5 Zombie Questions: Raymond E Feist
It's that time of the year when ghouls, ghosts, and monsters come out to play. Internationally acclaimed speculative-fiction author Raymond E Feist gives us his take on dragons, the apocalypse, voodoo, zombies, vampires - and zombie vampires.
Raymond E Feist is not known for his zombie novels, for good reason - that's not what he writes. Instead he has sold over 15 million copies of a fantasy series
that has spanned 30 novels written over more than 30 years, and which has been translated into numerous languages. However, that wasn't going to stop me from cornering him with five zombie questions while he was in Cape Town recently for the annual Open Book Festival
. My theory is that anyone with an active imagination - and we can place most (though perhaps not all) speculative-fiction authors in that category - has pondered zombies and mulled over numerous apocalypse scenarios.
When I first brought up the subject of zombies, after a fascinating discussion that had covered numerous topics that included the technology and tools he uses to write and collaborating with other authors, he laughed, then groaned, and then commented, "I just figured out the next big thing - teenage books about zombie vampires." (I did point out that it's likely that someone has already written that, although I'm proud to admit that I personally haven't heard of any such abominations.)
"You're either going to starve to death, drink yourself to death, blow your brains out, let them get you…"
Feist then went on to tell me an anecdote that he later repeated for a packed audience at The Fugard
that had come to the festival for a rare chance to see and hear an internationally acclaimed speculative-fiction author on home ground - it's treats such as these that we particularly appreciate every year at the Open Book Festival. The anecdote concerned his first encounter with Twilight
, which, over the years, has become a different sort of horror to many readers and filmgoers all over the world (and a secret - and sometimes not-so-secret - thrill to others).
"I'll tell you what my first reaction to Twilight
was. I knew nothing about it and my daughter at that time was living with me - she was still in high school and split time between my house and my ex-wife's house - and I'm sitting on my bed in my room watching, usually, talking heads political news in the afternoon when I take my break and my daughter knocks on the door and I say 'What?' and she walks in the room and she says 'Dad, what happens to vampires when they're exposed to sunlight?'
"I think she's asking a serious reference question and I said 'Well, the traditional thing from the movies is that they all smoulder and burn but when Stoker wrote Dracula
Dracula had no problem with sunlight-' and she goes 'No
, they glisten
,' and she held up the first Twilight
book and said 'I'm going to throw this across the room' - and she threw it across the room.
"My entire family watches The Walking Dead
except for me - they say it's great. I remember the first zombie thing I ever saw - I saw it on TV, I was very young - I Walked With A Zombie
. It was a very classic, old film from the [1940s] but it was the very old, voodoo tradition, and I really don't have use for tropes. I really like individually expressive voices and unique approaches. I'm not the first guy to write about a kid becoming a magician, or a quest, or a book with a dragon in it. (In fact the first book I ever read with a dragon in it was a children's book [by Ruth Stiles Gannett
], The Dragons Of Blueland
and My Father's Dragon
and Elmer And The Dragon
- it's a little trilogy.) I think it's just about doing it with a unique perspective."
5 Zombie Questions
It was with some trepidation that I initially broached the subject, partly because I was the first journalist to interview Raymond E Feist at the Open Book Festival media junket (and one of the first to interview him in South Africa at all) so I wasn't sure if he'd be open to the topic - after all, not everyone likes zombies. Thankfully he was happy to let his imagination run wild and the result is not just some fun zombies answers but also a fascinating quick insight into how an experienced author's mind mulls over the potentials in all sorts of possibilities and is always looking for new ways to tell otherwise familiar tales.
Question 1: The slow-moving zombies or the fast-moving zombies or the original voodoo zombies?
