Year’s Best 2012: Stephen Graham Jones on “Rocket Man”

An Interview by Molly Tanzer

“Rocket Man” by Stephen Graham Jones will be appearing in Prime’s forthcoming Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2012 edited by Paula Guran. Pre-order here!

“It had used to be Michael T from over on Oak Circle, but you’re not supposed to call zombies by their people names.” So, what are you supposed to call zombies once they change?

Trick is, zombies, whether Rage or Romero or Haitian, just turned or winding down, on their last rib, they all break down into two basic categories: known and unknown. As in, if this flesheater coming at you down the hall was once your mom, say, then you’re maybe going to hesitate a moment. And that’s all that not-Mom-anymore zombie needs. It’s over for you. So, calling Michael T by his people name, that could be the difference between life and death. If he’s just a shuffler or a walker or a ‘zombie,’ though, then you can waste him without having to apply any thought to the act. Which, that’s the real pleasure of the zombie apocalypse: just like them, we don’t have to think, can just react. There’s no shades of right and wrong. It’s just kill kill kill. In our lives, there’s so much thinking, so much deciding. When dealing with zombies, there’s none of that. A lot of people look on the zombie apocalypse as a kind of vacation from themselves, I suspect. And we all empathize.

What’s scarier, puberty or zombies?

Good question. They each redefine you and your relationship to the world. I mean, zombies, they’ve been stricken (‘gifted?’) with this new and ‘unnatural’ hunger, and their bodies are changing, molting, almost (see: skin problems), and neither are that articulate, so . . . could be these two options aren’t all that different, finally. I mean, neither zombies nor teenagers ever change their clothes, right? They both like to lurch around in the dark corners, and gather together, cause mayhem, and neither has much concern for authority. It’s less a ‘zombies’ or ‘puberty’ question, more a ‘pizza’ or ‘brains’ question, maybe. And, of those two, I think I know which has more protein.