Friday, June 10, 2011

On Spiritual Ambiguity and Zombies

Of possible interest to people who read my Static-Lands stories (all two, maybe three of you)?  

I have an idea for a story involving zombies.  A zombie uprising happens in a portion of the Static-Lands and an eccentric old artist finds a way to stop it.  This presents a small dilemma for me. 

One of the things I’ve been striving to do with these stories is to have a sense of spiritual ambiguity.  As I’ve been writing them, they really do seem to be about a lot of things – I’ve done exploring peace vs. pragmatism, individuality vs. conformity, and even spirituality vs. materialism.  I admit on that last point that I am rather hard on my materialists – they seem to be the “bad guys” in most respects, but that’s mainly because the nation of Vale also represents conformity. To be fair, they are not just materialists in the philosophical sense (belief in only a physical universe), but very deeply in the common usage of the term “materialism” (they’re obsessed with wealth, material success).  They also probably could be seen as “incomplete” materialists because they do hold to one major immaterial thing (they believe in a Goddess).   They do want to “stamp out superstition from the world” – but really only so they can replace it with their own.

Still, with the “differing beliefs” I am trying to craft in the peoples of this continent, I’ve been trying to be careful to not paint any of them as absolutely right or wrong when it comes to the spiritual and supernatural things.  There is a temptation to bend in one direction (because this series is fantasy and I just plain like and gravitate toward the fantastic), but I have been trying to keep a sense of “maybe yes, maybe no.”  Even the story I wrote where a young man enters an afterlife, he is told that it all might be in his head.   

I’m worried that once I write about zombies, that’ll throw a wrench right into that. My zombies are different, and I have a spiritual explanation for them within-world (having to do with Ilkhan afterlife beliefs – a belief that a dishonored spirit’s anger can bleed back into the world enough to re-animate their corpse in a basic way).  What I don’t have for them is a plausible materialist explanation for a zombie uprising event. 

I was thinking the whole affair could be explained via some kind of virus – something that can animate the remnants of a brainstem, but that sounds like something people would make up to cover up the mess. It also wouldn’t explain the skeletons and “ash zombies” I had in mind.  The technology of the Static-Lands is not advanced enough to allow for nano-technology.  I suppose I could have a “natural magic” explanation as a certain amount of magic is known to exist in the world and isn’t seen as “supernatural” as we might see it 

I was also thinking of hinting that it might have all been a hallucination on the part of the main character.  I wanted to bookend the story with scenes of the main character after the ordeal.  She is dying from an infection from a zombie bite (in this world, zombies don’t zombie-fy people when they bite a victim - they just give them deadly infections.  Think about it – being bitten by a creature bleeding from rotting gums).  I could always hint that it may be an animal bite and she might have fever-dreamed the whole thing, since the focus will be on the character.  I’d really like to hint that “this was real, this really happened,” but I want to leave enough from for “maybe not” to maintain a sense of spiritual ambiguity in the Static-Lands series as a whole. 

I really want to write a story with zombies but don’t want to screw up an important series theme.  What do you think I should do, if any of you are out there and talkative enough to leave a comment? 


  1. I am always in favor of zombie stories! I think your idea of hinting that it's a hallucination could work really well - ambiguity ftw. When I was about 17 I wrote a story about a boy who accidentally unleashes a plague of zombies in his school, then steals a teacher's shotgun and kills them. In the final scene, the police arrive and arrest him for perpetrating a horrendous Dunblane-style school shooting. Because he's the narrator, you have no idea if the zombies are real or just his delusion.

    tl;dr - do it!

  2. Have you seen eXistenZ? It's a movie by the same guy who did Naked Luch, if you are familiar with that.

    The theme revolves around, like much of his work, the nature of reality and how we know what is real and what is not and how much that matters. I think you could pull of the fever dream, is-she-isn't-she sort of thing, in which case, it might not really be necessary to totally explain the materialistic view on zombies.

    In eXistenZ (just saw it Saturday), and awful lot of things are handwaved and passed over that don't make sense until later, but in world, you accept it.

    I don't know, it might be worth it to watch Naked Lunch and eXistenZ just for that dreamy, reallyreallyrealworld vibe.