Tag Archives: apocalypse

This Plague of Days: The No Spoilers Edition

Two beta readers, advanced scouts in the dark land of Editoria, are back with reports from the third book in the This Plague of Days serial. Well, now it’s a series and, perhaps someday, a television series or a movie. (More on that another time.)

Early returns on Season 3 are very good. “Cerebral, but with enough rip and chew to balance out all the existential questions about the universe.” All your questions are answered (and you’ll have a few more of your own to ponder after you close the book.)

Generally, what should I expect?

It’s action, take a breath, action, take one quick breath, action, action, ooh, creepy!,  action, here’s the secret God kept from Himself, tears, action, action, tears, gnashing of teeth, action, mirrors, action…

So, let’s tackle some issues up front:

1. If you’re new to the story…

This Plague of Days is three books/seasons (because it’s written like a television serial, cliffhangers and all.) Seasons One and Two are already out there and it’s going groovy. People love Jaimie Spencer and his family.

Our hero is on the autistic spectrum. Jaimie’s mother Jack (short for Jacqueline), father Theo and sister Anna are all in grave danger as three plagues tear down the world. Wicked bio-terrorists scheme and cavort, the killer virus constantly mutates and a hardy band from Europe try to make it to America to fight the invasion. It’s a zombie apocalypse, but it’s also a lot more than that.

2. This Plague of Days was originally published as a serial with five episodes per season.

The idea was to give readers a very inexpensive story they could bail out of at any time, or opt in and buy the whole darn book for less than the cost of five episodes. Each ep is 15-20,000 words, so I wasn’t scrimping. (Usually episodes are sold in 10,000-word instalments.)

3. Season 3 will hit in June.

It will be sold as one book (ebook and print.)

Why no more episodes?

By now, people who were going to buy in aren’t purchasing episodes anymore. They may have dabbled their way through Season One and got it piecemeal. However, by now those readers are all the way in. You can see what’s happening with the episodes because Season One has 80 reviews, Season 2 has 37 and the later episodes have none. Rather than sell to readers who aren’t there, there will be another new aspect to the finale. And that is…

4. Seasons One, Two and Three of This Plague of Days, revamped and re-edited…

will be sold as one huge ebook.

Sorry, I looked into printing it as one big, dead tree book, but it would be so huge my regular printer couldn’t handle the order. Also, a book over 1,000 pages is quite pricey and is really only for collectors and the die-hard fans. I’ll continue to try to figure a way to do it as a printed book and keep the price reasonable. For now, that’s not apparent. I’m not out to gouge anybody, so that’s tabled for now. (In America, that means it’s not being considered. In the UK, “tabled” means it is being considered. Or is that the other way around? Hm. Weird.) 

5. How is Season 3 different from Seasons One and Two?

The three books travel quite an arc. There are things that are set up in the first book that pay off much later. A huge secret lurks just beneath the surface of This Plague of Days. I held a contest and a lot of people looked for that secret. Some searched really hard and called me names. They didn’t find it.

And now?

What I hear from the beta readers is, “OH!” And, “AH!” and “AGH!” The clues become apparent, but only in hindsight. I’m pretty happy about that.

The thing about everything I do is, I want to write something you haven’t seen before. I don’t want my zombie apocalypse to be like any other. That’s one of the reasons the virus keeps evolving. My zombies aren’t supernatural zombies, but the ordinary humans might be.

Things changed drastically in Season Two. The pace changed. In Season 3, the stakes are upped again. It’s a chance to explore some interesting ideas along the way. You’ll love it or you’ll hate it, but you won’t forget it. And no, the story does not end with, “And it was all a dream.” NO. It does NOT end that way! Just FYI.

Also, yes, those Europeans who survive the fall of civilization will finally get to meet whoever gets to survive America’s zombie apocalypse. Heh. You’ll see. YOU’LL ALL SEE! (Sorry. That was my villainous, And-they-laughed-at-me-in-the-Academy Moment.)

6. Any other hints at what’s to come?

Without spoiling anything? Someone who’s appeared to be a minor character in the past will step forward in a big way. There’s some gore, but it’s parcelled out judiciously. Not everyone you love will make it to the end, but for those who do, there’s a huge reward no one saw coming. Well, no human, anyway.

Season One was The Running Dead (with Autism.)

Season Two was The Stand (complicated by a very selective mute.)

Season Three is Stranger in a Strange Land. 

The stranger is You, Faithful Reader.

(Yes, that’s a clue. No, it won’t help a bit.)

 

 

 

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Spring is coming. This Plague of Days is coming, too. Just not…quite…yet.

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CLICK THE PICTURE FOR MY LITTLE SLIDESHOW OF DOOM.

