Sri Lankan Writing

"Zeelam": a Sri Lankan Zombie Apocalypse Story


Zeelam is a Sri Lankan zombie apocalypse story. In it, a Dengue-like virus makes the jump from monkeys to humans, and then starts presenting unusual, “aggressive” symptoms. Mis-diagnosed and undetected over the distraction of three decades of civil war, it evolves into a fully-fledged, zombie virus.

The World of Zeelam

Zee Hunter Weapons: T-56 Assault Rifle (Chinese)

Zee Hunter Weapons: T-56 Assault Rifle (Chinese)

Zeelam looks at a different Sri Lanka, one under siege from constant attacks, and where a mosquito’s bite is seen as potentially fatal – for the victim, and those around them. The army has developed specialist first response units called ‘Kill Teams’, specially armed and equipped to take on the ‘Zees.’

Zee Hunter Weapons: QBS-09 Shotgun (Chinese)

Zee Hunter Weapons: QBS-09 Shotgun (Chinese)

The larger burden though, is carried by society. NGOs inspect homes for mosquito breeding places, check for infected people and hiding Zees, and must fight without fire arms. Bus conductors and shopkeepers all carry Mortein, and people dress to cover as much skin as they can.

As in all Zombie stories, the greatest danger is not from the disease, but from other people. In Zeelam it is a government so stupid and corrupt, it places the survival of the very nation in danger. The GMOA, as usual, goes on strike. Officials cover up each other’s crimes. Red tape - and even social media bans - hold up life-saving news. It is against this additional challenge, the characters must fight to somehow save their country.

The Characters of Zeelam

Zee Hunter Weapons: Full body armor

Zee Hunter Weapons: Full body armor

Zeelam follows three main characters. Ruven Daniels is a Tamil soldier in an SL Army ‘Kill Team’. As a first responder, he quickly notices an increasing sophistication in the Zee attacks. Daniels must balance the reality ‘on the ground’, with the government’s flawed approach to not just the disease, but the very business of government. He is also younger; he did not serve against the LTTE, but must deal with some of the baggage that war created. Baggage which, even today, no one really wants to talk about.

Zee Hunter Weapons: Katana

Zee Hunter Weapons: Katana

Dinuka Fernando is a Sinhalese, NGO Zee Hunter. Her privately-funded group studies the virus, and shares data with groups at home and abroad -- but also knocks on people’s doors, checking for mosquito breeding – and Zee infection. Part of a mostly-female group, they work with and support other women in the field but must also deal with sexists who don’t take them seriously, in our “show bobz” city.

Siripala Fonseka is a government inspector who has a closer relationship with the virus than he cares for. He tries to balance his duty against his illness, and how to live with what he’s done.

The Themes of Zeelam

Zee Hunter Weapons: Combat Knife

Zee Hunter Weapons: Combat Knife

Other issues the book deals with are domestic violence, the culture of silence that protects it, and Buddhist-Muslim tension. It also reminds that the Chinese are now next door, and that what’s good for China’s String of Pearls is not necessarily what’s good for us.

By request: below is the first chapter of Zeelam. Zeelam is on preorder at Amazon, and drops on May 5th. Those without Kindles can download the free Kindle app, to their Android phones or tablets.


“Let’s go! Outbreak at the Hilton, a three-year-old’s birthday party.”

Men in long-sleeved camouflage ran out of the building, assault rifles slapping against the backs. In front of the building’s “Financial Crimes Investigation Department” sign, they pulled on visored assault helmets and mounted motorbikes. Two Sri Lankan Army Defender jeeps pulled up, SL ARMY – EPIDEMIOLOGY UNIT stenciled on their doors. Other men came running out and boarded them. One handed his flamethrower tanks to grasping hands, which pulled him in next.

“The Hilton?” asked Jehan the driver, in the lead Defender. “During office traffic? Bloody bad scene.”

Lieutenant Ruven Daniels climbed into the passenger seat turned and looked back. “Motorbikes, get on the pavements and go down York Street. Defenders will take Janadhipathi Mawatha.”

The bikers nodded, and roared off, two to a vehicle. The Defenders pulled away, and started their sirens and red and blue emergency lights. The security guard outside the Steuart watched as they turned onto Hospital Lane. The early-drinking office crowd look stunned and stood in the way, before fleeing at the last moment. They hit Chatham Street and passed Namal’s Shelby Mustang.

