George Romero meets Gene Roddenberry in ‘Night of the Living Trekkies’
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For “Night of the Living Trekkies” authors Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall, the worlds of Gene Roddenberry and George A. Romero were a match made in Omicron Ceti III. The new sci-fi zombie adventure novel from Quirk Books -- the publisher responsible for “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” -- tells the story of a disillusioned Afghanistan veteran turned hotel manager who leads a ragtag crew of Trek convention attendees in a battle against hordes of undead Klingons and Ferengi. Hero Complex contributor Noelene Clark caught up with the authors, whose book just hit shelves.
NC: How did you come up with the idea to merge these two very different genres?
KA: I love the zombie genre -- it’s one of my favorite horror subgenres -- but I never really wanted to write anything in that genre other than a short story unless it could be something different. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the documentary “Trekkies.” It’s really good. There’s actually a sequel to it too. In 2008, about that time I was watching it, and I was really just trying to come up with some original idea for a zombie novel, and I saw these people (and I’m a ‘Star Trek’ fan, too), and I saw how passionate they are and how organized they were, and I could see people looking at them and cracking jokes and really not seeing that. But in the right situation, that being a zombie apocalypse, these people could be the heroes, and that’s where the idea came from -- melding the Roddenberry world and the Romero world. I developed the idea for about a year, really, really writing scenarios and developing characters and trying to work as much ‘Star Trek'-ness into it as I could possibly get. I knew a lot about the zombie genre, and I knew a lot about science fiction as far as pop culture, but as far as the real niche stuff, the real ‘Trek’ geek stuff, I was a little lacking. Anyway, at the end of last year, I pitched it to Jason Rekulak at Quirk Books. I guess it kind of landed on his desk at the right time. He was kind of looking for something different, for something that would take Quirk in a different direction. I was shocked beyond belief when he e-mailed me the next morning, and we got the ball rolling from there.
NC: So how did you come on board, Sam?
SS: Kevin kind of touched on it. He’s the zombie guy who knows a little bit about ‘Star Trek.’ More than a little bit. And I enjoy the zombie genre too, and I wouldn’t say I have deep ‘Trek’ knowledge, but I have medium ‘Trek’ knowledge. I’ve done several projects for Quirk already, and they said, “Can you come in and amp up the ‘Star Trek’ components?” How do you say this -- am I the body count guy? I bring a little more depth and detail to mayhem.
NC: There’s been a rash of zombies in books and movies the last few years. Why do you think they’re so popular?
SS: The reason I think zombie apocalypse literature is so popular is the same reason that a lot of people like baseball. It’s very hard for the average Joe to imagine himself ever playing professional football or even professional soccer. But for some reason, every slob sitting in a La-Z-Boy watching baseball thinks, “I could do that.” And it’s the same way with the zombie apocalypse. You wouldn’t stand a chance against a vampire or a werewolf, but zombies? Anybody could be the hero. That’s sort of the mythology that kind of goes through all the zombie literature, and in this book, I wanted to take a bit of time to point out, “Now, that’s not really true.” Just like you probably couldn’t hit .400 in the major leagues, you probably couldn’t survive a zombie apocalypse either, because you’d get tired after a while. You can only chop off so many heads before your arms start to hurt. And that’s kind of the component that gets left out a lot. Just the fact that when you’re facing 10,000 opponents who don’t care whether they live or die as long as they get you, that’s a problem.
NC: And that’s why you had your main character serve two tours in Afghanistan before becoming a zombie-killer?
KA: In my original iteration, he was actually the younger brother, and his sister was the older one. Now that I think about it, it really wasn’t viable. He was a teenager, probably 17, 18, and he didn’t have all this back-story behind him to really fuel the story.
SS: I just felt like the guy had to have mad skills. I’m making the assertion that a zombie apocalypse is no cakewalk. And you’d have to have somebody who knew what they were doing. At the same time, I wanted him to be damaged goods because that makes it a lot more fun. The whole thing is his redemption tale, him trying to get his mojo back and get his confidence back after what happened to him in the service. I wanted to have someone who, when he starts beating zombies around, you can believe it. He had the background to do it right. It wasn’t like somehow he magically became a zombie-killer just because the situation demanded it because I’m not a great believer that that happens. If you haven’t been in the weight room pumping iron pretty hard and mastering martial arts, you’re not gonna suddenly learn how to do them when the crisis hits.
NC: What about the Princess Leia character?
SS: I wanted to make her have some physical gravitas. She’s 6 [feet] 1 in the book, and does all this exercise stuff and lifts weights. I didn’t want it to be like Sarah Michelle Gellar, where she’s taking down 250-pound body builders, and it’s like, come on, please. I wanted it to seem like she could actually accomplish what was written.
KA: Sam did a really good job on that aspect. My original concept for that character was kind of a sci-fi prostitute, which just wasn’t really believable. I mean it was right out of a comic book. And Sam just really amped her up, injected some testosterone into her and really made her kick butt.
