very few would volunteer otherwise.

1) I would like to start by pointing out that what you're describing are basically robots. There is no job that a human - even one on zombie-crack - is going to perform better than a purpose-built robot. And if extracting this mineral is that important, then an "army" of robots is far more appropriate than an army of zombie humans.

2) Humans prize individuality and free will very highly. The theme of many a legend, novel, or Hollywood blockbuster revolves around a group of people struggling to regain their freedom of expression (societies that have banned emotions using drugs, or people who are pigeon-holed into positions based on their genetics, or birth, etc). The thought of losing your free will, of sacrificing the "self", is asking for a hell of a lot. Entire countries have risen in revolution for a lot less.

Only a truly desperate person would choose this fate, and while there may be a fair number of such people in the world, I think it's ridiculous to presume that so many hundreds of thousands would willingly go to this fate.

3) Humanity is CORRUPT. There is no way that a mobster is not going to force this fate on someone who has betrayed him, or is a threat to his business. There will definitely be dirty politicians who will have their political opposition zombified. Inconvenient witnesses. Cheating spouses, or lovers, that someone wishes to take revenge on.

There is no way that you would be able to maintain a system like that "blame free". To claim that all the living-dead (no sense of self is basically death, "you" are dead) are there of their own free will, and had no circumstances which pushed them into that corner.

Furthermore, you are describing a system driven by quotas. The need for this material is dire! What if 1000 zombies die on the job, and yet only 500 new volunteers come forward? Will a desperate government simply accept the shortage of material? Sounds pretty unlikely to me.


You're trying to describe a world on which human nature, and thus society, is completely alien to what we actually are.

Maybe consider altering your scenario a little bit:

1) Invent some damn good reason why robots couldn't do this work - the element decays whatever it is makes up a robot brain - establish what the implications on regular equipment are.

2) Convicts and violent offenders are sentenced to zombification. There is no universe in which humanity would not do this.

3) Some people are forced into it by rivals, or corrupt officials who need to meet quotas, etc.

Ex: You are arrested by a misdemeanor, but government records show that you have no living relatives/are a loner. Next thing you know, guards drag you out of the room, and strap you to a stainless steel table. Prepare to be zombified.

4) The government knows that the majority of people would never sacrifice themselves in this way. A massive propaganda campaign is used to paint these zombies as being far more "cheerful", and "happy" than they actually are. There exist misconceptions about how much of the "self" you sacrifice to actually become a zombie, and many people even think the process is reversible.

Furthermore, the government shamelessly exploits the poor, sick, and desperate.

a) People with mental disabilities would be zombified without even understanding what's happening to them (maybe family members receive a sum of money for "selling" their mentally disabled relatives, or asylums accept patients, but then turn around and zombify them, and tell the family they died)

b) People in huge debt are offered a deal: their family will be spared financial ruin in return for their sacrifice (maybe even harsher terms - the parents in exchange for sparing the children).

c) Maybe a random lottery selects citizens to be zombified if more "volunteers" are needed to meet the quota, which if they refuse - by running away, or committing suicide - sentences their entire extended family to that fate.

Basically, humanity is a lot more cruel, corrupt, and self serving than what you're trying to describe. An alien society doesn't have to be any of these things - you can say that they are all paragons of virtue, and would sacrifice themselves at the drop of a hat. However at that point why even ask the question anymore?

  • $\begingroup$ your first point about robots performing better contradicts the OPs assumption that the "zombies" still keep their creativity to an extent where they outperform computers. And while you will always find people fighting for freedom, you also find enough people simply droning along. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Nov 17, 2015 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Burki - I think it's a little ridiculous to say "you become a brainless zombie, BUT you remain creative". Creativity is a spark of the "self" and I don't think it can be maintained without that unique perspective which makes us "us". Furthermore, ppl "simply droning along" are doing so to the beat of their own drum. They play MMO's all day long, or veg in front of the TV, but it's by their own choice. People do change, and they can certainly be self-destructive. But to jump from apathy or hedonism to actual suicide (of self) is a pretty big leap. Becoming a zombie is not JUST "droning along". $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Nov 17, 2015 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ I would typically agree, but from what i know we are encouraged to accept the assumptions in the question, unless the asker explicitly asks for them to be challenged. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Nov 17, 2015 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki - Yes, I know, and I typically answer within the parameters, however I felt that these ones completely ignore human nature. You can't have a completely open, and honest human society which does not posses ANY of the bad traits that humanity has demonstrated time and time again during our long history. There are stories thousands of years old which still ring true today, because they are based on principles which still apply, and always will: the flaws of human nature. Greed. Jealousy. Fear. Discrimination. The blind desire for power. How can we ignore all that? $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Nov 17, 2015 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ In other words, let me put it like this: you can talk people into volunteering for zombification. Of course you can. They will flock when you call for more volunteers - if you brainwash them into believing it to be important to themselves, and to their loved ones. Make a religion around it, and have this become the ultimate sacrifice, etc. But you can't have a democratic, logical, society, in which people know all the facts, and yet volunteer for this terrible fate simply BECAUSE. It's too terrifying. And human nature is such that abuse of power and forceful zombification would be inevitable. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Nov 17, 2015 at 15:57

