Tag Archives: 28 days later

The Need For Conflict In Zombie Apocalyse Fiction

20 Dec

A key element of zombie apocalypse stories is, of course, zombies. However, good zombie apocalypse stories also need some sort of conflict. Think, for example, of The Walking Dead. By series three, they seem to have got a pretty good handle on how to deal with the zombies themselves, but add The Governor to the mix, and suddenly everything is so much more difficult for the survivors because they have to deal with not just one thing, but two. The same can be seen in 28 Days Later, where Jim and his fellow survivors are caught between the infected and the remnants of the British Army.

However, not just any old conflict will do. The conflict needs to be such that the survivors have to choose between keeping themselves safe from the zombies, and dealing with the other source of danger (what every that might be). This can be seen in 28 Days Later, where in order to survive Jim must leave the safety of the stately home and take his chances amongst the infected if he is to survive long enough to be able to rescue his two female companions from the soldiers who are holding them.

Conflicts can take a number of forms. Firstly, the conflict can come from within a group of survivors. Such internal conflicts are usually driven by either a difference of opinion on how to deal with the zombie threat (e.g. stay put or move on), or by a battle for control. Sometimes both of these can be happening at the same time (think of the conflict between Rick and Shane in series two of The Walking Dead). These internal conflicts often cause the survivors to take their eye off the other ball which is in play (i.e. the zombies), usually with disastrous, and deadly, results.

Secondly, there can be conflict between groups of survivors. Such inter-group conflicts are often the result of ideological differences between either the groups themselves, or their leaders. In series three of The Walking Dead, much of the conflict between Woodbury and those in the prison is driven by the different leadership styles of Rick (listens to others in the group, and gives them freedoms to do things on their own) and The Governor (requires total control and loyalty). Clearly Rick’s way of doing things is incompatible with The Governor’s, and this results in needless death and destruction as they fight it out. Again, this lets the zombies cause more havoc than they otherwise would if the survivors could concentrate all their attention and energy on dealing with them.

Thirdly, the conflict can come from the need to get somewhere. In these stories, staying locked away in a nice safe place would be the best for all concerned, but instead, for some reason or other, the survivors must leave the place of safety and head somewhere else. This is essentially the conflict in movies such as Zombieland and Shaun Of The Dead, and also in the TV mini-series Dead Set.

Finally, there are conflicts with the environment. Sometimes, it’s not just the zombies but landscape they are in which causes the survivors additional problem. For example, in Dawn Of The Dead, the shopping mall creates a conflict. At first, it seems to be the perfect place to hole up, keeping them safely locked away from the zombie threat. However, as the movie progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that the shopping mall is also a trap, and it’s one they will have to leave at some point if they are to survive in the long-term, and that will mean facing the zombies. In fact, by apparently attracting the zombies, the shopping mall is actually making their inevitable departure more and more dangerous as time goes on.

We, as humans, find these types of conflicts, where you have an increased risk of dying simply because the conflict is present, regardless of how you respond to it, naturally intriguing, and we will continually discuss what we would have done in the same circumstances. This may be because these are the types of decisions are brains evolved to have to cope with. In fact, they are something which many animals have evolved to cope with, and there’s a whole field in ecology devoted to studying them. Most notably are starvation-predation trade-offs. These are created when animals are hunted by bigger predators. This means animals face two choices: they can carry a lot of extra energy stores (in the form of fat), meaning they’re less likely to starve if they run into problems finding food, but they’re also more likely to be caught by their predators because it makes them less manoeuvrable. If, however, they choose the make themselves slimmer so that they can better escape from predators, they risk starvation if food supplies run low.

If fact, many zombie stories can be viewed through this exact same ecological trade-off lens, with the conflicts being between the need for finding food and safety, and the need to avoid being killed by ‘predators’ (in the form of either the zombies, or other survivors). This was something I noticed when I was writing For Those In Peril On The Sea, and there’s even a specific reflection by one of the characters on the fact that they’d find it easy to survive if it was just one threat they we up against, but not when it was two or, in this case, three, each of which required conflicting responses in terms of how they live their lives (this is surreptitious reference, for those who know me in my other life as an academic, to a paper I was working on at the same time).

Of course, a lack of conflict doesn’t mean that a zombie story won’t be any good. In fact, in short stories, adding such conflicts can just disrupt the flow. This is because short stories only really have room to explore a single theme rather than complex interactions between different themes. However, in films and full length novels, a conflict of some kind it needed to drive the story forward. Without it, the story will quickly become boring and repetitive as the survivors run from one zombie attack to another. With it, the story will become much more compelling, leaving the reader wondering how exactly the conflict will be resolved as the story builds to its final conclusion.

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

If Civilisation Collapsed Tomorrow, What Would You Miss The Most?

8 Nov

Imagine something were to happen, whether it’s the dead rising from their graves, an unforeseen epidemic or just plain old nuclear annihilation, and that by this time tomorrow you found civilisation had collapsed: what do you think you would miss the most? By this, I’m not meaning anything associated with the basic struggle for survival, such as food, water and a safe place to hide, or people you might have lost, but rather those little luxuries of civilisation which we take for granted each and every day.

