As someone who loves zombies almost as much as he loves sci-fi, I of course love stories about zombies… in… SPAAAAAACE!! It’s why I’m excited for the remake of Dead Space, it’s why I can’t wait for the animated show Marvel Zombies, and why I was excited to do the following email interview with writer Tim Waggoner about his novel Zombicide: Invader: Planet Havoc (paperback, Kindle), a military sci-fi horror story based on the space zombies board game Zombicide: Invader.
For people unfamiliar with them, what are the Zombicide games about, what is Zombicide: Invader about, and how the two are connected?
Zombicide is a survival board game set in the present day where players attempt to battle zombies and avoid becoming zombie chow or being transformed into zombies themselves. Zombicide: Invader is a space-based version of the game, set centuries in the future, where players encounter extremely powerful and savage alien creatures that attempt to destroy them. It’s like regular Zombicide on steroids.
And then what is Zombicide: Invader: Planet Havoc about, and how does it connect to the game?
Planet Havoc is a kind of sequel to the original game. It takes place in the same star system as the original game, but it’s set about a century after the game. Here’s the official synopsis: “A deserted R&D facility tempts the hungry new Guild, Leviathan, into sending a team to plunder its valuable research. The base was abandoned after a neighboring planet was devastated by an outbreak of Xenos — alien zombies — but that was a whole planet away… When the Guild ship is attacked by a quarantine patrol, both ships crash onto the deserted world. Only it isn’t as deserted as they hope. A murderous new Xeno threat awakens, desperate to escape the planet. Can the crews cooperate to destroy this new foe? Or will they be forced to sacrifice their ships and lives to protect the galaxy?”
I also assume you asked someone why it’s all called Zombicide and not Zombiecide, but that no one gave you a deep and satisfying explanation…
During my career as a tie-in writer, I’ve learned to not ask questions like that and just enjoy the mystery.
So, how familiar were you with Zombicide, and more specifically Zombicide: Invader, before you signed on to write Planet Havoc?
I’d never heard of the game before Aconyte asked me to write a proposal for a novel set in that universe. When it comes to tie-ins, editors are interested in working with writers who have a track record of publishing novels and who have experience crafting stories based on other people’s intellectual property. They usually don’t care if you know the property ahead of time. They know you’re a professional and can do the research necessary to get up to speed on the property, whatever it is.
The scenario was also attractive to me as a writer because there were so many more possibilities in it than a modern-day zombie apocalypse story. The Xenos are a mystery; no one’s certain what causes them to mutate into their deadly forms or what connection they have to the high-energy mineral Xenium. Add in space travel, futuristic weapons, androids, cyborgs, and other alien species, and you have a lot of fun stuff to work with as a writer.
And when Acolyte approached you about writing this novel, did they come to you specifically to write something connected to Zombicide: Invader or were they interested in just having you write a Zombicide novel, and it was you who decided to write one connected to the Invader series as opposed to regular Zombicide, Zombicide: Black Plague or Green Horde [which have a fantasy setting], or Zombicide: Undead Or Alive [which is set in the Old West]?
I was asked to pitch an idea for Zombicide: Invader specifically. I’d have been happy to pitch for the other settings, but as I said earlier, Invader seemed to have a lot more possibilities to me.
So then where did you get the idea for Planet Havoc?
I didn’t want to tell the story of the original game scenario, but I did want to capture the feel of what it’s like to play the game, so I set the story a hundred years in the future, and created a scenario somewhat similar to that of the original game while adding in a number of other elements. I write ideas down in a note app on my phone, and when it’s time to come up with an idea for a story or novel, I go through the list and see if anything strikes me as something interesting that I could use for that project. I’d written “The Summoner” on my list. I don’t remember where that came from, but it seemed like a nicely sinister name for a Big Bad, a malign intelligence that might be directing the Xenos in the novel. I decided to have two different groups — mercenaries and soldiers — in the story to create more conflict and tension, and I created my own kind of Xenos, ones that are related to those in the game but which are different enough that they exist in their own corner of the Zombicide: Invader universe without affecting other aspects of it.
After pitching the initial idea, I wrote an outline. My editor at Aconyte, Gwendolyn Nix, and the game designers had suggestions for revisions, and I rewrote the outline until it met their approval, and then I started writing. This is the usual process for writing tie-in novels. It tends to be more collaborative than when you write original fiction.
Genre-wise, Zombicide: Invader is a military sci-fi horror game. Is it safe to assume Planet Havoc is one as well?
