Tag archive: Zombies

Friday Funny: Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse is a Good Idea. No, Really!

I have a confession to make. I don’t believe there’s going to be a zombie apocalypse. I do, however, believe in pandemics, floods, hurricanes, huge power blackouts and slow government responses.

A fellow writer once commented on my apocalyptic stories by saying, “It wouldn’t all fall apart so quickly. We have governments that would intervene.” After Katrina hit New Orleans, and the stories of a city in chaos from the flood hit the 24hr news cycle, he apologized. He was amazed that a huge country with an operating federal government couldn’t seem to come to grips with the disaster for weeks. It wasn’t just that stores were looted, it was that people weren’t being rescued, were totally left to fend for themselves.

I also remember the great blackout of 2003. The phones still worked, but I discovered I had no way to get news about the size and scope of the black out. I got lucky and managed to find eight batteries in my “dead” battery bin that had enough charge to power a radio. I had absolutely no other supplies. I was totally unprepared.

But not anymore. The Zombie Survival Crew tweet to me about having an escape route in case of attack, and I think it’s a good idea. Seriously, what if a bigger, longer blackout hit my city? How would I get my family out of the chaos? I’ve come up with a plan.

First, the highways will be blocked. Hey, they’re totally blocked during morning and afternoon rush hour now, why would the apocalypse be any different? So instead of trying to head north out of the city, I’d head south for the lake, which isn’t that far from my downtown Toronto home. No, I don’t own a boat, but if it is a true apocalypse and my family were in danger, I’d either negotiate with an owner, hitch a ride, or liberate a boat. I’ve already picked out a convenient marina. Then I’d head east, making for the coast of Lake Ontario near the Trenton Air Force Base. If there is any order left in the province, it will be there. Trenton also has a power dam and may actually have electricity. If not, there are two highways that head north from that area into very sparsely populated countryside, mostly through farmland at first, but after that rugged cottage country. Yes, remote empty cottages.

But is that enough? People send me stuff, and this one made me laugh. How to survive the zombie apocalypse from your pole barn. Yes, they’re trying to sell prefab barns, but at least they have a sense of humor about it. The best part is at the end, when they list one of their sources as “a coworker who has watched Shaun of the Dead too many times.” I also loved their comments on who you don’t want with you: “People in the entertainment industry (actors, singers, models, etc.), People in useless white collar trades like SEOs, marketing professionals, accountants, and salesmen.” I actually would take one salesman with me, but that’s because he’s family and he’s actually pretty savvy.

So prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse. Keep some water and canned food ready. Plan an escape route from your city. And if it actually turns out that I’m wrong and it is a zombie apocalypse, remember that your shed full of gardening tools like axes and shovels is your best source of anti-zombie devices.  Have a great weekend.

I am a Hardcore Zombie Apocalypse Survivor

I win! I survived! I get to be the one who carries a shotgun and slays zombies, preferably using a Winchester 1200 Defender with the barrel sawed short for close quarter action.

How do I know? I took a test.

Google would you survive a zombie apocalypse, and you’ll find dozen of quizzes, most them simply aimed at getting you to a website so that you might see other advertising.

This quiz wasn’t on the first page of the search results, but it caught my attention because of the video with it. I assume that author, Max Brooks, of World War Z fame, had something to do with this, but the only evidence I have is that it mentions his book, The Zombie Survival Guide, in the last question, and Brooks’ name is the answer. If he wasn’t involved in putting together the quiz, he’s the luckiest author of this year because it’s a great promotional tool.

Any author who wants to succeed already knows that the web is more than just words: it’s video, audio and audience participation–interactive was the buzz word back in the 90s that had everyone breathless. Even TV execs desperately tried to find a way to make news shows interactive, usually by having a provocative question that viewers could vote on by phone–not exactly the internet.

Most authors know they need creative ways to connect to their audiences, so they’re active on twitter and facebook, and they write blogs like this one.  But I think the blow out successful authors will find unique ways to connect, like this quiz.

Better yet, I bet that it’s not too hard to score survivor, which is what we all want–to survive the apocalypse, whatever form it takes.  On another quiz I even scored as a savior, a rather weighty title that commends me for choosing to bring the grandfolks along when we fled the city.

Suddenly I want to buy the book, because it’s about survivors and I’m a survivor.  I know because I took the test.