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Is science fiction’s view of the future too dark?

I just listened to the C-Realm Podcast in which the question arose, is dystopian science fiction merely hip cynicism? (The “C” stands for consciousness.)

What happened to the utopian visions of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek? His future eliminated poverty while the remakes by JJ Abrams are about fighting terrorism. It’s a fascinating question well explored on the C-Realm Podcast, though my answer is, by necessity, going to sound a tad grumpy.

I think of myself as a suspense writer first, but zombies and vampires are generally thought of as horror and post-apocalyptic books are classified under science fiction on Amazon. Call it science fantasy if you want, but the story crawls into paranormal and supernatural, too, so it’s Genre-of-the-Moment Slugfest.

But is my vision (gasp) cynical?

Are zombies a hipster fad of which we should be ashamed? Can’t sci-fi lead the way as a predictor of glittering tech advances instead of dwelling on how we’re all going to die long before each person on Earth gets their very own sex robot? 

Every cynic thinks he or she is a realist, but first, I want to back up and say that Roddenberry’s visions weren’t always so rosy. I think the stories on Star Trek that succeeded for me were the war stories. Humans versus Klingons and The Wrath of Khan (the story itself the death of a utopian dream) held my attention. However, it’s probably true that the franchise got darker and grittier after Roddenberry’s death. Deep Space Nine had some of the Enterprise’s nifty IKEA furniture, but the quarters were more cramped and the lighting less cheery.

That said, I see what they’re saying on C-Realm. They credit Blade Runner as a leader in dystopian visions, at least in film. That’s a far cry from the gee whiz optimism of many sci-fi writers from decades past. We all need a little more Spider Robinson in our lives.

In the ’70s we had Omni magazine trumpeting the hope for the future of science and science fiction. For instance, they featured a graphic artist who created stunning spacescapes. It was truly beautiful art that only actual images from the Hubble telescope could replace. It was the artist’s policy never to paint any picture in which two spaceships engaged in battle. That’s admirable, yes, but it kind of sucks the dramatic potential out of a lot of fiction, kind of like taking the visual majesty and volleys of flaming arrows out of the battle scenes in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, and asking, can’t we all just get along and make this a cozy comedy of manners? Is that beheading with all the blood spray on the wall really necessary?

Optimistic visions of the future in fiction make me think of Paul and Linda McCartney asking Weird Al Yankovic to refrain from a making a cover of Live and Let Die. Weird Al did not release Chicken Pot Pie out of respect for the former Beatle’s wishes. Longtime vegetarians, Paul and Linda worried a comedic song would worsen the commercial slaughter of chickens. It probably would have. Thinking about it makes me want a chicken pot pie right now. I also think Weird Al’s song would have been awesome.

But to the question, is science fiction’s tone too relentlessly dark?

The C-Realm host and guest offered the movie Her as an antidote to our dour visions of the future. There is something very alluring about a story that cranks up Iron Man‘s personal digital companion, J.A.R.V.I.S., to Level Scarlett Johansson Sexy. (J.A.R.V.I.S. stands for Just a Rather Very Intelligent System, by the way. Siri would have been cooler if Apple had called it J.A.R.V.I.S., though Siri has yet to live up to the J.A.R.V.I.S standard of service, reporting on my armour’s structural integrity and whatnot.) Actually, Iron Man’s inventions (as long as they don’t fall into the wrong hands) might be the most optimistic vision of the future you’ll see on screen this year, besides Her.

The darkness in our fiction lies not in our stars but in ourselves.

We write from the heart, or at least I do. A future where we’re overrun by a world flu pandemic is actually considered long overdue by virologists. (Could happen next week. Pack a linch and wear a sweater.) My zombies aren’t real zombies and my vampires aren’t real vampires. They are humans infected with a virus that changes their physiology. There are supernatural elements in This Plague of Days, but once you’re dead, you don’t get up again in the world I’ve built. It looks a lot like our world.

But is it too dark? Well, it is dark.

Some of the events go from creepy to downright grisly. There are also jokes. I even include a few optimistic touches toward the end. However, I am allergic to Happily Ever After. I promise a satisfying ending and resolutions you don’t expect, but Happily Ever After often seems too pat and easy to me.

And that’s the crux of it.

My vision for the future springs from what I see now, not what could be if we really believe and clap our hands. If George Orwell hadn’t already written 1984, I’d attempt to write that. Drones, surveillance and the NSA cracking everyone’s porn privacy? That’s a dream straight out of an adolescent Big Brother’s wet bed. Because I’ve mentioned them and they’re always googling vainly, say hello! Hi, NSA! (Waves.) Just a writer spouting on the state of science fiction and the future. Nothing to see here. Move along to checking up on the sex lives of your former girlfriends and boyfriends from high school! Thank you! Also, please go catch a real terrorist with a suitcase dirty bomb. Aces.

