Tag Archive: zombies


Nouvelle

So, as I’ve declared on other social media, I’m writing a book. Writing A Book. Writing THE book, to be precise.

The idea’s been swirling around in my head since I was a teenager in various forms, and I think I’m at the stage where I can do it justice. It won’t be too unrealistic, cliched, derivative.

This is also a test for me. How can I call myself a writer if I don’t fucking write? Can I actually sit down and write a novel? The only novel-length work I’ve written was when I was 16-17, it took me over a year, and it was complete balls from beginning to end.

This feels like the final test for me. I’ve shared before the struggles in my identity as a writer, and balancing that with a full-time job and mental illness. If I can’t or won’t write this book, what then? I am determined to try. I realised that for all these years I just don’t want to take the risk, that I’m not confident enough in my writing to attempt a proper, full-length, grown-up Book.

Sometimes I’m unhappy with my work. Everyone is. But sometimes I look at an old short story and I realise, hey, that was pretty funny. I can do this. Writing and language has been a part of me for so long, is so core to my being, that I don’t know how to cope without it, like that movie cop who won’t retire.

Who knows, I might publish it myself. People – gasp – may even BUY it. I used to be an indie online bookseller – I know a trick or two. And reading author blogs/books has been incredibly inspiring. I just have to go for it. To try. To get on the wire without a net. Hell, if a man can walk on a wire between the World Trade Center and have a bit of a lie down halfway across, then I can write a measly zombie book.

I’m going to need love, and your encouragement. Are ya with me? You’re not sick of zombies yet? Do you want to stop me whining? You are going to be as integral to the process as an editor, a graphic designer, a beta reader. I won’t be able to do it without you.

Now. It’s time for me to put the smartphone down, close my Benedict Cumberbatch tumblrs, and get my arse in a chair.

Wish me luck.

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The Galaxy Stories 1: Walking

I present to you my new series of unconnected short stories – The Galaxy Stories. Although it sounds kinda sci-fi, they are called such because they’ve been written with the aid of my new best friend, my Galaxy smartphone. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

I started walking away from the city. Walking, walking, walking. I never stopped, never looked back. I couldn’t stop.

ZwolleAll I had were the clothes on my back and my boyfriend’s shoes. Mine were bloodstained and ripped. They squelched. His were five sizes bigger than mine, but they were all I had left. Of him. Of me.

The blisters were terrible, but at least they reminded me that I could still feel. That I survived. Still alive, whatever that came to mean.

I kept walking. It was all I could do. I walked the flesh off my bones and the skin off my feet. I walked until my nose bled and the shoes became rags. I walked to eat. I walked to drink. I walked to forget.

I was going anywhere. Going nowhere. No past, no future, no present. Just me and the silence.

I still walked. Someone had to.

As you may or may not know, I have had a long and deep-seeded fascination with zombies that started when I was just becoming a teenager. This also applies to anything human-looking but not – mannequins, robots, statues, some animated figures – ranging from wonder to aversion to actual fear. This is a pretty common thing amongst people, and has a name – the Uncanny Valley.

Why are we so afraid of things that look like us, but aren’t us? Is it innate human xenophobia? Or our evolution couldn’t equip us to deal with this concept? (I’m not counting our close primate cousins – I’m focusing on created things.) The thing is, I’ve actually traced where my own response has come from, back to my early childhood.

Have a look at this:

Looks lovely, doesn’t it? This is a Voc, a robot that appears in a Tom Baker Doctor Who story.  (Okay, when I say robot, I really mean android. Carry on.) Vocs are service robots who range from mute menial robots, to normal workers, to special logistic coordinators. They look beautiful, and speak in a pleasant, smooth voice and come pre-programmed with the Laws of Robotics, which pervade so much of science fiction. Until this happens:

This image has haunted my dreams from the first time I saw it at the age of about 4, to even this day. I even had a bit of a shudder whilst searching for the picture! These creatures, in cardboard shoes and costumes made from shower curtains, stumbling through the hallways, strong machine hands covered in spray-painted washing-up gloves with chunky fake blood, their distorted, broken voices just repeating one word over again – ‘Kill.’

Still on Doctor Who, you have the big robotic kahuna – Cybermen. Originally from a dying twin of Earth, Mondas, forced to convert their feeble human bodies into metal ones, replacing limbs and eventually integrating organic matter into metallic bodies. Cyborgs, which many people would admit is the ultimate nightmare of human and robotic co-existence. Cybermen later end up wanting to convert humans to make more Cybermen – slicing their heads open and removing their brains and central nervous system to implant into a metal shell. Or even better, to build around their existing bodies, like the Mondasians in the beginning. Some would argue that cyborgs are the future of humanity, and you have to admit that some medical advancements are heading in that direction – robotic prosthetics, artificial valves and speech units. But let’s not think about that, shall we?