The pollution-pink sunset was moving out to sea. Cars were stuffed into the road like Marie biscuits in a pack. Jehan harassed them with the horn, but the other cars moved aside too slowly.

“Fuck this,” Daniels opened his door and climbed down. “Everybody out! We go on foot.”

The soldiers jumped out and ran past the World Trade Centre. Chinese tourists outside the Dutch hospital stopped and took pictures of them (a local did too, but was told not to by the security guard). They hit York Street, which was already full of people rushing to get away, or coming to see the show. Rubbernecking drivers clogged the road.

Outside the Hilton’s entrance, they saw the bikers dismounted by a police barricade. Policeman lined it, T-56 assault rifles aimed at the people running out. Two of the bikers were arguing with a fat officer with a Saddam Hussein mustache and a matching frown.

“What’s going on here?” Asked Daniels. He was standing beside the board with the day’s events; 5 to 8pm was “Baby Santush Birthday Party”.

“These are your men?” The fat officer made a face like a disgusted auntie’s. “They are abusing me and making unnecessary statements!”

“Yes,” said a biker, “you’re a bunch of motherfuckers.”

 “Hold on,” Daniels raised his hand, “are you the OIC?”

“Yes,” Saddam Hussein gave the biker a dirty look.

“Why aren’t your men inside? You know the rule about outbreak first responders. There are people in there.”

Saddam’s eyes bugged out. “That is not our responsibility! This is your job, here, you Army fellows can’t get late and then put this on us! That’s a fine thing no men!”

“Alright,” the Lieutenant turned to face his men. “Were going in on our own.”


Waiters, guests, and a sun-burned tourist who had lost his slippers, were straining against the locked banquet doors, bracing them. The door pressed out, bursting full, loud pounding on the other side. Animal snarling and howling came through, above Daniels could hear a woman screaming.

“Thank God you’re here!” The F&B manager had his back against the doors. Some of the soldiers rushed up and helped the waiters hold the doors back. The others formed a semicircle facing the doors, and cocked their rifles.

“What happened here?” Asked Daniels.

“The MP, Dharmapala,” the manager wiped sweat from his forehead, “he came in last night with a Russian prostitute. Checked into a room on the fourth floor.”

“You heard him,” Daniels nodded to a corporal. “Fourth floor. “

The corporal gestured to the rest of his fire team, and the four men ran down the hallway.

“Then what?”

“Then, nothing sir. There were no disturbances, no complaints from the other guests. In the morning housekeeping found their room door open, but there was no sign of either of them. There was some blood on the bed, but we thought maybe she was having her period. Maybe he liked that? You get all kinds of people coming here with their girlfriends and mistresses.

“The next thing we know, they came out from behind the curtains in Ballroom 2.”

“What?” Jehan shook his head. “They turned, somehow met no one on their way down here, and then hid quietly until the evening? And none of the event planners setting up knew there was a Zee MP and a hooker in the room?”

Something hurled itself against the doors.

“Have you met event planners? Look, I am just telling you what I know.”

“It’s alright,” said Daniels. “You done very well containing the threat. You saved a lot of lives. We’ll take it from here. All civilians, exit that way. Put your hands over your heads so the police don’t get scared and shoot you.”



The soldiers at the doors moved back a step, and the door cracked open. Blood stained arms pressed through, waving and clawing, a torn nail fell to the carpet. A toddler’s head poked through at the bottom: it’s eyes were conjunctivitis-red. It chomped at the soldiers and growled, it’s teeth clacking loudly. It poked its chubby arms through and began crawling through the crack, it’s black Baby Chanel dress torn and bloodsoaked.

Someone shot it in the face. It exploded, spraying gore and bone fragments over the soldiers.

The creatures roared at the sound and started forcing themselves through. Crouching, firing a round at a time, the soldiers picked them off. Each bullet punching through a face and exploding out the back. The dead quickly clogged the doorway.

“Open wider!”

The soldiers pulled the doors further open, and the beasts started rushing through in twos and threes, clambering over the kill pile. The firing filled the hallway like door slams, shot after shot. Daniels wiped blood off his visor, streaking it.  The soldiers moved back to make room for the pile.

“How many guests?” Yelled Jehan, back against the door, a pistol in one hand and a machete in the other.

“All the slow ones,” yelled Daniels.

A man with his leg bitten off crawled around the door and clawed at Jehan. Jehan hacked down with the machete, it chopped through like a coconut. He shoved his boot against the corpse’s shoulder and wrenched his blade free.

