THE END IS NOW Author Interview: Ken Liu

Is it weird to own a big bust of HP Lovecraft that can watch your every move?

The bust of Lovecraft actually scared my daughter when I first put it up on my shelf. (Those eyes!) Following the advice of Gardner Dozois, I put a sock over his head, and now he looks much less intimidating and my daughter laughs at him.

lovecraft

I don’t really think much about him (or any of the other awards I’ve won). Awards are about the past, but writers have to look to the future.

I really enjoyed the family in this story. How has being a parent and having a creative collaborative spouse influenced your creative process?

In my fiction, I’ve always been interested in the “mundane” problems of daily life, of being part of a family and a link in the chain of generations stretching back into history and forward into the infinite future. We learn patterns of behavior from our parents and we pass them on, consciously or otherwise, to the next generation. Sometimes these patterns remain relevant and helpful in new cultural and historical contexts, sometimes not so, and the difficult problem is how to tell which is which.

Great technological transformations may force us to adjust the specifics of family traditions, but the patterns of family, I suspect, will long survive in new contexts.

My wife is a visual artist, and she has a way of framing things, of seeing the beauty in ordinary scenes, that I’ve found very inspiring. I suspect it’s influenced the way I choose and frame my stories over time.

I love how the emoji in the story follows its own syntax and grammar; it really is its own language. Did you invent this structure for the story? What languages do you see evolving as humanity gets closer to Maddie’s world?

Glad you liked it! I can’t say I truly invented this structure. Back in 2001, I participated in an alternate reality game run by a team out of Microsoft to promote Spielberg’s film, A.I. In it, there was a house AI that spoke to people only through images. I remember being completely entranced by the AI—the writers for the game managed to evoke such complex emotions with a few photographs of puppies, sunsets, a scene by some river, etc.

So I wanted to do something similar. Emoji consist of a limited set of pictograms that, in combination, can evoke or say anything. The more context the participants share with each other, the more rich and precise the communication can be. Such allusive, rich communication patterns are the foundation of intimacy and understanding.

As for what languages I see evolving as we move toward being more enmeshed with our computing devices… I really can’t say. I think it’s too early to see the long-term impact of such dramatic changes in the way we remember, stay in touch, meet, love, and hurt each other. We are becoming a race of cyborgs, and new channels of communication are still nascent.

How likely do you think it is that artificial intelligences or uploaded intelligences will actually bring about a cataclysm?

I think it’s not so much the likelihood of things going “wrong” that matters as much as the magnitude of the disaster if something goes wrong. (This is the “black swan” idea from Nassim Taleb.)

We have a tendency to discount the impact of highly unlikely, but catastrophic, events. Large parts of our lives have already been taken over or are in the process of being taken over by AI: algorithmic trading (and the associated volatility and possibility of massive crashes); military robots; self-driving cars; big-data “nudges” in dating, voter-manipulation, jury-selection, and so on. This will only accelerate over time as computers are getting smarter and a lot faster than we are, and the economics will favor robots over people. At some point we’ll find ourselves riding on top of a highly complex, efficient, and fragile web of robotic infrastructure. And when things go wrong, it will be catastrophic.

I don’t know if there’s necessarily a good way to limit our exposure to such risks. My story is actually very hopeful that we’ll survive and figure out a way to recover.

In The End Is Nigh, you contributed the story “The Gods Will Not Be Slain.” In The End Is Now, we get to enjoy “The Gods Will Not Be Chained.” What do you have in store for us in The End Has Come? And what was it like contributing self-contained short stories that were also part of an Apocalyptic triptich?

I have a new story that will bring the family saga to a conclusion that I hope is satisfying to everyone who has followed along. Writing connected stories like this is a lot of fun for me, as I get to develop a world and stay in it for longer than I typically do for short stories. I hope readers have as much enjoyment reading them as I have had writing them.

THE END IS NOW Author Interview: Annie Bellet

Even without the meteor strikes, the moon is enough of a presence in the night sky that its loss would certainly be felt around the world, both culturally and in terms of immediate survival.  What research did you do to prepare for writing “Goodnight Stars”?