Back on topic

I was promised jet packs when I was as kid (a fixation that’s shared widely, I think, since it’s also mentioned on C-Realm.) I’m still disappointed about that. No…bitter is the word. And yes, all the endless toil minus robots is a downer.

When we see the space shuttle in the promo reel before the movie trailers? I always think, We don’t even make those anymore! There is no Omni magazine heralding gee-whiz hope and they plan to shut Hubble down! And a trip to Mars? Sounds like a stupid suicide mission to me, especially when we could solve a lot of world problems with the money we’d waste on going to the red planet. (Think of Mars as the worst parts of Arizona, but without oxygen. To be fair, at least Mars doesn’t go out of its way to try to suppress gay rights, so there’s that.)

If my fiction appears cynical, all I can say is it comes from an honest place. Dark visions are the logical extensions of my worldview. Ideas about a cheery, brighter future would be a nice diversion and uplifting to be sure. However, I’m more interested in drama rising from conflicts I observe in the present. There’s something about those cheery futures which reek of white privilege to me. I’m not going hungry and I’ve got a cell phone (made by slaves) so why can’t we envision a future that amps up all that gee-whiz hope?

Because it doesn’t feel real, that’s why. Because we’re still stuck in stupid wars. Because the logical extension of now is more darkness. My fiction is dark because, as a person of conscience who listens to Democracy Now a lot, my worldview really is that dark.

Yes, I do give glimmers of hope here and there in This Plague of Days.

But the price at which that hope is bought — in both human lives and sacrifice — is very high indeed. I guess it sounds silly to talk about verisimilitude in a story about an autistic boy versus zombies versus vampires. But every emotion and conflict within the Spencer family at the end of the world feels very real to me. Joy, redemption, love, hope and loss is all there. I think of it as To Kill a Mockingbird, but with more zombies and even more child endangerment. For a zombie apocalypse, there’s a startling lack of gunfire in This Plague of Days. I think there are plenty of apocalyptic books that read like Rambo married an army manual and I attempt to do something different with all my fiction.

This Plague of Days is silly, escapist fiction (for the thinking reader with a conscience, I hope)…but I write it real.

I write what I see. And I concede, I do wish I could be more hopeful.

 

~ Season Three, and the conclusion of This Plague of Days by Robert Chazz Chute hits Spring 2014. Catch up on Season One and Two here.


This Plague of Days: Zombies! Vampires! You!

Wow. What a week. As I approach the last chapters of This Plague of Days, I’m struggling with it. It’s not that the writing is hard. Tarring roofs and digging ditches and living in Canada in winter is hard. I’m struggling with time management, for sure, yes. (Also, winter in Canada.) But mostly, I’m really going to hate ending this story. I have other books to write, of course, but This Plague of Days is my most successful book and it’s a fun world to play in. A little paranormal activity and a pinch of Anything Goes is fun.

And there is, of course, the doubt that creeps under the door, touching my heart with cold fingers.

Expectations are high. One reviewer wondered how (if?) I was going to pull it all together. I always promise big reversals, but there are scenes toward the end of the series that will challenge readers. The subtext challenges readers to think. A particularly horrific scene might make them want to close the book. Another plot point is so over-the-top crazy, you might think I’ve smoked Douglas Adams’ ashes. And then there’s that pesky, Way of Things. Is that the God in the Machine? Is God really pulling the levers? Or is the Machine set on automatic, devoid of the divine except for the meaning we give our lives?

And then there’s the…okay, I can’t write about This Plague of Days this way without annoying you. You haven’t read Season 3 yet, so we’re (literally) not on the same page.

Let’s just say, that, yeah I can and will pull it all together. The book has been in the making a long time. I don’t have graphs and pie charts and a wall of cork boards upon which a thousand little index cards are tacked. But I’ve got it all in my head and I’ll deliver. We’re very close to finishing another revision. 

One extremely brief review I got this week opined that the story arc that started with zombies had gone to vampires and…well…sigh. Frowny face. Um…was it the credibility and literary gravitas of zombies that was lost when another Sutr strain made the scary Alphas? Alas. It’s okay. My brand of whimsy isn’t for everybody, but I think if you’ll come into my Goofy Latin and Twisted Weirdness Tent, you still could have a pretty good time.

