Jonathan Maberry, author of the zombie novel Patient Zero, told Tor.com that the book is about 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.
Maberry came up with the idea for Patient Zero while researching his nonfiction zombie book, Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead. “My intention had been to use science to (gently) knock down the backstory to most zombie movies and books,” Maberry said in an interview. “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.’”
Maberry is kind of a research junkie. As research for the novel, Maberry interviewed hundreds of experts in different fields, ranging from forensic science to epidemiology and other fields of medicine. “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.”
Maberry never bought the theory of radiation from a returning space probe as the cause of a zombie uprising (as in Night of the Living Dead). “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 zombie plague of Patient Zero will continue in the second book in the series, The Dragon Factory, which will be published in 2010. “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.”
Other projects of Maberry’s include a comic, Ghosts, recently published by Marvel, that appears as a backup story in Wolverine: The Anniversary. He’s also the writer for Punisher: Naked Kill, which came out this month. He says he’s working on a slew of other projects for Marvel while also doing research for The King of Plagues, the third Joe Ledger novel.