Rango – The Post-Apocalyptic Western

Johnny Depp has a knack for picking unusual and interesting films that don’t fit with the Pirates of the Caribbean box office smash, so when my kids wanted to watch Rango, I sat down with them, surprised that an animated Western even existed.

The Western, both as a film and novel genre, fell on hard times during the 1970s and 80s.  The movie-going and reading public had begun to realize the Indians weren’t nameless and faceless “savages,” but rather that they were actually human beings who had, and still have, a legitimate grievance.  The public lost interest in seeing John Wayne indiscriminately kill people who dared to oppose the US Cavalry or tried to stop the flood of settlers into the west.  The audience began to feel guilty.

Westerns didn’t die, of course, but they centered more on outlaws, sort of the Mad Max movies set in the 1860s.  Rango is definitely in the latter category.  Thugs dominate a town while controlling its most limited resource–water.  People are leaving, and everyone who stays behind owns a gun and knows how to use it.  During a gun battle, creatures on both sides kill indiscriminately–yup, just like John Wayne in a 1940s Western.

That’s when it hit me.  We’ve come full circle back to the Western.  Now the stick-figure enemies are zombies/vampires, but this time our heroes can kill without remorse.  The zombies are already dead and there are no land claims.  The humans who need killing are vicious Mad Max-type bikers with no morals. They would be locked up if only there were any jails.

But it goes beyond just guiltless killing.  It’s also the freedom that comes with being in a post-apocalyptic world, one where your credit card and mortgage are unimportant, but your next meal is always on your mind.  I read a great blog by author Steven Montano on the appeal of the post-apocalyptic world.  People actually enjoy the fantasy of waking up one morning to find out that they don’t have to go into work, that the boss is a zombie and their car payments can be skipped.  Indeed, if you can drive, you can grab any car you want, preferably a big SUV.  You don’t even have to worry about sustainable development anymore.  Better yet, in every post-apocalyptic scenario, you are the one who survives and gets to wield the shotgun.

There was a time when I wondered if this genre would peak at the end of 2012 and dip after the Mayan Calendar reset and the world didn’t end.  But now I believe that as long as the population density in major cities is on the rise, as long as consumer debt is high, as long as unemployment rates force people to stay in low-paying dead end jobs, there will be demand for post-apocalyptic fiction.  That’s what Rango is: post-apocalyptic fiction set in the lawless West.

Apocalyptic Fiction Authors Beware

The Great Blackout of 2003 came without warning.  I was clacking away at my keyboard just wearing shorts because the mercury was high, and when a bead of sweat ran down my temple I  decided it was air conditioner time. But before I could even stand to head for the thermostat, my screen went blank and everything went silent.  That quiet was the eeriest part–no freezer or fridge hummed, the ballasts on the florescent lights no longer buzzed in the background.  My house and my computer had abruptly died.

My first thought was to call my wife–who was off with the kids visiting my mom far out in the suburbs–to tell her not to rush home for dinner.  My cell phone couldn’t find a signal–weird since I live downtown.   That was my first clue that this was more than a local blackout.  The landline worked, but after a quick chat with my wife I discovered the blackout was at least city-wide.  Now I was starved for information, so I dug eight C cells out that miraculously had enough charge left to operate a radio and got the next big surprise: static.  There wasn’t a single FM channel in operation, but I finally found an AM sports channel that had a working back-up generator, and the radio guy had all the excitement of a sportscaster as he described a multi-state, international blackout.  The whole north-east and a chunk of central Canada were suddenly living like it was 1799, except with cars–no traffic lights, just cars.  That was the day I learned that an electrical grid is a fragile construction.

Which is why it gets on my nerves when an author of an apocalyptic novel doesn’t understand that.  I’ve been reading a lot of them lately, since I write apocalyptic fiction myself, and I’ve been shocked by the ignorance.  In Hollowland most of humanity has been overtaken by a zombie plague, but some surviving humans  pump gas at a station in the middle of the desert.  Uh?  Just what’s powering the pump at this gas station?  Not electricity that’s for sure.

In another novel, Selection Event, 98% of the planet’s population dies from a flu virus while our lead character, Martin, is underground for a year-long psychology experiment.  When Martin comes back to the surface he heads to his parents’ house to see if they survived, and when he gets there he rings the doorbell and it works.  What?  Everyone died two months ago but the electrical grid is still up?

I tried to suspend my disbelief because areas around Niagara Falls continued to have power during the 2003 blackout thanks to smart power workers who isolated their section of the grid.  The Niagara Falls hydro-electric generation plants provide very reliable power.

