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INTERVIEW: Nathan Long on Zombies in Warhammer: Zombieslayer

Zombies are everywhere these days, even in Warhammer. You see, as much as I obsess about the undead, I also love a good fantasy-adventure…so when my two biggest interests, Warhammer & zombies, were together in the novel, Zombie slayer by Nathan Long, I flipped out. I went running (electronically speaking) to Zombiephile himself, and begged him to let me do a review of this crossover adventure. Turns out, Zombiephile is a Warhammer fan also.

For those of you who are knee-deep in zombie gore, let me give you a brief run-down of Warhammer. What started as games & miniatures now includes loads of fantastic novels based on the original game. You don’t have to be a player to appreciate the book series, which all come with their own trademark characters. Previous tales include various races, such as elves, dwarves, and rat-men called Skavens (which I love almost as much as zombies), just to name a few.

Gotrek & Felix is one such series. Gotrek Gurnisson is a dwarf slayer seeking his doom (glorious death) to redeem himself for past wrongdoings. Felix Jaeger is his human companion, writing about the deeds/adventures of the slayer. Gotrek saved Felix’s life, long ago, and Felix swore a blood-oath to record Gotrek’s doom, to restore honor to his name. Unfortunately, Gotrek is so skilled in fighting that he is still alive. Now the dwarf has to face an ever-growing zombie horde.

When I talk about zombies in a book, I like to let the zombiephiles know what to expect from the undead. In this case, they are controlled by a demonic sorcerer. Infection is not spread through bites, but if someone dies, and the body is not disposed of properly, the corpse becomes a new recruit of the undead army. Since this takes place in world populated with fantasy species, the zombies aren’t just human undead…and, the zombies can move as one (thanks to the sorcerer), doing some serious military damage.

Gotrek & Felix have a hell of a time adjusting to what many zombiephiles are quite used to, especially considering that they don’t have automatic weapons or ATVs to fall back on. Just swords (yeah, yeah – I know – “blades don’t need reloading”), some cannons, and a few other simplistic explosives. They are trapped in a castle keep, with dwindling numbers, squat for supplies, and little to no morale left. Considering his previous books did not include a massive zombie horde anywhere near this magnitude, I felt that Nathan Long did a great job of portraying a group of survivors who are screwed…so I interviewed him.

As it turns out, Zombiephile and I are big Warhammer fans, so we were thrilled when we realized we could feature Zombieslayer on because of the undead army that Gotrek and Felix must face with their companions.

It’s been my experience that fans of the Gotrek & Felix series are just as hard-core as the zombie fans, and this book brings the best of both worlds together. Did you know that some people are calling Zombieslayer your crossover book from fantasy-adventure to zombie-horror? How do you feel about having a new “undead” fan base?

I had no idea, but I’m very pleased, and I want to thank you and Zombiephile for the opportunity to introduce myself to such an enthusiastic – rabid? – new audience. I hope I live up to their undead expectations, and I want to assure everyone that prior knowledge of the Warhammer world is not necessary to enjoy the books. If you’ve read any traditional fantasy, you’ll know how everything works. We just added zombies to the mix.

I’m sure it’s been challenging writing adventures for a slayer who can’t seem to find his doom, but was writing about zombies any more difficult than writing about, let’s say, beastmen or vampires?

It was indeed a little bit of a challenge, yeah. Zombies are interesting because they are generally not a threat individually, but are deadly en masse. My lead character is an unstoppable killing machine, always looking for the biggest and baddest monsters to fight, so the trick was coming up with ways to make zombies a threat to him. I did this by playing them like a force of nature. Zombies kill you like a blizzard or a flood kills you. They trap you, starve you, make you go stir crazy and then find a way through the cracks in your defenses and drown you in numbers when you’re too weak to fight back. I tried to put as much of that claustrophobic hopelessness into Zombieslayer as I could.

The other problem with zombies is that they don’t have much personality. You can’t talk to them. You can’t bargain with them. They don’t make grand plans or villainous speeches, which means they don’t make very good antagonists. I solved this problem by introducing an evil necromancer who raises the zombies and uses them as a tool for his twisted ambitions. He’s the one who does all the talking. The zombies just eat.

When I finished reading Shamanslayer, I knew what the next title was going to be. LOL. With all the commotion that AMC’s The Walking Dead has stirred up, this was certainly a great time for Zombieslayer to be available. I actually think it will make a refreshing change for zombiephiles to read something outside of their undead worlds. What do you think of the growing popularity of the zombie genre within the literary community? Have you read any zombie novels?

I’m embarrassed to say I have not read any zombie novels. I have, however, seen plenty of zombie movies – all the classics, as well as Walking Dead (and – let me put in a cheap plug here – my friend Scott Phillips’ zombie movie, The Stink of Flesh, one of the characters of which was named after me) and I queried those of my acquaintances who are more knowledgeable than myself when I started Zombieslayer, so I had plenty of reference and backup for my foray into the world of the undead.

I think the zombie genre has given us some great stories and has the potential to give us many more. Its popularity seems to speak to some lurking uneasiness in the current national frame of mind. It is most definitely the genre of the apocalypse. It feels like an outpouring of all our fear and paranoia about science and society gone wrong, and maybe a wish to live in a simpler time, when all our complex modern problems are reduced to the basics of survival and making sure your shotgun is loaded.

I have a feeling the market is being oversaturated now, but that doesn’t mean good stuff won’t still come along, you’ll just have to sort through more crap to find it.

You did such an incredible job of expressing the horror and despair of fighting a massive zombie horde…do you have any plans to write another adventure with the undead, maybe even a full-scale zombie novel?

I’m afraid I don’t have any plans for more zombie literature right now. My writing slate is filled up with more traditional fantasy stuff for Warhammer at the moment, but I actually wrote a zombie story many years ago that never saw the light of day. It was originally supposed to be in one of the Books of the Dead anthologies, but the deal fell apart and it was never published. It’s called The Needle, and it’s about zombies and hotrods on the lonesome desert roads outside Las Vegas. I also wrote a comic zombie story called The Working Stiffs, which is available on my blog.

Thanks again for the opportunity to talk about Zombieslayer, and I hope some of your readers will give it a chance. Happy reading, everybody!

Don't forget to check out Nathan's blog, Sabrepunk, and his contribution to the Wanderer's Club Chain Story, The Working Stiffs.

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