Since you excluded any kind of force, you need an incentive instead.

The people accepting this drug, and in turn the working conditions, are most likely there for a reward.
What kind of reward that is can vary wildly: It might be prestige, like a medal (the cheapest kind of reward ever invented), it could be money, it could be a pardon for a criminal.

If you stretched your story a bit, then your drug could have some side effects, like maybe letting people forget things they would rather not remember. Or the drug might cure a dangerous or very embarrassing disease which cannot be overcome otherwise.

If, as suggested, it helped you forget, then former soldiers and all kinds of victims of traumatic events would provide a large list of candidates.

You may want to use either an explanation or a large packet of handwavium to explain why your worker zombies don't go mad from sleep deprivation.

Also, i find it fairly hard to imagine a setup that actually required that the workers never rest. But that is a different question.


You're describing most of what Focusing does in Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky.

"Focusing ennobles. It is the key to Emergent success, and a much more subtle thing than you can imagine. It's not just that we've created a psychoactive microbe. This is one whose growth within the brain can be controlled with millimeter precision - and once in place, the ensemble can be guided in its actions with the same precision."

"Don't you see? We can improve the attention-focusing aspects of consciousness: we can take humans and turn them into analytical engines." She spelled it out in wretched detail. On the Emergent worlds, the Focusing process was spread over the last years of a specialist's schooling, intensifying the graduate-school experience to produce genius...

For many days, Reynolt and her technicians had tweaked the virus, triggering genetic expression that precisely released the chemicals of thought - all guided by Emergent medical computers that gathered feedback from conventional brain diagnostics.

Focusing turn the subject into an obsessed geek for what they're being focused on: they become single-minded about it, but still able to be creative and learn.

The book explores the advantages that a focused culture has as well as the amount of free will a focused person can have.


A well prepared propaganda will do no problem.

Do not underestimate the power of propaganda. It appears to be no limits in persuading people what are the right things to do and what are the wrong things to do. Some tricks used by propaganda are very strong, and if combined with the listener unawareness about these tricks, also enhanced by the total suppression of the opposing views, can easily reach any needed goal. Maybe even much more nasty than described in the question.

The common arguments would be your country needs you as zombie, being zombie means lots of respect, being zombie gives sense for your life, you are guilty for not being a zombie, you can earn for you higher education, house to live and pension for your parents while working as zombie (does not even need to be true), etc, etc. Even if some people are psychologically strong enough to stay immune for propaganda, it will be no lack in others who do not.


It's a question of culture.

I think really you just have to think about a culture where this kind of self-sacrifice is deemed to be a noble and desirable act. It's not much of a stretch and there are plenty of similar enough examples from human history. We're always signing up to "fight for our country" or "to get the enemy off of our land" or "for our children's future" or "for the glory of our noble leader" or "for honor". Really think of any time or place in human history where young men would sign up to join the military, knowing full well they might die, and I think you have a basis for this. I'm thinking especially of, say, WW2 Japan and the notion of kamikaze pilots but we don't have to look hard to find other examples where people volunteer for something that is definitely going to kill them, but do it anyway, with a cultural drive behind them.

You just need a cultural underpinning that gives people that kind of drive.

You could also throw in emergencies: "we have to do this to prevent That Thing That Will Happen", as this will push more people to sign up "for the children" or whatever, but a powerful, beloved leader or extreme nationalism could take care of the motivation, too. "We must do this for the glory of [insert leader or cultural grouping here]."

Religious motivation can work too. "We must do this for our people. Our reward will be in the everafter."


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