But in Selection Event Martin discovers from old newspapers that environmentalists had lived long enough to blow up all the dams in the west in order to let “the rivers run free.”

Now if environmentalists lived long enough for tooling around with dynamite, surely nuclear power plant technicians had a little warning too.  Despite the Simpsons’ negative portrayal of nuke plant workers, those people actually take their jobs very seriously.  If they knew they were all dying of a flu, at the very least they’d put the plants into a safe shutdown mode.  Ditto for power plants fired by coal, gas or oil, cause you sure as hell wouldn’t want the explosions that go with unmonitored fossil fuel plants.  High pressure steam pipes just can’t be left unattended, and if they are things will go wrong very quickly.  These plants aren’t like the Starship Enterprise, which seems to need a massive crew but can be operated just by Captain Kirk in a pinch.

Don’t get me started on solar and wind, because these incredibly variable sources of power are destabilizing for a grid, creating unexpected power surges and deficits as clouds and wind vary.  They can’t provide a base load, and if other power sources are gone one surge will trip breakers everywhere on the grid, and there’s no one to reset them.

Now if just knocking one power plant offline could bring down the entire eastern seaboard, image what knocking out dozens of dams, nuke plants, coal and gas plants would do?  Hydro is probably the one source of power that could conceivably (although not likely) carry on for a few days without human monitoring, but that would have to be a section of the grid that is not interconnected with the national grid, and in this case the environmentalists had done away with that option.

So if you’re writing an apocalyptic novel, keep in mind that the first thing to go will be the electrical grid, and it will be gone in a matter of hours without human monitoring.  Once the power is gone the refineries shut down, so then you gradually lose the gasoline, and well, then it’s back to 1799, only with better guns.

Amanda Hocking is Not a Fluke

Amanda Hocking is an outlier and a fluke, writing only for flighty teenage girls.  I heard this many times and one day decided to find out for myself, so last week I downloaded a free copy of Hollowland through Amazon.  Right away I was impressed with Hocking’s business sense because she clearly knows that hooking an audience is more important than earning a few 35 cent royalties.

But I approached her novel with suspicion and preconceived bias.  The title seemed suspiciously close to The Hollow Men by T.S. Elliot, and a quick check on Wikipedia proved that Elliot chose the title of his poem by combining the title of William Morris’ romance, The Hollowland, with Kipling’s poem The Broken Men.

So did Hocking know what she was doing when she chose that title?  Then I read the opening line:

This is the way the world ends – not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door.

BANG!  What a great opening line.  She shows me right away that she knew exactly what she was doing when she chose that title, and she has a great sense of humor to boot.  From this point on only people in love with that sense of humor will keep reading, and they’ll love the novel too.

Now I’m not saying that Hocking has replaced Elliot, or  that Margaret Atwood should be fearful of the competition, but I read the novel and liked it.  I admit I’m big into post-apocalyptic fiction so I’m an easy sell that way, although there are a number of indie ePubbed books in that genre that I’ve started and given up on.  They were also cheap, but they just weren’t that good.  That’s why they’ll never sell thousands of copies.

That’s my point.  Hocking’s writing is actually good.  It pulls me along and has me wondering what’s going to happen next when I should be concentrating on my own work.  So in my estimation, she’s not an outlier or a fluke, she’s just a good writer.

The unfortunate piece of news is that the publishing industry rejected her many times, failing to see that she could make them money, failing to recognize that she was good.  I don’t blame them because the slush piles are huge and it’s difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.  The happy news is that indie ePublishing allowed Hocking to prove herself.

If I were a publisher, I’d trim my acquisitions department and follow the Amazon bestseller list to find new talent.  This is great for them. Why sign a contract with an author if they haven’t proved themselves in the real world?

I can’t wait for the next “outlier” or “fluke” to sell a million indie ePubbed copies on Kindle.  I’ll buy their book.

Forget the Romance. This is War.

John Locke writes in his book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in Five Months, that the fastest way to get a bad review is to have a reader review your work who is not from your target audience.

I’ve received two lukewarm reviews from a couple of kind reviewers since yesterday, one calling my novel, Vampire Road, a “slow but interesting read,” a review that can damn a novel to oblivion.  The other complemented my writing but titled her review: “A good book but just not for me.”