I watched a documentary by Martyn Ives called “If We Had No Moon,” which is narrated by Patrick Stewart.  That got me started thinking about the possibilities and ramifications of the moon exploding.  I also really liked the concept of a proto-ring around the Earth and what that would be like, so I read up on planets with rings as well.  From there I read about ecological disasters, weather changes, various meteor strikes in history, and other stuff like that. I like my fiction to have some foundation in facts, but not to be controlled by them. It’s fiction, after all.

You explore such concepts as racism, sexism, PTSD, and the fears born of catastrophe, particularly in the scene with Overalls and his companions.  Some readers might not care to be reminded of such issues, but many readers and writers feel that such realism can only serve to enhance the story.  What are your thoughts on including such topics in your writing?

Again, it’s fiction, but I’m still writing about people dealing with things and to have any kind of resonance with a story, I think you need elements from reality, especially with a story set in a perhaps not too distant future.  Humans are humans and have been for thousands of years. You can see our various themes of love, loss, despair, hope, and the like throughout the history of literature.  Bad times seem to bring out both the best and the worst in humanity and I wanted to have my characters deal with that, because that’s the core of any story, people being people.

Lucy is wonderfully realized on the page.  Many writers tap dance around allowing strong female characters to show moments of perceived weakness, yet you embrace Lucy’s humanity in her grieving for both her mother and Heidi, her shock after shooting a man, and the emotional fugue of the world falling apart around her.  How conscious were you of presenting Lucy as a person instead of as a generic “strong female character”?

I don’t see weakness in grief, or in being upset over taking a person’s life, I guess. My personal definition of strong is someone who doesn’t let circumstances break them, who doesn’t retreat from life but faces it and figures out how to go forward. That’s what I wanted for Lucy.  I don’t know if I consciously think “I’m going to write a realistic person today” anymore.  It’s more I try to do my best to portray characters as real as I can get them, which means not shying away from any aspects of their character that will serve the story.

What would be your priorities if you found yourself in the midst of the crisis of “Goodnight Stars”?

Don’t get hit by a meteor? *grin* Okay, more seriously, I’d try to get myself, my husband, and my emergency food supplies (what I very jokingly call my cats) to my friend’s farm where there is a well, a place to grow food, not too many people around, and plenty of supplies.  I think people in the country would fare better in circumstances like this potentially, depending on how badly infrastructure was messed up. The higher the population density, the more potential you’ll run into the people who turn bad when life goes wrong.  I’d want to wait out the initial chaos somewhere with water, land, firewood, and friends, personally.

You skip back and forth between long and short fiction, playing with the concept of story in a variety of forms.  Do you have a genre or storyline you’ve yet to explore?

I haven’t finished writing a literary novel yet. I’ve been dabbling with two different ones for a few years now, but there’s so many other things I need to write that might actually have a readership I just haven’t gotten around to finishing them.  I also have a couple of ideas for huge, million+ word epic fantasy series that I want to try and have been studying writers like Steven Erikson, Karen Miller, and Joe Abercrombie to see how they structure series with such thick books.  Hopefully in a few years I’ll have the freedom to actually attempt a giant epic with 250k word novels and the like.

THE END IS NOW Author Interview: Scott Sigler

“The Sixth Day of Deer Camp” takes place in Northern Michigan in the winter. I started feeling cold just reading the descriptions of the bitter cold and the layers and layers of clothing the characters must wear to stay alive. What experiences have you had that helped you get that feeling of dangerously cold weather just right?

I grew up in Northern Michigan so I know the cold well. I also took a snowmobile trip to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula — the upper tip of the UP — to research my novel ANCESTOR. Deep in the woods in the dead of winter with a broken-down snowmobile and several feet of snow around you is a different kind of cold.

George and his friends get to see up close and personal the aliens who are hell bent on destroying humanity (or so they believe). I couldn’t help but see parallels to how modern day soldiers, governments, and even regular citizens are encouraged to systematically dehumanize those they feel threatened by. Was any of that on your mind while you were writing this story, or was it inspired by something completely different?