Someone else mentioned that Jaimie changes in Season 2. Yes. His character and abilities do grow. Despite being on the autism spectrum, he can interact with others somewhat easier, though his selective mutism is still a problem, he’s subvocalizing a bit and flashes of telepathy are helping things along. However, rest assured, Jaimie Spencer isn’t going to win the door prize at your local Toastmasters meeting anytime soon. He’s still a mystery to most people around him. Another reviewer dinged me for indulging in talk of auras more than twice. Several people wanted more of that.

As James Dean said in Rebel Without a Cause, “You’re tearing me apart!”

This is why I have to write to please myself first. The editor and beta readers will tell me if I’m on the right track or not, but let’s face it: I’m going to go crazy my way and hope you love it. My betas help me immensely, but as for the course I set through Crazy Town? Writing is not a democracy. I’m a guy alone in a room with a keyboard. I can’t guess what you’ll like, but I know what I love. So it is with all writers. (One of the joys of publishing TPOD as a serial is answering the few outlying critics. I took their concerns into account and answered them pointedly. It’s a source of some of the jokes in the text. The winks and chuckles aren’t too inside baseball. You’ll all be in on the joke.)

That said, when This Plague of Days, Season 3 comes out, everybody gets a kick at my autocratic, authorial can, of course. Be gentle. I’m a crier. 

Oh, and sneak peek/spoiler:

Little Aasa, the elder of the Vermer girls, gets a bigger role in Season 3. As more people die, the world is waking up to a new interconnectivity. Without the white noise of so many minds, we can hear each other’s thoughts better. Those flashes of insight everyone gets occasionally? It turns out, if you commit mass genocide and billions die, it turns up the volume and tunes the frequency. So…I guess all that grim death and destruction was worth it if we don’t have to pay for wi-fi.

When the plagues strike us down, if there are any survivors, we’ll send pictures of our cats with our minds. Sweet!

~ FYI: My next book is mostly written. The title is chosen and the fuse is lit. I just have to revise it, take out 1,000 profane words and revise again. It’s thick, but more “literary” (whatever that means to you) and not nearly so complicated as This Plague of Days. It will be relaxing not to have armies of characters to kill off.

The next narrative is more character-based and not nearly as complicated as directing a vast story across continents. It’s about a young man living in poverty in New York. He wants to be a movie star. He might get to be that, but only if the murderer doesn’t get him and if he can put on a high school production of Romeo and Juliet. (Long story) There are drugs, suicide and his mom’s gone missing so…wait…I guess it does get pretty complex. Stay tuned.


Heat signatures, colors and emotions

Heat signatures, colors and emotions

Though this isn’t exactly how Jaimie Spencer sees the world, it’s too cool not to share. In the graphic novel or the TV series of This Plague of Days, this will probably be what it will look like.


This Plague of Days and The Big Bang Theory and Autism

It’s past time I write something about autism as it’s presented in This Plague of Days. I’ve heard from happy readers who are related to people with autism or who have developmental issues. They all love the protagonist, Jaimie Spencer, because he’s on the autism spectrum. Later on in the story, Jaimie makes some very normal and logical yet scary choices. I hope readers will still love him when they see some of the things he’ll ultimately be responsible for.

Deep down, This Plague of Days is a little like all my books. Good versus evil doesn’t interest me. The choices are too stark. But Bad versus Evil? Complex motivations where the good isn’t all good and the bad isn’t all bad…or at least well-intentioned and understandable? Yes, that interests me very much. So far, readers agree and thank you very much if you’ve bought, dug and left a happy review for This Plague of Days.

As I write and revise Season 3, the world is getting darker. Season 3 answers the questions posed all the way back from Season One. One of the mysteries of the series* is Jamie Spencer. He’s a selective mute on the autistic spectrum. That surely makes him an unlikely champion in the apocalypse and unique in the genre. However, he’d be unique if this were a simple family drama.

My beloved wife, Dr. She Who Must Be Obeyed, is a school psychologist. She said the sentence that spurred this post:

The key thing to know about anyone on the spectrum is this:

When you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.

Everyone is different and autism affects each person differently. Some are extremely visual thinkers. Many are very high-functioning people and the list of well-known people on the spectrum might astonish you (click here for that). There’s much speculation that some of the greatest thinkers and inventors in history were autistic. Though never diagnosed, Tesla, certainly, comes to mind. (Love Tesla and you’ll learn why if you click this link, but I digress.)

When asked, I tell readers that Jaimie has Aspergers with some interesting variations, like selective mutism and synaesthesia. He’s unique, as all people are.

The term “Aspergers” has fallen out of favor in professional circles. That may be a great thing. I’m not sure. Mere labels can’t help the individual, but sometimes they help others understand people on the autistic spectrum. Generally, many people would recognize stereotypical Aspergers traits in someone like Dr. Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory. The show’s producers have stated on many occasions they are not holding the comical character up as the poster boy for autism and he doesn’t represent any group.

