Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Goliath and the Killer Zombie by Ian Cant : Characters Interview

"In my old career I solved crimes, conscientiously. I worried about my retirement, continually. Saving the world was above my pay grade."

In 2466 the narrator, a desk-bound mid-level bureaucratic investigator reluctantly approaching a dreaded retirement, is called upon to solve an unusual case of double murder. He must learn about new-fangled technologies which enable limited peeks into the past and the use of mindless clones, popularly called zombies, as travel tools. To interview a possible witness to the crime, he chooses to travel from his stable and prosperous, if dull, world into a much less civilized region where he encounters ambiguity, deception, intrigue and superstition.

Two stories intertwine. In one, Goliath, the witness, recounts his adventurous life in a dark Africa and an enigmatic Asia. In the other, the investigator battles rational disbelief and growing self-doubt amid fear for his own future. Could Goliath really have been mutilated, kidnapped, enslaved and still worked his way to power? Must the investigator risk his reputation, his retirement, his sanity and even his soul in trying to solve the case? The stories converge to an unexpected and dramatic climax in which the murder case may be laid to rest, the investigator's personal problems may be resolved and the world as we know it may, or may not, be preserved.

"I made my decisions, right or wrong, for better or for worse. GOLIATH is my memoir, presented as a work of fiction not one word of which is to be believed," concludes the unrepentant narrator.

[Goliath, riding a zombie, and his enforced companion MacNic have escaped from pursuers somewhere in Africa.]

We were on a dimpled plain. The ground was essentially flat, but was covered with mounds of earth like giant molehills which stretched as far as we couild see in every direction. There were no trees, no signs of life or habitation, nothing but desolation, and MacNic on looking around was delighted. “A city of death,” he exclaimed with glee, “they won’t look hard for us here.”
I saw no city. “What city? There are only earthen mounds, no buildings, no road, no people, not even recognizable rubble. Damned rocks and mud enough.”
“Not rocks, skulls and bones. Not mounds, mass graves. People, lots of people, all dead for some time. Let’s hope it was a plague, not a nuking."
I hurt all over with pains that would have made Mbeke glad and proud. I was utterly exhausted. I did not need to be confused and lost, and I was not prepared to think efficiently. I gave a pull on MacNic’s harness and was not displeased when he fell sideways into the mud. “Well, genius, if they won’t look for us here, you say, where can we rest?”
“With the people, of course.” He did not even get to his feet, just lay there a naked, crumpled little man covered in mud and soaked in water. “We’ll have to do some digging.”
“Digging?” I was incredulous and stupefied at the thought of more exertion.
“Yes, digging, you thrice-cursed thing.” And he crawled forward on his belly, tugging me forward by the strap on his harness. I followed like an automaton. At the nearest mound we stopped, and Mac Nic started scooping earth from its base. “Help me, numbskull,” he muttered with quiet ferocity, and again I obeyed. We did not have to move much, for after a few moments we broke our fingernails on a thin concrete slab. “Donkey work now,” muttered MacNic, “and you’re the donkey.”
“You’re the one in the harness.”
“Skip it. I haven’t the strength to do this, you haven’t the brain. Between us we can survive. Or we can just lie down and wait to be found and killed. Now do as I say.”
Against my better judgment I did as he directed. We removed some more earth from above the slab. Then I released the strap I had been clutching in a death grip since releasing MacNic from the cart. He did not seem about to bound off gleefully and abandon me, we were both long past that kind of playful energy. I needed both hands to raise one edge of the slab a foot or so, and after crawling into the cavity below it MacNic in turn needed both hands and all his strength to insert a convenient thigh bone and hold it upright as a prop while I scooped up our displaced earth and piled it on top of the slab as best I could. Then I also squeezed myself under the slab, MacNic released the bone, and the slab heavily pushed it aside and settled down, enclosing us in utter blackness.
In a grave, if you are dead you can sleep in peace. In a grave, if you are alive and wish to stay so, you can take no rest. First, you need air. MacNic, further inside than I was, groped around and passed me another piece of bone. On his instructions, I used it to clear a small air tunnel. Hopefully from the outside it would be an inconspicuous rathole. Then we waited, with a dreadful weariness. I wanted nothing more than to sleep, but MacNic had already achieved that while I was making our airhole. And he snored. I jabbed him with my elbow, viciously.
“What now?”
“They’ll hear you snoring.”
“I don’t snore !”
“You do. Stay awake.”
I closed my eyes, but immediately MacNic kicked me in a part of the groin already well tenderized by Mbeke. “Stop your snoring,” he said.
If he slept and snored we risked detection. If I kept him awake, he would make sure that he also kept me awake just as long. So we kicked, poked and prodded each other at regular intervals for all our time in that grave.
In a grave, if you are alive, you suffer from cramps. There is no way to ease your muscles when you are pinned down into the cold earth by a concrete slab under tons of soil.
In a grave, you are first cold, then thirsty, then hungry.
In a grave, if you are claustrophobic or superstitious you will not enjoy the experience.
In a grave, you have no ease if you are alive. Time passes with infinite slowness. How do you measure its passing in the darkness? I counted my breaths. I guessed at ten per minute. Six hundred per hour. Seven thousand or so for a tropical day, another seven thousand or so for the night. Disregard the pains, the agonies of the body, the body crying out for sleep, just count. In a grave, keeping count becomes central to your sanity.
Eternities passed.
At three thousand, MacNic guessed it should be sunrise outside.
At ten thousand, we hoped it was nightfall. We had heard no sounds of soldiery. But was one day enough for them to call off a search? Or was a day the time it would take them to re-organize from the ambush and plan a search for the next day?
At seventeen thousand it should have been dawn again. We still heard no outside noise. We agreed that we would rise from the grave at twentyfour thousand. What we would do at that time was anyone’s guess.
Around twenty thousand I fell asleep, and MacNic failed to wake me. I awoke some time later to the sound of his snores.
I no longer cared what time it was. It was time to get out of that grave. I jabbed MacNic as urgently as I could. And again. And again. After the third jab he started awake. “It’s time to go,” I announced.
Easier said than done. I was stiff and numb all over. I could hardly move an arm, and I had no leverage on the slab above us. Try as I might, I simply could not make it budge.
“Dig, dummy,” a voice whispered in my ear.
I dug. First I dug with two fingers, then as blood started to flow I could use all my left hand. A handful of earth from my side, push it down beside my paralyzed leg. Another handful, stow it, a slightly larger recess. Another handful. Don’t count the handfuls, just keep moving that earth. After a long time, I had space and bloodflow enough to start using my lower arm. A long time later I could move my left elbow into the recess, then use my whole arm. My wrist broke through and a dazzling shaft of light blinded me. I widened the hole, and then used my good left arm to pull my body a fraction of an inch at a time into the hole. My legs were useless appendages, but after dragging them some way I had room to start exercising first my right hand and arm, and with both arms working I was able to drag myself clear of the grave. It was light outside, the sun quite low to the horizon. I could not stand, but I was overjoyed to lie on the mud and splash handfuls of puddle water on my face and lips. Behind me I could hear MacNic mumbling and squirming his way out in a similar manner.
Out of a grave, life is good even for a zombie.”