That’s when I first realized that I’d asked the wrong audience to review my novel.  I’d asked fans of the vampire genre to review it, and now-a-days that means fans of romance.  The big clue came from reviewer asanders, who openly wished there was more romance in the novel.  Reviewer Karen West felt there was too much fighting.  Of course there was too much fighting if you’re looking for a romance.  I apologize to both reviewers for asking them to read a novel that, despite the title, is outside the vampire genre.

Vampire Road is about war, not romance, which is why it will appeal more to the zombie fans than the vampire fans.  These aren’t sparkly vampires who are desperately in love with teenage girls.  These are murderous vampires out for blood, but unlike zombies they are still just as cognizant as they were when they were alive.  They can plan offensives, set traps and conduct war on a large scale.  They can think ahead and react to situations.  They can be afraid.

My chief concern with this novel is that people will describe it as relentless and complain that it has too much action.  Fitz, the lead character, is fighting someone or something in almost every chapter of the novel.  It takes place in an isolated fortress under siege, so all anyone there is concerned about is surviving to the next day.  Romance is just too far from their minds.

If you lived in condo tower and woke up one night to the smell of smoke, would you spend anytime making moves on the woman in 4B or would you just help her get the hell out?  If you’re a half-way decent human being, you’re only concern will be to get out with as many of your neighbors as possible, including the grumpy old lady down the hall with the yappy dog.

Fitz’s and his friends are in jeopardy for the whole novel, and while his young hormones are in full flow, he simply hasn’t the time for the delicate dance that is the human mating ritual.

Reviewer asanders also complains that when romance finally does occur, it’s almost an after thought, and she’s right.  My characters have been up and fighting for their lives for over thirty hours.  When the chance for sleep comes they seize it, and even if they’re sharing the same bed there isn’t going to be much going on besides snoring.

I thank my reviewers for giving their time and energy to Vampire Road.  I think their reviews are fair and genuine.  Better yet, they have help me define my true audience.

Zombies and the New York Times

What do zombies and the New York Times Book Review have in common?  Until recently, I’d have said absolutely nothing.  Why would one of the most prestigious book reviews in the English speaking world start talking about zombies?

But last week my wife fired up her Kindle, went to her subscription to the NYT Book Review and was astounded to see an article titled, “Zombie Resurrection,” by Terrence Rafferty.  Apparently zombies have gotten so big that even the New York Times can’t ignore them, and vampires are just so last year.

But while Rafferty makes a few good points, his leap that the rise in the popularity of zombies is a reflection of society’s anxiety with the “planet’s dwindling resources” is off the mark.  In fact, his statement is one of the reasons zombies are popular.

I’m too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I do remember the late seventies and early eighties, when everyone from my teachers to politicians to media pundits stated with great certainty that we were on the brink of nuclear obliteration.  I remember our school showing a particularly gruesome BBC drama called Threads, which followed a couple of families through a nuclear holocaust and the collapse of society afterward.  It ended with rape and the birth of a deformed child.  Now that was horror.  I was shaken to my core and wondered why my parents weren’t moving us out of the city.

How does a kid deal with this extremely gloomy prediction of the future?  Why I delved into post-apocalyptic fiction, of course, which was very popular back then, and it was oddly reassuring: I’d be the one emerging from the bomb shelter, fighting the mutants and surviving.  Post-apocalyptic fiction was actually less pessimistic than the TV news because it showed that there would be an “after,” and indeed invented the concept that something as final as the apocalypse was in fact not the end of humans, but a fall of civilization more like the end of the Roman Empire.  New governments would form, but it would be chaos and dark ages for a while.

Anyone watching TV news these days must be feeling about as frightened and depressed as I was as a kid in the late seventies.  The Center for Disease Control in the last few years has issued terrifying pandemic warnings about SARs, the Bird Flu and Swine Flu, apocalypses that were about to take place and didn’t, however they might just reappear next fall.

The world is burning up and sea levels are drastically rising according to environmentalists; the economy has crashed and burned forever according to just about everyone.  Society is on the cusp of great disaster, no matter where you look.  Gold keeps hitting record highs while the stock market reels.

So how does an avid fiction reader react to all this doom and gloom? Why they read about the zombie apocalypse, of course.  Suddenly so many problems are solved.  The debt crisis goes away and so does your credit card balance.  Global warming is not a problem anymore since you can’t even find gas for your car.  The pandemic prophesies of the CDC turn out to be correct, but it’s one manageable disease: just don’t get bit by a zombie and you’re good.