The herd began to thin. They pulled the doors wider, and finally completely open. Wearing thick rubber gloves, the door-holders formed pairs and dragged corpses from the entrance. Machetes rose and fell, chopping through necks. A glaring head with a Ramani Salon’s haircut rolled in front of Daniels. It’s eyes stared at him, raging infection red.

“Let’s clear it.”

Table cloths were stained red with more than wine. Shredded flower settings were strewn across the floor. A baby Zee in an Oshkosh romper had got tangled in baby blue bunting, and was eating a severed hand with perfect nails. It looked up at the soldiers as they fanned into the room, and then went back to biting the hand that fed it.

Zees crouched feeding in clusters over corpses on the floor, and on tables. Most were in designer clothing and shoes. The sound system was playing The Summer of ‘69.

“I love this song!” said Jehan.

“Shut up,” said Daniels. “Focus.”

The machete-men joined them, and working with riflemen they began clearing the hall.

“So this was some three-year-old’s birthday party?” Asked Jehan, beheading a one-armed woman wearing a Sonali Dharmawardena cocktail dress. “This is why I vote JVP.”   

Daniels frowned. “It doesn’t make sense. Corporal Mendis says there’s no other infected in the building,” he shot a Zee wearing a black and white Ramona Oshini, that suddenly got up and charged. “How did they come down here and hide, without attacking anyone else?”

“Sleepers,” said Jehan. “They must’ve woken up and found themselves here, when the setup team came in. Probably too afraid to leave in case they got asked questions. They wouldn’t take a chance, and then come evening, they went symptomatic.” A two-year-old Zee came running towards him. He kicked it, hard, and the baby sailed away. Someone else shot it before it could get back up.

“But when they were symptomatic last night, they should have killed people.” Said Daniels. “Even late at night, I can’t believe they didn’t encounter anyone. And why come here?”

“They prefer to prey on women and children. It is the wife beater virus.”

“But there weren’t any here last night. How could they know to hide here? Zees can’t read.”

Some of the other soldiers began beheading and lining up corpses by the entrance of the hall. A couple started removing gold rings and chains from a dead woman. They saw Daniels staring at them, and they quietly put them down like guilty schoolboys.

“I don’t know,” Jehan shrugged. “But I have a question. What was Dharmapala doing in the Hilton?”

“He was fucking, Sergeant.”

A large table flipped over and an obese, naked man, balding and covered in blood stains, roared at the soldiers.

“It’s the MP!” Yelled someone. “Shoot him, shoot him!”

Several assault rifles fired, throwing back the naked Member of Parliament. Unflinching, it raised out its fat hands like they were claws, eyes bright red, and got up and charged again.

A single shot rang out, entering his forehead. The Zee went down and the soldiers cheered. One ran over and took a selfie with it.

“I know he was fucking!” Jehan turned back to Daniels. “I mean, why did he come to the Hilton when he was just with a Russian hooker?”

“That’s a very mean thing to say. Maybe he wanted to be nice to her.”

“Lieutenant, a hooker doesn’t insist on the Hilton. A mistress does.”

Daniels stopped.

“So then where’s the mistress?”

He turned and walked to the entrance where the corpses were being laid out. Two soldiers sharing a smoke looked up at him. One was a sergeant, his hair gone to salt and pepper. He had a scar running across his cheek: a souvenir of the last war.

“Check all the women, and the pretty-looking men,” said Daniels.

“What are we checking for?” Asked Scar Face.

“A mistress, Raveen.”

The soldiers looked at each other.

“Look at how these women were dressed,” said Raveen. “They must have thrown bras at Enrique.”

“Now that is an unnecessary comment,” said the other soldier waggling his head. “But Sir, all bored, Colombo 7, housewives, no? My wife - not me! - She follows the gossip pages on Facebook. Look at the state of our country, Sir.”

Daniel sighed. “Raveen, don’t talk like that again in my presence. Now check under all the tables, and behind all the curtains.”

“There are no more, Sir,” said a soldier across the room. “We got them all.”

“Well check for any that are hiding.”

“But Zees don’t hide at night, Sir.”

“Just do it!”

Slowly, the soldiers began to check under table cloths and behind drapes.

“All done,” said Raveen a few minutes later. “This is a waste of time. Sir.”

“No,” Daniels pointed, and started walking. “No one has checked the table with the cake.”

