“My intention had been to use science to (gently) knock down the backstory to most zombie movies and books,” Maberry told Tor.com. “However during the research I discovered that there was a lot more scientific validity to those monsters. It creeped me out, and anytime something creeps me out that much I think: ‘Man, that would make a great story.’”
The inspiration led to Mayberry’s new novel, “Patient Zero.” The story explores a Baltimore cop who is recruited by a secret government organization to help stop a group of terrorists who have a weaponized pathogen that turns people into zombies.
“I was trying to build a case for how the real world would react, research and respond to a threat as described in the George A. Romero’s Living Dead films, and in some of the better zombies (or zombie-like) films that followed,” Maberry said. “I was surprised to learn that science could explain a lot of what we saw in zombie films. That’s both cool and creepy, depending on where you stand. I listed the ‘symptoms’ of a zombie—lack of cognition, ability to walk, ability to bite and chew, reduced or absent blood flow, and so on. Taken separately, science can provide answers. It’s only when you put them all together in one organism that we move from scientific possibility into practical improbability. But only just.”
“A pathogen always seemed more likely,” he said. “I posed this to a range of scientists and doctors. The radiation theory was shot down pretty quickly; but the docs who work with diseases said that if zombies were suddenly a real fact of life then one of the first places they’d look would be prions. Prions are misfolded proteins that act like viruses and/or genetic disorders, which is crazy since they have no DNA and technically cannot be passed down generationally. But that’s science for you. For every item you prove there are a few new mysteries popping up. The creepiest prion disease is fatal familial insomnia, in which the sufferers cannot fall asleep, even when medicated. They remain perpetually awake until they go crazy and their bodies break down. It’s a horrible disease…but a perfect core pathogen for a zombie tale. I went a few steps along that dark road to have my villains bond it with an aggressive parasite (also based on things found in nature).”
The novel, which has just hit bookstores, is the first in a proposed series. The second installment, “The Dragon Factory” will debut next year.
“I speculated about how scientists could use cutting edge genetics to restart the Nazi Eugenics program and pursue the program of ethnic genocide,” Maberry said. “It’s all too possible.”