I don’t want anyone to think Jaimie represents such a vast and varied community, either. He’s a fictional character who’s delving into deep matters of religion, mortality and immortality while dealing with people infected with three varieties of a deadly plague. His family unit and their problems relating to each other provides a realistic context and special challenges at the end of the world as we know it. He’s a wonderful character to write and he adds layers and depth to what otherwise be a pretty silly story. Jaimie’s point of view makes humans versus zombies versus vampires work.

Why make the protagonist a person on the autistic spectrum?

I could catalogue the artistic reasons to do so, but the short answer is, why the hell not? He’s a person first. The way his brain works is peculiar, but secondary. Despite how different he is, I (and many readers) connect with Jaimie Spencer emotionally, not as a mere intellectual curiosity. Jaimie’s a genius, but he’s no freak.

How does autism play into This Plague of Days?

At one end of the spectrum, autistics don’t develop language skills. With his special interest in words and their origins, especially in Latin, Jaimie does not lack language skills. In fact, selective mutism has nothing to do with autism. Fans of The Big Bang Theory will recognize the problem as an anxiety disorder (which, until recently, afflicted the character of Raj on the show.)

However, on a couple of occasions, I admit that I do indeed tackle issues around autism. It would be weird if I didn’t address those natural consequences, wouldn’t it? It’s tricky, in that autism is another obstacle in the family’s struggles at the end of civilization, but the story is not all about autism.

I came at the issue sideways, in character development.

We learn about Jaimie through his actions and we see how he sees the world. Anna Spencer relates to Jaimie in a very natural way. She’s protective of him when outsiders are involved, but within the family, it’s all sibling rivalry and older sister irritation at a little brother. There’s friction there as there is in many families. I purposely avoided Anna being too precious with him. Of all the people in Jamie’s world, Anna is the one who most treats him as if he’s not unusual.

Before the plague struck, Jaimie’s mother, Jacqueline (Jack) Spencer, struggled with the school and medical systems to get help for her son. She often wishes Jaimie was not on the spectrum. Meanwhile, Theo Spencer, Jaimie’s father, almost seems in denial. While Jack wishes her son were different, Theo accepts Jaimie as he is rather than fixating on changing him. The parents aren’t on the same page and one’s a complex atheist while the other’s faith is hard to hold on to in the face of so much horror. More fun family dynamics to mine there.

As we progress through This Plague of Days, you’ll find that Jaimie is changing. He’s getting wiser and, to survive, he has to learn how to lie. He’s discovering the new world’s secrets. In Season 3, Jaimie is much different from when we first met him. Travelling the road in the apocalypse will do that to anyone, but I don’t find he’s any less likeable. He’s just more complex and less sure of himself. The challenges ahead are too difficult for him to resist transformation.

In the final scene, readers will have a choice.

Some people reading This Plague of Days will also be transformed.

 

*A note to fans of Seasons 1 and 2 of This Plague of Days

In the third season, this officially becomes a series, not a serial. This Plague of Days will be sold as a trilogy in one complete book (This Plague of Days, The Complete Trilogy) assuming CreateSpace can handle printing a book that big. It will also be sold as Season 3 in paper so, if you got 1 and 2 in paperback, you’ll have a third to round out the collection on your shelf. Finally, of course, I’ll put it out as an ebook this spring. After that, I’ll be peddling it to Hollywood for a movie, I suppose. Or make it a graphic novel. Or get it on HBO with Alexander Skarsgard as Misericordia. Who knows?

However, unlike Seasons 1 and 2, there won’t be any releases of weekly episodes for Season 3. Despite my best efforts, there are still some readers who get confused about serialization, so I’m letting that go. The Law of Diminishing Returns had kicked in, anyway, so onward to a very dramatic conclusion. A lot of people you love will die in unexpected ways. Some will live to receive surprising, wonderful rewards. I’m going to be a little sad to finish the journey with Jaimie, but it’s going to be a wild ride right to the end. 

 


This Plague of Days: Is it me, or are things really getting worse?

As I begin to work again in my Massage Therapy practice, I’ve noticed a difference in clientele since my sabbatical began two years ago. People are poorer and their conditions are worse. I’m seeing people at the clinic with very serious problems and very long lists of medications that: help/hurt/they are addicted to. Lots more Oxycontin than I remember ever dealing with, even though my practice often focused on chronic pain patients. There’s a shift in the landscape that I might have missed if I weren’t coming back to it with fresh eyes.

