Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by Weston Ochse.
Weston Ochse is the award-winning author of more than twenty novels, including the groundbreaking Task Force OMBRA series for Solaris. A military veteran with over thirty years of service who began writing professionally in 1997, Wes has seen his work published in magazines, comics and anthologies. He lives in the Arizona desert, a stone's throw away from Mexico.
Click here to visit the author's official website.
Grunt Traitor is out now (US)/13 August (UK)
GUEST POST: Fun with Zombies in Science Fiction by Weston Ochse
I want to say right up front, I didn’t mean to create these zombies. I blame the aliens. I blame their damn terraforming. I blame...
Let’s back up and talk about zombies for a moment.
For the record, George Romero didn’t create zombies. Mary Shelly did. I knew this since I first held in my hands the classic illustrated comic book Frankenstein. I often have to remind myself that although Frankenstein is himself a monster, he’s not the monster we think of. He’s the scientist who created the Modern Prometheus, the first fictional zombie. No one knows how Romero’s zombies are made. Throughout his six films characters have speculated whether its demons, infection or possibly radiation. Brian Keene’s zombies came from demonic possession. I still think that’s a cool construct, so then why when I was given the opportunity to write a mass market zombie book I used science instead of horror as the genesis (Empire of Salt – Abaddon Books)? And me, the guy who started out as a horror author and winner of one of horror’s greatest honors, the Bram Stoker Award.
Max Brooks uses the more common construct—a plague. Robert Kirkman used it in The Walking Dead. Jonathan Maberry used it in Patient Zero. David Moody used it in Autumn. All very solid books about virus-infected zombies.
But to my knowledge, I’d yet to read a novel about aliens turning humans into zombies as part of their terraforming process. We’re talking real sci fi. I mean I did see Lifeforce with the beautifully naked alien vampires infecting the planet, but no zombies. (Small Print- there’s no doubt been dozens of these movies on the scifi channel, but I swear I’ve never seen them and am pretending they don’t exist. Plus, those are movies not novels, so...) So bingo! This is one of the major subplots of Grunt Traitor, sequel to the critically acclaimed alien invasion PTSD novel from Solaris Books, Grunt Life.
It all started when I read an article online in early 2013 about zombie ants. Have you heard of them? Since then, National Geographic even had a picture of one in a recent issue. The actual name for the fungus that infects the ants is Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis. It’s an entomopathogen, or insect-pathogenising fungus and totally freaking scary. Once infected, the ant leaves its normal environment, goes to the forest floor where it’s warm and humid and better for the fungus to grow, attaches itself to a leaf, then stays there for 4 – 10 days sprouting fruiting bodies the whole time until it dies and spreads its spores to infect more ants.
Now, what if the aliens were able to take this fungus, change its cocktail of behavior-controlling chemicals to target humans, then weaponize it? How cool and devastating would that be, especially if you are a soldier who is trying to save humanity, all the while alien-zombified humans are trying to stop you?
Very cool, I say, realizing how maniacal it sounds and how terrible it makes me seem. But I said this in another article and I’ll say it again here –There’s an old saying that the character of a man (or woman) is not measured by how they react when things are going good, but how they react when things are going bad. So I wanted to see how the soldiers would react, knowing that every human lost is a tragedy because so many have been lost already.
I also wanted to see how an infected would react. I’ve always wondered are they slavering creatures on the inside as well, or are they normal, unable to control their bodies, and aghast at what their bodies are doing. A huge part of this series is about how PTSD affects the different characters. What kind of PTSD would a person have if they watched themselves destroy other humans like an animal, locked inside the body, a brain with no body, witness to their own crimes?
Just as Maberry, Brooks, Keene, Moody, and Romero have had fun with zombies, I’m having fun as well.
Not in the killing or the savagery, no, never that.
But in the sociological ramifications of a depleted population where every living human counts so much more than he or she did before.
In the study of an infected person and how much of their humanity they can lose just by being witness to their own crimes.
And in the idea that there were aliens who weaponized this just so they could get a planet for their use more suitable faster.