That’s the fear part taken care of. What about the fascination and wonder?

Enter this very special robot:

I could go on about Data forever and how awesome he is, but I’ll try to keep it brief. I fell in love with him as a child of 5, and then continued as a teenager, then an adult. I came to understand his complexity, and how his pursuit of humanity was supposed to reflect our own. I learned about Asimov’s theory of the positronic brain with neural nets and how much that science was used to explain Data’s backstory and how the actual practices of robotics and cybernetics was born out of it (not to mention how well-written Data generally is and how fabulously he is acted).

Why are we so obsessed with the idea of creating an inorganic copy of ourselves, especially with trying to create an artificial intelligence that is identical to our own? Is it that we use the idea of Data – to have a human-but-not foil to reflect upon our own humanity? Would creating a positronic brain finally help us understand how our own works? Or is it an extension of the human instinct to procreate? Is it a desire to ‘advance’ human achievement? I’m sure there are some sci-fi authors who can help me answer that.

Going back to Data – it’s funny how much we tend to anthropomorphise things. It’s even mentioned in an episode of TNG. We’re scared of humanoid things that aren’t actually human, but yet we secretly want them to be like us at the same time. It’s said that humans have a real knack for pattern recognition and the first pattern we are trained to recognise is a face. This makes sense when people sell a grilled cheese on eBay for $50,000 because you can see the Virgin Mary if you look hard enough.

I must admit I am especially guilty of this trait – I have assigned a name and gender to my computer. I consider my cat to be my child. But you could probably say the same thing about people who trawl the internet for hours looking for new LOLcats, and people who proudly post pictures on Facebook of the birth of their new car, with name. We’ve been doing this for centuries – projecting human qualities and personalities on animals, places, vehicles and inanimate objects, just like we still refer to countries, cars, planes and ships as being female.

So, what about the zombies?

That really came about because of this:

I first played Resident Evil when I was twelve. I loved the dystopian idea of a wrecked human species. (I loved zombies before they were cool, dammit!) It’s funny how drawn people are to dystopian ideas, even though we would never want to see it happen. It’s all about opposites.

I may have said this before, but I love the idea of zombies because they are the flipside of humanity. I generally try to think proudly of my fellow humans, and revel in their achievements and ingenuity. Zombies strip all of that away from us, although some may argue that zombies walk around among us now, just in another form.

Zombies take away all of our special attributes and reduce us down to our most basic forms – shells, unfeeling, unaware, unintelligent with only the desire to feed. The fact that they are biologically dead is an added bonus – we find death and the processes thereof such an abhorrent and fearful thing, so the ante is already upped. The allegory is powerful – we are watching ourselves literally crumble before our very eyes. Our cities, our cultures, our power, our fight to the evolutionary summit is wasted.

And there’s also the contention of their creation, depending on which origin story you prefer. There’s no better story than a created virus which was supposed to repair life, but utterly destroys it instead (Resident Evil-style). I also think it’s scarier if animals can be infected as well – our only allies turning against us.

I think it’s funny how astute creators have been in picking up our natural aversion to humanoid things, even before the Uncanny Valley concept had been created – the many variations of robots and cyborgs, shop window dummies coming to life and killing people, dolls doing the same, zombie hordes, the Statue of Liberty going for a wee stroll around Manhattan. It seems like this fear is so ingrained, and sometimes it’s heavily exacerbated by books/TV/movies, even inadvertently – look at early 3D animation like The Polar Express and Final Fantasy and don’t tell me you’re not creeped out by those mask-like faces and the dead, dead eyes.

So, are you unsettled by Robocop or the Terminator? Do you avert your eyes from mannequins in department stores (or secretly hope they turn into Kim Cattrall)? Do you plan your emergency contingency according to The Zombie Survival Guide? Can you escape from the Uncanny Valley?

Short story: ZombieCon

This story is for SpAE, who said to me, ‘If you don’t write this story, I will.’ How could a girl resist?

 

Three figures circled the teenage girl, slowly closing in around her. They were shabby and dishevelled, clothing ripped and torn, shuffling, their feet scraping along the concrete ground. Their faces were twisted into horrible expressions, their hands reaching for the girl. Their faces and clothes were covered in dried, old blood. Some appeared to have eyes missing, and some had skin missing or just hanging off.

The girl was frozen. She had nowhere to run, no way to move. She couldn’t fight back, dressed only in a short skirt, thin midriff shirt and high heels. She just watched and waited for the inevitable. Their fingers grasped her flesh. They all leaned in, aiming for her neck and mouths, softly moaning, their mouths opening, ready to sink their teeth in-

CLICK! FLASH!

The figures instantly stopped and fell away. They smiled. The girl’s boyfriend checked the photo on his camera.

‘Great! Thanks guys!’

