Educated as a robotics engineer at the renowned Carnegie Mellon University and working for tech giants like Microsoft, Xerox and Intel, Daniel H. Wilson hasn’t actually survived a robot uprising. But he probably could, considering he wrote the book on it — literally.
The New York Times best-selling author has enjoyed critical and commercial success with his non-fiction primer “How to Survive a Robot Uprising” and his novels in the “Robopocalypse” series, as well as carving out a name in the comics space with dystopian, tech-based titles for DC Comics including “Earth 2: World’s End” and “Earth 2: Society.”
On March 16, DC will release the pandemic thriller “Quarantine Zone,” Wilson’s debut OGN illustrated by Fernando Pasarin. Wilson explained to CBR News why his upcoming project has no place for robots and shared exclusive art and story details about the evil that lurks in “Quarantine Zone.” Wilson also revealed the origin of the virus plaguing Washington, D.C., as well as the method to stop a rogue Quarantine Zone Enforcement officer dead in their tracks.
CBR News: You’ve written some great books for DC Comics over the past few years, and you’re known on a far widerÂ scale for your “Robopocalypse” novels and the award-winning “How to Survive a Robot Uprising.” DC shared the solicitation copy for your new OGN and it sounds like a super-cool high concept — but where are all the robots?
Daniel H. Wilson: Oh my god, I forgot to put in the robots! [Laughs] All kidding aside, the robots in my work are usually a byproduct of world-building futuristic environments. For this project, I had to consider what would happen if evil could be eradicated from the human condition — except for in an ‘incurable’ population. That led to a Quarantine Zone where incurable people are sent and special soldiers, called Quarantine Zone Enforcement, who are there to keep the incurables contained. Sadly, no robots were necessary.
You have a Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, leaving little doubt about your expertiseÂ regarding fictional and non-fictional account of robots doing bad things. Did you have to do much research on viruses and transmission for “Quarantine Zone?”
My expertise is in cold metal and plastic, so I don’t have much background on the squishy, biological side of things. I had to do quite a bit of research on virus transmission and evolution to craft a scenario thatÂ letsÂ us explore what it means to be good or evil. Essentially, the malnoro virus is transmittable via blood contact, similar to HIV, and an infection is undetectable except through behavior — quite simply, an infected person can commit an evil act, and an uninfected person can’t. It’s an incredibly fun premise to start with and it leads to deeper philosophical questions.
The solicitation for the book asks: “What if humanity discovered the root of all evil? And what if it was a virus?” Does someone actually develop the evil virus in “Quarantine Zone?” And if so, what can you share about evil’s maker? Or, like Albert Einstein, was their science misunderstood and used for evil instead of good?
Early on in the brainstorming process, I considered making the malnoro virus a man-made creation. Ultimately, I decided to make it an ancient, symbiotic organism that evolved along with humankind. It infects the frontal lobe and makes people capable of evil — and if the malnoro virus is removed, the ‘cured’ person is incapable of knowingly committing an evil act. So, if you can’t choose to be evil, can you really be good?
Not only are there no robots in Quarantine Zone, but there are no mad scientists either! Unbelievable, right? Instead of being a piece of biological warfare, the virus is an intrinsic part of humanity. It represents our moral capability to choose between good and evil, in large and small ways. And ultimately we find that theÂ abilityÂ to be evil isn’t the same thing as being evil.
What can you share about those suffering from theÂ ‘evil’Â virus, these prisoners in the Quarantine Zone? Does the story follow any of them more closely than others?
Much of the story takes place within the walls of the Quarantine Zone. It’s a place without law where the people who are free to be evil are trying to form a society in isolation from the rest of the nation. The QZ is sort of a Wild West that has its own heroes and villains. That’s all I can say about the characters without giving too much away, but the Quarantine Zone actually feels pretty normal compared to the ‘good’ outside world. In the good world, nobody is capable of evil and everyone is paranoid that they’ll be infected by an incurable terrorist.
What can you tease about those lawmen of your Wild West: Quarantine Zone Enforcement?
Quarantine Zone Enforcement is the last line between good and evil. They are special forces units trained to maintain the Quarantine Zone border and fully equipped to make forays into the QZ for peacekeeping purposes. Each soldier wears protective armor with cleanroom-grade ventilators, and their every move is monitored for signs of infection. If a QZE soldier is infected, his or her weapons can be remotely jammed. In the worst case, a small chunk of thermite can be detonated between their shoulder blades — a kill-switch to prevent a highly trained, dangerous soldier from turning rogue.
You mentioned the ‘good’ outside world. What’s life like outside the Quarantine Zone? And do those living outside the walls know what’s happening on the inside?
In the ‘good’ world, people are largely unaware of what happens inÂ Quarantine Zone. Instead, they are paranoid that an incurable will escape and infect everyone. All the technology is designed to monitor and detect outbreaks of the evil virus. Monitors are stationed everywhere.Â AlgorithmsÂ read people’s email, searching for hints of evildoing. People are extra nice, because if you demonstrate ‘signs of infection,’ you could be quarantined. An air of cheery oppression abounds — think 1950s McCarthyism. It’s just as terrifying as the QZ, in its own way.
What happens if the ‘evil’ spreads and the QZE don’t quarantine the infected person in time?
Citizens of the ‘good’ world who undergo malnoro virus infection, AKA ‘transition,’ are not prepared for the sudden freedom to commit evil acts. As a result, they may impulsively choose to commit crimes like murder, larceny, or assault. During the transition phase, infected citizens are a dire threat to those around them. Mass infection would cause chaos that could spiral out of control — or not, depending on how evil the average person really is.
I love the art of Fernando Pasarin, especially his work on “Justice Society of America” a few years back with Geoff Johns and Alex Ross. What does his talent bring to “Quarantine Zone?”
Fernando is amazing — his artwork gave life to all the action and emotion of the story in a million little ways, but he also created a real sense of place. The detail on his splash pages in the Quarantine Zone are particularly incredible — every little piece of trash on the ground, slinking silhouette in a doorway and piece of graffiti creates a convincing idea of this place and the people who live there. The quasi-futuristic scenes of Washington D.C. convey an overwhelming sense of paranoia and false normality. If you watch closely, you’ll see that he plays with light and darkness — thematically underpinning the good and evil that we see playing out in the story.
If “Quarantine Zone” sells well in March, do you have more stories to tell in this world, possibly a sequel or prequel?
“Quarantine Zone” has a great premise set up in a complex world with badass characters. I would love to tell more stories about the people who live there. We’ll have to wait and see!
“Quarantine Zone” by Daniel H. Wilson and Fernando Pasarin is scheduled for release March 16 from DC Comics.