Dread Central recently had an opportunity to chat with author John Shirley to discuss several of his novels, including Resident Evil: Retribution: The Official Movie Novelization, Bioshock: Rapture, Borderlands: The Fallen and many more.
Resident Evil: Retribution: The Official Movie Novelization Synopsis:
Just as she finds a safe haven, free from the Undead, Alice is kidnapped by her former employers—the Umbrella Corporation. Regaining consciousness, she finds herself trapped in the most terrifying scenario imaginable. As the T-virus continues to ravage the Earth, transforming the world’s population into legions of flesh-eating monsters, Alice must fight her way back to reality in order to survive. Resident Evil: Retribution in 3D will be released on September 14, 2012. It is the fifth installment in the massively successful Resident Evil film series, based on the hugely popular Capcom survival horror video game series Resident Evil. The movie stars Milla Jovovitch and Wentworth Miller and is directed by Paul WS Anderson. This is the official novelization of the brand-new movie.
John Shirley is a critically acclaimed cyberpunk, sci-fi and horror writer whose titles include City Come-Walkin’ and Dracula In Love. He wrote the first screenplay for The Crow. He has also written many tie-ins including Constantine and Doom. His short story collection Black Butterflies won a Bram Stoker, the International Horror Guild Award and was one of the Publisher’s Weekly best books of 1998.
AMANDA DYAR: You’re clearly a very talented author with over 30 novels in your personal collection of works and having won the numerous awards you’ve accumulated over the years as well. Which would you say was your favorite project to work on over your career and why? Also if you could only recommend only one of your novels for someone to pick up and read to learn more about your writing style, which would you chose and why?
JOHN SHIRLEY:My favorite is the A SONG CALLED YOUTH cyberpunk trilogy, out in an omnibus, all in one volume, now, from Prime Books. This is the most inventive, idea-brimming work I’ve done, it turned out to be prophetic, and it’s got my strongest writing in it. William Gibson and Bruce Sterling and the Washington Post praised it–and I’ve recently updated and re edited it. It’s near future dystopian science fiction, with rock’n’roll energy, cyberpunk ideas, and a sociological warning…Juicy stuff…And that’s the one I’d recommend to people of my non-tie-in novels. It’s very stylish.
My newest novel EVERYTHING IS BROKEN is shorter, rather dark, intense stuff–kind of a Lord of the Flies of the near future. A bit of a political allegory. It just went into its second printing. So I recommend that for those who like tough, dark action and social meaning. My story collections are pretty well known–Black Butterflies won the Bram Stoker award–but the most recent one is In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley and, well, it’s not called that lightly. It’s perhaps not something I’d recommend to people who are under 18.
AMANDA: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about two of your more recent novels–Bioshock: Rapture and Borderlands: The Fallen. Could you briefly explain how you began working on these two novels, how you prepared the plot for each and tell us a little of what each novel is all about?
JOHN: Both are inspired by videogames–I was hired to write them, of course, based on the source material…Tor Books simply asked me to do the Bioshock novel and I really had enjoyed playing the games, Bioshock 1 and 2, so I was happy to do it. They wanted to do a prequel/origin sort of story, the conceiving and creation of Rapture, and the background of the characters Andrew Ryan, Bill McDonagh (who becomes the main protagonist), Frank Fontaine, Eleanor Lamb…so i had to grow Rapture from a seed, in a way, dramatize its creation–and its source in Ryan’s psychology–and then follow it up to just a bit before the point where the player of Bioshock 1 starts the game. This was an elaborate undertaking! Originally I was just going to adapt the first game, but when the book was in a first draft it was decided we needed to incorporate Bioshock 2 so I had to weave all that in too. So this was quite a challenge. But it turned out to be a better book after the inclusion of the additional game story.
They gave me lots of background material, a timeline, scripts for parts of the games, and they were available for questions. And I had lots of questions to ask. The games alone don’t explain everything! I kind of had to live in Rapture for awhile. I would’ve put in another 100 pages of material about Rapture itself, given the chance, but we did have a deadline. As it was, the book was capacious and ambitious. It was fun to research the eras involved in the prequel, like the Russian revolution, and the post-world-war-2 era; and to imagine how this gigantic undersea construction could be conceived and carried out. I used my background as a science fiction writer for that. And of course i drew on what data there was about the creation of Rapture in the games. I tried to make sure I contradicted nothing in the games, while adding a great deal more to them, dramatically…
Same goes for Borderlands: The Fallen, though it was less ambitious than the Bioshock tale, in the sense that it was simply an adventure set on the planet Pandora, the Borderlands Pandora that is. In order to dramatize the terrifying but exhilarating nature of the Borderlands world, I used characters from off-world, a family who’d become separated in the wastelands of Pandora, and were trying to find one another down there. So that way we saw it from three points of view, as well as experiencing it sometimes from the point of view of one of the game’s main playing characters, Roland. The novels–there are two now, including Borderlands: Unconquered, soon to come out–have a kind of violent whimsicality about them that makes them fun to write. They’re a bit like a western, much like old fashioned space opera, and also they’re horrific. I was given advance information, art and description, of the Tunnel Rats, and other creatures from the second Borderlands game, to incorporate in the novels…and that second game is just now about to come out. So the Borderlands novels are a kind of preview of Borderlands 2, at least in terms of what new horrors and marvels might be encountered…as well as new material I created on my own.
