If there’s one thing people love as much as zombies, it’s ZOMBIES…IN…SPACE… It’s one of many reasons why people love the Invader subseries of the survival board game Zombicide. And it’s that popularity that’s led CMON Games to team with Aconyte Books for a series of Zombicide: Invader novels. In the following email interview with writer Cath Lauria, she discusses her contribution to this series, the adventure sci-fi horror novel Zombicide: Invader: Terror World (paperback, Kindle).
In the interview I did with Tim Waggoner about his Zombicide: Invader novel Planet Havoc, he explained what the Zombicide games and the Invader sub-series are all about. What then is your novel, Terror World, all about, and when and where does it take place both in relation to our reality, Tim’s novel, and the game?
I’d call my novel adjacent to Tim’s and the game itself, but linked by a fairly thin thread. Terror World is about confronting the mold and its effects on an entirely new and very distant planet (or at least one that seems new to researchers) while in pursuit of that all-important Xenium. It doesn’t start off as a fight, or even with a fight on the horizon — it’s a journey of discovery that turns really, really bad. Terror World involves new Xenos and mostly features characters who aren’t soldiers.
So there isn’t more a formal connection between Zombicide: Invader: Terror World and Planet Havoc? It’s not like a sequel to Planet Havoc, or a spin-off…?
I’d call Terror World a spin-off. I do reference Planet Havoc’s events (obliquely) in the earliest chapters, but that’s as far as I go to connecting the two plots.
Honestly, my first pitch was much, much more firmly associated with Tim’s story, and with the established Zombicide: Invader setting, but — ha — it got turned down cold. CMON Games, the people who make the Zombicide games, wanted something that would differentiate better from Tim’s novel, as opposed to doubling down on the dynamics he’d established, so I said, “M’kay, you asked for it, let’s have no empusas, lots of other aliens and, oh, some time travel.” And they loved it.
I’m probably lucky they turned me down on my first idea, actually. It’s way better for my self-esteem to have pursued an entirely different direction than Tim’s excellent novel.
And are there any connections between Zombicide: Invader: Terror World and non-Invader Zombicide novels?
Honestly, the most connection you’re going to find is hopefully the feeling you get while reading the book: engrossed, grossed out, excited, disgusted, and eager to see how it all ends.
So then where did you get the idea for Zombicide: Invader: Terror World?
I was pretty frustrated with myself after my first idea was turned down. I ended up having a long talk with my editor, and we cherrypicked the things that the people from CMON said they liked about the pitch, then talked out a bunch of ideas that were out of left field for ways we could take the story. Eventually two of them stuck: going to a whole new planet, somewhere we could do different things with the Xenos and not get repetitive; and threading in a time-travel subplot that would give us the twist at the end that we wanted. Pitching it was kind of terrifying. I was so thrilled that CMON went for it.
Incidentally, the original title wasn’t Terror World. Not even close. CMON changed it to make it more in line with Planet Havoc, which kind of surprised me. You wanted a completely different book, and now you want a similar title? But when you’re writing for an IP, that’s their call to make.
How familiar were you with the game Zombicide, and the Invader subseries, before you started writing Zombicide: Invader: Terror World?
Before I pitched, I wasn’t all that familiar with the game, but I’d heard of it before thanks to a podcast I did with someone who’s really interested in the game. I swear, that guy manifested this book for me [laughs]. Once I got into pitching, I read basically everything there is to read and watched some gameplay before crafting my ideas. I’ve read Tim’s book three times. He’s great at pacing, and that was where I was told to pick things up, but I’ve never actually played the game myself.
How do you think this level of familiarity — or lack thereof, as the case may be — influenced what you wrote in Terror World?
I’m calling it a win, because while I’ve got a good handle on the novel world, I haven’t really honed in on the dynamics of small-group play and the specific weapons, tactics, etc. If I’d gone in my original direction I think that might have hurt me, but since I basically ended up sending my group of adventurers on a treasure hunt to a far-off world where they discovered both riches beyond imagination and suffering beyond measure waiting for them, it worked out pretty well.
Speaking of influences, are there any writers, or specific stories, that you think had a particularly big influence on Terror World but not on anything else you’ve written?
