Thursday, November 23, 2017

On Emotional Attachments to Electronic Representations, Part 2: The Last of Us and Fatherhood

Forty hit and I lost the ability to sleep in on days off. Between 3 and 4AM I have my first wake-up; sometime in the 5s I wake, berate and cajole myself to go back to sleep; sometimes I am successful and can make it all the way to 6:30, but most often I give up at 6 and quit my bed.

When the necessary bodily evacuations are made, coffee is brewed, and the kitchen is tidied I find myself in a quiet house, able to engage in whatever pursuit I wish. For the past year this has been playing video games, the last of which was The Last of Us.

The Part 2 in the title above shows that I have previously written on well-done, story-driven video games. Here again Naughty Dog studios got me in the proverbial feels.

I suspected it would. While I deliberately avoid learning anything about a game’s story before playing it, preferring to “play blind” as it were, somehow I had heard that The Last of Us had some sad moments. The clerk at GameStop when I bought my copy commented, “Oh man. Anybody that can get through the first twenty minutes without crying has got no soul.”

But being aware and prepared took none of the power of the game away, and when Sarah died there I was, crying in a quiet morning living room. And though those were the only tears engendered from me by the game, the way each major section of the game ends with an emotional plot point—Tess’ last stand; Sam’s fate and Henry’s reaction; Joel calling Ellie “baby-girl”—hit me hard; to the climax, with Joel’s essential betrayal of the human race by saving Ellie, which was essentially a human response—a father’s human response.

I played the game through three times in succession, first on Hard, then Survivor and Survivor + modes, plus two playthroughs of Ellie’s backstory Left Behind, earning all of the single player trophies in both. That left only the most difficult Grounded and Grounded+ Modes left, but I figured that I would want to revisit the game sometime in the future, and would play them then. So I browsed through our game collection, and decided to move on to The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword.

Having grown up with the Zelda series since getting the original for my NES when I was eleven, I had been looking forward to Skyward Sword for years. I played for a few days, but didn’t seem to be warming to the game. My son, a Zelda fan in his own right, asked me how I was enjoying the game: I said it was alright so far; I complained that the motion controls were frustrating; I’m sure when I’ve played for a bit more I’ll like it better. A few weeks in I accept that transitioning from The Last of Us to Skyward Sword has affected my enjoyment of the latter, and a lot of that has to do with me being a father.

Last of Us is set up so that the player is charmed by Ellie, the one individual immune to the outbreak, falling in love with her character well before Joel can. But from the opening sequence we understand why Joel is so reluctant to love: his apocalypse begins with the death of his daughter—losing what was most important at the outset. In his post-apocalyptic world, twenty years later, death is too commonplace, and Joel’s philosophy of survival leaves no room for emotion; feeling love to Joel is antithetical to survival. But then Joel is stuck escorting a girl across country, a girl near his daughter’s age when she was killed; a feisty, delightfully foulmouthed girl that revels in bad puns that, despite her own loss of loved ones can still see the benefit of finding joy in her life.

Here Naughty Dog has done a brilliant bit of storytelling, first by having us start the game playing as Sarah, letting us be confused and scared with her as she experiences the beginning of the outbreak; then by having us play as Ellie after Joel is wounded. As Ellie we hunt, are trapped, don’t know who to trust, and eventually have to do some harrowing things in order to protect Joel and survive. No one likes dying in a video game, and Joel’s deaths are often brutal, but the first time playing as Ellie and she died, an infected ripping into her neck, a “No!” burst out of me. As a player, even though I was playing as her, I had taken on the Joel role of protector; and because I loved her character, a love enhanced by my being a loving father to my children, including a daughter Ellie’s age, I took each of her game deaths hard. There was a shame to it, not playing well enough to keep her unharmed; but then at the same time when I did play well all the men we had to kill to survive were doing her psychological harm, culminating in the vicious final fight with David—who the best of what he was going to do to Ellie if he prevailed in the fight was cut her up to eat. Here at an impasse in their struggle, with both wounded and unconscious in a burning building the narrative returns to you playing as Joel. So that here, in a game that rewarded slow exploration and stealth, where taking the time to be thorough in your search for the necessary materials of survival was essential, and any battle you rushed into only quickened your death scene, your impetus is to get to Ellie as quickly as possible. To prevail you have to force yourself to suppress this urge to run and gun, to rush forward, while the character Joel catches up to the feelings you have had for some time already, realizing that despite all his efforts to remain cold and distant he has become a father to Ellie; finally reaching her—not saving her life, for in a last character switch we play Ellie in her last struggle against David—but saving her from the frenzy of what she had to do to survive the fight, and Joel calls her “baby-girl,” the term he had used with his daughter Sarah.

