First, a quick point of order. It has come to my attention that in the new 10th Anniversary illustrated hardcover edition of INFECTED, the first choice on page 2 should go to 176. The paperback and Kindle edition are unaffected. This was an error in the code from formatting the manuscript to the new hardcover page count, but I’m told by my formatting team that this was the only error. Here is the replacement page:
With that out of the way, it’s time to talk briefly about author intent. I’m not normally someone who responds to reviews of my work. I generally assume that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and not all readers will synch up with an author’s point of view. However, I recently heard some comments that implied I had an issue with different body types based on depictions in the zombie path, and I wanted to address that.
INFECTED has been criticized for being too macho/militaristic by some readers, but also for not rewarding hardened lone wolf survivalists enough by others. I believe readers often bring their own perspective into a book; which is especially true in collaborative fiction like a branching path book. If you want a calloused, uncaring character, you’ll find a path for that. If you want to work as a team and see the best in others, you’ll find something for that as well.
Reader critiques are valid, however I want to emphasize that I did intend some of these elements as satire. After looking deeply into the genre with my research, I played off a lot of tropes that zombie stories are known for. One thing I found consistently across zombie fiction was that the apocalypse can bring out the worst in us. Summed up as: “terrible people making terrible choices.” We are the true monsters in some of these stories. Yet it’s not all bad. We can also find unlikely heroes in our midst.
On the large, societal scale, zombie stories started as a metaphor for rampant consumerism, and I took that one step further by adding a critique of unregulated capitalism. The concept in INFECTED is that a beauty product starts the apocalypse (after corporate greed speaks louder than a scientist who wants to do more research). When “you” become a zombie in the story, you start to embody these societal woes, to include some of our hang-ups on beauty. But I don’t want to paint these sections as something they’re not. The gross-out factor was intentional. It’s not pretty to become a zombie.
I don’t think that needs to carry over into real life. I have no problem with “different” people. I’m different. You’re different. Our differences make the world worth surviving. Of course, authorial intent does not always carry over into reader interpretation and a lot has changed in the ten years since I’ve written this book, to include me growing as a person and improving as a writer.
Part of this came to the forefront when the book was featured as a playthrough on the Instadeath Survivor Support Group podcast. You can listen to that episode now (and I recommend checking out all of this excellent podcast).
After I listened to his playthrough, I asked if I could record an introduction. Here’s what I added for the podcast:
Hi, Survivors. Author James Schannep here. Brian let me listen to an early version of this episode, and we thought it might be best to record a disclaimer up front. What you’re about to listen to contains gore, violence, body horror and gross-out humor, sometimes at the expense of living people. The zombie genre has a long history as satire, and in INFECTED a beauty product starts the apocalypse. The hungering zombies are a dark reflection of our society, to include some of our hang-ups on body image. I don’t want to spoil the episode for you, so I’ve written a blog post with my full thoughts which you can find at jamesschannep.com/blog or take a look into the show notes where Brian has included a direct link to the post. My books don’t have a “one true path” and part of the fun in collaborative storytelling is that your character can be as noble or ignoble as you choose to make them. I hope you have as much fun listening to Andrew’s choices as he did making them. Enjoy the show.
What do YOU think? Have you read INFECTED? Did you listen to the episode? What did it mean to you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.