Today I passed through a mall that is close to a senior’s community. Between the awkward gaits and bent over postures, it was impossible not to think of zombies on the lunch lurch. I’d seen that before, and maybe this was just a fluke, but it seemed too prevalent. Maybe it’s just the bubble of the baby boom generation out and about, but the way is littered with walkers, wheels, crutches and canes. And sad people. I saw a lot of sad people today, concentrating furiously on taking their next step. People in need of help and rejuvenation are everywhere.

As a news junkie, I’m aware of the dysfunctional governments around the world and, as a horror author gathering material, there’s no shortage of bad omens. Sure, there are glimmers of hope here and there. New research points to the cause of fibromyalgia. Obama and Kerry have a deal with Iran over no nukes which could stabilize the region and lift the punishing sanctions that hurt more than they helped.

However, when you look at all the spewed hatred, racism, the collapse of civility, fraud, hypocrisy, failing infrastructure and all the plain bad information and bad news put out there, am I right in saying things are generally getting worse?

That was an honest question.

Are things really getting worse or is my serotonin low?

I just wrote a scene in Season Three of This Plague of Days about grief and foreboding. One character (no spoilers!) anticipates the impending loss of another. That’s kind of how I feel about the world. It’s slipping away from us. We’ve lost our grip on what’s important and everything on mainstream news seems so depressing and disempowering. Generally, we’ve lost the can-do in our attitudes.

Consider this:

Millions of empty homes and millions of homeless, and yet…

The troops are honoured in speeches but no food stamps for veterans and their families…

Despite all the research, when was the last big medical discovery that really shook us in our socks with pride?

If not only for moral reasons, how about stimulating the economy? Ford paid his factory workers so they could own the cars they built. Germany does pay their autoworkers well and have a very healthy auto industry with great profits. Workers need a living wage so they can buy things and capitalists should want that. Still, Wal-Mart and many companies like them (and don’t forget oil companies’ corporate welfare!), with profits in the billions, are subsidized with tax dollars at the expense of the working poor.

Much of the “middle class” falls under the category of that more honest label: Working poor.

The average age of a fast food worker is now 29. Working midnight at the drive-through window isn’t a way to save up for college. It’s the second job to try to pay for the hyper-expensive college degree that didn’t get you a paying job.

Patriotic declarations are ubiquitous. Patriotic actions are not.

We’re in serious danger of living in a post-anti-biotic world in a few years. That’s not the nanobots-in-your-bloodstream-to-solve-all-your-medical-problems future we’ve been talking about. The Singularity may be nothing but a pipe dream because we’ve stopped fighting the bug war and antibiotic-resistant diseases are on the rise.

Most journalists aren’t journalists anymore. They’re carnival barkers inviting you to tweet your opinions in the debate they’ve failed to inform you about. They aren’t seeking truth anymore. Reporting is all about “balance” now. Few but alternative media are telling you there actually are people to blame and pointing fingers really is good as long as the blame is hooked up to facts. (“Facts? What’s a fact?”)


 

This week I heard a guy say we should not worry about global warming.

He wasn’t denying it’s a problem. He just figured it’s too late and governments are committed to not committing so too bad, so sad, give up and forget about it. (Presumably, we’ll remember when a good chunk of New York City is under water.)

So, if all is hopeless, it’s up to us now, as individuals.

We can try to prevent the apocalypse in all its many forms and, failing that, prepare for the worst while, somehow, finding it within ourselves to hope for the best.

Good luck with that. As you can probably imagine, optimism is not in my nature. I sure hope it’s in yours.

 


This Plague of Days: Stress, The Apocalypse and You

Hurricane Katrina making its second landfall i...

Hurricane Katrina making its second landfall in Louisiana, as seen by NWS New Orleans radar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once upon a time there was a fascinating (and mean) experiment. A mad scientist made his subjects do math problems under stress. Loud music would play and a demanding experiment operator insisted the subject solve the math problems faster. Then the operator would tell them they got it wrong and had to try again. “Time’s was running out!” Sounds like an experiment designed by the Devil himself, huh? Mathphobics would burst aflame under such evil circumstances.

After the experiment, the mad scientist drew blood samples to track stress markers. He found them, of course, but it was the next version of the experiment that got really interesting. In Math In Hell Part II, the subjects had a button that could turn down the blare of acid rock (the most anti-mathematics music there is). It is no surprise that the stress markers went down in the second experiment.

That’s not where the surprise comes in. It’s this:

Stress markers decreased even among the people who didn’t turn down the music. The subjects had a button, but it may as well have been hooked up to a toaster. Simply knowing they had the option to control their environment brought their stress hormones down. It’s all about the illusion of control and the wear and tear and tears that illusion helps mitigate. 

But when the apocalypse comes, there is no button!

