Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Zombie Stories

I just finished reading John Christopher's The Death Of Grass, plus I've started watching Z Nation that's come to us on Pick.
The Death of Grass is set in the 50s, where a virus has originated in the Far East that destroys grass. That'd be the green stuff but also rice, wheat, rye, barley and the other grassoids. You know, the stuff that makes beer, whiskey and ... bread. It's a true End of the World book, although not quite annihilation for everyone because we can survive on a diet of potatoes.

The book starts with the rumours coming out of the Far East and there is the steady inexorable progress of the virus towards where the book is set, good old Blighty. The central character is John Custance, who is a civil engineer working in London and he hears the increasing hysteria from a civil servant mate who is party to the true story happening behind the scenes, that all attempts to fight the virus are only making it worse. So they escape, heading across country towards John Custance's brother's farm in the Lake District.

The book is a description of the steady erosion of civility in his party and is all the more terrifying for the sense of "People could really do this" as the need for survival drives them to do terrible things. It's another old book but the truth is in there. It's another that's aged very well. Move it to our modern world and the message we hear is also tightly controlled and civilisation could collapse just as quickly. Possibly quicker as our armed services get continually drawn down. We also depend on our communications much more, although there should be fewer guns available now than in a Britain 10 years after World War 2.

Yep. Enjoyed this one, thanks to Kim for the recommendation. (There's a bit more for you Kim after the Z Nation bit !) The pointer to Death Of Grass comes in her Everyone's Gone To The Rapture playthrough which is a beautiful game? (not sure if it counts as a game!) with Proper English characters struggling through their own end of the world, with enchanting narration from our Kim. I'm curious as to how it will end but it's one I may re-watch down the line later, as I'm rewatching her Last Of Us playthrough as well.

I watched the first 3 episodes of Z Nation as well yesterday. That was nearly just part of 1 episode ... Low production values and lots of very dodgy zombies. Yep. Even dodgier zombies than on the awful BBC programme a few months ago. But I've stuck with it for now in the hope that the ongoing story running through it turns out good.

A book I may read again soon is Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven. This is a classic disaster movie book. It opens with the discovery of a comet which is due to make a close fly by of Earth. As the first Act unfolds and the comet drawns nearer, the chances of an impact steadily increase ... Our central character is a science reporter covering the comet story and he is steadily getting more and more worried.

And then, disaster worsens as the comet fractures, calves into many fragments that will cover the Earth. When it's about to hit, panic erupts as people attempt to escape population centres, places close to coasts and Run to the Hills ! There's more here than in Death Of Grass which is a strength as well as a weakness. The shorter book is much more focused, it's all about the central character and his party. Lucifer's Hammer splits its focus across multiple central characters. There's more going on but many threads to keep up with.

But enough about what other people do, how about me ?
I contemplate this as I take another easy day while the sun shines, looking for my outsides to recover more. My fear is that if I head out too soon, the healing that has been happening will get set back and I'll be back to square one. So I've been chilling out at home with lots of music (Cardigans excellent Gran Turismo at the moment), cricket on the telly, scifi and fiction on the telly, Lord of the Rings, attempting to sleep (yey), failing to sleep (grr), Elite piloting on the pooter, books being read, enjoyable videos being watched.

Yep. Lots of chill out. But my mind has been wandering ... Planning ... And thinking ... how come I don't take this writing into a new domain ? I've thought this before but my mind descended back into coping with Ill. But those thoughts are coming back again. Could I do novels from the writer's side ?

The disaster scenario is one I think I could write about. Also fantasy fiction too, although there are different rules in magic fantasy worlds. Perhaps easier to imagine a disaster that eliminates maybe 99% of the population, leaving a ragtag band of people looking to survive.

One scenario I have involves those barges ... The barge would be as much a part of the group as the people. Bit like the spaceship Firefly or Enterprise, or Voyager. The Liberator even. The Blakes 7 universe was a legendary scenario in space fiction.

The start I envisage has the barge and the group as a well oiled machine, able to get into the dangerous centre of towns, do a raid, achieve an objective and then get out without the denizens noticing. The barge would be upgraded (ceramic armour ? i.e. plexiglass sheets!), the group would know all their roles and depend on each others skills. Who would we have ?

I suspect the characters would turn out to be analogues of people I know already.

I'd turn into that strong, quiet leader type who would have a Plan but fully expecting that Plan to fail and have several Back Up Plans ready to keep the people alive and unharmed. I'd also be the engineer.
You have the Den Mom who isn't too mobile so she stays on the boat keeping it ready for us when we get back. She's also a crack shot with great awareness so an awesome sentry.
You have small and chuckly, she who keeps us healthy both mentally and physically. She doesn't like harming people but you wouldn't know that when she's (pretending to?) covering you with that rifle.
There's the military type who picked us up and beat us into shape. We'd not be alive if she hadn't got us out of some tight corners.
We have the philosopher and his mate. These are the ones who remembered to bring all the books that remind us that we're human. My engineer brought the How To books, these guys brought in the sciences.
The small fierce red haired one who got us past our scruples and into full on zombie mercy killing mode. Keep the fizzy drinks away from that one.
The guard dogs who may be our first alert for incoming threats.

And then there's the people back at base too or on other boats. The Little Queen who patiently runs the show. Everyone wants her approval, even the ones giving the orders. The best societies tend to be run by women standing behind the leaders telling them what to do. Why boats ? Because push them away from the side and you have a natural barrier to Zombies who forgot how to swim.

That base would be another huge aspect. To live out a Zompoc, you'd need to have a properly secure place for farming ... A large, green, growing island to support your ragtag population of survivors. Isle of Wight ? Isle of Man ? Yep. Supports the arguments for using boats more doesn't it ...

Yep. The book would start with a well oiled machine, a trained group. Heinlein's Starship Troopers starts like this and it gets you into the book straight away. It then catches you up with the How They Got There.

But there are a few questions that I'd need to answer before diving into it :
Where are the arm extensions ?
Ok. Maybe not that question.
But there are a few more and I'm looking at the shortening scroll bar which is telling me this post is getting past its welcome. That's the danger, Death Of Grass works well because it's short. I stopped reading the Honor Harrington books by David Weber because they got mired in unreadability as they got further into politics and away from action.

Perhaps in November ? It's NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month and is one of those challenges that has caught my eye. And there's a couple of months to gather ideas ...

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