Better yet, you get to do something about all the trouble.  You can shoot as many zombies as you want without guilt and without fear of incarceration.  Life becomes an exciting, first-person shooter game.

Rafferty of the NYT is right about the zombie craze being a reflection of our fears, but he’s missing that point that he and his fellow media pundits are responsible for that fear with their endlessly pessimistic predictions of the future.

Since the end of the world is coming anyway, people want to read about what happens after the presses of the NYT stop running.  It’s actually a very interesting world.

And you get to shoot zombies.

Zombies are from Mars, Vampires are from Venus

It was standing room only, the audience excited and eager to to ask questions.  I actually just described two events at the Polaris convention.

The first was the Charlaine Harris lecture.  She’s done fantastically well with her vampire novels, which were adapted into a series called True Blood.  The second was the panel I moderated: The Nature of the Modern Zombie.

But here’s the big difference: Charlaine’s vampire-oriented panel had far more women in the audience than men.  Our zombie panel crowd was more men than women, and some of them were very young men.  In fact, I’d say the median age of the attendees was probably close to twenty-years old if you cut out about three or four convention veterans from the data set.

This reflects a fundamental trend in the two genres.  Since Dracula, there’s been a lot of romance in vampire novels, and Meyer’s Twilight put the pedal to the metal on the vampire-human romance.  There are a lot of knock-offs that went with this theme.  It’s about undying (literally) love.

But zombies are about war.  Whether it’s a first person shooter game, or the Walking Dead, zombies are getting mowed down with machine guns, beaten with clubs and shot with arrows.  There is absolutely nothing romantic about the fight.

The good zombie movies and shows do spend a lot of time studying human social interaction under extreme pressure, but their subjects are making battlefield decisions.  Should they kill the loved one who got bit?  Should they make a run down that street or through that warehouse?  Who should they select as the alpha male to lead them to safety?

The message I take here is that Vampire Road is really more for the zombie crowd than the vampire crowd.  While there are romances between humans, there are no vampire-human romances.  Vampire Road is a novel of war, of humans under extreme pressure.  It is the story of a desperate fight to save family and home, to somehow survive an overwhelming siege.

So Vampire Road won’t be for the Twilight crowd or even the Amanda Hocking crowd.  I’d love to write for them because they’re a lucrative market, but it just isn’t me, and I suspect that those avid readers would sense my insincerity and the novel would sell poorly.

I’d rather write something I truly enjoy reading myself and sell to a smaller, enthusiastic audience.

Why I’m Moderating a Zombie Panel

I like being on panels, so when I got an e-mail from the SF convention Polaris looking for volunteer panelists, I took a look through the line up to see if anything fit my areas of expertise.  Unfortunately my obvious choice, the vampire panel, was full.  With New York Times bestselling author Charlene Harris on the panel, I’ll certainly be happy to attend as a member of the audience.

Then I noticed a fascinating panel, the Nature of the Modern Zombie, and put my name up for it.  I liked Night of the Living Dead, and I was a big fan of Resident Evil Apocalypse, partly because they shot it in my home town and they blew up city hall–well, CGI blew it up anyway.

But I’m also interested to hear what some of the other panelists have to say about how our world has changed since Ramero’s classic debuted back in 68.  Back then the army and toxic chemicals were the underlying villains.  Certainly the mad cap 1984 sequel, Return of the Living Dead, pinned the blame squarely on the army.

But now the preferred underlying cause of zombification seems to be disease, just like the rippers in Vampire Road.  This infectious source of evil has become so prevalent in fiction that I have to wonder just how deeply AIDS, SARS, Bird Flu and other fears of global pandemic have seeped into all aspects of our society.

Perhaps its because people can brush aside the predictions of asteroids, the end of the Mayan calendar and other apocalyptic forecasts as just too unreal to worry about, but disease is truly real, close and plausible.  We know we can sick.  We know we can die of cancer.  We see it happening to people all around us.

Maybe that’s why zombies and vampires have made a big comeback, mostly as depictions of our neighbors run amok with a debilitating disease.  See Zombieland for the mad cow, bad meat version.

I also wonder if all the prognostications of doom that come from pastors, scientists, politicians and activists might have people feeling like just getting on with the apocalypse so that we can all stop worrying.

Of course in all these zombie/vampire/massive population die-off stories, we’re the survivors.  At least, that’s my preference.