Flaming Arrow is out in the wild, silently stalking down readers right now. To celebrate the latest addition to the Afterblight Chronicles, author Paul Kane talks us through his top post apocalyptic movies…
I’ve talked quite a bit in the past about post-apocalyptic fiction that influenced the Hooded Man stories, the major one being Robert Swindells’ excellent Brother in the Land – which we studied in English classes at school. So when I was asked to do a Top Five for the Abaddon blog, I thought it might make a change to talk about my current favourite post-apocalyptic films instead. And here they are, in no particular order:
1. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
One of the most perfect post-apocalyptic movies of all time, this just got everything right as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always considered the first Mad Max – as good as it is – to be a kind of prelude to this one. By now we’re well into post-apocalyptic territory, with crazed gangs and communities of survivors. You can definitely see the influence of this one in the action scene at the start of Arrowland. At the time of writing, I still haven’t seen Fury Road though, so this one may change…
2. 28 Days Later
A faultless vision of a post-apocalyptic Britain, especially with those establishing shots of Cillian Murphy wandering around a deserted capital. I absolutely love zombie movies, which is probably why I write so much about them myself, and adore the faster, more vicious kind depicted here. Zombies as virus, I can really get behind!
3. The Road
I’m a massive fan of the Cormac McCarthy novel, and I think the 2009 adaptation did a cracking job of showing the harshness of this world, but balancing it out with the relationship between a boy and his father. And it’s those kinds of relationships under duress I’ve found so interesting in the Hooded Man stories.
4. I Am Legend
Again, I’m a huge fan of Richard Matheson’s original book (anyone who’s read my stories ‘Alone’ or ‘He is Legend’ will know that). For my money, and this might be a controversial view, the Will Smith film did the best job of trying to adapt this for the screen. The loneliness of a sole survivor, the danger of the vampires – again, as virus – and being pushed to the limits by both, all pretty much spot on. It’s something I hope the forthcoming film adaptation of my novel Lunar will pull off too.
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
A new addition to my list (and bubbling under are films like Stakeland, Reign of Fire, A Boy and His Dog and Terminator Salvation). I grew up on the PoTA films and TV series, and after Tim Burton’s stab at a remake it’s nice to see the franchise in safe hands again. A superb movie, which deals with power struggles, not only amongst the surviving humans, but within the ape camp as well. Highly recommended!
Paul Kane has been talking to the good people at Authors Interviews about all things Flaming Arrow, his latest Abaddon eBook that sees Kane return to the ravaged wastelands of The Afterblight Chronicles.
Cult writer Al Ewing takes a blood-thirsty romp through the world of the Afterblight
One man against a city of maniacs
This ain’t a complicated story, but then Cade wasn’t a complicated man. He
didn’t exactly care about people, did Cade, but if one of the people he almost cared about was in trouble, he’d help out if he could. If that meant heading down to San Francisco – even though nobody ever came back from there alive – well, fine. If that meant taking on whole armies of religious maniacs, coupon-clipping cannibals and helter-skelter hippies who dealt out free love and fast death in equal measure, armed with nothing but his two fists and a decent hunting knife… well, I’m kind of runnin’ my mouth here.
This ain’t a peaceful story, is what I’m tryin’ to say. And Cade… Cade wasn’t a peaceful man.
Why the critics loved it:
“If you’re after a short sharp dose of post-apocalyptic fiction then you could do a lot worse than pick this up.” – Graeme’s Fantasy Book Reviews
“A man. Punching a bear. This defines classic cover” – Pornokitsch, classic covers series
Critics who were less sure (and their critics):
(click image to see full review)
Why we loved it:
Riding rough-shod through a blistering, Technicolor adventure, Ewing has created a vastly fun entry into the fan favourite Afterblight shared world series. If you haven’t discovered this maestro of underground fiction, now’s the time to start.
Kavika Kamalani is a Pali Boy, a post-plague heir to an ancient Hawai’ian warrior tradition that believes in overcoming death by embracing one’s fears and living large. His life on the Nomi No Toshi, the floating city, is turned upside down when one of his friends dies, harvested for his blood, and he sets out to find the killer. Kidnapped himself and subjected to a terrifying transformation, Kavika must embrace the ultimate fear – death itself – if he, his loved ones, and the Pali Boys themselves are to survive.
To celebrate last week’s UK release of The Journal of the Plague Year we sat down with Abaddon Editor David Moore to work through the chronology of The Afterblight series so far.