Dehumanization is a recurring theme in my work, as is the concept that no one wakes up and thinks “I’m going to be evil today.” Every person justifies his or her actions, actions that could be construed as evil by those who are impacted by those actions. For “The Sixth Day of Deer Camp,” the shoe could easily be on the other foot, and then one would have to wonder who the bad guy of the story really is.

The scene where George says “But not these ones” absolutely crushed me. George is about to learn the cost of our victory. If his story were to continue, how do you think that revelation might affect him in the long run?

I hope to finish off the story in “The Seventh Day of Deer Camp” in the final book of The Apocalypse Triptych. George has made a choice and choices have consequences.

If you found a crashed alien ship and the door was open, would you go inside?

That depends on who — or what — is waiting at the door.

What’s your favorite thing about writing apocalyptic fiction?

When you’er writing apocalyptic fiction, you can dispense with many of society’s rules. If you write mostly in modern-day settings, you have to work within the confines of existing laws, governments, science, physics, et cetera. When you go that extra mile into the realm where civilization collapses, you can toss out most of these rules and really focus on character and situation. As in, when the shit really hits the fan, what kind of people are we? If we’re freed from the constraints of the law, the threat of jail, and every choice could mean life and death for us and our loved ones, what are we capable of doing? And going back to your second question, what kind of actions could we justify in the name of survival? Apocalyptic fiction is a kind of fast lane to writing about base human nature and how we react when all concept of “help” is stripped away.

THE END IS NOW Author Interview: Desirina Boskovich

This interview was conducted by Stephanie Loree.

In “To Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood” you chose Aliens as the precursor to the apocalypse. What was the inspiration for this choice?

Well, of course I’m a sucker for aliens. I mean, who isn’t? They’re basically science fiction in its purest, truest form.

But to be honest I don’t know that this is actually a story about aliens.

Leaving aside the question of whether there are actually any aliens in the story at all, to me this story is about the way human beings react to authoritarian regimes. And also, how we navigate a growing inability to settle on a single narrative about the nature of the world.

I believe these are some of the most pressing issues of our current moment. How we as a species decide to handle them will completely determine how our future turns out, maybe if we have a future at all, so they seem like very natural topics to explore in a story about “the end.”

There are major questions of religion and faith presented in this story. Are you drawn to this type of theme particularly, or do you feel it’s part and parcel of apocalyptic literature to consider these kinds of questions?

Yes, I would say I’m drawn to this theme particularly. Though it’s not something I’ve written about much publicly, I was raised in an extremely conservative, isolated religious group. I know what it is to believe so fully and trustingly in an ideology, a way of life, and then to lose that belief. It really changes you. I’ve never quite believed in anything the same way again. To some extent, I’ve always felt myself to be on the outside looking in, aware that most things about this world are only real because we pretend they are. This is the truth at the heart of “To Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood,” and its prequel story, “Heaven Is A Place on Planet X.”

Faith and religion are also two completely different things; they intersect in this story, but just barely. Faith is that longing for the fantastic, that crazy desire for a world beyond, behind, or underneath this one, and a chance at the sublime; it makes sane people do insane things. It’s the Paradisers, willing the next world into being around them; it’s Ruth, lighting candles to a goddess she probably only half believes in; it’s Annette, staring wonderingly at the lights in the sky that signal the existence of a story beyond what she’s been told. OK, so, this is a science fiction story, right? But in a broader sense it’s also a fantasy story. It’s about this fantasy that I think nearly every human holds in their core: a longing for something bigger than what we see and better than ourselves. And there are also a lot of people in the world who are willing to exploit that.

Religion, on the other hand, is tribalism. Loyalty to a faction. Allegiance to a narrative. And we see that force at work in this story too.

How did the original idea for your story come about? What inspired you to write it?

The first story—“Heaven Is A Place on Planet X”—was originally written as a stand-alone piece. So when it came to writing this story as a follow-up, I was working within some fairly narrow parameters.

At the heart of that first story is a mystery: are the aliens real at all, or are they simply a convenient fiction being used by one or more governments to justify oppression? Even by the end of the story, this question remains unresolved.