Interview with Goliath and his one-time investigator

Laurie:    Would you like to introduce yourselves?

Goliath:   I am Goliath, I was previously known as David Rajnaturian.

Investigator:   And I must remain incognito for professional reasons, but you can call me Yassuf Naif.

L:         How did you meet?

G:        Yassuf came to hound me over some murder case he was investigating.  Nothing to do with me, really.

YN:     Not much.

G:        He made me recount the whole story of my life.

YN:     And I got lies, fabrications, deceptions - enough to drive a reasonable man to drink or madness.

G:        Unbelievers have their problems.  I just tell things as they happen.

YN:     I only seek truth.

G:        Great quote from a novelist, a professional liar.

YN:     Well, sometimes truth has to be spoken obliquely.

G:        That's the truth.  Time you admitted your obliquity.

YN:     I can't help being a little squint, I was born and brought up that way.

G:        I was born into poverty, worked my way up the hard way.  Then through no fault of my own I had to start over from the very bottom, worked my way up to near the top again, and you came into my life to unsettle it with your threats and suspicions.

YN:     I helped you out, legitimized your background, and even...

G:        We agreed not to talk about that event. 

YN:     Well, yes.  But I did help you out.

G:        For a price.

YN:     A man has to live.

G:        A man has his price.

YN:     I had ideals.

G:        You had preconceptions, obsessions and suspicions.

YN:     Let's drop it.

G:        OK, let's agree that we met and affected each others' lives.

YN:     And can still talk to each other.

G:        Barely.

L:         So you met, and kind of got along with each other.  But you came from very different backgrounds, I believe?  Yassuf?

YN:     I am a product of my generation in Organized Chrislam.  Nowadays, in this 25th century, Organized Chrislam is the dominant civilized power in the world.  We foster stability, behave rationally, believe in tolerance, do things right.

G:        Right by your own standards.  I grew up in Natural Chrislam, same religions but different views of the world.  We are more imaginative...

YN:     Superstitious.

G:        ...imaginative.  We do a lot of things in the old-fashioned ways.  Freedom of expression exists.

YN:     Along with piracy, slavery, torture....

G:        Not torture.  That exists in Africa, as I know only too well, but Africa is not in Chrislam.

YN:     Well, yes.  But I was going to add witchcraft to the list.