In the Beginning
1. Orbital Decay by Malcolm Cross. This one’s easy, as it starts as the virus is just getting started.
=2. School’s Out by Scott K. Andrews. Exactly where to place Scott’s opening novel is tricky, as Lee flashes back to the early days of the Cull and the story runs out over the course of a year, but I’m going to pin this one down as at least starting within a few months of the virus breaking out.
=2.Dead Kelly by C. B. Harvey. Colin’s contribution is explicitly placed six months after the Cull hits, which makes it more or less contemporary with the start of School’s out.
One Year on
3. The Bloody Deluge by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Adrian doesn’t pin Katy’s and Emil’s flight across Germany down, but it seems to begin between one and two years after the Cull.
4. Death Got No Mercy by Al Ewing. Al’s actually quite specific; Cade’s rampage begins two years after the dyin’ started.
5. ‘The Man Who Would Not Be King’ by Scott Andrews. This short story, included with Paul Kane’s Broken Arrow (and the collected School’s Out Forever), bridges School’s Out and Operation Motherland and is set around two years after the Cull.
6. Operation Motherland by Scott K. Andrews. Set a while after the end of School’s Out, as the new school has had a chance to settle in, Motherland takes place around three years after the Cull.
7. Arrowhead by Paul Kane. Paul and Scott, I gather, sorted out between themselves that de Falaise’s invasion occurs after the destruction of the base in Salisbury plain, explaining why there was no organised resistance. Around Year Four.
=8. The Culled by Simon Spurrier. The nameless soldier of Simon’s book explicitly gives the date as five years after the Cull.
=8.Kill or Cure by Rebecca Levene. Jasmine leaves the secret facility at Lake Erie at the same time as her lover – The Culled’s nameless hero – sets out to find her.
=8. Children’s Crusade by Scott K. Andrews. Lee and Matron clash with the Neo-Clergy’s child-snatchers, suggesting that this book is contemporary with The Culled.
9. ‘The Servitor’ by Paul Kane. This short story – published in Death Ray #21, Oct/Nov 2009 (and collected in the ebook edition of Hooded Man) – introduces the sinister new cult that kicks off the action in Broken Arrow. Between Years Five and Six.
10. Broken Arrow by Paul Kane. It has been some while since Arrowhead’s Rob Stokes settled Nottingham and established his Rangers, putting this book around Year Six
11. ‘Perfect Presents’ by Paul Kane. A charming snapshot of life in Afterblight Nottingham, this short story – featured in Abaddon Books’ A Very Abaddon Christmas blog event, 2009 (and collected in the ebook edition of Hooded Man) – is set the Christmas after Broken Arrow.
12. ‘Signs and Portents’ by Paul Kane. This short story – included in Children’s Crusade (and collected in ebook edition of Hooded Man) – sets the scene for Arrowland, and takes place in about Year Seven.
Year Eight to Year Nine
13. Arrowland by Paul Kane. A little while has passed since the rise and fall of the Tsar, putting this book at about eight or nine years after the Cull.
One Decade on
14. Dawn Over Doomsday by Jasper Bark. Some years have passed since the Apostolic Church of the Rediscovered Dawn was crippled by the nameless soldier of The Culled in Year Five, placing it about one decade in.
Twenty Years on
15. Blood Ocean by Weston Ochse. This one’s made fairly easy by dint of sheer scale. It’s not clear when exactly the events occur, but it’s clear that people have been born and grown to adulthood never knowing a world before the Cull. Blood Ocean’s set at least twenty years after the virus.
With each new title and each new author bring a whole new perspective and history to the world of The Afterblight we’re already really excited to see what the next wave of books brings.
Hello again friends, and welcome back to final part of our Journal of the Plague Year interview series. I’m sure you all know the drill by now, but just in case you ended up here by taking a wrong turn somewhere between google and facebook (we’ve all been there, don’t worry – you’re safe now) please do pull up a chair and catch up with part one and two in series first. We’ll give you a moment, there’s no rush.
All good? Fantastic, then let me pass you on to the more than capable hands of Abaddon editor David Moore and Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of the The Bloody Deluge.
DM: Eastern Europe is an area not well represented in English-language fiction. What does the region have to offer to English readers?
