I have been reading all manner of zombie books and film for some time now and I am always fascinated by what happens to spark the event. Actually, the reason for the zombie "plague" is usually little more than an interchangeable vehicle getting the action going. Still, it's interesting to compare the causes of plague and to see what effect they have wrought on the plot and character development.
For instance, in "Night of the Living Dead", the grand-daddy, we have no idea what creates this nightmare other than the radio acts funny and there might be something going on with a military satellitte. In the book "The Cell" by Stephen King, the origin of the plague is equally vague, with some mention of terrorists programming cell phones to alter peoples' brains and inadvertantly creating some sort of hive personality. In the "The Rising", Keene's successful novel, the zombies are the result of life-forms who animate corpses following a scientific experiment that opens a dimensional gate ( I won't describe the scene where the protagonists are ambushed by zombie deer and other small game).
In Pallid Light, which just had a release party at Confusion, author William Jones takes a different approach. In his novel, the phenomenon that brings about the creation of the walking dead (a much better term than zombie, if you ask me) is a mysterious event preceded by, but possibly not linked to, a mysterious storm and strange colored lights in the sky. The story unfolds in a short period of time, the action and tension building quickly, giving us the tagline "with the flip of a switch the world ends."
When writing The Ravening, I knew it would be a virus, and at first I thought of it as just another throwaway device. However, when I started researching viruses, I warmed to the more horrific possibilities presented by viruses as an apocalyptic catalyst. Simply put, viruses are scary as hell. Zombies and viruses are a perfect marriage.
To appreciate the horror and destruction that a virus is able to perpetrate upon our world, all one has to do is take a look at the spread of AIDS or look back to the turn of the last century and see what happened during the great influenza epidemic. These health events have become part of our pscyhe. Look at the response we had as a society to H1N1 virus. People were nervous. The threat of a "super-flu" will keep people indoors and away from heavily populated areas.
At the risk of sounding callus, the fear of infection from something as primitive a lifeform as a virus, is a writer's playground!!! Add to this fear the reality of bacteriological warfare and the existence as such places as Plum Island, and what's not to love.
For my novel, The Ravening, I created the Zagreus Virus...a name based on Greek mythology. I wanted to suggest rebirth, since religion is a major theme of the novel and the creation of zombies is a perversion of Judean-Christian resurrection mythology. According to myth, Zagreus was a son of Zeus. He was destroyed by the Titans, who cut him into little pieces and devoured him. However, his heart remained, and Zeus absorbed it to resurrect his son.
I have also implied in my novel that the virus is constantly mutating, adaptaing, as though it has the awareness of a more sophisticated life-form. While this is aspect is never elaborated on in the book, I am writing a sequel where more questions will be answered and more posed.
In the coming weeks, I will be dropping additional information about the novel and soon will give you a sample of the first couple chapters. Hopefully, you won't get tired of this, but rather have your interest piqued to the point where you are clicking on a link in Amazon to pre-order (that link will be available soon enough).