“Zero Tolerance” — Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan Maberry is the bestselling author of several novels, including Ghost Road Blues (winner of the Bram Stoker Award), Dead Man’s Song, Bad Moon Rising, and The Wolfman. Rot & Ruin, the first book in a new young-adult zombie series, was just published; a second volume, Dust & Decay, will appear in 2011. Maberry’s other recent novels Patient Zero and The Dragon Factory, along with the forthcoming The King of Plagues, are set in the same milieu as our next story and are in development for television. Other work includes the non-fiction books THEY BITE!, Stoker Award-finalist Zombie CSU, Wanted Undead or Alive, Vampire Universe, and The Cryptopedia.

September 11, 2001 changed the world, and also changed science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Civilization collapsing had always been a topic of perennial interest in the field, of course, but after 9/11 magazines were positively deluged with this sort of material. And of course zombies, the ultimate symbol of societal breakdown, went from being a niche interest to one of the dominant images in the popular imagination, familiar to everyone. Before 9/11, characters in a zombie story might speculate about the cause of the epidemic without ever mentioning the word “terrorism.” Afterward, of course, that’s tended to be the first word on every character’s lips.

America’s War on Terror has had many casualties, chief among them the nation’s view of itself. Images of U.S. soldiers torturing naked, helpless (and in many cases innocent) prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq haunt the American psyche, and are all the more disturbing given the lingering sense that those truly responsible have never been punished. (In her memoir One Woman’s Army, Janis Karpinski maintains that she was scapegoated due to sexism and that the soldiers sent to prison for the crimes were acting according to policies issued by the White House.)

Nietzsche famously warned: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” Our next story is a military thriller about zombies, terrorism, war, and some very grim and unsavory interrogation techniques. It’s a powerful story and, much as we might wish otherwise, a tale of our time.