Guest Post: Jason M. Hough on A New Kind of Zombie

August 7, 2013 Author Feature, Guest Post 6

Jason M. Hough, author of The Darwin Elevator [my review] is here to tell us about a different kind of zombie!

Dire Earth

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Zombies, but different.

Given the flood of zombie stories in recent years, it’s worthwhile to take a step back and ask ourselves why we love the undead.

The most obvious answer is they’re relatable. They’re human, or were. Our friends, neighbors, loved ones.  It’s one thing to have a hero in a story slaughter their way through aliens or robots or whatever, but people? People the hero might know? Recognition adds an extra dimension we seem to have an unquenchable thirst for. And of course there’s always the possibility a character we’ve come to know and love will fall victim. A fate worse than death.

But lets face it: zombies are boring.  At least the “classic” zombies are. They shamble around without intelligence. They mumble “brains” over and over again, and since they’re technically dead, it’s okay to kill them by the thousands. In fact the only thing they seem to have going for them is overwhelming numbers.

Creators are starting to play with the cliché Zombie treatment, coming up with new and interesting twists, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do in my Dire Earth novels. Specifically, I wanted to keep the recognition aspect—the idea that the enemies were once on our side—and ditch the rest. The afflicted in my books are humans who survived the onset of a disease called SUBS.  The brain disorder eats away at our higher thought functions and destroys memories.  What’s left is a primal, instinctual being still very much alive. A person’s ability to override or suppress their natural animalistic behaviors goes away.

Even this, though, has been done before. I needed something more, and so the animals, called subhumans, have another trait: the infection amplifies one emotion above all others. Love, greed, happiness, anger—it varies from victim to victim, and often boils down to a manifestation of the age old “fight or flight” dichotomy. In the books, set years after the disease swept the planet, only the more brutal variants have survived (with a few exceptions). This makes the world a dangerous place, a desirable situation for this story, but also leaves some room for guesswork whenever a new infection occurs. Indeed at one point the hero, Skyler, is chased by a recently infected woman who mutters “play with me” seconds before trying to claw his face off. She’s not out to kill, she’s a newborn animal that sees Skyler as a brood mate. She wants to play in the same vicious way two wolf pups might go after one another. The danger is no less real for Skyler, but it makes the enemy that much harder to figure out and defeat.

Layered on top of all this is the mysterious origin of the disease. A safe-zone exists around an alien-built space elevator, implying that the same extraterrestrials who built the elevator also foisted the disease on us. As of yet they’ve neglected to explain why, and as the story begins that small pocket of protection is starting to fail.  You’ll have to read the books to find out more, I’m afraid!

Arguably the subhumans in my books are not zombies at all.  They’re not undead, for one.  They’re very much alive, just… devolved. But the comparison is still fine by me, because the subhumans still achieve the basic fundamental thing zombies do: point out in a literal sense that we’re usually just fighting against ourselves.

There is a GOODREADS FirstReads giveaway going on for 50 copies of The Darwin Elevator until August 20th! As of right now only 475 people entered!!

The Darwin Elevator

Jason M. Hough’s pulse-pounding debut combines the drama, swagger, and vivid characters of Joss Whedon’s Firefly with the talent of sci-fi author John Scalzi.

In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura.

Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity


Jason HoughJason M. Hough (pronounced ‘Huff’) is a former 3D Artist and Game Designer (Metal FatigueAliens vs. Predator: Extinction, and many others).  Writing fiction became a hobby for him in 2007 and quickly turned into an obsession.  He started writing THE DARWIN ELEVATOR in 2008 as a Nanowrimo project, and kept refining the manuscript until 2011 when it sold to Del Rey along with a contract for two sequels.  The trilogy, collectively called THE DIRE EARTH CYCLE, will be released in the summer of 2013. WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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6 Responses to “Guest Post: Jason M. Hough on A New Kind of Zombie”

  1. SharonS

    great post topic 🙂 and thanks for the heads up on the Goodreads contest. I think with the market flooded with zombies it is important to put a twist on the theme to stick out now, much like what you have done. Got your book on my list!

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I agree! I really liked the twist he had. I personally am one of those people that if its masses of humans going crazy killing and eating ‘normal’ people – I consider them zombies…whether they are dead or not haha.

  2. Mogsy

    I think it’s interesting because in my mind, the “twist on zombies” has been so effective recently by so many authors that I really no longer really think of these new interpretations as actual zombies. While their zombie origins are still there, I’m beginning to see them more as a whole new breed of creature for humanity to contend with, especially when it comes to the sci-fi genre. What a great post, really makes one appreciate the idea behind the SUBs’ zombie roots.
    Mogsy recently posted…The Clockwork CarnivalMy Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Yes! It’s true zombies are starting to become just overdone. It’s cool to see them have a new twist. I really like that they are still alive and that it’s about that one emotion blown up for them.