[Exclusive] Interview: John Shirley Talks ‘Zombies Vs. Robots’ And IDW Limited

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IDW Limited just announced that their second batch of special edition books is two illustrated prose novels set in the popular Zombies Vs. Robots universe. Signed, limited editions of “Zombies Vs. Robots: Z-BOYS IN THE ROBOT GRAVEYARD” and “Zombies Vs. Robots: THIS MEANS WAR!” are now available at IDWLimited.com.

“Zombies Vs. Robots: Z-BOYS IN THE ROBOT GRAVEYARD” is comprised of two novellas written by Bram Stoker Award Winner and co-writer of The Crow film, John Shirley. There are only 500 of these limited edition printings, all signed by Shirley and artist Dan Bradford. We’ve got an exclusive interview from the publisher with John Shirley about his work on “Zombies Vs. Robots”, writing genre fiction, and the limited edition printings. Check it out after the break.


How did you get involved with the Zombies Vs. Robots prose program?

Shirley: Jeff Conner at IDW suggested it—probably because I write both science fiction and horror. And I routinely cause them to intersect like crashing fuel trucks.

Were you familiar with Zombies Vs. Robots before taking on this project?

Shirley: Sure, I know the comics. ZvR is an idea both funny and serious at once—seriously crazed, but in a good way. Savagery meets computation!

What’s the ZvR mythos like? Anything fans should know about this world before they read your new book?

Shirley: It’s set in post-apocalypse America, in the South Western USA desert—the living dead have ravaged the world, but it’s a near future world so that robots, too, are prevalent. Civilization has shrunk to little pockets here and there, colonies always under siege.

Robots in this future have lots of roles but most relevantly, they’re killing machines. Some are intelligent; some are little more than remote controlled drones. So my mission was to bring *freshness* to all this. The robots in this one are of a kind never before seen in this world…they’re hideously specialized. And in one of the two parts (both parts are in the book) of the novella, we see zombies used differently too…as parts of artwork! There’s a kind of Burning Man thing happening in one part of the story…as half-mad artists try to make artistic sense of a world gone mad.

Were you given rules or guidelines for how the Zombies Vs Robots universe works?

Shirley: It’s implicit in the comics but yeah, we talked about it. Emails were exchanged. Phone calls were made. No imaginary world’s use of zombies is quite like any others, really. They’re always a bit distinct. Like, in 28 Days Later the zombies can run like sumbitches. In ZvR the zombies are mostly shamblers, but they’re very, very persistent…

What kind of research went in to writing this?

Shirley: I had to feed zombies into robots to see if they would work as a fuel source. They do!

Also I read the comics, talked to Jeff Conner, and I did in fact look up some terms in robotics that I used in the story. Also had to look up a bit about biofuels…but mostly I relied on my own long experience with science fiction and horror and post apocalypse stories. In my own mind I have lived in a post-apocalypse world, or is it a pre apocalypse world, so I drew on my personal dire view of human civilization and its direction…

Dan Bradford provided illustrations for the book; did you have any input into that?

Shirley: I have enormous confidence in Mr Bradford. I like his Ralph-Steadman-like style, his mastery of his form so I simply relied on him to get it right and he did. I knew he was grisly and gritty enough…

You’ve signed each copy of this special edition. Are you a collector yourself? Special editions or otherwise?

Shirley: No, but I’ve ended up with a lot of signed books over the years. I do love to look at really old books, including really old paperbacks…they have their own aroma, their own decaying charm.

So, are there any prized signed editions decaying in your collection?

Shirley: I do have some signed books from Rudy Rucker I prize. He was one of the original cyberpunk novelists like yours truly, and it’s kind of a nostalgia thing but also I have enormous respect for the fecundity of his mind. I have somewhere a signed Jack Vance book—and he is one of the heroes of my youth.

This isn’t the first time you’ve written a book based on an already existing property. You’ve adapted films and videogames as well. How difficult is it, operating in a world created by someone else?

