In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Eric Gregory to tell us a bit about the background of his story for Lightspeed, “The Harrowers.”
Ez and Xin start out in Asheville, North Carolina (one of my very favorite places, so it kind of stung to plunge it into dystopia), and the action of the latter half of the story is set around a particular stretch of road in Cherokee National Forest, right along the border between northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia. That road is the exact last place I’d ever want to run into hungry dead things, so of course I had to stick my characters there.
What’s your take on how the world ended up this way, with alloyed bears and southern-shotgun-preacher-zombie-madness?
I figured if the zombie plague broke out, the financial industry might be one of the few institutions vicious enough to survive it. So this is a world where the infrastructure that made it out the other side of the apocalypse looks a lot like an unfettered creditocracy. You’ve got these sort of interconnected city-states built around the biggest companies, which maintain private armies and construct the occasional cyborg bear. And then you’ve got people like Joseph, whose religious (and wilderness) impulse is partly a reaction against the world inside the walls.
Ez spends his days working for Coroner, guiding people outside the city for pay. Why does he live this way, knowing how dangerous a job it is?
Consciously, I don’t think he sees himself as having a lot of choice. He owes Coroner, he’s doing what he has to do. Unconsciously, going outside feels like a tiny step toward freedom, even if it’s a deadly freedom that seems totally unsustainable.
Joseph, in a nice contrast to Ez’s choices, refuses to return with his son, preferring instead to stay away from the city and out with the dead. What do you think the dead offer him that living people can’t?
The dead are a captive audience. And an apparently receptive one. They don’t doubt you, they don’t debate you, and they’re a lot less complicated than the living. You know exactly what they want. From Joseph’s standpoint, the important thing is that the dead represent an opportunity for him to save souls with some certainty, to do good in a world where doing good is rarely an option.
What do the feeds connect with? The government we can’t see, or maybe people like Coroner who hold all the cards?
The feed’s basically a physical, constantly-refreshing credit report. It both locks you biologically to your debt (or credit), and keeps the bank in contact with your body, ensuring that when you die, your death will be reported and your debt transferred.
Do you think there could have been something between Ez and Xin Sun if she had lived? Perhaps if he had acknowledged his loneliness earlier, and been truly honest with himself?
It’s possible. To my mind, they had more of a family dynamic than a romantic one, but it’s sort of nice to imagine them together in the cheerier alternate universe a few doors down.
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