Anyone who subscribes to the science of popular culture has been led to believe any imaginable post-apocalyptic world will be overrun with plodding zombies intent on feasting on the brains of survivors.
William Gillespie, an award-winning author and communications coordinator for the U. of I.'s School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, posits a more scientifically likely and even scarier end-of-days scenario in his new book, "Keyhole Factory."
There's not a zombie in the entire work of fiction - unless you count the billions of people sleepwalking in ignorance while Earth begins to carry out its catastrophic (to most of us) global cleansing process.
Victims simply melt away, leaving the few horrified survivors grappling to formulate their next logical step.
"I've been told the book is dark, even dystopian," Gillespie said, "but one of the characters is Earth, the beleaguered ecosystem, for whom the demise of humankind is a happy ending indeed."
Gillespie sardonically tells the story from a wide range of perspectives, including through the eyes and fevered dreams of scientists aware they are complicit in creating the pandemic and a group of nattering poets who aren't.
Even Earth gets a turn, offering its opinion as the narrator of one chapter, as does a biblionaut - a poet astronaut constructing prose from the dark reaches of space even as civilization is eaten away, literally, by pathogen.
The author's foray into the inconceivable digs far beneath the trusty surface of cause and effect. He parlays his scientific familiarity to create maddening illustrations showing all we know is consistently less than what we don't.
"Keyhole Factory," published by Counterpoint/Soft Skull in Berkeley, Calif., is Gillespie's 10th book of fiction or poetry, many of them using experimental techniques, and six of them written under five pseudonyms. In his latest work, he uses traditional literary form but adds flourishes of alternate type arrangement and inserts pattern and presentation techniques designed to aid in the telling of the story.
Gillespie, who also has been credited as a co-author of the world's longest literary palindrome, said in a recent interview with Inside Higher Ed, that, like science, experimenting with writing calls for certain controls to make it effective.
"An experiment in art demands rigor," he said. "It's not just getting drunk and banging your head against the keyboard. You follow a meticulous procedure and you observe the result."
Gillespie holds three creative writing degrees and leads an independent publishing house, Spineless Books, which features his work, as well as collaborations undertaken with other authors. He and his wife, Cristy, also have hosted what he characterizes as "eccentric" radio shows.
He said he started as a psychology major but couldn't put his pen down long enough to study Freud.
"When I switched majors to English/rhetoric, I fell into the pedagogy of U. of I. professor Philip Graham, whose iconoclastic class and reverence of fiction in translation brought me outside the stifling English class tradition of the Anglo-American canon and face to face with the staggering magic and beauty of what could be attempted in words."
Gillespie's work, including "Keyhole Factory," is online at spinelessbooks.com.