So at first I wasn’t sure how to approach the second story, because I really didn’t want to answer this question. I didn’t want it to become a simple parable of government oppression, nor a story about a war against aliens, because both felt too straightforward and mundane. So I kept asking myself, how can I continue this story while maintaining that ambiguity? Wouldn’t it be obvious now, with no Planet X in sight, what the answer was?

And then I realized, it really wouldn’t be.

That’s the thing about our current media landscape. There is no one established source of facts. Everyone lives in self-created echo chambers of such intensity that there are now competing versions of reality. It doesn’t matter what the truth is, it only matters what you can get enough people to believe.

There is a set of people in this country who believe wholeheartedly that President Obama is a secret Muslim who’s been laboring tirelessly for years to hide his real (Kenyan) birth certificate; that a horrific tragedy like Sandy Hook was staged by the government, complete with paid actors sobbing over the bodies of their dead children; that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a conniving cartel of scientists across the world. There is also a set of people, probably only slightly overlapping with the first, who believe that vaccines cause autism, that 9/11 was an inside job, and that the moon landing was filmed on a Hollywood set. It’s not that they can’t be swayed by facts; it’s more that they have an entire set of replacement facts that they regard as equally valid.

We saw this unfold quite recently with the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. A week or so after the inciting incident, someone started a completely unattributed rumor that Brown had first assaulted the officer who killed him, causing the officer to suffer an “orbital blowout fracture.” No official sources, no statement or confirmation from the officer or his police department, certainly no hospital records. Just “I heard from somebody who knows.” The rumor spread like wildfire. A blogger picked it up, restated it as fact, and added a random photo of a CT scan, as if it were the missing medical record. Soon it was being reported on the news.

The rumor was eventually retracted, probably because there was no evidence to back it up, nor anyone who was willing to officially go on the record and claim its truth. And yet a sizable portion of white Americans—people who were searching for an excuse to believe that this was a justified killing and not an indefensible murder—are still asserting the truth of this rumor as if it were a proven fact. If there is no evidence to support it, it must be because the evidence was suppressed. If the available information feels counter to what they believe, it’s because there are secret yet powerful forces out there that are selling the rest of the world a lie.

And the thing is, they’re right about one thing—there are powerful forces in our society that benefit from lying to us, that are intentionally shaping our public discourse in nefarious ways. So part of that is real. We can’t trust everything we’re told. We can’t even trust what we see with our own eyes—not always.

In my notes for the story, as I sketched and brainstormed, I wrote the following:

“The apocalypse happened way before the alien ship did, or did not, show up. The apocalypse happened the day that truth became a lie and was replaced with truthiness, that reality became something you could manipulate, and the concept of ‘tolerance’ was twisted and perverted into the idea that everyone is allowed to have their own set of facts.

‘Here’s what happened,’ everyone will say. And society will fracture into a myriad of subcultures, who go on living as if whatever they believe is what’s true. And they can find a way to twist every set of facts to match what they believe. Where things don’t match up, they just straight up deny.

And that’s the real apocalypse. That fracturing. The end of truth.”

That unlocked the whole story for me. The confusion about what really happened doesn’t get cleared up when the tanks come rolling down the streets. Instead it just intensifies.

For me, “To Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood” seems ripe for follow-up stories. Is this a world or are these characters we might see more of in the future?

I hardly ever return to the world of a short story. I tend to feel like I’ve expended all the energy and momentum in that one story and to revisit it is not as exciting. That kind of goes hand in hand with my general theory about short stories, which is that I much prefer them when they leave something unfinished.

However, Annette and Jane, the two sisters in this story, may make an appearance in my final installment to the trilogy.

Can you tell us about any of your current projects or upcoming publications?

The Steampunk User’s Manual, which I co-authored with Jeff VanderMeer, will be out from Abrams Image early this October. It’s a follow-up to The Steampunk Bible by Jeff VanderMeer and S. J. Chambers. While The Steampunk Bible was more of a general introduction to the field, The Steampunk User’s Manual doubles as both an art book and a creative how-to guide, and features tons of amazing art, gorgeous images, and pragmatic advice from working artists and well-known Steampunkers. It was a huge project with many, many contributors and we’re very excited to see it reach the shelves.

