FIND THIS ZOMBIE AUTHOR ON:
By: Video Game Rack Fighter, Special Guest Interviewer
Today’s guest on the Bookshelf Battle Blog is Saul Tanpepper, author of the GAMELAND series, a saga set in a world where zombies outfitted with neural implants are controlled by players using video game controllers.
The carnage ensues when a group of computer hackers break into a Long Island turned wasteland and quickly learn there are consequences far beyond the average video game.
Saul, thanks for joining us.
NOTE: BOLD=VGRF; ITALICS=Saul
Q. Zombies turned into video game avatars manipulated by wealthy video game enthusiasts. Just when I thought the world was out of fresh spins on the zombie apocalypse genre, you come up with one. How did you do it?
A. I read Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games right after it was published and knew that it was going to be a blockbuster and therefore a good literary model to emulate. I’d been thinking about publishing dystopian fiction (not just horror or post-apocalyptic), and since zombies were starting to get hot, and readers were demanding series, I combined the three elements together and came up with the idea for GAMELAND. The original plan was to throw a half dozen young adults into a gaming arcade with the undead for a fight to the finish, but that seemed too much like HG. I made the gaming aspect secondary and went heavier on the post-apocalyptic theme.
Q. I hope you don’t mind if I reveal on this blog that you are, in fact, Dr. Ken J. Howe, a PhD molecular biologist and former Army medic/trauma specialist. (Don’t worry, this site only has 3.5 readers so your secret is safe.) Upon learning this about you, several questions come to my mind, the first being, does your experience and training come in handy as a writer and how so?
A. It’s both helpful and harmful. As a former scientist, I tend to be overly critical about technical accuracy and probabilities, which holds me back from writing anything too outrageous. This applies to the technologies referenced in the GAMELAND series. We already have the capacity to prolong life and it won’t be long before we can reverse cell death. Scientists are also dabbling in neural implantation, so it’s not a great leap to think about implanted zombies. My medical background is a great help when it comes to writing descriptions. Having personally had my hands inside chests, smelled the effects of rotting flesh, assisted with surgeries, I try to relay the physical and emotional impact of those experiences to the reader.
Q. Last I checked, zombies are just figments of our imagination (I hope.) However, as a molecular biologist/former medic, do you have any thoughts on zombie physiology that you could share? Are there any known theories on how, hypothetically speaking, a human could be turned into a zombie or exhibit zombie-ish tendencies?
A. There are some aspects of zombie physiology which the lore currently explains poorly. For example, how do they move and moan when they don’t breathe? Why don’t they rot faster? Why do they prefer brains? Why do they go after only the uninfected? GAMELAND attempts to explain some of these discrepancies.
As far as real-life goes, zombies aren’t that much of a leap, at least if we’re simply talking about brain-dead individuals attacking other people. The bath salt incidents of a couple years back, and any number of drug or hypnosis-induced incidents we’ve seen all resemble zombie-like behavior. If the mind can be so easily manipulated by suggestion or chemicals, it’s not hard to imagine an infectious agent producing a chemical to the same effect.
As far as reanimating the dead, that requires a bit more suspension of disbelief or more faith in the paranormal. Cells tend to break down very rapidly, so unless a person has only very recently died, it’s unlikely the body will have much function. My bets for zombies are on the near-dead or recently-deceased.
Q. How would a real life zombie video game such as the one described in your series work? Will video games ever evolve to the point where people can be controlled with a joystick? (And is that necessarily something we’d want?)
A. Technology already exists to remotely control inanimate objects in virtual reality (think drones, surgery, bomb robots), and game developers have reported early success in being able to manipulate living subjects remotely in the same way as well as with the use of neural stimulation. We are on the cusp of an explosion in VR gaming. Just beyond that horizon is remote controlled live action gaming. I don’t want to say too much about it, because it would seem to make the ideas I developed in GAMELAND appear less groundbreaking, but suffice it to say, I’d be surprised if we aren’t soon forced to ponder the very same moral questions the characters in my books failed to ask themselves when it comes to this subject.
Q. You’re also the author of The Essential Book Blog: The Complete Bibliophile’s Toolkit for Building, Growing and Monetizing Your On-Line Book-Lover’s Community. If you had to give Bookshelf Q. Battler one piece of advice on how to improve his blog, what would it be? (Besides obtain more than 3.5 readers.)
A. You’re doing all the right things — writing to a specific target audience, keeping the material fresh, engaging your readers, and leveraging other people’s fan bases — so that’s a great foundation for growing your blog. It takes time, as you already know. Having a mailing list helps, as does having something to offer your readers. For example, I offer my subscribers a free starter library and often tell them about deals and giveaways before I tell the general public. I include a lot of tips in TEBB on how you can monetize your efforts to help defray any costs and build income. Even utilizing the easiest of the techniques will quickly pay for the cost of the book.
Q. Saul, your expertise has been greatly appreciated. Before I go, do you have any final words of wisdom that might help my friends and I survive the East Randomtown Zombie Apocalypse?
A: It’s been my pleasure. As far as surviving the Z-poc, my only suggestion is to get yourself a good sturdy toilet plunger (if you’ve read my series, you’ll understand why). That, and a comfortable pair of sneakers. You’ll be doing a lot of running.