From set-pieces such as this to Skyward Sword, with its bright colors; from scavenging for items that would ensure your survival to hunting for bugs and rupees; from morally ambiguous supporting characters making life-or-death decisions to NPCs with exaggerated movements and expressions who whine about their boring jobs, broken chandeliers, not being able to attend a competition; from the frustration of sneaking by a clicker without them hearing you and attacking to the frustration of moving a stack of pumpkins to a storage area. Things I would never have minded, or might have been charmed and felt nostalgic about before seem frivolous when compared to the experience of protecting Ellie. Being a father I could relate to Joel, considering what I would do in the face of such circumstances: how far would I go? Would an uncrossable line exist when it came to keeping one of my children safe? Playing as Link I can only relate to my younger self: which is a fine thing to do in the right circumstances; but going from the dark of Last of Us to the light of Skyward Sword was too jarring a contrast for me to adjust to.

Often when playing I would think of my children, especially my daughter who is Ellie’s age. Would they prove as feisty and resourceful as Ellie? Would they be able to retain their humanity in the face of death and the dealing of death? Would I have the will to continue surviving if I lost any one of them?

And this gets to the heart of the effect of good stories on receptive audiences, and how video games are an exceptional vehicle for such storytelling. A video game can be as powerful as a book, film, or television show, but unique because you are a part of the story when you are experiencing it. It would affect me while I played, and keep me engaged in the story and characters when not playing.

I’m sure given a few weeks I’ll be fully engaged in Skyward Sword; I’ll have gotten used to the motion controls, the characters will begin to seem amusing to me, and I will finish the game having enjoyed it. Then I will play a few of the other unplayed games in our collection. But then I will have the urge to return to The Last of Us to play Grounded Mode, where in the first twenty minutes there will be a good chance I will cry.

Monday, January 02, 2017

2016 Year-End Report & Goals

It is a reflection of our times that I have to consider apologizing for 2016 being a good year for me and my family. But ultimately, reflecting on how the ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ has gotten harder for many citizens, I feel it is important to share the positives of our pursuit, and so here are mine:

Beginning my second year of full-time teaching at my current school, which finally fulfilled my career’s leading desire by giving me upperclassmen to teach (not as mature as I had hoped, but light years away from freshman), I got to a place where I didn’t have to invest so much time in the logistics of teaching—the lesson planning and creation, daily prep, observation planning, etc.—and was able to commit myself to writing again. I started this by making it a policy that, the minute I was outside of my contracted hours at work, I would drop anything school-related and focus on whatever writing task was current for the thirty-to-forty minutes before my wife picked me up for our commute home. This has continued into my third full-time year of teaching, where I am now tenured (at least until Trump busts all the unions and bans education).

January and the first week of February I spent polishing short stories, five of which were accepted for publication, trouncing my personal best of two acceptances in a year.

February to June I worked primarily on my zombie novel The Two Loves of Ugly Doug, finishing the first draft of the novel before summer vacation.

June through August was unproductive writing-wise, but in September I got back into rhythm, beginning my screenplay My Dad & His Whore, and Ugly Doug revisions. In November I gave NaNoWriMo a try, where I finished the screenplay, and put 33429 words into my novel Education (previously titled Diary of a Sadman) which I began and relegated to the backburner years ago, getting it within sight of the first draft finish line. Then, after all that NaNoWriMo madness I refocused on Ugly Doug revisions, getting to page 302/377 on the first run-through before the year ended.