THE END IS NOW Author Interview: Ben H. Winters

This interview was conducted by Sandra Odell.

You begin the story with a stark sensory impression—the voice of God—and the immediacy of present tense.  Both of these elements help set the mood and immediately place the reader beside Robert and Pea.  What inspired such an intense opening?

After finishing “Bring Her to Me,” my story for the first book, I took some time not thinking about this project and this world before coming back to it to write this new story. One of the cool things about that was re-discovering the story I had written, seeing what all I had done with it. It was like this treasure chest of weird gifts that I had buried and then dug up. I was like, oh right, I created this idea of God talking secretly in everybody’s head, and giving them precise instructions—well, cool. Well, all right. Let’s definitely start there.

You create a world that is not quite a utopia and not quite a dystopia.  This is a very different approach to a post-apocalyptic world.  How conscious were you of the thin line between these two cornerstones of apocalyptic fiction?

Interesting question, I like that. To be honest I wasn’t thinking that way at all—it’s funny how those two genres, “apocalyptic” and “dystopian/utopian” have come to be so strongly linked. I mean, you think of say, Lord of the Flies, which is surely dystopian fiction at its finest, and nary a zombie to be found! Anyway, I guess for these stories I was really challenging myself to  find a way to end the world that we haven’t seen before, and something about everybody being told by God to kill themselves, all at once—that seemed fresh to me. It seemed like a big, unexpected choice. The rest of the details, including I guess the degree of utopianism/dystopianism, lined up around that concept.

Pea and Robert both face very different struggles—Robert’s with God, Pea’s with her deafness and the weight of her grief.  You make mention of the Center, yet you don’t explore what part the Center played in the community.  How do you see the Center?  As a church?  A government?  Something else entirely?

Oh, the Center! Good old Center. It’s probably a good bit church, a good bit government, a good bit community center. It’s the cathedral, it’s the castle, it’s the source of authority. You love it and you are fearful of it. It’s one of these offstage elements, you know, and I did a fair bit of this in my Last Policeman series—where you as the writer want to allude to some idea or event without giving too much detail (even in promotional interviews!), and you let it float through the story as this intriguing unnamed, because whatever the reader conjures from her wondering is bound to be more fascinating than any details I might paint onto it.

Even with the dual points of view, the story flows with a grim, beautiful grace, a trait it shares with certain of your novels, in particular Bedbugs.  What would you say is the biggest difference between writing a short story versus a novel?

God, thank you so much. That is really nice of you to say, and I am particularly fond of you mentioning Bedbugs, which I labored mightily on and am very proud of. Anyway, the tool kit for novels and stories is the same—gotta have sharp characters, gotta have conflict, gotta explain things well but not too much—and you have the additional burden, in a story, of the limited canvas. Can’t linger, can’t build too long, can’t digress. Those are powerful restrictions, and I think in a good story they function like meter and rhyme in a poem: when you are forced to work in a defined and limited space, you are forced straight to the heart of the matter.

You do a great job of telegraphing the final conflict at the beginning of the story while still holding the readers’ interest, giving just enough to keep the pages turning.  To whom do you turn when you want that element of teasing and mystery when you crack the cover?

Thanks! And, wow, I mean, a lot of people. John Le Carre, in his best work, is insanely good, and for me, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is tops in terms of the careful and clever withholding of information. You know, and yet you don’t know—you think you know, but you don’t know, and then you do… Another book I can’t get enough of, for pure slow build of suspense, is Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin, who I think should be celebrated more than he has been as a master of multiple genres.

NEWS: THE END IS NOW Audiobook Delayed

We ran into some production delays with THE END IS NOW audiobook, so it’s not going to be available today (9/15) as we originally planned. We’ll try to finalize it and release it as soon as we can. We should definitely have it ready to go by 10/1 at this point, but as soon as it’s ready we’ll get it published.

Sorry for the delay!

THE END IS NOW Author Interview: David Wellington

This interview was conducted by Sandra Odell.