Shirley: Zombies Vs Robots is kind of wide open in a lot of ways, more than other existing properties. I mean, you’ve got the post apocalypse world, the presence of zombies and robots, and since you don’t have to use specific characters…or anyway that wasn’t required of me…I had lots of latitude, I could find my own distinctive story to tell in a sub genre that, after all, is made of three other familiar subgenres. So it’s going to connect with people who like ZvR but it’s also its own story, has a living- dead life of its own. I did write an episode of Deep Space Nine, going back, for television, and if there was ever a franchise that wants things its own way, it’s Star Trek. There’s a tone, there’re story and world history elements and characters always established there…you’re practically haunted by the ghost of Gene Roddenberry when you’re writing Star Trek…I wrote the novels Batman: Dead White, Bioshock: Rapture and Borderlands: Unconquered and Resident Evil: Retribution (a novelization of the movie), and those required lots of research, you have to know your Batman, your Bioshock, your Borderlands, your Resident Evil movies. Bioshock: Rapture especially required a great deal of back and forth conferencing between me and the designers of the game. But it came out a very strong book for all that cross referencing and revising. It can be challenging to operate in someone else’s world, but then again there is always a lot of room for creativity. You can add a great deal as long as it doesn’t contradict the source material. The writer, if he or she is smart, will take it as a big playground; a sandbox; and that way you have fun writing it. But always stay true to the source.

Videogames, movies or comic books, what’s the most difficult universe to write in?

Shirley: I had to learn a bit about writing comics, when I wrote the five-issue comic The Crow: Death and Rebirth for IDW—I had to get used to a new script format, to working with the artist, to the protocol of all that. I had to learn to check the PDFs of art with the lettering closely for errors—and it’s a different kind of proofreading. But I feel that I’ve got a handle on it now. I’ve done some videogame writing too— cut scenes mostly, some story design—and I found it came kind of naturally in some ways. But like writing for television, and often movies, it’s a ‘committee’ process, you really have to filter everything through designers, producers and directors…even programmers sometimes. There’s a learning curve for that too! I guess movies are the most difficult—I co-wrote The Crow and that had its rough spots. Developing movies is a roller coaster—can be quite frustrating. Notoriously you’re at risk of having your work altered to something unrecognizable…I prefer comics or novels!

…And the most fun?

Shirley: It was especially fun writing Zombies vs Robots because I created a good setting within that world—a “Robot’s Graveyard”, a junk yard for old robots, and was able to play with that, in a grim sort of way. ZvR offers the monstrous dark fun of zombies and the science fiction imagery of robots—that’s fun, one can do a lot synthesizing those seemingly opposite tropes.

Do you have a zombie apocalypse survival plan?

Shirley: Keep wood and a nail gun and plenty of nails for blocking off the windows. We saw how useful that was in the classic Night of the Living Dead. But now we have nail guns and it seems to me nail guns can double as zombie-killing devices. One big nail shot into the forehead, that zombie’s going DOWN. Also, several shotguns, preferably 12 gauge, and lots of ammo. And freeze dried food.

Zombies vs. Robots, where do you side?

Shirley: Robots…! Robots may develop real self awareness; zombies lose all self awareness of any significance. Robots can be programmed to be friendly; zombies can’t be programmed. Or can they? Maybe that’s the next story…

What other John Shirley projects are in happening?

Shirley: My newest novel is the near-future “on the edge of the apocalypse” novel EVERYTHING IS BROKEN – grim, violent but with a satisfying ending. My A SONG CALLED YOUTH cyberpunk trilogy is in a new omnibus edition from Prime Books,

three novels in one volume. My new story collection is: IN EXTREMIS: THE MOST EXTREME STORIES OF JOHN SHIRLEY from Underland Press.

 
  • Canucklehead

    Love the Zombies v Robots books but forty bucks is outta my league, maybe someone will get it for me for Festivus!