G:        You're a fine one to talk there, you married a witch,

YN:     Let's keep Faye out of this.  She's not a witch, nor a bitch, just a professional businesswoman in the fields of insurance and analytic prognostication.  Quite respectable.  And we cannot marry, because of the religious difference.

G:        Yes, very respectable nowadays, since her son came into the line of succession to the Sultanate.

YN:     Pedro's prospects are his own business.  Let's not get political.

G:        Quite so.  That would be best.

L:         There is some mystery concerning a zombie?

YN:     As an Investigator, I was called upon to solve a murder case involving a zombie.  I retired during the case, but my assistant took it over and solved it to everyone's satisfaction.

G:        Yes, to everyone's complete satisfaction.  Actually, I know a lot about zombies.  I have had two professional careers riding and testing them.  I know zombies about as well as anyone on the planet.

L:         What exactly is a zombie?

YN:     It is a vehicle.  Think of it as a living human body with only a very rudimentary mind, a full brain but mostly empty.  By transferring a real person's mind and personality into one, which can be waiting anywhere in the world, travel becomes instantaneous and safe.

G:        Anywhere in the world except my home region of Maphilindo.  The Sultan severely restricts zombie travel there, except for himself.

YN:     That's why I had to risk my life to go there in person and interview you.

G:        Your choice, nobody invited you.

YN:     My choice, but it was my duty.

G:        Fiddle-faddle.  You had no call to interfere.

YN:     Lucky I did, or the world would be in chaos.

G:        Maybe.

L:         But getting back to the zombie?

YN:     Oh, that damned zombie!  Apart from the enormity of a zombie committing murder, which is agreed to be impossible, that one persecuted me in my dreams for a long time.  It bore me personal animosity.

G:        That was your conscience, Yassuf.

YN:     I have no reason to have a bad conscience. 

G:        Oh no, none at all.  You came out of it well enough.

YN:     As did you.

G:        I guess that's why we're such good buddies nowadays?

YN:     Well, times change.

G:        Did you say time changes?

YN:     That too.  Sorry, I withdraw that remark - can it be removed from the record?

L:         Do the two of you have any plans for future collaboration?

G:        Not on your life!

YN:     No!

L:         Clearly you have had disagreements in the past.  If you could go back in time and change just one thing, what would it be?

YN:     That question is beyond hypothetical. Time travel is impossible.

G:        No comment.

YN:     Every civilized man knows that time travel is impossible.

G:        Are you calling me uncivilized?

YN:     If the cap fits...  The consequences of even a minor change such as Laurie suggests could destroy the world as we know it  Fortunately it is quite impossible.

G:        Some minor changes could be beneficial.  Especially to the man who makes those changes.

YN:     I don't know what you're talking about, Goliath.

G:        Nests can be feathered.

YN:     Worlds and civilizations can be preserved.

G:        Is that what you told your spooky friends?

YN:     Let's keep them out of this.

G:        Yes, let's drop this whole discussion.

YN:     Before we let too many cats out of the bag.

G:        About those cats...

YN:     Drop it.

L:         Are you both leaving so soon?

G:        Gotta go.

YN:     Bye.

Ian Cant is an obsessive reader, occasional writer, avid traveler, intermittently intrepid aviator, movie and theater fanatic who lives in the southern Sierras in California. He plays poor bridge and mediocre chess, drinks beer and coffee [never mixed together], shovels snow in winter and whacks weeds in summer. Just the average quiet life.

Review by Publishers Weekly of manuscript version of 'Goliath and the Killer Zombie':

            "This excellent futuristic novel, set in Organized Chrislam in 2466, is built upon a complex time travel plot. The author twists and folds time so that -- quite remarkably -- logic never trips up the story, resulting in a whodunit with a zombie twist. The unnamed narrator, a Senior Principal Factual Investigator for the Bureau Veritas, is assigned to investigate a crime impossible to solve. Setting a chronocam -- a device that projects holographic images in time -- to the time before the murder of a married pair of prominent scientists in their lab, he watches as a zombie, or Bilgit, shoots the couple, winks into the machine, then shoots himself as the transmission ends. A mysterious figure named Goliath, a special representative of the powerful Sultan of Brunei, had visited the lab before the murders, and the investigator must find some way to question him. After locating Goliath, the investigator's attempts to determine the truth are so unsuccessful that his position back in Vancouver becomes imperiled. Meanwhile, his experiences grow increasingly surreal as Goliath spins out his tale, and a delightfully cynical plot twist completes the impeccably mapped-out story. "

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Goldenmane said...

An interesting premise. I look forward to reading this.

Lisa Pecora said...

I am looking forward to reading this!

TammyAnn said...

I love Zombie books. I have read all different kinds but this one sounds different. Thanks for the giveaway..

Sandy V. said...

I think this looks like an interesting well written book.

cpage2323 said...

looks unique.