Zombies and apocalypse often go hand in hand, but you’ve taken it an entirely new direction by narrowing the focus to one man and the horrors of responsibility.  Whitman is not a good man, and many of his decisions are questionable, but he honestly wants to help.  How did you prepare to write a zombie story where the zombies are the antagonists but not truly monsters?

I think anyone who writes fiction about zombies has to face that dilemma, really quite early in the process. The main reason zombies are so scary is that they are us—our friends, neighbors, loved ones, but with some vital quality removed. We’re all terrified of not being as human as we want to be. It’s fine in a video game or a movie for the zombies to just be “others,” to be straight up monsters you blow away with repeated head shots. But prose requires a little more thought, both from the writer and the reader, and if you don’t address such issues the story loses a ton of impact.

The story starts hot and heavy, immediately throwing the reader into the action.  It reads much like a video game with the same level of intensity throughout.  When you’re in the mood for pulse-pounding fiction, who do you read?

Some of my fellow authors in the anthology are great for this sort of thing—I’m thinking most specifically of Scott Sigler and Seanan McGuire.

“Agent Isolated” touches on a number of fears—contagion, death, the Other, the government, being helpless, disease, monumental change.  It speaks to readers on a very personal, intimate level.  What of your own fears did you put in the story?

Oh, just about all those things give me the cold sweats. We’re still living in an age of anxiety. The 21st century hasn’t had time to calm down yet, so we’re all just bundles of worry. It’s interesting, I didn’t specifically think “Oh, I should write a story about helplessness.” That was just part of the world I created, one which followed from some basic, logical premises. Writing horror fiction for me has always been about writing about the real world, just tweaked a little so the darker elements are more visible.

The story also speaks to fears of racial profiling and racial cleansing.  How conscious were you of such issues when you established the affected areas and populations in the story?  

Those are such vital parts of the landscape today. We read about these things every day in the news. So I guess I’m always conscious of them, but in this case I really wanted to highlight the ways in which big scary institutionalized governments are incapable of handling individual, personal horror. I spoke above about depersonalization, but I think another reason zombies resonate so well with people is that we know that the societal foundations we count on—the health care system, emergency management, even just municipal services—have become so far removed from our personal experience, because there are just so many people in the world that those in power can’t understand the impact of their decisions. That’s some pretty heady stuff, and it makes for powerful horror fiction.

This isn’t your first foray into the world of zombies.  What it is about zombies that appeals to you as a writer?

Gosh, I just like monsters. I mean, in a really general kind of way—give me Frankenstein’s monster, give me a mummy, I’m happy. But zombies are in my blood! I grew up in Pittsburgh, where George Romero is a folk hero. Even as a child I used to watch Dawn of the Dead every year—the local stations would play it, largely unedited, in prime time. They’ve always been part of my subconscious.

THE END IS NOW Author Interview: Sarah Langan

This interview was conducted by Sandra Odell.

“Black Monday” starts with a light, familial tone despite the impending doom, even to the point of invoking humor.  This is a very effective opening, drawing the reader into the moment and the harsh reality that follows.  How would you have managed the same conversation if you were in Nicole’s shoes?

Nicole thinks her work might save herself and her family. She has to believe that, or she’d be bouncing off the walls. She makes jokes for the same reason—to feel in control.

Me, I’d probably act similarly. I remember that after the towers fell on 9/11 and I was trapped in my nearby office, it all felt pretty dreamlike. I cracked a few tourist jokes. I should add that I was the only turkey doing this.

But it’s hard to say—these days I have a family and they’re mostly what I think about. If I was divided from them during a crisis, that would be very hard to endure.

Your use of sensory images really brings the story into focus.  How conscious were you of your presentation of the environment and its effects upon the story?

I’m pretty obsessed with how things smell, so that often makes it into my fiction. Which is weird, because I have practically zero sense of smell. I’ve been stuffed-up since 1987.

Otherwise, I don’t ever visualize my work. It’s all pretty cerebral. I’m in my characters’ heads, looking out through their flawed, crazy eyes.

You make good use of the near-future cybernetics, merging the ideas with the plot so that it doesn’t overwhelm the story.  What sort of research did you do to prepare for this story?  Did you turn to any recent developments in the field of limb replacement sensory integration?

