Warning - If you haven't read Puncher, there be spoilers ahead.
Puncher is one of those stories where the idea and the title just popped into my head all at once. I'm sure there were any number of influences that were bubbling around my subconscious, but the specific stuff is a mystery to me.
I have sort of a love/hate relationship with zombie stories. I love Romero's stuff, and some of the others, but I'm almost always left wondering what happens after the outbreak. Assuming we survive, what would the world look like after?
There is zombie fiction that covers this, but not enough to wet my appetite. So we get Puncher, which is one of the ways that we could end up using the zombies for our own uses. The concept is simple: the race is against the other Punchers, the fight is against the zombies.
I didn't have much of a plan involved when I started the story. I had an idea who Smith was, and I decided to set the thing in a fictionalizaed version of the town I went to college in (Shippensburg, for the curious).
Everything else was an extrapolation of how the game would have to be set in order to work, and I wanted to show a couple of different ways that the game could be played, some of which I took from vidoes games. Tankers, I think, will probably be recognizable as campers in other games.
The end is the tricky part. If I did my job right, the undercurrent should be there that Smith is getting too old for this, and that the game is continually getting harder and harder to survive. It's not quite hopeless, but Smith is a couple of tournaments past when he should have stopped.
So it ends with both of the characters we followed losing at the very end of the game. Honest to god, I wasn't conflicted about this going into the home stretch myself. I knew that Smith never had any intention of giving the key to the girl, but he needed her.
(He's not a total bastard - if he'd have been able to get to the other key, he would have. He wasn't trying to screw her over, he just wasn't in a position to help it.)
But when I wrote the end scene, nothing but what we got felt right. Having Smith or the girl make it out would have been cheating, so I had to take the chance that the Tanker winning would make for a satisfying ending.
Not a happy ending, mind you. But zombies stories rarely have happy endings.
- This is set in the same world as my in progress zombie novel Eaters, twenty five years on.
- At the very least, there's going to be a story set on the other side of these games, where we see exactly how and where they get the zombies and how it all works.
- The zombies here get smarter and stronger as they devour human flesh. Given time, shamblers could become runners and runners can become something very, very close to human again. This actually comes up in Puncher - it's one of the reasons that the runners become more dangerous as the story goes (the reasons being Smith getting tired and there being so damn many of them).
- Why yes, the unlife cycle of the zombies is so that I can have fast and slow zombies. It's my cake and I can damn well have it and eat it to if I want to. So there.
- As mentioned in the very first post, I put these up as they come off the keyboard, so this is a raw first draft version of the story. The final version will probably be about ten percent shorter and free(-ish) of typos.