Part of my recommitment to writing involved pledging to write a page a day. Being realistic—knowing I would miss days here or there from travel or work or life necessities—I just focused on tracking monthly word counts, figuring one of my longhand-written pages averages about 250 words: so at 366 days I set my goal at 91500, and after my NaNoWriMo push I exceeded this, ending the year at 93829. Part of me wanted to work through December to push my wordcount over 100000, but I like to think that choosing to revise over producing new stuff was the more mature choice. Building on this I am only setting a 50,000 wordcount goal for the year, and I figure that will be enough to finish my last two novels-in-progress (perhaps over Camp NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo 17), while giving me time to revise and publish at least two novels, and revise and submit the screenplay (to where I don’t know; maybe The Black List).

Reading-wise, for the first time since joining Goodreads I met my yearly reading challenge, getting 40 books in (22 audiobooks, 18 traditional). I’ll write more about my year in reading later, but my top five reads for the year were Joe Clifford’s December Boys, Sarah J. Maas’ Crown of Mist and Fury, Andy Weir’s The Martian, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Next year I’m challenging myself to read 45 books, with a mix of reading the rest of the books in my collection from authors I’ve previously read, and books from writer friends.

So, good luck to all in the new year!

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Quarterly Report: 2016 Q2

On my writing:

This was a tough quarter, but then summer always is. It started decent enough with April's writing, with only two days that I didn't accomplish either writing, typing the manuscript, or submitting short stories to journals. I came out with 8878 words written, exclusively in the Two Loves of Ugly Doug novel, the story cresting 100,000 words on the week of the 17th-23rd.

The momentum carried over to May, with the first three weeks seeing 2,328, 4,376, and 3,192 word-counts. Then realizing how much story I still had to write when I was already at 112,844 words, I decided that I would need to split the novel into 2 parts, and so all of a sudden I found myself with a finished novel first draft. So then I finished May by powering on with 1714 words in Volume 2.

Then there was June. First my laptop died; since I write longhand this shouldn't have been a problem, only setting up my new laptop took a lot of the time where I could be writing away. Second, the end of the school year asserted itself as a vortex on my time, so I didn't have any of the afterschool time where I've been accustomed to write available. And Third, the day after my last day of school we got on the road for an Epic 4 week road trip, that took a big chunk out of July. The rest of that month saw no new writing, as I took some much-needed physical and mental recuperation time from school and the road. The only writing tasks I have accomplished have been getting reorganized, submitting a few short stories, and prepping to revise the first volume of Ugly Doug. My plan is to split my time between writing volume 2 and revising volume 1, so that by the end of the year I have one finished manuscript ready to agonize over whether to self-publish or subject myself to the process of getting an agent/publisher, and another manuscript ready to revise.

So Quarter 2 ended with a 18,163 wordcount - below what I had hoped - but I did accomplish the goal of finishing volume 1. I think in future years I will have to lower my expectations for Quarter 2, and consider anything accomplished in June or July as a bonus.

On my reading:

Continuing my year's pledge to read works outside of my white, male, straight, cis demographic, I started the quarter reading two LGBT books: David Wojnarowicz's collection of short memoirs Close to the Knives, which was often incredible, but suffered by too many repetitive, dated rants against 80's era anti-gay; and Bernard Cooper's A Year of Rhymes, which was very good, only I felt unsatisfied by the ending. How the three LGBT books I read this year most affected me was by highlighting an assumption I didn't know I had: I had assumed that LGBT works would be solely involved in LGBT issues and characters, which was initially enforced in the nonfiction Close to the Knives, but wasn't true in fiction: one novel (Hugo SF, read in Q1) only had gay secondary characters, and while the adolescent main character of A Year of Rhymes is discovering his homosexuality, the narrative is much more concerned with him dealing with his older brother's deterioration from cancer. This served to be enlightening to this ignorant white male straight cis reader.

Next I read four books from African-American authors, starting with three classics that I had been meaning to read for years: Octavia Butler's Kindred, Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing, and Alice Walker's The Color Purple. Then, to compare another modern zombie novel to the one I am writing, I read Colson Whitehead's Zone One. What struck me most from these books was their distinct voices. What a treasure we had in Maya Angelou!

