The following post is taken from Austen’s February newsletter. He has written some great SF/F material, including The Book of a Few and the upcoming short story All Together, Live Forever.
All Together, Live Forever will be released for free in the March or April issue of his newsletter. Sign Up Here
From Austen Rodgers – On The Book of a Few, D20 Role Playing, and Dead Space
This month, I’d like to share a bit of the inspiration behind the zombies in The Book of A Few, and what really made me go the route that I did.
First off, mild spoiler alert, as I’ll be going into a bit of detail what makes them unique. The mystery that surrounds them takes up a decent chunk of the book’s intrigue, as none of the characters know how the disease spreads.
You’ve been warned!
Don’t get me wrong when I say this, but zombies got boring. And I loved zombies. My favorite book at the time was The Rising by Brian Keene. My favorite video games at the time had me fighting hordes of the walking dead. But, they were getting old. I was tired of seeing the same kinds of zombies over and over, and I wanted something new.
Bits and pieces of the world in the novel originated in the creation of a D20 Modern roleplaying game I played with some friends at the time, and I wanted a zombie that evolved and changed over time. But I wanted it to have substance beyond just “oh it grows bigger”. Then I came across a wonderful horror game called Dead Space. Boy, not only did that game terrify me, but it gave me something to get started with.
Over many different versions and constant changes, I came up with this lifecycle:
Dead Space introduced a species of aliens that resurrected the dead in the following pattern: The first wave of aliens would come in and just annihilate all life they could find, while the second wave that followed would then begin resurrecting the dead corpses into more necromorphs. Something about that cycle inspired me, and here’s where it gets even more interesting.
With each life cycle, the virus makes its own changes and evolves as it goes along. Each time a living host is infected, it begins to incubate and make changes to itself. In the right conditions, multiple infected individuals in the third stage can even merge together and take on more radical changes. We can see the beginning of these changes in The Book of a Few when the virus begins restructuring its victim’s bones and calcium deposits, giving one particularly notable subspecies increased height, strength, and elongated bone clubs for arms.
The biggest goal of this plague was to create a system where it was entirely humanity’s fault. Everyday people were just as guilty as the science, or nature, (you may never know!) that created it.
I gave humanity the power to stop the virus from getting worse simply by not killing each other. A person can survive in stage one with no cause for concern. The only thing that mattered was making sure to burn the dead, so that the virus could not then infect another person and create another wave of infection. The beauty of it is, it’s also a virus that’s designed to be a problem for centuries to follow. A constant test of mankind’s ability to work together and trust one another. The Book of a Few was really more about the characters than it ever was about the infection and just mindless zed slaying, and with a virus that could potentially resurface time and time again just adds more stress and more possibility.
But, humanity has this problem of making mistakes and killing each other in times of great peril and hysteria. Shucks.
Follow Austen on Twitter at @austenrodgers