AMANDA: Your newest work is the Resident Evil: Retribution novelization which releases later this month in retailers around the world, so without spoiling too much of the film, can you tell me your opinion on the movie and the difficulties of turning a feature length film into a 350-page novel? Also, what differences, if any, will I find between Resident Evil: Retribution and your novelization of the film?
JOHN: Resident Evil: Retribution follows Alice’s adventures commencing with the end of the prior film, on that mysterious ship to which Alice was lured, and then a secret submarine base in the Arctic–a former Soviet base, retrofitted for the Umbrella Corporation. We have the strange experience of meeting a sort of alternate Alice who is having a life of her own…apparently…before a renewed invasion of zombies. Who is this alternate Alice? I don’t want to give that away! But it’s an intriguing and strange idea. Secrets are revealed about how the T virus was tested, how it was sold to the world powers as a weapon…new monsters are introduced…established characters return, at least one of them in the thrall of a nightmarish mind control…some live, some die…I also add some characters of my own, a sort of C story that interestingly dovetails with the movie’s continuity. There’s a powerful arc driving the story.
One difficulty of adapting a script of this kind, is that it’s an action script, and a lot of onscreen time is taken up with action, so it was necessary to take fertile elements of the script and open them up, find more story in them, to make it all blossom into a full novel. And it must all fit together. The adventures of a cloned girl, and some people trapped on the island of Catalina, and how they intersect with Alice’s story–those are the only parts of the novel you won’t find in the movie. However I incorporated the entire film script into the novel, dramatizing it in prose, fleshing out the imagery, and there should be nothing in the novel that contradicts the movie.
While the movies aren’t exactly the games, fans of the game will for sure enjoy the movies and recognize most of the game elements; and sometimes the games have borrowed material from the films.
AMANDA: Two things that seem incredibly difficult to translate between film and literature are conveying the same emotions the characters feel in both works and the action sequences shared between the two. How much research did you perform in order to ensure your characters’ actions and emotions rivaled that of the film and how do you recreate such elaborate fight scenes and intense moments the Resident Evil series is known for in your book?
JOHN: As soon as I was hired by Titan Books to write the novel, I rented all the Resident: Evil films, and watched them in sequence, taking notes and absorbing the feel of them. I researched the games but I didn’t get into them as much because my job was to adapt the script of Resident Evil: Retribution and the movies have some distinctions from the games. They are the same but a bit different–which is inevitable if you make a film adaptation of a game. I couldn’t adapt both into the novel–except here and there–without contradicting the games or the films. So I focused on the films, watching them–with great enjoyment, they are, as my youngest son used to say, “Hella fun”–and also reading about them online. I read articles about them, investigated the Resident Evil wikis in general, and of course I asked some questions of those in the know at Titan Books. I really try to be faithful to the games or the films I’m adapting. I tried to get a sense of who Alice was, inside herself, the tragic feel of her origin story, her relationship with her “husband” Spence, the trauma of her memory loss, and so on. I got into the character of Jill Valentine quite a bit, her struggle for self control, her past…but again, while contradicting nothing in the canon, I did have to find ways to flesh out the script characters, based on hints in the screenplay and their characters in the past. One way I did it was to show how their character faced dilemmas that arose in the action–how do they react to the horror of it, how do they keep their sanity…
AMANDA: Over the years, you’ve written anything from horror and science fiction novelizations and tie-ins to completely original titles, series and even lyrics for the amazing rock group The Blue Oyster Cult. Do you strive to write in a variety of different genres that all call for unique writing styles in your career and, if so, why? Also, what’s next for your career and what other new and upcoming projects are you involved with?
JOHN: Sometimes I choose the genre based on the message, or the main idea I want to convey. So describing the destruction wrought by losing empathy I felt the horror genre was best, in my novels In Darkness Waiting and Demons. My novel Crawlers is actually a fusion of science-fiction and horror…and so is Resident Evil, for that matter!…I do write differently for different genres yes, up to a point.
Cyberpunk has its own distinctive urban gritty feel to its futurism; it has a special technological tone, combined with an underworld energy, sort of like film noir set in the future; horror has a more contemporary feel, usually based in our fears, the fears that arise from life around us as we’re living in now. I try to make it relevant to people’s lives…at the same time as exciting, frightening, energizing but, ideally, absorbed directly into the reader’s feelings. I look for writing that summons up those responses in its very structure, in its tone and feel…My Blue Oyster Cult lyrics–mostly found on the albums Heaven Forbid and Curse of the Hidden Mirror–involve a similar fusion of tone and storytelling. Most rock lyrics tell a story of some kind…
I recently finished a five-issue limited series/graphic novel, The Crow: Death and Rebirth–it’s a new version of The Crow set in Tokyo, for IDW comics. I have an illustrated novella coming out from IDW, in the Zombies vs Robots world, called Z-Boyz in the Robot Graveyard. That’s happening this month. I have a novel about to go out to publishers called FOGG IN THE AFTERLIFE, about a detective in an afterlife world–a very distinct world with its own rules–and I’m developing a script for a science fiction television show to be called Intruder Town. The producers are just getting ready to take the pilot script out to show to the studios. I’ve written television in the past, and of course I wrote the first four drafts of the movie The Crow, and if I’m not writing a novel I’m always working on a script of some kind!
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