Then we got to summer, and the aforementioned Epic Road Trip: four weeks, 31 states @ two Canadian provinces. Since I didn't want to impose my reading pledge on my wife, we began the trip with the audiobook reading of Stephen King's 11/22/63 (which was rereading for me), and when that was over we read Veronica Roth's Divergent, and Insurgent - which was great, because it fit my pledge and added on to my Q1 readings of Dystopian Novels. But then some scoundrel had a hold on Allegiant, so we had to pause that series and look for another book to listen to, and we ended up following my daughter's recommendation and listened to James Dashmore's The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials which we just finished this week, after our trip.

Now there is this debacle: waiting for Allegiant to become available I began Emma Donague's Room, but then my check-out expired before I could finish, at which time Allegiant came up, so I started that; but then Room came back, so I went back to that, all while trying to finish Scorch Trials when my wife and I were driving around, so I had three audiobooks going, two of which were the second books in trilogies. Too.Many.Plots/Stories!

On physical books, I used one of my reading cheats to read Joe Clifford's December Boys - beginning it, appropriately, in the book's setting of New Hampshire, and finishing it when we got home. That always seems to happen on vacations: I expect to have lots of time to relax and read, and then we get so caught up with sightseeing/activities/shore excursions/etc. that I only get a couple of chapters read. Now at home, amid getting through our summer projects and responsibilities, I've been trying to get on track with my yearly goal of reading 40 books, which Goodreads is constantly reminding me that I'm behind on. I started with Anonymous 9's sequel to Hard Bite, Bite Harder, and now my next reading theme is to read the rest of the Atelier 26 catalogue. For those of you that don't know, Atelier 26 is a small press out of Portland, Oregon founded by my cousin-in-law and brilliant writer M. Allen Cunningham. I've been a supporter from the start, helping out on all of the crowd-funding campaigns, so I have every book they have published so far, which, with the exception of Cunningham's four books, are all from women authors. After I have read these four books, I might cheat again on my pledge and read Cunningham's latest novel Partisans. We'll see.

So, to recap, this year I have added the following diversity to my aggregate reading:

- 10 books from 9 women authors
- 3 books from LGBT authors (all by men)
- 4 books from African-American authors
- 1 book from an Afghan-American author

After my Atelier 26 reading, I haven't decided on a theme to continue for my reading. I'll either go for more classic literature from women authors, or try to acquire some more books from non-white-straight-cis-male authors I know, or both.

I'll let you know sometime in the fall how it's going.

[final disclaimer: lest my ignorant white male straight cis self incur any unearned ire, let me ensure you that I understand that the small number of novels I read from a particular group of writers does not constitute an overview of these groups. I now have a better understanding of LGBT writing, African-American Writing, and the female Dystopian novel genre, but groups are always really a collection of individual minds, and I do not consider any of my revelations while reading conclusive of their groups.]

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Numbers That Add Up to 40

I turned 40 last week; that is 14,610 days (and yes I added leap years).

If I am lucky, I have lived ½ my life; if Biotechnology can be trusted, perhaps 2/3.

I have 1 wife, and will always have this 1 wife. In August we will have been married 18 years, so when we are 44 we will have been married for half of our lives (though we dated for 5 years before that, so she has already been the 1 for over 1/2). We have 2 sons (15 and 7) and 1 daughter (13).

Of extended family I have 1 Grandmother left, though with the Alzheimer’s she wouldn’t know me. I have 2 parents that will have been married for 42 years in 4 days. My wife also still has both her parents, so our children have significant relationships with their 4 grandparents. I have 4 Uncles (having lost 1) and 3 aunts (having lost 1). I think I have 15 cousins.

I have been employed by 14 different organizations, including factories, warehouses, architectural offices, tax-preparation services, air-shipping sorting facilities, retail establishments, and schools. I am in my 2nd year at my current School District, in my 7th full-time teaching year after all, so I estimate I have taught around 1,000 students.

I have entertained and enriched myself by reading 688 books (not counting picture, children, or most young adult books), and am currently reading another 5. My goal is to hit 1,000 well before I turn 50. I have also read several thousand comic books and graphic novels. Of films I have seen 3379. Unless something drastic happens to free up my time I doubt this number will reach 3500 by the time I’m 50.

As a writer I have written 37 short stories, 17 of which have been published so far. I have written 1 complete novel, and 3 novels that are crawling toward completedness. By the time I am fifty I would love to have published the rest of the short stories, and at least another 4 novels.

