Wednesday, June 15, 2016

God of Zombies

John Scalzi has a regular thing on his blog called "The Big Idea." This is where a guest author will attempt to explain what led them to write the book that is just hitting the presses. I think about this in terms of how confused and incomplete a lot of these ideas seem to be. In some cases, a grab-bag of various things that have been on the writer's mind, things that managed to finally fall together into a single story. In other cases, a single character or moment or image they then worked on to backfill.

Well, I have one of the latter.

The story starts as our protagonist has just crossed the border into upstate New York. Dorothy is a rootless, homeless wanderer, not sure what she is seeking (or what she is running away from). She was a humanities major -- a student of the Classics -- before she dropped out. But things are happening in the world and it's suddenly become a lot harder to drift and to get lost in the crowd. The gods have returned.

Well, sort of. There are beings that inspire certain very specific ideas and behaviors. London was visited by some sort of god of fire, and London was burned by its own populace. Other cities have been visited by their own afflictions. In upstate New York, the trouble is zombies. These aren't particularly violent zombies, at least. They are highly contagious, don't seem particularly intelligent, and are non-verbal...with one big exception.

They've been saying "Dorothy." And this young woman who just arrived in town seems to have discovered that she is -- unknown to herself -- their "god."

She's not the only stranger in town, though. There's another. He is a small, clever, reasonably good-looking young man who is the only survivor of a different incident. This was a riot, a Dionysian revel that ripped through a community destroying all outsiders. He answers to the name "Pan."

What are these gods? Why is Dorothy unaware of her own role? Why was Pan chased out by his own followers, and what secret agenda might he have?

Putting on the writer's hat, it seems obvious that these two are going to form an uneasy partnership, and the "zombies" are going to be a tool Dorothy uses as she tries to get to the bottom of this whole "god" thing. And save the Earth, of course. There are of course a lot more questions to answer.

At least from the Scalzi-blog, inchoate fragments like this can sometimes grow into a whole novel. Can't say I'm fond of zombies, though. Isn't the thing passed already? Although I do own up to starting (and not finishing) a story titled "Zombies of the Heliopause."

That latter was a sort of collection of monster tropes in technological garb; the zombie in question was what people had taken to naming the animated flesh used as telepresence avatars. Okay, take it back a fraction. Near-instantaneous communication but no major breakthroughs in space flight. So cheap to send data to a mining installation on Titan or a research station at the very outer edge of the Solar System, but expensive to send people. So fabricate bodies and upload the brain of a researcher. The bodies only last a few weeks, though, and it gets a bit grotesque towards the end.

Except a terrorist bomb killed the protagonist. So now he "lives" only as long as they can keep uploading him into successive (rotting) bodies. This is the state of affairs when he meets a vampire. Said "vampire" is another problem. Lots of people had turned to cryogenics as potential immortality. Well, ice crystal formation proved an intractable problem. The only discovered method to revive the corpsicles is to replace their blood with a low-temperature fluid with a huge oxygen-carrying capacity (similar to the stuff they've been experimenting with for deep diving), and also replace a lot of their nervous system with silver wire. And some other...wave hands rapidly here.

The vampires can't handle temperature or ultraviolet or, basically, life on Earth anymore. But since they can stay awake for weeks at a time -- their metabolism slowed to a crawl -- they make excellent pilots for those few human-operated spacecraft (they also have faster-than human reaction speed, are extremely long lived, etc., etc. But all as a super hand-wavy "this is because of the technological solution to their original problem. Aka being frozen.)

Said station is way out where the gravity well of the Sun is essentially masked by the local universe, and thus can work on tapping the vacuum energy. Which goes wrong. And what rescues them is the intervention of a ghost.... (a ghost in the machine, what else? One of a set of failed experiments in uploading a human psyche to a computer. Which turns out not to be a failure after all and thus is also the clue for the way out of our protagonist's original problem...)

Be that as it may. My "Roadie for the Elves with Guitars" novel idea remains stalled out, I haven't been able to grit my teeth and edit "Shirato" to the point where I can drop it on Amazon or whoever has the best ebook deal going this week, and thus the only writing I've been doing of late is fan fiction.

Well, retirement will come eventually. Maybe then I'll have time to write.

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