AT: Eastern Europe (or, from the Polish perspective, Central Europe) is a cornucopia of history that simply doesn’t filter much into English sensibilities. There are centuries of struggle and tragedy and heroic incident east of where the Iron Curtain once stood that people in the West simply don’t hear about, unless they’ve read Michener or Zamoyski, say. And some of it is frankly a gift for a writer of speculative fiction. The siege of Jasna Gora during the original Deluge – the Swedish invasion of Poland – is like something out of David Gemmell – the single monastery holding out against the invading army until the people rise up and drive them out – ok, that is a massively simplified summary, but still. And in Russia, of course, you’ve got Alexander Nevsky and his fight against the Teutonic Knights – the battle on the ice, all of that. For a writer, there is an enormous store of material there waiting to be tapped, that is going to be unfamiliar and fresh to most English-language readers.
DM: Faith versus scepticism is a big theme in your story, represented at the extremes by Rev. Calumn and Dr. Weber and by more moderate voices among the inmates at Jasna Góra. Is this an important subject for you? Where do you stand?
AT: Is it an important subject for me? I guess I would be very happy to live in a world where faith wasn’t a constant source of global friction, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. In Deluge I’ve tried to provide a range of possibilities rather than casting the debate in black and white. Calumn is a TV evangelist, an opportunist fopr whom religion is a way of holding on to power and influence, both before and after the fall, and needless to say he’s not a very nice man. Abbot Leszek is more complex, and I can’t really say too much about him without spoilers, but he’s certainly not an unblemished soul by any means. Emil Weber, though… I mean, to a certain extent, Weber is a Dawkins-style figure. He is an atheist who sees the rational world being overtaken by a new wave of religious extremism in the wake of the plague. He has the good of humanity at heart, but he has no compromise in him, so he is constantly striking sparks from anyone who disagrees with him. And he’s right. Weber is absolutely right in his concerns about the way the future could go, and I think in his position I would have exactly the same fears – of a new dark age of ignorance – I just wouldn’t necessarily have the utter – and sometimes insufferable – courage of my convictions in the way that he does.
DM: Katy Lewkowitz is an awesome hero, at a time when female characterisation is very much a hot topic in genre. What makes a good female hero? What do you look for?
AT: What makes a good female hero: depth, strengths, weaknesses, moments of testing, doubts, triumphs and failures. And being female. For a male hero, the same, but substitute “male” for that last. I write a lot of female protagonists, which at base I think is probably a reaction to fantasy fiction having a preponderance of male protagonists, because I’m awkward like that. I probably write about heroic insect-characters for the same reason. I have seen various pros and cons advanced for male or female protagonists, and mostly these get mired very quickly in gender stereotyping. I don’t think there’s any barrier to having female characters – heroes, villains or spear-carriers – especially in fantasy where the author controls so many more of the variables. Once you’ve uncoupled yourself from that standard image of the hero as automatically male (white, able, cis, etc.), it allows for much more diverse writing – and I don’t mean diverse in a ‘politically correct’ sort of a way, just diverse. As a writer, there’s never a downside to having more options.
DM: You’re best known as a fantasy author. What was it like, writing in the post-apocalypse genre?
AT: Challenging. I’m very used to playing in a world where I get to call all the shots. Suddenly I’m writing in the real world, even if it’s a real world that’s gone completely to hell. There are all sorts of pre-set constants I’ve got to work with. I had to scrabble around for material on Jasna Gora, for example, to get the physical layout as accurate as I could (and I’m sure that people will find stuff that’s wrong anyway, and then I’ll never hear the end of it) – and that’s harder than you’d think because most of what people write about it focuses on small details – particular relics and treasures – rather than giving you a wargames-ready battle map. I also spent far too long with Google Earth working out roadmaps and routes over the German-Polish border.
DM: And was this your first work in a shared world? What are the pitfalls?
AT: Well, I got a good brief and a chance to ready some of the earlier novels, and I think that gave me a sufficient mental toolkit to approach the series. Also, of course, one of the reasons I took the action to Poland was that nobody else had been there, so I had a freer hand than if I’d wanted to set things in the US or the UK. From the brief, I saw that there was an existing mention of right-wing extremism erupting in Germany, but no hard details, and so I took that and ran with it, hopefully in a direction other than the obvious.
In Adrian Tchaikovsky’s The Bloody Deluge, Katy Lewlowitz and her friend and old tutor Dr. Emil Weber, fleeing the depredations of the so-called New Teutonic Order, take refuge among the strangely anachronistic survivors at the monastery of Jasna Góra in Western Poland. A battle of faith ensues, that could decide the future of humankind…
The Bloody Deluge is the third novella in the coming post-apocalyptic omnibus collection Journal of the Plague Year out 3rd July 2014 (UK) and 12th August 2014 (US).
