A flashlight shines down on a tablet with the eBook version of "Aftermath: Stories of Survival in Aotearoa New Zealand" amongst the rubble of a collapsed building
Short Stories, Writing Insights

The World of “Lizards and Villains and Wars (Oh My!)”

A flashlight shines down on a tablet with the eBook version of "Aftermath: Stories of Survival in Aotearoa New Zealand" amongst the rubble of a collapsed building

In late April 2022, my first professional and internationally-published short story “Lizards and Villains and Wars (Oh My!)” went on sale in the Aftermath: Tales of Survival in Aotearoa New Zealand anthology put together by SpecFicNZ.

While the anthology itself deals with different types of scenarios that happen in New Zealand after an apocalyptic event, my story has several different further connections with a wider universe.

Rewinding a little, I need to tell you (my dear reader) that spec fic is short for speculative fiction. Wikipedia defines speculative fiction as, “broad category of fiction encompassing genres with elements that do not exist in reality, recorded history, nature, or the present universe.” Dictionary.com defines speculative fiction as, “a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements.” In short, the stories in the anthology, mine included, aren’t based in any sort of fact.

When I was in high school, one of my closest friends John and I created this huge world filled with superheroes and villains. We both were huge Marvel Comics fans — John actually got me deeper into comics than I had been, although trips to Moondogs, a local comic book store, was always a treat I enjoyed even before I met John our freshman year — and we felt we could make our own comic book company once we graduated college and out into the big, bad world of adulthood.

(Newsflash: we didn’t.)

In 2014, knocking on the door of an age milestone in my life, I felt my writing needed to go somewhere. An idea formed in my head a day or so after New Year 2014; what if I resurrected some of those comic characters but placed them in the future of an alternate universe? But what would work? What would make them special? Make them different from all the Marvel and DC characters and stories we’d come to know (and sometimes love)?

A novel idea formed in my head, and the phrase “The Boy Who Could Live Forever” kept rolling through my mind. Could that be it? The idea? And I started to write a prologue, taking place in the year 2001 of this alternate universe. The novel’s name was, tentatively, The Legend of the Boy Who Could Live Forever.

In the 2001 part, there are smaller, more focussed terrorist attacks that take place on American soil in the weeks leading up to the September 11 attacks. Villains — working in teams, or collaborating loosely — launch several attacks. It makes America uneasy. The common folk on the street don’t like being pawns while these people with superpowers duke it out.

And then 9/11 happens, but it’s not only normal people who are the terrorists; villains also attack, which makes it all the more devastating. Public opinion swings away from superheroes too. This leads to a friction between normal people and mutants (for lack of a better term).

To be honest, the writing of the novel kinda fell apart. I have rewritten the 2001 part a few times, and it’s a lot better than it was.

I unfortunately got sick later in 2014 with an illness that affected my ability to write creatively, so the novel was put on the shelf to gather dust.

So that’s a lot of backstory. I guess you’re wondering, how does “Lizards and Villains and Wars (Oh My!)” fit in to that universe?

This story takes place in the near future in a time period not really written about in the novel. In the non-2001 part of the novel (which originally was around 2044), the reader encounters the fallout from the period of time “Lizards and Villains and Wars (Oh My!)” takes place in, which is sometime in the mid-2020s.

The War of Apostasy is mentioned, and this is a world war of superheroes versus villains. Basically, humanity’s worst fears have come true. And humanity isn’t always an innocent bystander in all of this; the armed forces of some of the world’s countries get involved too.

In the final stages of the conflict, things grow dire.

Cities like Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and New York City are badly damaged and made nearly uninhabitable. Many people die in these places.

Christchurch, New Zealand is also hit, although the superheroes manage to stop the villains and their evil creations before they can destroy the city outright.

The terrorist attack in Christchurch is the final conflict in the Australasian theater of the war. The surviving lead villain, a mutant named Bluebottle, and his associates surrender in Sydney.

Sadly, the American theater is still going. (There are other theaters of the war, but these aren’t fleshed out at all.) The final battle takes place in America, and that is referenced in the novel itself.

The narrator of “Lizards and Villains and Wars (Oh My!)” is from a real-life suburb of Atlanta called Tucker. Tucker is a place close to my heart, and the place I describe in the book is a place I used to visit as a kid. My Aunt Lisa and three cousins lived on a somewhat steeply sloped section at the end of a cul-de-sac there. Memory can be strange, especially ones from so long ago that can twist and turn out of focus, so I might not remember it correctly. But their backyard, I believe, sloped down into a wooded area. Being from the suburbs of Chicago, where our yards merely rolled into the next one every which side, this was very different than anything I’d ever seen. And thinking back on it, as I wrote in the story, this neatly maintained section erupted into such wilderness beyond the chain-link fence. That strange contrast stuck in my head. Kids being almost orderly and abiding by society’s rules on their manicured lawn could let their hair down and run amok in the wild forest that lies beyond. What a beautiful image.

The story itself was somewhat based on my real-life experiences after the Christchurch earthquake sequence. The attack itself mirrored some of the things I saw and went through during the 22 February 2011 earthquake. We did have soldiers and police from not only New Zealand but also places like Australia and Singapore, guarding the central business district from unauthorized entry in the days and weeks after the quake, which caused so much damage to our city. Once the city center partially reopened, driving past the damaged city was something I dealt with day after day after day. And I wanted that feeling of lethargy, of Groundhog Day to permeate through the piece.

The location of the new work premises in the story is in the same area of Christchurch where my work rebuilt, although the narrator’s line of work is way different from my own. But there’s a takeaway bar right near the train tracks, and the hospital complex sits at one end of that street while the Port Hills rise above the other end of that street (which meets a major road and continues on as a different street beyond that intersection). I didn’t pick the location for any reason other than it was familiar, and it had such amazing landmarks — one man-made, one made by nature — either end of the street. These images stuck in my mind as well and compelled me to write about them.

Will The Legend of the Boy Who Could Live Forever see the light of day? Maybe. Maybe not.

Right now, I’m working on a novel tentatively titled Plague which is a little more based in real life and I think has the potential to do well. Other people obviously do feel that way too as I was selected for a full mentorship through the New Zealand Society of Authors in 2022 to help me complete and sharpen up Plague. A great honor indeed.

If you’d like to read “Lizards and Villains and Wars (Oh My!)”, you can pick up a digital or physical copy of Aftermath: Stories of Survival in Aotearoa New Zealand from Amazon or any bookseller that carries it. Here are a few links below: