Interview: Hugh Howey, author of “Deep Blood Kettle”

Interview by Robyn Lupo

Hugh Howey is the author of the acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel Wool, which became a sudden success in 2011. Originally self-published as a series of novelettes, the Wool omnibus is frequently the #1 bestselling book on Amazon.com and is a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. The book was also optioned for film by Ridley Scott, and is now available in print from major publishers all over the world. The story of Wool’s meteoric success has been reported in major media outlets such as Entertainment Weekly, Variety, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Deadline Hollywood, and elsewhere. Howey lives in Jupiter, Florida with his wife Amber and his dog Bella.

What is the appeal of apocalypse fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

Apocalypse fiction is just the latest in a long line of what I call “survival fiction.” We update the means to suit the age, but these stories are as old as storytelling. During the age of ocean exploration, they were shipwreck and desert island stories. During the space race, they took place on other planets. For a time, they were about the Wild West. It’s all about finding yourself in a dire situation, with your normal support structure removed, and having to use your wits in order to survive.

There’s something deeply biological about our urge to tell these stories and to seek them out. It’s like we’re practicing the worst “what-ifs” that our tribe can conjure: “Okay, a bear wanders into camp, what do we do?” With so much of the world charted, with our dependence on civilization increasing, and having given up hope of leaving this planet, that leaves a very specific set of scenarios. We will tell these stories until we think of the next great threat, and then we’ll explore how we’d survive by making up the worst trials imaginable.

What are some of your favorite examples of apocalypse fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

I want realistic apocalypse fiction. Zombies and the like don’t do it for me. I can’t suspend disbelief. I think Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle nailed it. Also Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. Both are classics, in my opinion.

The issues that arise in “Deep Blood Kettle” remind me of Stephen Hawking saying in 2010 that humans should fear aliens: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” Can you tell us more about what got you writing this story? Are the aliens in the story how you see our first contact working out?

I like to think that aliens sufficiently advanced to travel here would also be ethically advanced enough to want to preserve other cultures, coexist, and learn from fellow sentient organisms. But if they are that smart, they’ll recognize at once that humans can’t be trusted. So yeah, what Hawking said.

But the story isn’t really about aliens. I wrote the story during a government shutdown, and it saddened me that politicians (yet again) could be so dense as to argue over trivialities while watching something catastrophic approach. The story is a metaphor for that scenario. It was me letting off some steam as only satire allows.

The father in the story is quite well-defined; believing in what he can see, learning things the hard way first, and so on. If it were up to him, what do you think Pa would choose with regard to the invaders?

He and his son’s teacher are the two polar opposites in the story, with the main character torn between the two. The father wouldn’t give an inch to the aliens, I don’t think. Let the rock land; we’ll make do. Come try to take my farm; I’m cleaning my gun. There is staunch obstinacy on the one side and naivete on the other. I think another of his traits is that he believes what he wants to believe, rather than what he can see. This is also true of the boy’s teacher.

Can you tell us why you chose this boy to be the focal character? How do you think his realization about the invaders will change him later on? (Assuming, of course, he survives.)

I wanted the point of view to come from someone young enough not to have made up their mind about the world. The boy is the decision, bouncing back and forth between two positions. Also, there are observations young people make—ways of seeing events from an unusual angle—that allow them to have insights others might not. There’s also the fact that I grew up the son of a farmer.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a sequel to Sand and starting a new series with a friend of mine. And still trying to wrap my head around all that’s happened the last few years. It’s been a wild ride.