Jeremy Szal returns to Futures this week with his story Walls of Nigeria. Currently based in Sydney, Australia, Jeremy has already written about aspects of artificial intelligence for us in System reboot and Daega’s test. You can keep up with Jeremy at his website or by following him on Twitter. Here, he explains the origins of his latest tale — as ever it pays to read the story first.
Writing Walls of Nigeria
Growing up a kid, I always wanted power armour of my own. I mean, who doesn’t? It’s basic wish fulfilment exploited in the likes of Halo, Crysis, Iron Man and countless other media. So naturally I wanted to write about it, but I’m interested in the cost of wearing the power armour: the impact that it has on the human inside and his/her psyche.
I’m also a horror fan — probably from too many hours reading Stephen King when no one was looking. It’s a genre that takes something innocent and pleasant and twists it into something nasty, something horrific and ghastly. Body horror is the most gut-wrenching of horror subgenres. Usually the characters have a shot at escaping whatever terrors afflict them. But with body horror, the nightmare aspect infiltrates on a tangible and physical level, rendering the victim unable to escape or reverse whatever visceral fate they’re doomed to suffer. It’s why Alien makes viewers feel so uncomfortable: the monster invades the human body in the most deliciously awful of ways for fertilization. Once it’s in, there’s no going back.
So by means of alien biotech, naturally I combined the two ideas. I thought there was something disturbingly ironic about something meant to protect the soldiers instead turning into an inescapable semi-sentient prison cell that grows into the protagonist’s body, slowing taking over his basic body functions and leaving him stranded for an indefinite amount of time, unable even to take his own life until humans return to Earth (if they ever do). I wrote it in first-person to achieve that claustrophobic, inescapable aesthetic that parallels with Kohban’s ultimate fate.
I suppose it’s also a bit of an anti-war story that feeds on how armed conflict dehumanizes individuals and turns them into broken monsters. The Stained aren’t just left behind because of potential contamination — they’re not seen as humans anymore. They’re damaged, and higher authorities can justify leaving them behind to rot. A lot to pack into 1,000 words, but I hope I managed to make the audience never look at power armour in the same way again.