Erin Bowman’s Contagion definitely had some influence on Terror World. I finished that book and was like, “Ooh, this has so many of the things I like: strange worlds, people being taken over by an alien infection, small chances of escape, people working with and against each other at the same time…” It definitely played into the dynamics I set up in my story. Also, the body horror of Alien can be seen in Terror World. Nothing leaps out of anyone’s chest, exactly, but I’m hoping there’s that creep factor to it.
I was about to ask whether Zombicide: Invader: Terror World was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games…
Oh my god. I can’t even tell you directly, or you’ll laugh at me. All I’m going to say is that my daughter was four years old when I wrote this book, and was a big fan of a very popular kid’s TV show, and that possibly this show led to my depiction of one of the types of aliens up-to-now undescribed by the game. Parents and fans will get to that point in the book and immediately go, “Ha! You didn’t!” Yes. Yes I did.
Planet Havoc was a military sci-fi horror story. Is Zombicide: Invader: Terror World one as well?
I guess I’d call Terror World an adventure sci-fi horror. There are almost no military aspects to speak of, but there is a definite spirit of “off we go, into the darkness!” to it.
Now, along with Zombicide: Invader: Terror World, you have another novel for Aconyte coming out in a few weeks, Silver Sable: Payback, which is part of the Marvel Heroines series. For people unfamiliar with that character, who is Silver Sable, and what are her powers?
Silver Sable is a Symkarian mercenary who mostly darts in and out of the Spider-verse, as both an antagonist and protagonist. She’s a very honorable, country-first individual, and quite delightfully, she doesn’t have any special powers other than being a badass.
And then what is Payback about, and how is it connected to both the comics and the other Marvel Heroines novels?
Oh, this was the fun of her novel — Marvel asked me to work in Black Cat, who I’ve also written a novel for [Black Cat: Discord] and I was like, “Um, wait, you’re going to pay me to write my own fanfiction? Score!”
Silver Sable is great to write for a lot of reasons, but I can’t deny that it was extra fun to basically write a sequel to one of my other books while getting to play with an entirely new-to-me character.
Payback is all about Silver Sable paying off Symkaria’s debt to Latveria by chasing down an artifact Dr. Doom wants. It turns out to be a lot harder than she thought it would be, since the artifact allows the person using it to see almost every potential future. Silver Sable brings Black Cat into the pursuit when she decides they need someone less predictable to help out — which, of course, Black Cat excels at.
So did you write Silver Sable: Payback and Zombicide: Invader: Terror World either at the same time or concurrently? Because Dizzie Drexler, the main character of Terror World, sounds like a name Stan Lee would come up with.
It does, doesn’t it? I wanted something gender neutral, and that was the first one that came into my head, and then I ended up pitching it and getting the green light, but I definitely can’t deny that it’s Marvel-influenced. I pitched these books at about the same time, and I dove into Payback immediately after finishing Terror World. There are definitely some aspects of my Heroines novels that have seeped their way into the characterization, especially of Dizzie, in Terror World. And the other way around, when I describe what using the artifact is doing to the antagonist in Payback, there’s a hint of that “Ugh, no, why?” that I tried to get in Terror World.
Going back to Zombicide: Invader: Terror World, as we’ve been discussing, it’s connected to the titular board game. But do you think it could work as an add-on to the game?
I think this would be such a fun new location for the game. That said, you’d lose some of the lore because the cast list is so much smaller and their list of available everything (weapons, tools, etc.) is the same, But, I leave a lot open in Terror World, and if the game writers wanted to make a bunch of fun new options for players in this remote location, they absolutely could.
So, is there anything else people need to know about Zombicide: Invader: Terror World?
This book is one of my first stabs (pun intended) at horror, and while there’s also a lot of fighting and discovery and interpersonal conflict, I hope readers walk away from it with at least a few scenes that they found memorable for their “yikes” factor.
Finally, if someone enjoys Zombicide: Invader: Terror World, which of your original novels would you suggest they check out next?
Most of my other novels are romance. So if they enjoy romance (in almost any genre — I’ve got a lot of SFF) check out anything by Cari Z. If not, just wait; I’m releasing the first book in an urban fantasy series about a supernatural crime scene cleaner in early 2023 called Magical Hazmat. It should be a lot of fun.