THE END IS NOW Author Interview: Nancy Kress

This interview was conducted by Ben Blattberg.

As someone who has written “before the fall,” “during the fall,” and “after the fall” stories, what do you think are the particular pleasures of reading and writing stories set during the apocalypse?

I think the pleasures are two-fold.  First is the oh-God-at-least-that-isn’t-happening-to-me-now phenomenon.  In contrast to an apocalypse—any apocalypse—normal life suddenly looks much better.  Also, on a deeper level, writing and/or reading these stories helps steel us for the personal apocalypses we all must face, if only at the very end of life.  We read about the terrible to take it in to ourselves in a more gentle form, and so make the idea of personal extinction a bit less terrifying because it’s a bit more familiar.  “Mithradates, he died old.”

Did this story present any unusual difficulties, either as a story in itself, or as part of a larger sequence?

All stories in a series present the same difficulty: bringing in enough of the backstory so the reader can understand what is happening now, without either retelling the entire first story or boring everybody with large expository lumps.  I expect to have even greater difficulty with the third story, where I must bring in two generations’ worth of backstory.

To me, there seems to be a lot of ambiguity—and some paranoia—in this story and some of your other stories. As a writer, are you drawn to ambiguities and mysteries?

Yes, of course.  Life is ambiguous, and I find cut-and-dried narratives (here are the good guys, over there the bad ones) boring and unrealistic.  Every choice a person makes both forecloses other choices and brings consequences.  The mystery comes from the fact that we don’t always know how those choices or consequences will work out.  When Sophie chooses to go to Carrie’s aid, she gains something and loses something else.  Morals can be even more ambiguous—is it right for Ian to try to “cure” what are essentially much nicer people than humanity is now?  Is the price those people pay—passivity, helplessness—worth the elimination of interpersonal violence?  Ambiguities abound.

As for paranoia in my writing—who told you to say that?  Is it part of The Conspiracy?  Who are you reporting to?

“Angels of the Apocalypse”—with its interest in human violence and the possibility of living together—seems to be in dialogue with other science fiction works, such as John Brunner’s pessimistic Stand on Zanzibar and even your own An Alien Light. Do you find your writing process inspired or affected by other works?

Everything I write is affected by everything I’ve ever read (which does not, alas, include Stand on Zanzibar).  It all drops into the well of the unconscious and cross-breeds down there until nobody—not me and not my reviewers or critics—can tell what was influenced by what.  As for the interest in violence—yes, it’s in much of my work.  Violence puzzles me.  I know it has strong evolutionary links to survival, to sex, to competition, perhaps even to creativity.  But I’m not overtly violent myself, and so I keep trying to understand those who are.

How did you decide to tell Sophie’s story at this stage of the apocalypse? Many apocalypse stories I’ve read involve melancholy and just-in-time heroic science, but Sophie’s story and choice seem dominated by anger. Was it easy to inhabit that character?

Wouldn’t you be angry if something, possibly due to alien intervention, had just stolen the world you thought you’d inherit and turned it upside down?  Also, anger can be a great spur to action.  Active characters are more interesting to write about, which is why this is Sophie’s story and not Carrie’s.  And, as I said in my previous answer, I keep trying to understand people like Sophie.  Writing their stories is how I do that.