NC: You’ve done some really fun stuff with sci-fi references. Leia unwittingly plays out several scenes from ‘Star Wars,’ chapter titles are ‘Trek’ episode names, Red Shirts face comical deaths. You also used ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and ‘Doctor Who’ references. Was it hard to introduce these in a zombie story?
SS: I think when we went through the first draft, for instance, for some reason I had one of the characters say that the zombies were slow as Heinz ketchup. I think both of us at the same time wrote in and said, “Let’s change that to ‘slow as a Gorn.’” There were places where there were obvious points where there should be a ‘Star Trek’ pun where, just because we were tired, maybe we didn’t get it on the first time.
KA: It’s just endless, you know. The only hard part is confining yourself to a particular franchise. There were so many other franchises to lampoon and to reference and to take off on.
SS: And I think a decision was made early on to just kind of to have like one ‘Babylon 5' reference, one ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ and just kind of focus it down on ‘Star Trek,’ and have it be 80% ‘Star Trek’ and 20% Princess Leia popping off on ‘Star Wars.’ I think that was the golden mix we came up with in the end.
NC: Your characters mention “Dawn of the Dead” and “Night of the Living Dead.” Any other major influences?
KA: I really enjoy the zom-com, the zombie comedies. Ever since “Shaun of the Dead’ in 2004, we’ve just had a slew of them, and they’re really great, like “Dead & Breakfast” and “Fido.” Well, actually going all the way back to “Return of the Living Dead,” which came out in ’85. I’m not positive, but I think that is the movie, that is the moment that zombies started saying, “Braaaains.” And I think it was the first zombie comedy. There have been some bad zombie films that are funny but for a different reason, but I think this was the first one that really just took the metaphor of zombies and tried to crack jokes and really make a funny scenario. ... It’s been a weird process. When I started writing short stories about eight years ago, they were dark and depressing, really kind of to target that horror market. Then in the last three years, jokes have been slipping in. More comedy has been slipping in, and I’ve been getting better reaction to those stories. Right now, I’m kind of at the point where I like a little comedy in my horror and a little horror in my comedy.
SS: I personally think they’re the same thing. I honestly think that horror is just basically comedy. It’s just taking something absolutely absurd and trying to get people to buy in on it. It’s the same as a comedy, and it’s just as outlandish, just as goofy. Higher body count.
KA: The hard part is getting them to buy into it. That’s what’s great with zombies, for whatever reason. I know we went to great detail to give a great explanation of where these zombies came from, but most zombie and horror movies don’t even do that. They just throw you into this thing, and most fans just accept that this is already happening, this is already going on, this is the way it is.
SS: And I felt that in this case, I wanted there to be a reason, because I totally accept and buy into the fact that there is an artistic reason in the zombie genre, especially the Romero movies, in not explaining. I get that. Zombies are basically like a weather condition. A zombie movie is a disaster movie; the zombies are the flood, the zombies are the earthquake, and everybody is just bouncing off of that impersonal force. But in this case, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun if, A) They were explained, and B) The zombies could actually speak for themselves?” That’s kind of a spoiler.
NC: Overall, the novel reads a lot more like a zombie movie than like a ‘Star Trek’ episode.
KA: That was one of Jason’s first comments to me when he read my notes. He said, “This is a movie. This reads just like a movie.” Hopefully we fleshed it out a little more than that, but apparently not, based on your question.
SS: I think it has to kind of read like a zombie novel, simply because the thing about ‘Star Trek’ episodes, almost all of them, is that they follow that kind of ‘60s formula where you open with the status quo, something happens to upset the status quo, and by the end, the status quo is regained. And that’s just not how it works in the zombie universe. Everybody’s gotta die. Or almost everybody has to die. In ‘Star Trek,’ the thing that always kills me is the fact that no matter what problem they’re facing, Scottie or one of the other engineer guys on the various shows goes, “Well, why don’t we blah blah blah blah blah,” and they have 30 seconds of techno-babble, and they press six buttons, and the problem goes away. Which is not how it works here in the world. And it was nice that we could illustrate that. And they actually touch on that a couple of times. There is no technological solution. Grab your batleth, and let’s get out there and cut some heads off.
NC: The book seemed pretty friendly to ‘Star Trek’ newcomers like myself. You don’t really have to be a huge ‘Star Trek’ fan to enjoy it.
KA: The idea is to appeal to as many people as possible. It’s multi-layered. It definitely appeals to a mass market, a deep-seeded Trekkie market, and hopefully a hard-core zombie market.
SS: Did you ever see the movie “Shakespeare in Love?” It had all these incredibly obscure Shakespeare references that you didn’t really need to know to enjoy the movie, but it was funny to watch it in the theater, because about every 10 lines, some theater major in the third row would go, “Ahaahaha,” just to make sure everybody knew that they knew, that they caught the reference. With “Night of the Living Trekkies,” I think there are two layers. There’s an easily accessible layer, and there are Easter eggs throughout for people to enjoy. [Spoiler alert] For instance, the name of Eli Sandoval is a complete tell to anyone who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the show. If they know that name and recognize it and its use in the show, they know what’s gonna happen.
KA: And don’t go to StarTrek.com and search that and ruin the ending for yourself.
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