Thank you for taking several minutes from your number of years to read of mine.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Quarterly Report: 2016 Q1

At the beginning of the year I made several pledges that like all writers involved, essentially reading and writing more. Today, amid all of the requirements of life I will briefly reflect on how the year has gone so far.

On my writing:
The overarching goal for the year was to commit to do something creative every day: whether writing or art, or the maintenance of my meager publishing presence. To accomplish this I decided that at the end of my work day, at the moment when I had fulfilled my contractual hours, I would drop whatever teaching-related activity I was engaged in and concentrate of my writing. This year I have sixth-period prep, which for you non-teachers means that the last period of the day I have no students in class, and I grade and plan and do the countless other things that my teaching career requires from 2:07 to 3:00; my wife, also a teacher, though at a different school across town, leaves to pick me up for the commute home around 3:35, getting to my school somewhere between 3:45 to 4. So from 3 to 3:40 on weekdays I put on some writing music, and put in work. Sometimes, if possible, I will write a bit more when I get home, or if I have some extra time in the morning before students arrive I can get down a few lines, but the afternoons are where the most words get on paper. I shoot for a page a day, figuring my average written page is 250 words. Then Saturdays I type the week's writing, file the manuscript pages, fill out a planner; log to gauge the week's productivity, and do other stuff like submit short stories to lit mags. Sundays I have generally taken off.

That's the plan at least, here is how it went:

January was primarily involved with short works: revising and updating, researching lit mags and making submissions. I worked on 8 short works, writing 3318 words, and made 25 submissions. On my daily log, only 2 of January's 31 days have "Nothing" as an entry. Even though I have a daily average goal of 250 words a day, and the 3318 words weren't even half of 7750 word monthly goal, I still felt like I had made a productive start to the year.

February saw me finishing the last short story revision, and returning to my novels. I have three novels-in-progress, with The Two Loves of Ugly Doug getting most of my attention with 5828 words, followed by Diary of a Sad Man, which I renamed Education, getting 1044; adding 952 words from my last short story addition, and I got a 7824 total, beating my February goal of 7250 words. I made 13 submissions to lit mags. On my daily log, only 2 of February's 29 days have "Nothing" as an entry

March started strong, then tanked when I first got hit by a vicious flu that sapped all mental processes along with my energy (seriously, for about three days my sole desire was to sit on the couch and stare off into space until I could go to sleep-though with it also being 3rd quarter finals that week, I only got to stay home and do that for one day), and then went on a spring break trip with the family. Over the first three weeks of March I got 5421 words into The Two Loves of Ugly Doug and 220 into Education, and then nothing for the last fifteen days of the months, going 5641 words into my 7750 goal. I made 1 short story submission.

Going forward next quarter my writing goal is to get at least 20000 more words into The Two Loves of Ugly Doug. I would be thrilled to finish the first draft of the novel before summer vacation, when my family is planning an epic cross-country road-trip through half of June and July, but that's a long-shot. I'm feeling that the first draft will be between 120000 and 140000 words, and since right now the manuscript is at 94070 I'll have to be well above my quotas to get close. Here's hoping though.
Short work-wise I have nothing new in the pipes, so it's just finding new mags to submit to so that every story is out soliciting at least three mags at a time - with the exception of a couple non-simultaneous submission white whales I'm going after.

On my reading:
I haven't done nearly as much reading as I had hoped I would. As per my Medium personal essay/pledgey thing I am only reading non-white male straight cis authors this year. As usual, the majority of reading came through audiobooks, where I started with Megan Abbot's Fever, and then started reading post-apocalyptic books from female authors, reading Edan Lupeki's California (which I didn't really like), and Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, (which I really liked); then on my family's spring break trip when we had over 2000 miles of driving I cheated on my pledge as we listened to Andy Weir's The Martian, (which was entertaining as hell). I also read a bunch of Roxane Gay's essays from Bad Feminist, but I find I can't follow them very well on audio, so I'll have to pick up a physical book sometime to finish. Next up is Octavia Butler's Kindred.

