Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lawrence Roy Aiken's new novel BLEEDING KANSAS is--far and away--the best zombie novel I've read. Ever. You can bank on it.

So, to revive ZOMBIE HORRORS, we have the one-question interview with zombie fiction's newest master: Roy Aiken.

Zombie Horrors: You've mentioned on your blog that the main reason people enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction is that any apocalypse is better than the one we're living through now. Would you elaborate on that?”

If you define an “apocalypse” as a series of events effecting a permanent change for the worst, then, as the old Palmolive soap catchphrase went, “You’re soaking in it.” I have yet to meet anyone of any political persuasion who thinks things are getting better. 

The hero of my novel BLEEDING KANSAS has been unemployed for four years and is poised to break back into the professional class when the dead rise to devour the living. Being flown out at company expense for a second interview is a blinding stroke of luck for Derek Grace, and I’ll daresay the biggest willing suspension of disbelief required of my story. The professional classes have contracted to such an extreme degree that once you’re out, you generally don’t get back in. If you've got a college education, if you’re smart, articulate, and generally on the ball, that’s pretty damned apocalyptic. You've worked hard, you've played by the rules, you've passed the stupid piss test, the background check, the credit check. You bought all the right clothes, you followed all the right career advice. Still, you've got a better chance of getting eaten alive by zombies than you do finding work to support yourself, let alone your family.

Our real-life apocalypse is such that it won’t take zombies to bring civilization down, just enough people getting so sick they can’t come into work. Historically, we’re due for a pandemic along the lines of the Spanish Flu of 1917, yet it won’t take anything nearly that lethal to kick the supports out from under everything. Even the most essential services are understaffed and overworked. If one in three people call in sick for long enough, soon everything’s running on automatic and standing by to break down. Why should the rest stay on to try and fix what’s running? Their paychecks are probably the first things that fail to go through.

Short of a pandemic, though, I don’t foresee a catastrophic collapse. Apocalypses don’t necessarily mean a final ending, just the end of a way of life, of how survival was transacted before. Consider the Christian apocalypse of the Bible. It ends with a small elite living in heavenly luxury while the great majority suffer in darkness outside the gates, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s a great metaphor for what’s happening right now, except we've still got so many people in the darkness convinced they can still get into Heaven after the final judgment. They’d have better luck fighting a store full of undead flesh-eaters for a can of cat food. Zombie apocalypses are brutal, violent and cruel hellscapes. But so long as you’re reasonably clever and handy with a weapon you have a chance. Not so much here.

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