In Peter Clines’ novels Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, the upcoming Ex-Communication, and an as-yet-untitled fourth and final tome (Broadway Paperbacks), a group of superheroes struggle to protect the last remaining survivors of a zombie apocalypse. But while the books have garnered praise from Ready Player One author Ernest Cline—who said Ex-Heroes was “The Avengers meets The Walking Dead with a large order of epic served on the side”—we still wanted to ask Mr. Clines, “Why Would Gamers Like Your Book?”
EGM: Let’s get right to it: Why would gamers like your books?
Peter Clines: Well, because they’re fun. The Ex- books are about superheroes fighting a zombie apocalypse, so there’s lots of action, armored battlesuits, monsters, a mad scientist, a battalion of super-soldiers, some kick-ass civilians … you know, fun stuff.
EGM: I assume, given the subject matter, that there are references in your novels to comic books and horror movies. Are there any videogame references?
PC: There’s lots of comic book and movie references, yeah. Some videogames, but not as much. There’s a few shout outs to Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and I think one or two others.
One of the biggest limiting factors is that, in this series, society kind of came to a halt in late May of 2009, and pretty much collapsed a few months later. So it’s tough to come up with videogame references that are four years old and would still be known to a wide audience. For that matter, it makes it tough to reference everything: movies, television, music, trends.
EGM: There are tons of games with zombies and superheroes. When working on your books, did you play any games … y’know, for research?
PC: I wouldn’t want to play a game for “research”—wink-wink, nudge-nudge—because I needed to make up my own world, and I’d get worried I’d start copying someone else’s. I’ve got a freakish memory for details, so I’d end up second guessing myself constantly and wondering if I was just doing a thinly-veiled copy of a Left4Dead level or something.
EGM: What about just for fun?
PC: Shameful truth … since I started writing full time back in 2006, I’ve cut way back on my gaming. I used to be a huge gamer, years back. I spent many nights playing marathons of Syndicate, X-Com, Castle Wolfenstein, Starcraft, stuff from that era. Not so much since then. I think the last new PC game I bought was one of the Dawn of War expansions from THQ. The one with the Necrons, Dark Crusade. Other than that … the LEGO Batman game.
Though after I finished writing Ex-Heroes, I actually loaded Freedom Force up on my computer and made some simple skins for a lot of the characters in the book.
EGM: Some people think videogames can inspire real-world violence. Do you think this means gamers will be able to better handle themselves in a zombie apocalypse?
PC: Well, first off, I’m firmly in the camp that videogames don’t cause real-world violence. There may be a small case to be made that they’re an element, but no one in their right mind shoots up a McDonalds just because they spent a lot of time with a PlayStation. I don’t think the Iraq War happened because Dick Cheney played too much Resident Evil. Some people just want single-source solutions for complex problems.
Anyway … Sadly, I don’t think any of this translates to real survival skills. The most realistic videogame out there still doesn’t come close to real life. I worked in the film industry for many years as a prop master, and I worked with many, many weapons. Hundreds of them. Pistols, shotguns, rifles, full-auto weapons. Playing a videogame is nothing like dealing with a real weapon. If anything, I think if a zombie apocalypse ever did happen, gamers might die off faster than any other group, percentage-wise, because a lot of them would think they have skills they really don’t.
EGM: So what does that say about your potential for survival in an undead pandemic?
PC: Well, like I just said, I’ve got a good-sized collection of skills and weapons knowledge. I live in California, earthquake central, so I’m moderately prepared for a crisis already. And by nature of what I do, my brain’s wired to accept things a little less than normal, so …
Maybe I’d last a day?
Let’s face it, if the dead rise, it’s going to be through some mechanism none of us understand. And then we’re all going to die, because games and movies have trained us all to shoot at the head. So we’ll waste all our ammo on attempted headshots and their real weakness is going to be the gall bladder or the spleen or something. And nobody knows where the spleen is in the human body. Nobody. So we’re all doomed.
EGM: Do you think your books could be the basis for a fun videogame?
PC: I think they could be. The Batman: Arkham series has definitely shown that you can do some amazing things with superhero games. There’s a variety of heroes in the book, so you could have lots of options there. The locations are interesting. And it’s killing zombies, and that’s always fun.
EGM: What about a game starring one of the superheroes, but set before the zombie plague. Do you think that would work?
PC: Maybe. I think it could be done, yeah, but I’m not sure how canon it could be. There weren’t really piles of supervillains in the universe I created, and I think “the Mighty Dragon stops another gangbanger robbing a liquor store” would get old pretty quick. Although maybe doing a Cerberus first-person shooter with the full inside the armor/heads-up display might be neat.
Actually, a game story might be a fun way to tell some of those early tales that lead up to the Zombocalypse. Do it Avengers-style with a series of smaller, individual RTS adventures that lead up to a larger one. It’d be a cool way to bring in some of the heroes who are only mentioned or glimpsed in the series and didn’t survive to see the aftermath.
EGM: The Ex- books aren’t the only novels you’ve published. Do you think your other books would also appeal to gamers as well?
PC: Maybe? Probably? I mean, gamers are people too, right? We all have our own likes and tastes.
Well, okay, I’ve got a little mash-up novel called The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe. It’s Defoe’s story crossed with werewolves and some H.P. Lovecraft. And it’s a serious book, not a comedy. Which is part of why some people find it a bit tough. There’s not a huge call for early 18th Century horror novels. But if that’s your thing, this is so your kind of book.
Probably most gamers would like The Junkie Quatrain. It’s a little novella made up of four overlapping short stories. The best way to describe it is Rashomon meets 28 Days Later.
And I also wrote a book called 14, which a lot of people have enjoyed. It’s a cross-genre story, sort of a horror/sci-fi/adventure thing. It’s tough to describe because it’s a building mystery, so from very early on it’s hard not to give things away. A comparison I see a lot is “it’s like Lost set in an apartment building,” except more people seem to like the ending. Bloody Disgusting said it was one of the top ten horror novels of 2012, Audible.com named it the best sci-fi novel of the year, Goodreads members said it was one of the best horror novels, and it was on the preliminary ballot for the Stoker Awards, but didn’t make the final cut. Sooooo … I guess it’s pretty good. It was kind of a surprise to me.
EGM: Finally, if you could either write the story for a videogame, or write a novel based on a game, which would you do and what game/series would you like to write about and why?
PC: Ah, that would be cool. Like I said before, I’m horribly behind in my gaming, but I think there’s some really fantastic stuff out there I’d love to be part of. It sounds cheesy, but I always wanted to write a movie adaptation, or one of the Black Library books or something like that.
I don’t know. Let me get caught up on my gaming after I finish this current book and then we’ll talk.
Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots are available now; Ex-Communication will be out July 9; the fourth book will be out October 8.