Would it be the warmth of an electric blanket on a cold winter night? Or maybe it would be the ability to pull out an album and listen to the voice of a long-dead singer? How about a still-warm batch of freshly made chocolate brownies, or lying back on a sofa with slice of pizza and a cold beer while watching your favourite movie for the umpteenth time? Would you, like Tallahassee in Zombieland, dream of finding a stash of uncontaminated Twinkies? Or would it be that extra special cappuccino from your favourite coffee place which you treat yourself to whenever you’ve had a really bad day? Would you miss going to see a live band at your favourite venue? Or to a theatre to see a play? Or laughing yourself silly at a stand up comedian? Would the thing you’d miss the most be a long, lazy breakfasts in bed on a Sunday morning? Or Christmas dinner with your nearest and dearest? What about the luxury of a long soak in a hot bath? Or curling up in your favourite chair to watch the latest episode of the TV series you’re currently addicted to? Would it be driving too fast down winding country roads in your beloved sports car? Or would it be dropping into your local pub after work on Friday afternoons to catch up with your mates and have a couple of drinks to get the weekend started? How about intimate dinners in little neighbourhood restaurants? Or dancing all night in dimly-lit nightclubs to the latest tunes? Or would it simply be a large slice of chocolate cheese cake served on a clean white plate?

For me, I think it would be books. There’s a point in the movie 28 Days Later where Selena says to Jim ‘You were thinking that you’ll never hear another piece of original music, ever again. You’ll never read a book that hasn’t already been written or see a film that hasn’t already been shot.‘ It’s almost a throw away line, but whenever I hear it, it resonates with me. While I could survive without books, I couldn’t live without them. They are what I turn to when I can’t sleep, or when I need to escape from the real world for a while. Reading books helps me develop ideas and learn new things. They cheer me up when I’m feeling down, and some are so often revisited that they feel like old friends. Books are a simple pleasure in an increasingly complex world, and if everything went wrong tomorrow, they are the things I’d miss the most.

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

My Top Ten Post-Apocalyptic Stories

19 Oct

Since my upcoming book For Those In Peril On The Sea is a post-apocalyptic novel, I thought I would put together my top ten post-apocalyptic stories. These have not necessarily influenced my own writing, they are just the ones I like best.  Here they are in descending order:

10. Dawn Of The Dead (2004 film remake rather than the 1978 original): Proving that a remake can, on rare occasions, be better than the original.  The inclusion of fast zombies upped the action, and the rather bleak ending for those who stayed through the credits was a nice touch. This is also probably the first true ‘fast’ zombie movie – or at least the first major one (see later entries for more on this).

9. Children Of Men (2006 film): An interesting take on the post-apocalyptic world.  There’s no big threat (no aliens, zombies, killer viruses, terrorists, nuclear bombs or diseases), just human infertility.  It emphasises how little it could take to tip the civilisation that humans always seem so proud of over the edge.

8. Zombieland (2009 film): Really great tongue-in-cheek zombie movie.  Stands up well as a story in its own right, as well as poking fun at zombie films in general. Great cameo by Bill Murray too.

7. Kraken Awakes (1953 book): One of two John Wyndham books on my list.  This one is a slow burn, building tension as unseen aliens invade the Earth and try to take over.  There are some really nice bits that appear to predict modern environmental concerns, including the melting of the ice caps and sea level rises.

6. I Am Legend (the 1954 book, and definitely not the 2007 film of the same name): One of the original post-apocalyptic stories, and an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic situation. It poses the interesting question: If you are the only one left unaffected by a global disease outbreak, is it you that is no longer normal?

5. Dead Set (2008 TV series): Written by Charlie Brooker, this one came out of nowhere. I think it is fair to say that there has been nothing like this before, but then again before about 2000, its basic setting (that of the TV series Big Brother), didn’t exist either. It is as much a critique of modern society, and especially reality TV shows, as it is about surviving a zombie outbreak, but it’s still a great zombie story in its own right.

4. Shaun Of The Dead (2004 film): Simon Pegg, the writer of this film, described this as a Zom-Rom-Com. It manages to be a great contribution to the zombie genre as well as a good comedy, a critique of the modern world and a homage to classic zombie movies.

3. War Of The Worlds (1898 book, or indeed Jeff Wayne’s 1978 album, but definitely not the 2005 film of the same name): This is the grand-daddy of all post-apocalyptic stories and one that is still worth reading today. While I’m usually not a fan of alien invasion stories, but this one works for me.

2. 28 Days Later (2002 film): In many ways, this movie rejuvenated both the post-apocalyptic genre and the zombie sub-genre.  Credited with being the first modern movie to use ‘fast’ rather than ‘slow’ zombies, the enemies in this aren’t actually zombies, but instead are infected, since they were not really dead.  In many ways it’s a homage to the number one on my list.

1. Day Of The Triffids (1951 book, or 1981 TV series, definitely not the 1962 Hollywood film, or the 2009 TV mini-series): Head and shoulders above any other post-apocalyptic stories (at least in my opinion), and the one that set the standard that so few have even come close to since.  The premise of moving, flesh-eating plants as enemies sounds so bad, yet it works so well, but that is because they are only bit-part players in an ensemble cast of threats that include blindness, disease and different groups of humans with different ideas competing to try and survive. It emphasises how fragile human society is, and how easy it can call apart.  It also proceeded modern worries about genetic engineering by almost half a century.

So that’s my top ten, but there are a few close runners-up that only just missed out. These include: The Mad Max series of films, Twelve Monkeys (film), Dying To Live (book), World War Z (book and upcoming film, hopefully), 28 Weeks Later (film), Doomsday (film), The Walking Dead (TV series), and, rather controversially, Waterworld (film).

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK, and available as an ebook and in print in the US from the 21st March 2013. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.