As for physical you-can-hold-them-in-your-hands books I finished Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner (took a while to get into, but ended well), and then started on Jeffrey Hannan's Hugo SF (really enjoying so far), the first in a series of books I will read by homosexual writers. Trying to maximize as much writing time as I can, I am sacrificing reading time, but with my kids all in sports now I am getting more reading in at practices, between track heats and baseball/softball innings. The plan is to finish Hugo SF, and get at least 2 other books in before Summer break.

And I think that's all I've got for now. I'll check in again in early summer to let you know how everything has gone in quarter two.

And now I'm wishing I had a cool ending word like Stan Lee's Excelsior!...

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Setting Up the Year

I should probably feel better about 2015 than I do. Not that I feel that it was a bad year, just that it went by so fast, and I just have a general feeling of indifference about it. It's like I'm in the middle chapter of a series that's just setting up exposition for exciting plot developments to come, but the foreshadowing is too vague to know where my character is headed.

And there were some great things that happened in 2015 that should make me feel more fondly about it:
- We paid off our student loans and our car loan, so that for the first time in our 17 years of marriage we are completely debt free. And since then, this inexplicable thing has begun to happen where we actually have more money in our savings at the end of the month than when we began.
- Besides our annual daytrips to Santa Cruz we took the kids to Yosemite, Santa Barbara, Lake Tahoe, and Disneyland. Our kids travel very well, so our family trips are a pleasure.
- I started my second year of full-time teaching at my new school, and have finally got all juniors and senior classes, so that everyday teaching isn't a battle against hormone-fueled immaturity like last year's freshman and sophomore classes were. My administration is great, my colleagues are great, and I've got great rapport and buy-in from all of my classes. Planning and grading are a pain as usual, but it's so nice to feel stable, with it almost that next year I will be tenured.
- My eldest son Jacob gave up little league baseball for track, and flourished, competing in the mile, and getting a medal in long-jump at the district meet. His parents definitely enjoy the chill atmosphere of track meets compared to overly competitive parents of little league. Best of all he finished the evil purgatory of middle school and has made a better transition to high school than we could have hoped for. He played on the JV football team, got nearly straight A's, and was Homecoming Duke for the freshman class. My daughter Olivia is midway through middle school, but has avoided all of the bullying and negativity that plagued Jake. The uber-creative one, she is loving her crafts class, and playing trumpet in honor band. Though she had a crap time doing travel softball, she managed to have fun with it, and made it onto her school's team in the fall. Then the youngest, Ben, started 1st grade (though after Pre-K, T-K, and Kindergarten, he's an old hat at school) already having nearly mastered all of the 1st grade standards. He's reading chapter books all on his own, and has started the Harry Potter series.

All great things, right? Things that should be enough.Of course as a writer I hoped to have read more and written more in 2015, which is a mix of guilt that I wasn't more productive and envy of those others who always seem to have the time for it all.

Maybe it's getting older. I'm turning 40 this year, meaning 2015 was the year I began closing down a decade of my life, and it is too easy to think of the things that didn't happen in the past ten years that could have or should have, rather than the good things that did happen.

So it goes. Some reflection is necessary, but there's a point where too much looking back keeps you from moving forward with a purpose. Goodreads tells me that I read 26 books last year, missing my 40 book goal, which didn't keep me from making the same goal again this year. This year I am accepting K. T. Bradford's Challenge, and only reading books not written by white, male, straight, cis authors, with the caveat that I will occasionally cheat. I wrote about it in an essay on Medium.

Writing wise it's the same resolution every year: write more, make sure all finished short stories are under consideration somewhere, be better about connecting on social media, start making art again. This year to keep me accountable I started a log, so that I can ensure that I have done at least one thing for my creative life every day. After I get these last few short stories revised and submitted I hope this will be the oft advised "Write at least one page a day".

Since 2016 for me is split with finishing my 30's and beginning my 40's, it's a strange hybrid of short-term and long-term goals. I think now I will just focus on the next five months before my birthday. Here is my best case scenario (for why envision anything else):
- I will have completed all of my unfinished and unrevised short stories and have them off soliciting acceptance.
- my reading book count for the year will be in the teens.
- I will have begun one of the art project I've been planning for (gulp) years.
- I will be well on my way to completing one of my novels-in-progress (right now I'm leaning towards my Great American Zombie Novel The Two Loves of Ugly Doug).
- and since we are discussing best case scenarios, some of the short stories I have out will have been accepted, and there will be a sudden surge in readership, bringing enough revenue in to start a micro-press, which will begin it's run by finally allowing me to hold printed copies of my first two books in my hands.