Raymond E Feist:
I like smart zombies and that hasn't been done very much. I'm trying to remember what the thing was that I caught the tail end of - I think it was one of the Raccoon City [Resident Evil
] films with the two hot chicks but it was a zombie movie where the mind was starting to work... and then I loved Warm Bodies
. I thought Warm Bodies
was just as good a movie about zombies as has ever been made because it doesn't explain a lot. It just leaves a lot for you to assume what's going on. It's about the process of evolution and change and there are so many unexpected things in there because they just took the trope and put it on its ear. And, besides, Nik Hoult
is a great actor; just a fine young actor.
Slow-moving zombies just wear you down - after a while you just get tired of dodging. The fast ones are like ambush predators - you don't stand a chance. The original zombies were terrifying not so much that they were something that you had to worry about because they were, you know, like wind-up toys and you just got out of the way - it's the fact that somebody made them and it wasn't that the zombies were the problem it was that somebody was going to turn you into a zombie.
So all three tropes have something but here's the thing: as a writer, you give me a concept and I'll find a way to make it interesting, otherwise I won't do it, but I'll be honest - it's a particular area of fantasy that has never appealed to me very much. I'm also really not big on other areas of traditional fantasy. I'm not a big fan of fuzzy little critters that everybody loves. I put fuzzy little critters in one book in passing and made them annoying as hell - just because I felt like it. Stinky little monkeys - I had these characters - and then I never did anything with them. I mentioned them once in a later book and I think if I did it over again I would have left them out.
Writing at whim is dangerous - it sometimes has long-term consequences!
Question 2: The zombie apocalypse happens - where do you retreat to?
Raymond E Feist:
That's a really good question because what people don't look at is that we all can't have old Cold War bomb shelter bunkers available and the fact is that if a true zombie apocalypse happens - if there is a safe haven or an enclave or something - you know, obviously you try to get there and that's a whole sub genre of stories about "I'm just trying to get to the safe place".
The first [one] I can remember, actually, was a - and it wasn't zombies it was a post-apocalyptic thing - but I can remember an old George Peppard
movie called Damnation Alley
, based on a Roger Zelazny
novel, which they changed tremendously, but it was the fact that there was all kinds of crap going on with society that had fallen apart and these two guys had this super RV - it was like an RV on steroids with engines and it was armoured - and there were trying to get from some place in the west - I think California - to a safe enclave in New England. It was a pretty bad picture but it was an interesting concept so if there's an enclave out there and people are gathering that leads into whole other branches of stories like "now we've run out of supplies and we're not going to let anybody else in" and all that.
If there is no haven, how soon are they going to get you and how do you want to go out because all the supply lines and all the infrastructure is gone? I mean, nobody is manufacturing toilet paper anymore. Once the local store has been raided, all the Scotch is gone. It's whatever you can imagine: you have to imagine, "what is the end of the supply chain?", and at that point it's all doom and gloom stuff. It's, like, ok, you're either going to starve to death, drink yourself to death, blow your brains out, let them get you... at that point you're deciding how you're going to check out and that's an existential crisis that I don't think most of us care to entertain because there's not a happy ending in that.
Question 3: What is your melee weapon of choice if you had to go down fighting because zombies were coming after you?
Raymond E Feist:
I'm torn between a belt-driven Vulcan minigun
, which would do a hell of a lot of damage but run out of ammo very quickly.... A flamethrower has some things to recommend it. I think the fast, clean, easy way is a low-level tactical nuke, which takes you out and, like, two thousand of them, or my favourite choice is: not be there in the first place.
Question 4: You have a sidekick with you to help you in your final moments of smashing brains. Who is it?
Raymond E Feist:
Superman! Obvious first choice - Superman! Then I just sit back and let him do all the work. Except, no, it can't be Superman because he doesn't take lives, although they're already dead, so I guess he could, yeah.
That's a very interesting question: would Superman kill zombies? Next time I see a DC Comics writer I'll ask him.
Question 5: Zombies versus magicians - all out war - who wins?
Raymond E Feist:
Oh, no contest, magicians, you know - all you zombies turn into poppies, all you zombies become little fishies out of water.... I mean, Pug
could clean them out singlehandedly!
Happy Halloween from all of us at brainwavez.org!