What fascinates about end-of-the-world scenaria is, what happens when there are no rules? When someone’s breaking into your home and the cops aren’t coming…well, bad example. That happens now. However, my point is, we all seek control, even if, perhaps especially if, it’s illusory.

To a large extent? Control is an illusion and the button isn’t really hooked up. Maybe you can control how you react to stress, but lots of the time, life happens to you. You don’t choose your parents or your country of birth or how smart you aren’t. Nobody feels much control sitting in a paper gown on a doctor’s examination table when the doc sighs and says, “Hmmmm.”

But how long will the inertia of our civilization last?

When disaster is cataclysmic, the rules change quickly. That’s Hurricane Katrina. But when the pandemic creeps in slowly (as it does in Season One of This Plague of Days — at least in the American theater of teh pandemic. Europe and the rest of the world get it in the shorts first.)

How will society break down from civilized expectations to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome + The Walking Dead + 28 Days Later + Gigli?

Drones, robots, zombies: We’ve all had jobs that made us feel like we are taking up space, have no will of our own and are out of control. Our stress levels are largely tied to issues around locus of control. When the rules are gone and the economy falls apart and we’re all out of work, however, it won’t be a libertarian freedom fantasy. It’ll devolve into cabbage soup for breakfast, lunch and supper. And no wi-fi!

That’s why we’ll need people who remember their humanity even when there are no rules imposed by authority. That’s why, at the end of Season Three, you’re going to be given a shred of hope. Death will be faced and Death will win, as it always does eventually. However, amid the carnage, there’s a few moments where, whether your favorite characters live or die, there is a point besides how many gory deaths we can expect.

One reviewer (a detractor) asked indelicately, “Why are the uninfected all assholes in the apocalypse?”

Answers:

1. Because an apocalypse without conflict, scarcity, fear and anger isn’t an apocalypse and a book without conflict sucks. 

2. One-dimensional people who always do good no matter what are predictable and therefore boring. We love them in real life (if we can find them) but fiction demands more. I must also add that not everyone is an “asshole” in This Plague of Days. Certainly not. However, they have complex motivations and face peculiar challenges. This is not about a bunch of soldiers holed up in a fortress with all the supplies they could ever need and endless ammo. The Spencers are pretty much regular people in extraordinary circumstances and every day is a test they did not study for. Failure = death.

3. And finally, plenty of people are assholes now and it’s not quite the apocalypse yet. Not quite. At least, not everywhere.

It is the apocalypse in some places. Author William Gibson said, ““The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” Similarly, the apocalypse arrives at different speeds. And as Arnold said, “Judgment Day is inevitable.”

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I wrote This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two. I’d be happier if you read it. If you’re happier after you read it, please leave a happy review, too. Thanks!

Oh, and Season One is available in paperback for Christmas.

Get that for your friends, enemies, family, barber, Weird Combover Guy at the shop, the lady at the front desk at the office with the huge, hairspray hair, that avuncular uncle you like and the teenager who doesn’t like to read much but you want to encourage his brain. And so on.)

 


Movie review: Extinction

My throat is closing up so I lay on the couch and watched another end of the world movie on Netflix called Extinction: The GMO Chronicles. This one’s from Germany and I didn’t recognize any of its stars, but I enjoyed it. It was kind of sprawling (which I liked); had a hint of mystery (that was too quickly solved); the zombies evolved due to GMOs altering genetic codes (loved that); and it treated the audience like adults (which was refreshing.)

The hero, played by Daniel Buder, is a handsome devil who finds he seems immune to the zombie-like apocalypse. A nearby abandoned military base (great set) becomes his fortress. This movie rarely reaches the Omega Man level of creepy (that scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.)

However, they do several things that I like a lot

1. When people die, the grief is not simply shrugged off. They spend some time showing the effects of death on the survivors. Even when the red shirt is unlikable, somebody loved him. It may make the movie too long for its own good, but for real lovers of Apocalyptic fiction, you forgive the length to explore the emotion. At least I did.

2. The story takes place in Europe and they don’t make guns too easy to come by. I think the same would be true in the real Apocalypse anywhere. Guns would be scooped up, prized and hoarded. We are only born with two hands, but when crises arise, no one thinks it’s possible to own enough weapons.

3. Nuclear power plants fail. I address this a little in Season 2, as well. I got the idea from watching the awesome Earth Without People series. We often forget what falls apart quickly without people to control things. For instance, New York’s subways would flood within three days without technicians managing them.

4. I loved the evolution of the zombie species (and if you’ve read Season Two of This Plague of Days, you’ll understand why.)