“It’s in the center of the room,” said Jehan. “Nothing would hide there.”

Daniels stopped at the cake. It was in three tiers , each one as baby-blue as the bunting. White marzipan clouds decorated it, and on top was a figurine of a blue-uniformed, airline pilot.

Daniels lifted up the tablecloth with the tip of his rifle.

The Zee screamed and charged out, Daniels fired but the shot went wide as she shoved the gun aside. She barreled into him and knocked him to the ground, a woman in a black nightee with a ball gag hanging around her throat. She spat blood on his visor and clawed at his uniform, nails digging.

The side of her head exploded. The Zee collapsed over Daniels, who rolled her off and got to his feet.

Jehan holstered his smoking pistol. “Either that’s the mistress,” he walked over to Daniels, “or children’s birthday parties are only suitable for adults. To be fair, it’s never about the children anymore, is it?”

The Sri Lankan Sci-fi Novel "Numbercaste" just dropped, and it's hot

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, who hit number 1# on Amazon's short story rankings, will be doing a panel at the Asus Lanka Comic Con 2017, about his new book 'Numbercaste', modern digital publishing, and writing fiction.

'Numbercaste' is about a world where Big Data; gamification; and our loss of privacy gives a social media company power over all our lives. Like any good science fiction, it is a world you can see happening. What's unusual is that it leaves you wondering if that would be a good or a bad thing.

I got hold of Yudhanjaya, and asked him what he thought. 

When Facebook Wins

Why did you write Numbercaste? It has no spaceships. 

It's right in the fields that I specialize in. Politics, tech crazes, media - and honestly, I felt I had this story to get out into the world. Hopefully people like it. 

What do you make of the Numbercaste world? Do you agree with what Number Corp achieves, or does it scare you? 

I think the Numbercaste world is real. I think it's not just going to happen, but this is how humans seem to work - power, connections, social importance. We live in a world where Instagram fame translates to a million dollars; where, the Kardashians are famous for being famous. And China really is trying to pull this off. 

It both scares and excites me. It's exciting because there is real potential here. It's a shadow system that, if done right, can hold people accountable ... It's terrifying because the social order that it imposes may not be something we all agree with, but is inevitable anyway.

Early cover version. People test these, these days. 

Early cover version. People test these, these days. 

How close are we to that world today? Do you see it as a possible future, or an inevitability? Is there a company you think is contending for that kind of power? 

Very. Very close. I think there are two companies that can really pull this off - Facebook and Amazon. Facebook controls opinion and information access for almost 2 billion people. We live in a world where opinion often counts more than facts (which scares me). Amazon, well, it's the monopoly to end all monopolies. When everything from your reading preferences to your groceries are dictated by a single worldwide company . . . I think Zuckerberg and Bezos are the proto-Julius Commons. The infrastructure is already in place.  

The other avenue would be the credit-rating agencies like Experian, Moody's and so on. The amount of data they have is incredible: and the amount of direct impact a bad credit rating has on someone's life is incredible. On a large scale level, a bad credit rating can already undermine a country's economy or send an airline into bankruptcy. All of this has been happening, and can only increase.

On Writing Science Fiction

Your very first story went to 1# on Amazon's short story rankings. Was it all prawn toast, or did you try some new marketing? 

I honestly think it was a bit of both. I just emailed it out to people - I asked whoever was interested to drop me their mail and I'd send them the PDF. I figured this would let me really identify who actually read my writing.

I was surprised when over a hundred people started messaging me, sending me their emails, asking me to put it up on Amazon - close friends, a hard core of people who read Icaruswept, and so on. And so, now that I had the beginnings of a mailing list, I took their advice. I went through Pronoun, and set it up to go out to every single store they offered. I figured it'd sort of float around and die. 

We write English fiction in a country where barely anyone reads Sri Lankan authors, let alone sci-fi. Our markets and readerships are scattered throughout the world.
— - Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

I had absolutely no idea that it would go so far. For the next few days I was honestly just jumping up and down in excitement, because this thing was zooming through the ranks. When it hit #10 I realized it was time to get serious about this. And so I started playing a bit smarter. I mailed those hundred and fifty-odd people, asking them to leave honest reviews if they had the time. They did. The response was phenomenal, especially on Goodreads.

Then I teamed up with about twenty other sci-fi writers and put it into several bundle offers. That got me up the rest of it and kept me in the #10 orbit for a good week, which is cool because that list updates every hour. 

