Marilyn Peake is the author of MUTATION Z, a series of zombie novels about a virus that begins in West Africa before crossing geographical boundaries and becoming a worldwide pandemic that devastates mankind.
Below, Marilyn talks about the role of zombie fiction in literature and how the terrifying Ebola epidemic influenced her books.
During the 2014 Ebola epidemic, news stories coming out of West Africa were horrific. The medical community raced to find a vaccine and a cure. Experimental serums were made from the blood of survivors. People in Western countries became so terrified that Ebola would spread to their homeland, many wanted to close their borders, even to their own people working in West Africa, even to those who had volunteered to go there as doctors and nurses.
As I read more and more news stories about this epidemic, I realized how much it had in common with fictional Zombie plagues. Zombie disease devastates the human body and robs people of control over their bodies and minds. A bite from an infected person spreads the Zombie disease; bodily fluid from an infected person spreads Ebola. In the epidemic stage, both wipe out civilizations.
The Ebola epidemic was real-life horror. With Ebola, the internal organs liquefy and blood vessels leak, causing those afflicted with the disease to hemorrhage and “bleed out” through every orifice, even through tiny holes left by hypodermic needles. When the Ebola virus hits an underdeveloped part of the world with inadequate medical services such as West Africa, the disease spreads rapidly and many people die. Unable to properly deal with all their dead, West Africa saw bodies pile up in the streets. Afraid that the authorities would quarantine their families, people sometimes carried relatives who had died of the disease outside of their homes and deposited them on the street. Eventually, dogs began eating those bodies. As if that wasn’t horrific enough, it’s possible that dogs could be symptomless carriers of the disease, but no one knows for sure. Dogs don’t develop Ebola symptoms, but it hasn’t been determined whether or not they can spread the disease.
Following news about the Ebola epidemic, I started to plan a Science Fiction series in which scientists mutate Ebola into a Zombie virus as a biological weapon. And, of course, things don’t go according to plan and the Zombie virus becomes a Zombie plague. I titled this series MUTATION Z, as the Z Virus or Zombie Virus is a genetically engineered mutation of the Ebola disease.
I think the current popularity of Zombie Apocalypse Fiction is due to our fears about plagues and the many ways in which the world could end. Recent reports of microcephaly in newborns being caused by Zika virus has renewed the terror felt during the 2014 Ebola epidemic.
As I developed the story in my MUTATION Z series, I discovered more real-world diseases that have symptoms in common with zombies. Zombies’ skin is full of lesions. In the real world, human papilloma virus has caused a man to grow warts that looked like tree bark. Parts of him look like a tree and he’s even had insects living at the base of the wood-like material growing on his skin. In Hypertrichosis, sometimes called the Human Werewolf Syndrome, hair grows excessively in places where humans don’t normally grow hair, and those afflicted end up looking like werewolves. Zombie Virus causes people to crave brains. Rabies causes people to develop fear of water, along with mental deterioration. Both the fictional Zombie disease and real-life traumatic brain injury can cause people to become violent.
The world can be a frightening place. Zombie fiction helps us deal with our fears over devastating diseases, epidemics and end-of-the-world scenarios.
The first of Marilyn’s acclaimed MUTATION Z novels is currently available on Amazon FOR FREE HERE.