The book definitely fits in the military sci-fi horror genre. Because of this, there’s generous helpings of action / adventure throughout as well. Since secrets lie at the heart of the game — what are the Xenos exactly, where did they come from, how are they connected to Xenium, are they intelligent? — I decided to give some of my characters secrets, so there’s a bit of the espionage genre in the book, too.
Planet Havoc is, of course, far from your first published work. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on this story but not any others you’ve written?
Mike Resnick’s science fiction novels were a huge influence on me when it comes to writing my own science fiction. Mike was able to remain focused on his characters without getting too bogged down in the technical side of sci-fi. I strove to create that same balanced blend of elements in Planet Havoc. There’s a bit of Lovecraftian-type mythos to The Summoner as well.
How about movies, TV shows, or games aside from Zombicide: Invader, did any of those things have a big influence on Planet Havoc? Because I automatically think of the Dead Space games whenever someone mentions “zombies” and “space” in the same sentence, while the tagline for the book, “In Space, Everyone Screams,” is reminiscent of the tagline from the first Alien movie, “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.”
The movie Aliens (space soldiers fighting monsters) and fast zombie movies like Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead were influences. I wanted my characters — soldiers and mercenaries both — to be working stiffs, as in Alien, and I wanted the science fiction elements to be as realistic as possible given the pulp-adventure aspect of the story, as in a movie like Interstellar.
I mentioned earlier that there was a previous, albeit unconnected, Zombicide novel, Josh Reynolds’ Last Resort. Did you talk at all to Josh before or while writing Planet Havoc? Or, for that matter, C.L. Werner, who’s writing the third one, Zombicide: Black Plague: Age Of The Undead?
I had no contact with the other writers, and my editor never discussed their books with me. I don’t know why for sure, but I suspect this was because Aconyte viewed the books as completely separate from each other rather than part of a connected series.
As you’ve mentioned, you’ve written other novels based on other things. We did an interview a couple years ago about your Alien novel, Prototype, and you’ve also written novels based on the TV shows Supernatural [Mythmaker and Children Of Anubis] and Stargate SG-1 [Valhalla]. Was there anything you learned writing those novels that really helped you when it came to writing Planet Havoc?
The experience of writing my previous tie-in novels that were science fiction-based — Defender: Hyperswarm, Stargate SG:1: Valhalla, and Alien: Prototype — was a big help. Writing them, I learned how to create space settings and futuristic tech and (hopefully) make them seem believable, at least in the context of an adventure story.
Now, along with Planet Havoc, you have an original zombi, sorry zombie novel coming out July 19th called We Will Rise.
Actually, We Will Rise is a ghost apocalypse novel rather than a zombie apocalypse.
My mistake. So, what is We Will Rise about?
All across the world, the spirits of the dead appear and begin attacking the friends and family they had in life. The novel is set in the present day in southwestern Ohio, which is where I live.
Did you write Planet Havoc and We Will Rise either at the same time or back-to-back?
I wrote We Will Rise over a year before I wrote Planet Havoc. Publishing schedules can be weird sometimes, and a book you wrote can come out after one you wrote later, which is the case with these two books.
I’m guessing then that they didn’t influence each other…
We Will Rise didn’t influence Planet Havoc really. Both novels are similar in the sense that they feature an ensemble cast dealing with a large, deadly threat, but that’s about it. Planet Havoc is more adventure-oriented, while We Will Rise is the kind of surreal horror / dark fantasy that a lot of my original work falls into.
Now, Zombicide and Zombicide: Invader have fans who are going to be interested in Planet Havoc. But you have fans as well, and some of your fans may not be familiar with the games. Do you think people who’ve never played Zombicide or Zombicide: Invader will enjoy Planet Havoc and, more importantly, understand it?
Whenever I write a tie-in novel, I do my best to make sure that fans of the property as well as people unfamiliar with the property will be able to enjoy it. Hopefully I succeeded.
On the flipside of that, what do you think big fans of Zombicide, and especially Zombicide: Invader, will get out of Planet Havoc?
Hopefully, they’ll enjoy seeing the game setting expanded. I set Planet Havoc a century after the game so I could create story elements of my own without conflicting with anything the game designers might later create for the basic setting or whatever players might imagine about it. I also created a new variety of Xenos for the book, so readers will get to see them in action. Ultimately, what Zombicide fans will get is my interpretation of the game as the basis for what I hope is a fun, scary read with characters they’ll care about.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about Planet Havoc?
That it’s just one person’s interpretation of the game in novel form, and it’s not canon unless the game designers decide it is. It’s just meant to be fun.
Finally, if someone enjoys Planet Havoc, which of your original novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?