Over the next three days Team Abaddon will be picking the brains of the three authors contributing to Journal of the Plague Year with questions courtesy of Abaddon editor extraordinaire David Moore.
Taking “one small step” for author-kind and first up in the firing line we have Orbital Decay’s Malcolm Cross; over to you David and Malcolm.
DM: So, space: pretty fucking terrifying, judging by Orbital Decay. We’re guessing that must have been a sobering bit of research?
MC: Space is terrifying. It’s one of the relatively few environments in which humanity has no business being. We can climb mountains unaided, we can free-dive to incredible depths, with training we can go almost anywhere on our little world with virtually no tools whatsoever, and the penalties for failure start with discomfort, not death.
It doesn’t just start in space, either. Some of the earliest deaths in space exploration took place on the ground, fires during equipment testing. There were the shuttle disasters, Challenger and Columbia. Hell, the first attempt to dock with the first space station (Salyut 1) failed, and the second attempt, successful, killed the entire crew of Soyuz 11 through depressurization during their re-entry burn after a problem undocking from Salyut 1. All of these men and women were being supported by superpowers, assisted by hundreds (if not thousands) of engineers. None of them had a chance.
But, thankfully, there are more successes than losses, more close shaves than catastrophes. Some of them hilarious, turds floating around the Apollo 10 capsule, some of them scary, like the fire aboard Mir. Space exploration is a potentially lethal game, even when everything goes right.
DM: Orbital Decay digs pretty deeply into the epidemiology of the Cull. Is that a particular area of interest for you? Did the series canon present you much difficulty when writing these parts?
MC: Ooof. The series canon is a topic in itself — I wound up reading the entire series (eleven books, back then) in a little over three weeks, specifically to figure out what was going on. The Afterblight Chronicles, and the Cull, have passed through a lot of hands over the years, and I have to say, there have been some dissenting viewpoints on how it all went down.
I’ve always enjoyed trying to figure out just how seemingly impossible fictional things might be real. I think my first semi-plausible crack at it was when Street Fighter 2 was brand new, and I wasn’t quite ten years old. You know how they throw fireballs around in that game? Yeah, well, when space shuttles come back to Earth they get surrounded by fire just like that because they’re moving so fast the friction burns the air and obviously that is how the Street Fighter characters can throw fire around. Obviously. (Footnote: Actually the air ahead of the spacecraft is massively compressed by the shockwave of its motion through the atmosphere, and that causes far more heating than friction does, but I had no idea about that as a kid.)
Thankfully, the real science behind viruses and the seemingly impossible horror of the Cull are far easier to meld together for a plausible explanation. One of the key mysteries behind the Cull — how it so selectively attacks almost everyone bar those with O-Negative blood — was one of the most focal.
To grossly oversimplify, if you’re AB-Positive, you have no blood-group relevant antibodies, and you have all three antigens — A, B, and Rhesus — on the cell-walls of your red blood cells, which act as a kind of flag to tell your immune system that this is one of your cells, not something invading your body. If you’re O-Negative, you have none of these antigens, and you have every single one of the antibodies that attack the antigens as if they’re an infectious substance. You’re protected. (You also can’t receive a blood transfusion from anyone else, but you can give blood to just about anyone — so do consider blood donation if you’re so fortunate!)
Now, when you learn that some viruses tear a piece out of its host-cell’s walls and wrap themselves up with it, effectively camouflaging it against the body’s immune system… well. It doesn’t take a microbiologist (and I’m not one) to see the potential mayhem if this trait had to arise in one of the viruses which alter a cell’s DNA specifically to change how it divides and what kind of tissue it produces — some of these are the oncoviruses, responsible for some types of cancer. It could be something very much like a burglar armed with a set of keys to your house, trying each one in turn until something fits!
DM: On which note, what was it like working in a shared world?
MC: I mentioned reading all eleven books in three weeks-ish? No world bible back then.
That part was exhausting. Like wandering into the minotaur’s maze, but thankfully I left a thread marking my path for others to follow, in the form of a lot of clippings and some other notes which David Moore’s now the custodian for. But it’s also a lot of fun, adding your own little branch to what is now a very large (if scabrous and plague-ridden) tree.