‘No problem, dude,’ one of the zombies replied.

The girl and her boyfriend disappeared into the crowd, his cape trailing behind them. It was SuperCon time again.

SuperCon was the highlight of the year for many people – a two day convention where fans of many things came together, dressed up, bought merchandise, and met their heroes. Wandering around the 10,000-strong crowd on day one were zombies, cartoon characters, caped superheroes, and robots, as well as people plying their wares – merchandisers, comic artists, authors and special celebrity guests. The day was packed with activities including costume contests, panels, signings, and performances. The exhibition centre was packed and buzzing with excitement.

Crowds waited in line to get their books signed by favourite authors, or handed over money to have pictures taken with their favourite stars. Crowds surged from place to place listening to seminars or watching competitions. Overworked volunteers and administrators in bright uniforms zoomed between the aisles, herding fans into orderly queues or getting coffee for a guest. The Artist Alleys teemed with traders and buyers, flipping through books and listening to increasingly desperate sales pitches.

Volunteer medics and ambulance staff also zipped through the crowds. It was hardly unusual – people wearing hot full-body costumes not drinking enough water, or a sexy comic book girl falling off her heels.

The caped superhero and his sexy cheerleader girlfriend spotted a lone zombie, in a quiet dark corner, almost hidden from view. He loved zombie movies and there were people around with such good makeup. The three zombies they took the photos with before were pretty good, layering blood and latex, taking care to make the skin colour to their applications. Some people had faces that looked like they slapped melted wax on, but the effort was still appreciated. It was a tough thing to do – faces sore and sticky by the end of it. The couple were determined to get photos with every zombie they came across, provided they finished in time for the cosplay competition, of course.

They approached the lone zombie. He was just standing there, facing the wall, seemingly in thought, contemplating quietly. The caped hero approached him.

‘Hey, do you mind if we get a picture?’

The zombie slowly turned around. In addition to his clothes being artfully ripped and bloody, his skin was an unearthly shade of purplish grey, mottled around his neck, where a wound gaped open. Underneath was a mass of tendons and veins, drained and bloodless. His eyes were red and splotchy, as if haemorrhaged. His mouth and tongue lolled open as he very slowly staggered towards the girl. Amazing accuracy, the hero thought. He even smelled authentic. But, it was a very hot day and he must be boiling under the latex.

The hero readied his camera.

‘Ready? One, two, three… BRAINS!’

‘Brains!’ the cheerleader called brightly. The zombie didn’t say brains, nor did he react to the camera flash. He just continued on his course, gripping onto the girl with his cold hands, his mouth zeroing in on her pale, delicate neck, unwavering…

‘Hey, let-’

The girl let out a harsh squeak, her face contorted with pain and fear. Blood poured from a small wound in her neck. She dropped to the floor. The zombie followed her. The hero pushed him away, blindly punching him in the face. He staggered and fell, and then started crawling towards the girl, who was lying in an increasing puddle of blood, twitching. The area suddenly flooded with hired security men and police, easily a dozen of them, all chattering away on radios, headsets and phones. The hero was confused by the babel as one security officer directed him out of the way. Paramedics swooped in and took the girl away. The hero tried to go after her.

‘No, son,’ the security man said. ‘You need to stay here. There’s nothing you can do for her.’

‘What? But I have…’

‘Stay here,’ the man said forcefully. ‘Don’t make me restrain you.’

‘What? I haven’t done anythin-’

‘Be quiet.’

One police officer stomped past him, his words discernible as he passed.

‘We have a level five biohazard situation…’

The hero didn’t even attempt to ask for an explanation. He could see the security officer fingering the Taser in his holster. He looked around. A wall of police and security prevented him from seeing the rest of the convention. The zombie was gone, presumably taken through an open emergency exit. One of the paramedics marched up to him.

‘Did he touch you?’

‘What?’

‘Did he TOUCH you?’ she snapped.

‘I- I don’t know.’

She then jammed the needle she held in her hand into his left arm. He was too shocked to even speak.

‘Just in case. Go to the emergency room if you have any symptoms.’

Then, just as quickly as she came, she left.

His head spun, his arm smarting from the force of the syringe. He had no idea what was going on. The zombie was gone, as was the girl. There was no trace of blood. Cleaners had already taken care of it. He obviously wasn’t allowed to ask any questions.

A police officer approached him.

‘Name and address.’

He gave it automatically. The officer wrote it down and put his notebook back in his pocket.

‘We will contact you in the next few days. Say nothing about what happened here. We will deal with the girl’s family. Clear?’

‘Yes,’ he mumbled.

The officer looked around. ‘We’re done here,’ he declared. The police and security disbanded, and melted back into the crowd. The superhero stood in the corner, all alone. No one was even looking in his direction. No one noticed. No one saw anything. He too then merged with the crowd, and said nothing.

