Guest Blogger: Jonathan Maberry
DUST & DECAY (Simon & Schuster) is the second in my series of post-apocalyptic thrillers set fifteen years after a zombie plague has wiped out most of mankind.
Okay…if you’re still reading this then you haven’t been scared off by words like ‘post-apocalyptic’ and ‘zombie’. Good for you. They aren’t bad words. Reading stories about them will not lower your I.Q., damage your social standing or turn you into a fiction gourmand rather than the gourmet you’ve become.
That’s not actually as snarky as it sounds. All things zombie –books, movies, TV, comics—have gotten a seriously bad rap over the last few decades. The common perception among mainstream readers (and, yes, we have polled this stuff) is that this kind of entertainment is always over the top gory with little or no redeeming social or literary value. That perception is even sometimes true.
But it’s not true across the board, especially when applied to zombie fiction.
Sure, there are plenty of zombie books where intestine chomping is a major theme. However the very best zombie books are not about zombies. Not really. They’re about people.
Ever since George A. Romero presented the landmark indie film, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the zombie has been used as a metaphor. For Romero, that metaphor changed with each film. In NIGHT, it was a statement about racism and the faceless moral majority who dictated American policies prior to the Civil Rights movement. In DAWN OF THE DEAD, the whole movie was a metaphor about the rampant consumerism that was devouring America during the 1980s. DAY OF THE DEAD took a swing at the mega-expansion of the military-industrial complex during the Reagan years. And so on.
When serious authors began writing serious books about zombies, the use of metaphor deepened and became more subtle, even layered. Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks) had an incredibly popular mainstream hit with WORLD WAR Z, which was a thinly disguised indictment of international politics. That book was a bestseller for years, selling over 600,000 copies. It was inspired by The Good War, an oral history of World War II by Studs Terkel. And, oh yeah, there were zombies in it.
S.G. Browne’s wickedly insightful BREATHERS: A ZOMBIE’S LAMENT, is a novel of self-discovery with a subtext dealing with the exploration of human rights. With zombies.
And so on.
I’ve take a few swings at zombies over the last few years. My first novel, PATIENT ZERO (St. Martin’s Griffin), is a mainstream thriller that explores the connections between multi-national corporations, the pharmaceutical industry and terrorist groups. Think NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD meets 24, with a dose of Michael Crichton’s weird science.
I have another adult thriller due out in October in which ‘zombies’ are used to explore the mishandling of radical science during and following the Cold War. There is also an exploration of the trauma of abandonment. The zombies are there to help tell the story.
More recently I’ve been writing the Rot & Ruin series for Simon & Schuster, of which my latest novel, DUST & DECAY, is the second of four planned books. In this world, the zombie apocalypse has already happened. The survivors call it ‘First Night’. As far as teenager Benny Imura knows, there are only about 30,000 people left in the world, and they live in fenced-off communities in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. For Benny, the world is focused on death. The adults in his town are all suffering one form or another of post-traumatic stress disorder; they’ve lost their optimism and in many cases their will to live. Only predators and scavengers like bounty hunters seem to have any real life in them.
Benny’s brother, Tom, is a kind of bounty hunter called a ‘closure specialist’. He’s hired by families to locate loved ones who have become zoms, and then give them a quick and ‘final’ death –usually after reading a last letter from the family. Tom is humane, but he is a killer. Benny, on the other hand, believes that Tom is a coward because in Benny’s earliest memory, Tom grabbed him and ran away from home just as zombies took their parents. He believes that Tom abandoned their mother to a horrible death.
As the story unfolds, Benny is forced by town ordinance to apprentice to Tom, and when his brother takes him out into the great Rot and Ruin –the vast zombie wasteland that was once America—Benny quickly and painfully learns that virtually every assumption he had about the world is wrong.
ROT & RUIN is a coming of age story in which the zombie apocalypse is used as a means of exploring the value of human life, and the nature of what it means to be human.
I’ve gotten so many letters and read so many reviews where people say that they read the book reluctantly because they don’t like zombies, don’t want to read about zombies, and basically just don’t ‘do zombies’.
Then they read it and they cry. As I cried when I wrote it.
DUST & DECAYpicks up seven months after the painful end of ROT & RUIN. Benny, his girlfriend Nix, their friend Chong and an orphan known as the Lost Girl, accompany Tom out into the Ruin to search for evidence of surviving humanity. As soon as they step outside the gate things go from bad to worse.
So…what’s the new book really about? Yeah, it has plenty of zombies in it. But the book is about the search for identity, about closure, and about taking a stand against evil. The evil in these books, by the way, are not the zoms. Zombies have no personalities, therefore they can’t be evil. Humans on the other hand…yeah, they do evil pretty well.
DUST & DECAY was a lot of fun to write. It was also heartbreaking to write. Partly because I had to dig deep to uncover the real and genuine emotions that drive the book; and partly because not all of the characters make it out alive. There is a saying when editing fiction: “Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings.” Yeah. Hurts like a bitch, though.
For new readers and returning readers, there are some extras that go along with the series. There are thirteen pages of free prequel scenes for ROT & RUIN available on the Simon & Schuster webpage for the book.
And there are twenty-five pages of free scenes set between ROT & RUIN and DUST & DECAY. Here’s a link to the main page; access the scenes by clicking on the banner that reads: READ BONUS MATERIAL BY JONATHAN MABERRY.
Benny Imura and his friends will return in FLESH & BONE (2012) and FIRE & ASH (2013)
I hope you take the journey with Benny and Tom, Nix and Lilah and Chong. They’ll be your guides into a world where zombies are both less and more frightening that you thought.
Go on…take a bite.
I’m scared just looking at the cover. Bet there’s a lot of truth in this book.
Excellent posting on the value of “unusual” characters who are, in fact, just people, like all of us. We all have our flaws which sometimes exceed our good traits.
This blog was a real treat and gave me some food for thought as I write my tales. I wish I could have made the book party. I plan on getting the book.
Nice argument on why reading zombie books won’t turn your brain to mush, Jonathan.
Great thoughts as always. Rot & Ruin was excellent. Can’t wait to dig into Dust & Decay.