So far in this blog I’ve done a couple of posts about the Fallout series (one of my biggest current gaming obsessions) and feature a quartet of characters dressed up in kevlar-reinforced vault suits in my book. I’ve written about Nine Inch Nails (my favorite band for the past almost twenty years) and feature a couple of Reznor’s albums as background for certain scenes in my book. But one thing I haven’t written at all about here, the elephant in the room, the main subject of my series, is zombies.
Why did I decide to tell a zombie story? What is it about the reanimated corpses of strangers, neighbors, and loved ones that inspired me to choose that particular backdrop as the best way to introduce myself to the world as a storyteller? Was I binge-watching The Walking Dead one holiday weekend and suddenly have the terrific and totally original thought to contribute to the cultural conversation? Is there any angle to the subject of zombies that hasn’t already been covered at least once by the myriad of books, movies, games and comics that already exist? Am I mad?
I might be a little mad, but I defiantly assume that my insanity is what makes me an interesting and unique person, so I’m ok with it. As far as “What hasn’t been done yet regarding zombies?” well that is a great question. I don’t know what hasn’t been done yet because I haven’t explored every nook and cranny of zombiedom myself. I do know from the exposure I’ve had so far that certain blind-spots seem to keep recurring. For instance, nobody wears a gas mask in zombie films. The sense of smell just does not exist on screen. The rotting of thousands of bodies baking in the mid-day sun for days as they wander about for fresh victims has no negative consequences on whatever sexy characters are fighting for daily survival. Why? Because gas masks would get in the way of lines being delivered, looks of horror or determination being expressed, any acting being done. This carries over to games as well. The only games I can think of where gas masks are available and make sense are the Metro series and Fallout 4. All zombie themed games that I’ve played ignore the constantly growing, wretched, nauseating odor that would have to exist in such a world. If there are books out there which discuss that problem in depth and deal with it, please let me know in the comments, because I want to read them.
I deal with the smell issue in book 2 (available for early access!), but there are a number of other little things that I’ve dealt with already in The Outbreak, such as how needful it is to have suppressors for your firearms, how useful it is to have bicycles, and so on. Poking holes in the oversights of the genre has been a fun process in this series so far.
The main question of my series isn’t, “What would fill-in-the-blank do if the dead came back to life?”, because that question seems to be the one asked most often by everyone else, and seems less and less interesting as more and more zombie stories are told (however, Scouts vs. Zombies was a lot of fun for me, so I’m not saying that well is completely dry yet). The main question of my series is, “What if George Romero was right?” That question was big enough, and juicy enough to build on. There isn’t one of you who hasn’t seen the “ready for zombies” bumper stickers, or had friends that keep talking smack about how much ass they’re gonna kick once the zombies come. At least I’ve had a number of those friends, and I can’t help but imagine how shocking it would be if their wishes came true. That is the main reason my story doesn’t just follow the president, but also accompanies a group of gaming friends in their late 20s who share a love of zombie culture. I wanted to see how sobering the situation would be for them, and threw a few more curve-balls at them just to keep things interesting.
I was about ten chapters into the second book when I understood the theme of the series, and it made perfect sense. The heart of this story is in how fiction can be more real than we’re ready for, and yet set us up with unrealistic expectations as it manifests itself. The reason that movies and books and video games are so alluring to us is that they don’t follow the same rule structure of real life. They don’t engage every sense. There is no stink, or real danger, or genuine loss when we are plugged into the matrix of our entertainment of choice. It is a consequence-free means of spending our leisure time. But the morals, the backdrops, and the inspiration for a great many stories is inspired by the real world in a number of ways. There are outlandish stories that are heavily inspired by true events that a great many fans don’t see because it is wrapped up in a fictional package. The dividing line between fiction and real world isn’t so easy to draw, or to stick to, when it comes down to it.
I wrote about zombies, because zombies are a beloved means of popular culture to escape the horrors of real life into an escapist fantasy that would be truly disastrous if it ever actually came to pass, the way that so many seem to want it to.