Thanks! The editors will tell you I deleted a lot of extraneous nonsense at the last minute. It’s hard not to over-explain, especially since I’m so captivated by the material.

My interest in harder science fiction has been recent—about five years. I’ve done all kinds of research, from reading the old-school classics to the newer guys like Gibson and Stephenson.

For a while I thought singularity was a great concept, and I read stuff like “The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology” by Ray Kurzweil. I’d planned to make that a big plot point for the very secret YA series I’ve been working on, which “Black Monday” sets the stage for. But the concept of Singularity started to bother me. It’s fantastical in a bad way. People who fantasize about living in machines don’t want to forge evolution; they want to escape death. Those are pretty oppositional drives. One is optimistic, the other’s fueled by fear and bound to fail.

Then I got turned on to “What Technology Wants,” by Kevin Kelly, which is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s smart and realistic. It proved to me that my reluctance toward innovation is masochism. It’s going to happen, and I can either be a part of it, or go extinct. Another book that illustrates this same view from a different perspective is “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain,” by David Eagleman. He proves we’re pretty much a collection of instincts, and often have no control over our own personalities. But once you acknowledge that, you can work within it. I’m all about focused evolution. For example, there’s some evidence that the same apes that developed tools went on to develop opposable thumbs—our brains made our reality.

Much of your work could be classified as horror—Audrey’s Door won the 2009 Superior Achievement For A Novel—and “Black Monday” has a number of elements that could classify it as horror as much as science fiction.  How aware were you of the constraints of any given label or category when writing this story?

I have no idea what genre I’m writing in most of the time. The horror community has embraced me, so I’ve embraced them back. You could argue that horror is any genre—it invokes an emotion: dread (a concept first articulated by Douglas E. Winter). Science fiction canvases specific subjects: technology, space, futuristic visions, alternate realities. So, maybe I write both.

What I’ve noticed is that critics don’t seem to like it when I write horrific science fiction. Maybe it’s just too dark for them, or maybe I’m not following the rules the way they’re used to. Or maybe they just don’t like their chocolate and peanut butter mixed together.

The roller  coaster ending doesn’t even really stop with the final word.  When reading short fiction, what makes a good ending to you?

I like an end that’s appropriate to the story. It’s doesn’t have to be sad or happy, but it has to feel right, and like a true resolution and not something the author pasted together. Endings are like stuffing ten pounds of crap into a five pound sack. It’s possible—a tricky miracle. The second the threads break, everybody knows, and it smells!

I get endings right maybe fifty percent of the time.

THE END IS NOW Author Interview: Jamie Ford

This interview was conducted by Lee Hallison.

What were the challenges you faced in writing a second story set in this steampunk-flavored Seattle?

Typewriter Jamie Ford

Typing the story on one of these, which was only slightly easier than using Windows 8.0. Plus, do you have any idea how hard it is to find parts for an Enigma Machine?

What most inspires you about the steampunk genre?

What’s steampunk? You mean we’ve actually landed on the moon and people send naked pictures of themselves through the air to hand-held devices named after a fruit?

What kind of arcane sorcery is this? GET THEE BEHIND ME, SATAN!

The use of silver as a medicinal or protective element is an unusual alternative to traditional medicine. Did you discover this fact when researching this particular story or had you come across it before?

I was in a chemistry class years ago where the lecturer was talking about the hazards of ingesting colloidal silver to treat parasites (I know, good times, right?) and I thought he meant some whack-a-doodle, circa 1800s snake-oil treatment. But he was talking about now. Then he showed us slides of people in the U.S. with ashen faces from silver poisoning. Take that, parasites.

Why did you choose basic elements (mercury in the comet tail, silver in her blood) as a motif in this story?

There’s a beautiful simplicity to basic elements. You can relate to most of them, see them, feel them, weigh them, taste them, (Elements – Collect them all, kids!) I can get my brain around them much easier than theoretical concepts like strangelets, graviphotons, and things like the width of a gold atom’s nucleus.