Battle Cry of the Secret Gamer

So, here it is: I am 25 years old. I work in a corporate job, providing high-level administration and communications support, plus occasional executive assistant and secretarial duties. I am engaged to be married, in the midst of planning my wedding and looking for somewhere to live. In my spare time I like writing, photography, hiking and entertaining friends. In other words, an independent, supposedly responsible adult.

I also play video games.

I started very young – my older brother had a Commodore 64, which I was too young to play, and then a Sega Master System II, which I had a go at and was terrible. Then, a Game Gear (remember those?). Then, I had a Gameboy. The big one was a PlayStation.

I still have all my PlayStation games, and have even bought more recently. They’re old enough to be retro gaming now! I played the Mortal Kombat series (though I was a little young), the Tomb Raider series, and my great favourite was the Resident Evil series, which instilled my abiding love of zombies. But, you know what? I can’t play the games at all, not even the terribly-aged original Resident Evil from 1996. Why? Because they still scare me. I panic, and die. I still watch my boyfriend playing them.

So, I play video games, but don’t really call myself a gamer. I’m still really bad at playing games. I can’t solve puzzles easily and my hand-eye isn’t great, either. I’m the worst kind of gamer – I use cheats and walkthroughs, though not as much as I used to. It’s funny how much the stereotype of a gamer persists – the guy in his parents’ basement surrounded by Mountain Dew and empty Doritos packets. It also persists in some gamers’ minds too – because I’m a girl, and play games somewhat occasionally or even socially, I don’t count. But I can guarantee you – that suited guy in your office? The girl at the coffee shop? That taxi driver? They play video games sometimes, too.

I’ve moved onto PC gaming, one of the many thousands on Steam. I used to play on my boyfriend’s computer – the Left 4 Dead series, the Portal series, Team Fortress 2, all the really popular ones. I love Left 4 Dead – it’s simple, gory, scary and great fun, with beautiful realistic touches. I always stop to read the graffiti. Now I have my own upgraded computer, so I can play Left 4 Dead whenever I want. I hope to get the other games in time.

Portal is such a fantastic series, with a lot of thought, humour, wit and courage. Whoever thought that a seemingly simple puzzle game could be so involving, engaging and funny? The levels are so clever and beautifully rendered, and the visuals in Portal 2? Absolutely spectacular. And it’s taught me a lot – as I said, logical puzzle solving isn’t my forte, so I sharpen those skills with Portal. It helps my reflexes too, and helps me to learn to think laterally. Who says video games aren’t educational?

And you know what? This is going to make me sound like a monster – but you come home from a long, hard, frustrating day at work. You have a bit of anger. You log on and blast away at some digital zombies. You feel better. What’s the damage?

(I’m not going to get into the debate on censorship or appropriateness for children, so here goes: the majority of gamers are adults. Kids know the difference between right and wrong, and fantasy and reality. Games are MA15+ rated for a reason. Kids will be carded if they try to buy them, and you will have to buy it for them. Game developers aren’t hanging around outside schools shoving copies of Grand Theft Auto into your kids’ hands. If you buy them a MA15+ rated game without knowing what’s in it and complain on Today Tonight, you’re a fucking moron. Bring on the R18+ rating. That is all.)

Some argue that gamers immerse themselves into a dangerous fantasy world when they play, because the audio/visual/interactive nature of games makes it easy to do so. You do that when you watch a film or TV, listen to music or radio, or read a book. I’ve had much more nightmares from books, films and TV shows than games. It’s all imagination – it’s just that in games you have to use your imagination a little less.

Video games have come a long way, especially now with almost photorealistic graphics, high speed internet and the ability to play with someone across the world (or even in the same city), whom you’ve never met. Left 4 Dead is a game that relies highly on teamwork and collaboration. You protect each other from zombies, heal each other up, rescue pinned team members from bigger monsters, cover team members retrieving essential items, and all four members of the team must shoot the Tank to bring it down. Portal 2 has a second half using two playable characters who must work together to solve the puzzles. No puzzle is solvable by one character. The Steam network allows you to play on major servers with anyone, or allows you to play privately with friends, which is what I do sometimes. I don’t have a microphone yet, but it’s a fun way to play and spend time with people, especially a good friend living in Brisbane whom I only see maybe once a year. Another close friend found her partner of 3 years whilst playing Team Fortress 2.

So, I don’t want to be looked down upon for playing video games. I’m not childish or anti-social. It’s not rotting my brain. Games don’t make me think it’s okay to shoot people or beat hookers to death and steal their money. You know why? Because I’m an adult who knows that it’s all make-believe. Games have helped me sharpen my observation skills, my reflexes, my problem-solving skills and helped me learn how to work collaboratively, in addition to all my other real-life experience.

Occasional gamers of the world, unite! Let me know what server you’re on.

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