Hyenas is a zombie novel of sorts. Not walking cadaver zombies. More mindless zombies. Something a little closer to George A. Romero’s 1973 movie The Crazies. It came about, as stories often do, when I was trying to write another story entirely.
I had this idea for a far-future science fiction epic, the central concept of which was that humankind was running out of language. They simply couldn’t keep up with the pace of change, technological innovation and alien concepts. As language runs out, insanity beckons and the human race, now spread across the galaxy, begins to collapse into chaos.
Anyway, ambition exceeded grasp and I parked the idea, thinking I’d return to it when, with the help of gene splicing, biomechanics and nanotechnology, I’d turned into Iain M. Banks. Around the same time, a story I’d placed with Murky Depths magazine, Today is Not, was picked up by an independent publisher called Permuted Press to appear in an anthology entitled Best New Tales of the Apocalypse. I didn’t really know much about Permuted Press, having come across the call for submissions on Ralan and not really done much more than email it off. Once they bought my story, I thought I should take a look at their remit and see if there was anything else I had that might be suitable for publication.
Turns out Permuted Press published pretty much nothing but zombie fiction. They’ve branched out considerably since then, but at that time it was wall-to-wall walking dead, give or take. I noted that they published novels as well as short fiction. Zombie novels. And I thought: I like zombies. I love Romero’s Dead sequence, Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy, 28 Days Later, Reanimator. And I thought: I could write a zombie novel.
I was also working on a short story around then, a siege story set in a library that was inspired by The Ropy Thing by Al Sarrantonio, a cracking piece that had appeared in the 999 horror anthology edited by the same author. If you don’t have this particular anthology and you like horror fiction, you really need to get your hands on it.
So, these three things – the end of language, the library siege and zombies – kind of crashed together and became Hyenas. And, in the writing, it also became a novel about reading and the love of books and poetry (particularly the poetry of William Blake), about Liverpool, and about fathers and sons. But mostly it’s about those screeching, cackling, filth-encrusted, murderous, crazy hyenas. Which is why it’s called Hyenas and not Blake, My Father and I. Which would absolutely suck.