Plus, my high school chemistry teacher left a profound impression on me. He’d lost an eye in a skiing accident years ago and didn’t wear a glass eye. He merely put a fresh band-aid over the socket each day. True story. Thanks for the nightmares, Mr. Lyon.

Dorothy is a fierce survivor despite being a heroin addict. Do you think she will escape the men at the end?

Weirdly enough, active heroin addicts are fierce survivors. It’s counterintuitive to think that way, but the few that I’ve known personally could seemingly survive anything (though most of us wouldn’t call it surviving, but you know what I mean).

In the end, I think Dorothy will escape every tormentor but herself.

What is it about apocalyptic fiction that is so intriguing to readers and writers?

Whether as a reader or a writer, apocalyptic fiction lets us jitterbug with out own mortality. We are enamored with death and all the opposites of it. That’s why poems like “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Elliot endure, because of lines like “Lips that would kiss, form prayers to broken stone…and this is the way the world ends.”

THE END IS NOW Author Interview: Charlie Jane Anders

This interview was conducted by Rachael K. Jones.

I thought the descriptions of Rock’s films in this story were spectacular, and I found myself wishing I could track these movies down. What films, directors, actors, or stunt people provided the inspiration for Sally and Rock’s work? Do you have a personal connection to films like this?

I really wanted to do something about slapstick, especially after I’d written a lot of stuff that relied more on verbal humor and quips instead. So I spent a lot of time watching Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin movies, plus Jackie Chan and other more recent physical comedians. I grew up watching tons of Keystone Kops and Laurel & Hardy cartoons, so this was a great refresher course. The big surprise was discovering Harold Lloyd, whom I’d never watched before and whom I now consider one of the all-time great movie stars. I do feel a personal connection to this material, partly because I was always accident-prone and kind of hyperactive when I was a kid.

Rock seems like a much more subdued person when this story begins compared to “Break, Break, Break.” How much of this change is the result of maturity, and how much a result of the trauma he’s carrying?

It’s the trauma. The three-part story in the Apocalypse Triptych is actually carved out of a longer work, and in the longer version Rock actually has a nervous breakdown after the protest and the death of Raine. I feel like that comes across here, but it was much more emphasized in the longer version. Rock and Sally both have a year or so where they don’t really make any of those silly movies, either together or apart. But they finally realize they need each other, and Rock sort of drags Sally back into making the slapsticky movies instead of the serious art movies she’s making for school. Unfortunately, Rock can’t get rid of his trauma that easily—now that he’s seen real death and serious violence, he can’t ever treat the playful comedy version as lightly.

Many of Rock’s filming sessions walk the line between fantasy and reality, and oftentimes go from choreographed to truly life-threatening within seconds, such as when real rioters join the extras in throwing bricks at him. At one point, Sally calls slapstick “the new realism.” Can you comment on this relationship in the story? Do you think this relationship extends to the apocalypse genre in general?

The starting point for this whole story—which I think works way better as a three-part novella than it did as a novel—was to explore the relationship between slapstick comedy and violence. How easily one can look like the other, and how easily one can turn into the other. We laugh when someone falls down, and how is that different from feeling okay with watching, say, a police officer knock a protester down? But the more I worked on this story, the slipperier it got—and the more it seemed like the slapstick mayhem was actually commenting on and critiquing the real-world violence. It’s no accident that Sally and Rock’s movies become popular as society is descending into fascism and chaos. (In fact, you could argue there’s been a connection between slapstick and fascism in the past, but I’d need a lot more research to back that up.)

Throughout the story, there are several memorable times when a sense of orderliness and normalcy gets imposed on chaos, first with Rock talking down Reginald, then Janelle’s insistence on a script, and finally Rock’s choice to open the convenience store even when people were looting. Can you tell us a little about this theme?

That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought about that. I think the common element in all of those things is that Rock is trying to find some logic and consistency in a world that’s going nuts—he’s gone from being the instigator who’s always making authority figures miserable to being a voice for stability. And I think that goes back to the fact that he’s been through some trauma and gotten a lot closer to the abyss, so he no longer has the same carefree attitude.

Will Rock Manning ever get to make that love story film he keeps asking for?

Umm… I guess that’s a spoiler for the third part!

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