I never paid for any promo, just relied on people's goodwill, and the fact that I had something that people seemed to enjoy. So 90% prawn toast, and that last top 10 was a bit of reaching out, playing the indie game a bit. 

You're not keen on print publishing, are on an E-book writers forum, and started a group to help local writers publish on Amazon. What's so special about digital publishing? 

Trad pub has its advantages, but each book has a high unit cost. The entire publishing industry, since the Gutenberg Press, has been build on the fact that some people can afford this and some can't. Those who can become gatekeepers.

With digital, the cost of replicating a book drops to almost nothing: just a few hundred kilobytes of storage space. The cost and delay of transmitting a work drops to almost nothing. Whereas print, by default, imposes geographical limits, digital just nukes all that. 
The gatekeepers start vanishing.

I think for us, as Sri Lankans, this is really important. We write English fiction in a country where barely anyone reads Sri Lankan authors, let alone sci-fi. Our markets and readerships are scattered throughout the world. And now you and I can go live across the world with the click of a button and be read from Colombo to Colombia. 

Print, by default, imposes geographical limits, digital just nukes all that. 
The gatekeepers start vanishing.

I had realized this on a theoretical level before, but I think this really hit when a student from the University of California mailed me. Their professor had apparently come across TSSRW and they were discussing it informally in class- and this was three days after I hit that publish button. I don't think it could ever have propagated that far and that fast without digital.

Why hard science fiction? So few people do that anymore. You could just write garbage and get away with it.

I like it. I admire it. Hard sci-fi is a brilliant learning experience, especially when writing it. Numbercaste made me learn about the blockchain, cryptocurrencies, cryptography, network effects, the works - expertise that now gets me invited to speak in startup and research circles, because I had to spend serious time doing serious research. TSSRW made me spend an entire day trying to understand the mathematics of singularities.  

Don't get me wrong, I love my WH40K (Ave Deus Mechanicus!) and I love soft sci-fi as well - LeGuin and Atwood, I think, are two of the best examples of that. I just try and write what I like to write. 

You're known for doing a lot of writing in this town, but not fiction. Why the big change? 

I realized that all the political writing had done was turn me into a giant ass, so I guess I was really looking for ways to keep writing. I'd done fiction before. When I was 14, I read Stephen King's Dark Tower series - amazing story, that - and I got to the point where he explained that he'd started writing it when he was 19. I thought, right, I can do this too, and over the next two years I sat down and cranked out The Waste, a 130,000 word monster set in a half-magic half-tech world. I'm really glad that never got published, because it was horrible: I have the manuscript on my desk and the cat sleeps on it sometimes. 

I realized that all the political writing had done was turn me into a giant ass ... I think making stuff is a lot more difficult, but also a lot more fun.

A couple of years later I ended up working on an indie RPG called E.C.H.O. with four of my best friends. It was very story-based, very dystopian, about a supersoldier who comes home after a great war.

I had a blast doing this stuff. Some time ago I basically figured out that this was what I really wanted to be doing, creating something with words rather than just critiquing. I think making stuff is a lot more difficult, but also a lot more fun. 

Will you be talking at your LCC panel about modern ways to launch a creative writing career? 

Hopefully, yes. But I'm no expert, so the best I can do is pass on what other authors have taught me. 


Surviving Big Data

Ever since the first credit card company launched, we’ve been tracked.

As China's influence grows, do you think their authoritarian version - which they're already making - would affect our lives here?

I think China will stick to China. We're heavily in debt to them, but in terms of culture and technology, we seem to be close to India - Huntington's classification of civilizations comes to mind. I'm more concerned of what the US might come up with. After all, Western media holds so much sway over the rest of the world.


How could a person protect themselves from the "Number?" Is it already too late for people to 'opt out' of social media? 

I think it's too late for that. Ever since the first credit card company launched, we've been tracked: and indeed, you have cases like Target's shopping recommendations algorithm figuring out a teenage girl was pregnant even before their family knew.

Going forward, I think there will be two ways to deal with this. The first is to use social media wisely, and understand what it can do for us. The second would be to do what Europe is doing - upholding strong 'right to be forgotten law', keeping legislature in check that tries to prevent digital discrimination. This could swing either way, so the next ten years are going to be really, really something to see.

It's like that old Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times. 

It’s terrifying because the social order that it imposes may not be something we all agree with, but is inevitable anyway.