THE END IS NIGH Author Interview: Hugh Howey

Tell us a bit about your story.  What’s it about?

In the Air takes place in the world of my bestselling novel, Wool. It explores what happens to the people left behind, those who don’t make it into the silo. For those who don’t know what’s coming, the end seems swift. There is no agony of anticipation. But this story looks at a man who is fully aware that the world is about to end, and that he and his family might not make it.

What was the genesis of the story—what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I’m fascinated by our mortality. Both by the surety of it and the apparent finality. That we live our lives aware that they will end one day is amazing, perhaps unique in the animal kingdom. I think the fear this generates is what allows religions to spring into being. It’s what causes midlife crises. It’s why some people fear armageddon and prepare for the endtimes. In a way, this trilogy of anthologies is an exploration of the overpowering and communal fear that so many have over the end of their lives. The only way some people can rationalize this end is to assume that they won’t go alone, that all of mankind will go at once.

With In the Air, we have a man who suspects the end is approaching, but he can’t know for sure. That place where he doubts, where he bounced back and forth, is where our humanity lies.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

It was very challenging. I wanted to write a story based in a very popular world that was just as accessible to people who haven’t read Wool. Pleasing my existing readership could lead to a confusing plot that required much prior knowledge. Making it too accessible would mean not exploring new territory for my amazing fans. It was quite the challenge to provide just enough backstory in bare hints without boring one crowd while getting new readers up to speed.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

The decision at the heart of this story is to turn away from authority and what is expected and do what a man feels right in his heart, what feels right for his family. That’s not an easy thing to do. Most of us live lives according to a set formula. We go to school; we get jobs; we have families; we retire; and then we retire again in a more sinister way. I’ve always feared this. I’ve jumped at any opportunity to travel, to get off the beaten path, to see the world and live an unusual lifestyle. I would have made the same decision that my protagonist made, even knowing the outcome.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

None. I’m lazy like that. I would write non-fiction if it allowed making everything up.

What is the appeal—either as a writer or a reader—of stories that take place BEFORE an apocalypse?

Tension. There’s more tension in the before than the during or after. The dread of anticipation is compounded by the helplessness. What can you do in the face of the unpreventable? During one of these events, decisions are clear. Survive. After the event, it is a similarly small list: shelter, food, water, friends, foes. But before? There’s still enough normalcy to cling to. There’s all that will soon be taken away. My favorite parts of apocalypse stories are the before. I’m a fan of the slow build.

What are some of your favorite examples of pre-apocalyptic fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

Alas, Babylon is my favorite novel of the pre-apocalypse. Lucifer’s Hammer is a close second. Both novels take you through all three stages, of course, but the early parts of these stories shine.