Novel explores origin of zombie plague

In most zombie stories, the action takes place at the outbreak and – in the case of 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead, the main character even misses the initial event.

Huck Walker has taken a different approach with his novel “The Griefing.”

Author Huck Walker doing a little research for his novel "The Griefing."
Author Huck Walker doing a little research for his novel “The Griefing.”

“The majority of the book deals with the events leading up to the apocalypse,” he explained. “The plot follows the four main characters; who they are, what motivates them, what brings them together and how their interactions lead to the creation and release of the pathogen that threatens to eliminate humanity.”

Walker concedes that his concept might not be in line with how some zombie purists look at the genre.

“There are those among the fandom that reject a ‘pathogen’ model for zombification,” he said. “Either way, my experiences with zombie movies, books and video games lead me to spend a fair amount of time thinking about how zombies might exist. I guess that there was a bit of obsession before I came up with my own version of the mechanism for the pathogen for my book.”

According to Walker, that obsession goes back to his childhood when he happened upon his brother watching George Romero’s “Day of the Dead.”

“I really didn’t know what I was in for and the violence, desperation and realism of the movie shocked me deeply,” he said, adding that his viewing of the film was compounded by the nightmares that followed. “I’d always had them, but now they had another, flesh-eating dimension. To this day I wake from dreams of broken buildings and ruined streets with smashed and hungry faces lunging at me.”

It was actually a dream one night more than eight years ago that served as the genesis for “The Griefing,” Walker said.

“It was a scene of biotechnological experimentation mixed with pseudoscience; a warehouse, a collection of people sitting in an inflatable swimming pool injecting themselves with an unknown substance (neither drug nor medicine) grinning at each other, a man in a space suit turning a long handle to manually rotate a metallic triangular prism that was as long as a limo and a woman in a lab coat standing at a bank of computers connected to an array of random objects on a trestle table,” he recalled. “She was explaining to the business man that the pair of dead prawns encased in resin were increasing the resolution of the readings on her machine.”

From there it was a process of fleshing out how the individuals in the dream were all interconnected. Walker said writing bits and pieces at they came to him took a period of four years, during which the story took its shape. Another year was spent editing and honing the story.

Walker said that the time involved allowed him add a level of depth and complexity that is mixing from many of the survivalist tales in the zombie genre.

“This novel is not intended for the reader who is looking for the instant gratification that comes with many books/films/games in this genre; it doesn’t follow the pattern of ‘unexplained release of a nebulous ‘virus’ or ‘toxin’ within the first few pages followed by a tragedy of errors, zombie attacks and fairly predictable heroism,’” he said. “The Griefing gives the reader a sense of a real world, of some strange people within it and of a slowly accelerating juggernaut; the actions of each of the four main characters pulling the word toward a brink from which there will be no return.”

While the action takes place primarily before the zombie outbreak, Walker promises there is action and gives some hint about the zombies that populate the world.

In “The Griefing,” the speed of a zombie depends on the damage done to the host body at the time of infection, how long the person has been infected and what the zombie has eaten.

“The Griefing” is part one of a trilogy called “The Holocene Extinction.” Walker said the second book is on the way and will take up where the first book left off, dealing with survival, but from a perspective that may surprise readers.

“ I’m not writing to break into a pulp fiction market, I’m pushing beyond that, even if it limits my audience,” Walker said. “As to the third book, that’s a secret.”

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