It’s not your usual series, either. We meet many of the characters once, or over the course of a trilogy, and then move on to some other part of the post-apocalypse. One of the reason the series title — ‘The Afterblight Chronicles’ — is so very apt. It’s like working on a collaborative history of the world’s end. Almost a communal meditation on what it is to lose everything.
Certainly, it’s unique. I spent a lot of time worrying about getting something ‘wrong’, early on. Some misplaced detail or element of timing that’d ruin it for the fans, doing something that’d tread on another of the authors’ toes, something like that. But, in the end, by stepping carefully and becoming a fan of the series myself, it became quite a lot of fun to add a bit on to what’s already there.
DM: Orbital Decay is arguably unusual among post-apocalypse stories in that it occurs right at the very outset of the apocalypse. Does that change the tone much?
MC: There are a few other stories that do it, some recent zombie books, and Mira Grant’s ‘Parasite’ is certainly set in what seems to be the early phases of a unique little apocalypse, but it is definitely unusual. Most works take the apocalypse for granted, or at the very least skip over it to get to the good parts.
As a result, I think a lot of post-apocalyptic literature counterintuitively focuses on growth. What we gain, how we fill the now empty gaps, how we survive, how we (hopefully) find a new way to thrive. The single seedling sprouting from a cratered landscape. A new equilibrium with the world around us, holistic and all that, yeah?
Orbital Decay is about being stuck in a tiny little can hundreds of miles over the ground while everything you ever knew, friends, family, and nations, die choking on their own blood and all you can do is watch. It’s very heavy metal.
More seriously? I think it’s about mourning and redemption. Looking loss in the eye and coming to terms with it on that basis, rather than the long and gradual process of putting it behind you, finding closure, and moving on — which has been done very skilfully in the two Afterblight trilogies, Scott K. Andrews’s School’s Out books and Paul Kane’s Hooded Man series.
In Malcolm Cross’ Orbital Decay, the team in the International Space Station watch helplessly as the world is all but wiped out. Exiled from Earth by his blood-type, astronaut Alvin Burrows must solve the mystery of the “Pandora” experiment, even as someone on the station takes to murdering the crew one by one…
Orbital Decay is the first novella in the coming post-apocalyptic omnibus collection Journal of the Plague Year out 3rd July 2014 (UK) and 12th August 2014 (US).
Imagine being trapped in a tin can moving at five miles per second with unspeakable terrors inside and nothing but pitiless vacuum outside. That’s the horrific situation facing the astronauts of the International Space Station in the brand new ebook from Abaddon Books – Orbital Decay.
This latest ebook exclusive from Abaddon in the Afterblight Chronicles series has been written by Malcolm Cross and we asked him to explain why setting his new novella on the ISS was the ultimate in horror settings.
My generation didn’t have the moon landings.
The Space Shuttle was so passé it barely rated a news item, Skylab had long ago been abandoned and burned up, there was a fire on Mir and we hardly even heard about it. The International Space Station? It’s been up there for sixteen years. Mostly we don’t think about it.
For decades we all took human spaceflight for granted, and then Chris Hadfield burst onto twitter and Gravity rocked the Oscars, and then the spacemen over your head became real. For a lot of us it produced a brief disconnect with reality, a moment to dream in, a thrilling heartbeat where the silly childhood idea Star Trek might be real came back.
Obviously, I leapt at the opportunity when Abaddon Books offered me the chance to write about what happened on the ISS during the apocalyptic plague that kicks off their Afterblight Chronicles setting. Trouble is, for a good horror story, often you need to start somewhere normal and familiar, then take your reader to a place that’s threateningly different.
The International Space Station? It isn’t familiar. It’s a flying can with two very different architectural styles in the American and Russian sections, constantly noisy with the hum of air circulation fans. Silence isn’t peace and quiet — it’s a reason to panic in case the air goes stale and asphyxiates you. There are dozens of sunrises every day, and just as many nights.
Trying to make it seem familiar felt sacrilegious. But that was my first goal, working in the routine around day to day research, everyday life with big ‘family’ dinners the whole crew gathers for, and even being forced to swallow down toothpaste because, after all, you can’t spit into a sink without gravity’s help. Even if the International Space Station’s a place where you can turn the wall into the floor and a corridor into a canyon to fly through with just a twist of the body, to the Astronauts who call it home, it really is home.
And like any home, it’s a great place to set a horror story.
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