INTERVIEW: Paul McAuley, author of “The Thought War”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

Zombification of the Boltzmann Brain paradox (that if the universe arose out of a random fluctuation in chaos, self-aware entities could arise by the same process).

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I read a great article on Boltzmann brains in the New Scientist, and ran off with one of the ideas.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

It was one of those stories that flow straight through; that is, once I’d worked out that it was a first-person narrative, and the situation in which the narrator was telling his story.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

It starts off in one of my favourite places in London–the cemetry of St Pancras Old Church.  It’s one of the oldest religious sites in London; it contains, amongst others, the grave of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, mother of Mary Shelley (she and the poet Shelley confessed their love for each other over her mother’s grave); Thomas Hardy once worked there; and it’s on one of my walking routes.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I read the article, and did a small amount of footling around on the web.  But not too much: this is a horror story disguised as a hard sf story.  I already had the setting.

What is the appeal of zombie fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

Zombies contain pathos (you can always count on a slapstick comedy moment of six in a zombie film) with dis-ease about our own mortality; that there’s something worse than death.  And apart from triffids, zombies are the slowest yet most relentless monsters in the sf/horror genres.  They keep coming and they keep multiplying, generating all kinds of interesting narrative arcs.

What are some of your favorite examples of zombie fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

White Zombie, for Bela Lugosi and a totally OTT story.  Night of the Living Dead, for low key dread, an early example of serious gore, and for introducing the idea that a catastrophe might not be survivable.  HG Wells’s Things to Come, with its zombie-like wandering sickness, a template for all kinds of science thrillers about viral epidemics.  Joe Landsdale’s Dead in the West for, well, being a Joe Lansdale story about zombies and cowboys.  The graphic novel version is pretty good too.  And Shaun of the Dead was great fun and a fine homage to the zombie canon.