Good luck to me, and good luck to you this year!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Dostoevsky - Grandfather of the Zombie Apocalypse

It's not often that one is able to discover something in a 149-year-old book that no one else seems to have caught, but I have, and the internet confirms that I am the only one to realize that Fyodor Dostoevsky originated the idea of a zombie apocalypse in his novel Crime and Punishment.


In the epilogue of the book, when the main character Rodion Raskolnikov is finally enduring his "Punishment" he has this dream:
He [Raskolnikov] dreamt that the whole world was condemned to a terrible new strange plague that had come to Europe from the depths of Asia. All were to be destroyed except a very few chosen. Some new sorts of microbes were attacking the bodies of men, but these microbes were endowed with intelligence and will. Men attacked by them became at once mad and furious. But never had men considered themselves so intellectual and so completely in possession of the truth as these sufferers, never had they considered their decisions, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions so infallible. Whole villages, whole towns and peoples went mad from the infection. All were excited and did not understand one another. Each thought that he alone had the truth and was wretched looking at the others, beat himself on the breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good; they did not know whom to blame, whom to justify. Men killed each other in a sort of senseless spite. They gathered together in armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would begin attacking each other, the ranks would be broken and the soldiers would fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other. The alarm bell was ringing all day long in the towns; men rushed together, but why they were summoned and who was summoning them no one knew. The most ordinary trades were abandoned, because everyone proposed his own ideas, his own improvements, and they could not agree. The land too was abandoned. Men met in groups, agreed on something, swore to keep together, but at once began on something quite different from what they had proposed. They accused one another, fought and killed each other. There were conflagrations and famine. All men and all things were involved in destruction. The plague spread and moved further and further. Only a few men could be saved in the whole world. They were a pure chosen people, destined to found a new race and a new life, to renew and purify the earth, but no one had seen these men, no one had heard their words and their voices.

A "plague" of "microbes" that affects human behavior, making them "at once mad and furious", driving them to kill; not just to kill, but to "fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other." With the exception of some early stories that uses radiation as the culprit, the majority of zombie lore show the cause of the "plague" as some form of "microbe." [ex. Resident Evil, 28 Days Later]

The outbreak moves fast, and spreads wide: "Whole villages, whole towns and peoples went mad from the infection." [ex. Night of the Living Dead]

It evokes a military response, "They gathered together in armies against one another..." [ex. World War Z]

He shows the confusion and breakdown of communication among the survivors: "The alarm bell was ringing all day long in the towns; men rushed together, but why they were summoned and who was summoning them no one knew." [ex. The Walking Dead]

He shows how our priorities would change: "The most ordinary trades were abandoned, because everyone proposed his own ideas, his own improvements, and they could not agree. The land too was abandoned." [ex. also The Walking Dead]

And he shows the dangers of survivor against survivor: "Men met in groups, agreed on something, swore to keep together, but at once began on something quite different from what they had proposed. They accused one another, fought and killed each other." [ex. Zombieland, and again, The Walking Dead]

Civilization moves to the edge of destruction: "There were conflagrations and famine. All men and all things were involved in destruction. The plague spread and moved further and further."

Until finally, there is a glimmer of hope that all the death and destruction cleansed the earth for a better future: "Only a few men could be saved in the whole world. They were a pure chosen people, destined to found a new race and a new life, to renew and purify the earth," before the inevitable dark, hopelessness of humankind closes in: "but no one had seen these men, no one had heard their words and their voices."

So Robert Kirkman, Max Brooks, Colson Whitehead, Isaac Marion, and other writers who have expanded the zombie mythos, make sure you give thanks to the one who first put the zombie apocalypse into our literary consciousness; as one that is currently writing a zombie novel, let me pay my dues here: "Thank you, Fyodor. Without your idea of a microbial plague that decimates civilization, our society would lack the awesome stories this idea has generated."