“Tameshigiri” — Steven Gould

A Hugo and Nebula Award finalist, Steven Gould is the author of the novel Jumper, the basis for the recent film of the same name. Other novels include Reflex, Blind Waves, Helm, Greenwar, and Wildside. A new novel, 7th Sigma, is scheduled for May 2011. Gould is currently working on another entry in the Jumper series. His short fiction has appeared in Analog, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Amazing Stories, The Year’s Best Science Fiction, and Tor.com. When not writing, Gould spends entirely too much time killing zombies on his Xbox 360.

Ninjas were spies, saboteurs, and assassins in ancient Japan. In Japan the equivalent term “shinobi” is more common, but Westerners prefer the sound of “ninja.” Ninja was an officially recognized job, and only those of a certain income were allowed to keep ninjas on the payroll. Ninjas commonly wielded swords (katanas), throwing stars (shuriken), and chain and sickle weapons called a kusarigama. While popular imagination pictures ninjas clad in black, in real life ninjas probably tried to blend into the local population by dressing as priests, entertainers, and merchants. Much of Japanese architecture was originally developed as a defense against ninjas, including the use of gravel courtyards and nightingale floors that made it difficult for intruders to move about silently.

Gould says that this story is all my fault: “I made the mistake of saying on Twitter something like ‘Ninjas awesome. Zombies awesome. Ninjas and Zombies? Double awesome!’ John Joseph Adams saw it and asked if I was writing such a thing. I wasn’t, but I said that I could.”

A student of Iaido—the Japanese sword as a martial art—for over twelve years, Gould didn’t need to do much research for the story, but he says he did stand out in the middle of his backyard with a bokken (wooden sword) for a while, working on some of the moves depicted in the story.

Why zombies? “The scary thing about zombies, slow or fast, is that there will always be more,” Gould says. “It doesn’t matter how many you kill, eventually more will arrive. Zombies are a palpable, biting representation of our own mortality. And mortality stinks. And it has rotting flesh.”