Friday, November 29, 2013

DYSTOPIAN WORLD BUILDING by Rhiannon Frater


After I finished writing my zombie trilogy AS THE WORLD DIES (THE FIRST DAYS, FIGHTING TO SURVIVE, and SIEGE) in 2009, I was done with zombies for a bit.  I turned to other types of monsters (vampires, necromancers, mummies, werewolves,) writing both short stories and a few novels.
Yet, I was faced with a fandom that really doesn’t like me to stay away from the zombies for too long. 
I’d been toying with a dystopian short story on and off for a year.  It was one of those ideas born of a dream that felt like the great beginning to a story.  This particular idea started with two characters, Dwayne and Maria, and I was instantly in love with them.  I wanted to know more about them and their world.  As I began to pull the internal camera back a bit to get a good view of their surroundings, I realized the story and the world was much bigger than I had anticipated.  It was definitely not a short story. It was something much bigger and more challenging.
And the best part, it had a different kind of zombie called the Inferi Scourge.
I recognized I would have to immediately set this world apart from the AS THE WORLD DIES universe.  It was most definitely going to be a dystopian world, but how was I going to construct it?
The title was the first thing that helped me.  THE LAST BASTION OF THE LIVING immediately established a setting.  A bastion is a fortress.  I already knew the story was going to partially take place within a dying city…the last living city of humanity, in fact. 
The concept is pretty simple.  The last-known city of humanity is tucked into an isolated valley with a massive gate as its only entry.  I knew that at some point the gate had failed and allowed the zombie-like creatures in the story called the Inferi Scourge to invade the valley, forcing the humans to withdraw into the city.  But the city itself was a challenge. 
Obviously, the city in the valley started out as a utopian ideal.  Cut off from the world ravaged by a virus that creates dangerous undead who want nothing more than to bite and spread the virus, the valley, its resources, and the city were a shiny new beginning.  So in my mind, I had to create utopia first.
So what would a city be like that was built to be the last bastion of humanity?
The walls that surround the city that houses well over a million people are high and made of steel. On the walls are massive guns called Maelstrom Platforms. The military buildings are located near the wall, while the government facilities rest near the center of the city. 
 Housing so many people means that they would live in flats in multi-level buildings. Because of the threat of the Inferi Scourge infiltrating the city, each building has a collapsible stairway that leads to a second floor entry.  People aren’t able to have vehicles like cars, so there is an extensive subway and monorail system to ferry people across the vast city.
The valley outside the city provides all the resources the city needs to survive. Farms, ranches, a hydroelectric station next to a lake, and mining facilities are vital to the long-term survival of the city.  A massive gate protects the only pass into the valley, keeping the Inferi Scourge out.
All these elements made up the New Eden, the home of The Bastion.
Once I had utopia established, I destroyed it.
The gate fails. The Inferi Scourge swarm into the valley, killing the hundreds of thousands of people living and working outside the city, and force the leaders of The Bastion to close the city gates, trapping the remaining millions inside the walls.
With the city cut off from the valley, it’s fully dependent on the resources already stored inside its walls.  Soon, the subway and monorail systems shut down. Rolling blackouts become a way of life. The population grows and more prefab buildings are constructed, making the city even more cramped. City parks are destroyed to create more living space while buildings along the wall are razed to the ground to create fields.  Because the city is cut off, clothes, shoes, furniture, electronics, etc. are remade, refurbished, and salvaged to make new things.
Utopia becomes dystopia.
Add in the undead Inferi Scourge howling outside the walls and the world of The Bastion came into being.
The world that surrounds my main characters is close to collapse and utter destruction. Life is fragile and they know it. The world itself creates tension in the lives of Maria and Dwayne and inspires them to great feats of bravery.
In many ways, The Bastion itself is another character in the book, rich with personality and history. World building is not always easy, but it can add so much to a tale. Especially one like THE LAST BASTION OF THE LIVING.

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