The makers of genetically modified foods screwed up and the virus is loose. It makes sense to me that the virus’ evolution would continue. Unfortunately, it seems the makers of Extinction blew the budget on the make up on one kick ass, terrifying, no-eyed zombie. After we glimpse the best creature of all, the parkour zombies take over. They’re agile and you see lots of silhouettes, but it suddenly feels like a darker production of the street fight in West Side Story.

5. There was a little hope held out and a hint of the supernatural at work. Mostly it went from “Is it time to commit suicide yet?” to dealing with the threat and conflicts with other survivors under pressure. 

With its limited production budget, Extinction feels like a TV movie and yes, at 110 minutes, it could have been shorter. However, they didn’t fall into the usual traps of zombie fiction and dared for a little more depth. Extra points for trying something more challenging to viewers expectations. Have a look and give it a try.

~ I’m the author of This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two. I’m working on Season 3 now. Expect it in the spring. It’s a sprawling story, too. 

 


This Plague of Days Q & A (Part 2)

Somebody asked if This Plague of Days is gory. 

The complete first and second seasons are up. Season 2 Episode 1 launches Monday. Click carefully so you get the right ones. Cheers!

The complete first and second seasons are up. Season 2 Episode 1 launches Monday. Click carefully so you get the right ones. Cheers!

Quite the conunbump, isn’t it? I mean, it can’t be a binary, yes or no answer. It’s a suspenseful story. One of my beta readers told me Season One isn’t horror but Season Two definitely is,  with more supernatural elements. And let’s not forget teaching a bit of Latin, discovering the names of new colors and learning the glabella relaxation trick. It’s a rich tapestry, I say.

Season One is based at the edge of reality but keeps a foot in that door. Season Two straddles the divide somewhat between international military thriller and some dreamy, supernatural scenes. I’m not trying to weasel out of giving an answer, but the reader is the variable, not I. Gee whiz, I tell the truth of one grisly coffin birth and suddenly I’m a monster. The coffin birth in question probably isn’t what you think it is if you’re a reasonably sane person. That’s a bit of (wisely) obscure knowledge.

This is my waffling way of saying that how gory you think it is depends entirely on you. Please read Season Two‘s sample or get Episode 1 on Monday and decide for yourself. Sorry, that’s the best I can do without crawling behind the controls of your brain and pushing all the buttons at once to see what happens.

One or two reviewers have mentioned that TPOD is a bit gory, but it’s not at all Texas Chainsaw Massacre over-the-top. Each act of violence advances the plot. In fact, everything advances the plot, even if I haven’t yet pulled back the curtain and yelled, “See? See? See!” Seeds are buried in Season One that don’t pay off until Season Three.

My kids are a couple of geniuses, although I’m proof emotional maturity doesn’t necessarily come with age. At ages 11 and 14, I’d let my kids read it. They’ve watched The Walking Dead and I hope they’ll read The Stand soon. Is The Stand gory? No. I don’t remember it like that. I loved that one and I purred softly when someone compared TPOD to Stephen King’s masterpiece.

(If you’re reading Season Two, have you gotten to the joke about The Stand yet? Did you laugh? I chuckled when it rose up off the screen. And the buried Highlander joke is kind of a gem, too.)

Ah. So it’s a joke book, but with a hero on the autism spectrum in grim circumstances. Speaking of which…

Somebody else asked why characters at the end of the world act the way they do.

My characters are pretty much like you and anyone you know. Under pressure, you make bad choices. I don’t enjoy stupid characters. They irritate me. Instead, I let smart people make self-interested, short-term choices. Smart people can do dumb things in fiction, if it seems like a smart choice at the time. Or people can act like cowards, jerks and manipulators, just like every other day. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Have you seen the news?

When it’s not the end of the world, smart people make sub-optimum choices all the time. They forget to get the chimney checked before winter. They put off paying taxes until the last minute. These sorts of operational deficiencies don’t make a heck of a dent in you besides stress. However, throw a bunch of people in boiling water and some interesting choices will be made that make sense at the time.

People act the way they do because it’s natural for them to do so. We’re emotional animals first. Danger amplifies the problems and complications that ensue. Maybe we’ll act better than my group of characters at the end of the world. But you probably wouldn’t want to read that story. Frankly, cooperation isn’t the way to bet when the danger is as big as it is in This Plague of Days. Also, I have to add, good books have conflict. So there.

Grab the complete Season One  and Season Two now or check out the release of Episode 1 of Season Two on Monday if you prefer to get your fiction as a serial. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. I’m straying off the beaten path and going for what people don’t expect from a book in this genre. That policy will continue in these books and all my books.

Got a question? Hit me up at expartepress@gmail.com.

Have you reviewed This Plague of Days yet?

If you would, that would be awesome and I’d appreciate it. Thank you!

 


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