What was most unsettling for me about “Craters” was that even though it was written several years ago and its key plot points lie in the near future, there’s a very real and present-day element to the threat at hand. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
Joe Haldeman asked me to write a story for an anthology he was putting together called Future Weapons of War. I got to the time I had allotted for writing the story and freaked out. Science fiction is sometimes a blueprint for people to invent technology and in no way did I want to come up with a “cool” weapon that someone would invent. So I just took trends in the news—trends that go back to the earliest days of human history—and came up with this story.
The main character consciously determines not to feel any emotion. She calls it the only way to get by, and yet, she must consistently talk herself out of feeling. Is this particular story finally getting to her in a way previous ones haven’t?
Yes. This story disturbs her and violates her sense of right and wrong. Journalists should be observers, not people who judge, and she’s judging here.
She acknowledges that nothing will get done, nothing will change, despite her work. Why do you think she continues, then, knowing that’s likely the case?
The war correspondents I know—and I know a lot of them, since I used to be a journalist—are the most idealistic/cynical people in the world. They’ve seen everything, more than everything actually, and they still believe if the information gets out there, someone will listen and make things change. It’s a weird dynamic, but I’m glad it happens. Because I do think people listen. I also think the real war correspondents, the ones who go into the dangerous places often without backup or weaponry, are the most courageous people I know.
The narrator and her other colleagues “. . . label it a calling, put it on par with other religions, other callings that deal with ethics.” With that in mind and considering her views on emotion, it seems like an effort to rationalize what they see: the blood, the suffering, the death. Is that a coping mechanism, you think?
It is a coping mechanism and one, again, based on the reporters I know. And on me, way back when. You can be desensitized by what you see, so you have to fight that. You can feel helpless when confronted with all of the world’s monstrosity, and you have to fight that. By seeing it as a calling, a religion, you know you’re not alone in the fight, and that you might eventually stem the tide.
The idea of a world where children are tools is horrifying. Why do you think it comes down to that, for those who have instigated such a zealous and uncompromising route?
To terrorists and people deep in a war or a crisis situation, other people are not real to them. Gangs use little children to run drugs. In Vietnam, the Viet Cong occasionally strapped bombs to toddlers. I can go on. Thanks to my own journalism background and my interest in history, I know lots of horrible, terrible things like that. And what it comes down to is that some people do not see others as human, even children. Those others are tools to fight a war, win a cause, deliver a good. It’s that simple, and that horrifying.
The similarities between the child who survived and our narrator are clear: the extraordinary solitude they both clearly feel, and the degree to which they must trust people in order to survive. Was that an intentional choice when you wrote the story?
I wish I could say I was smart enough to make intentional choices when I write. But the choices actually come from my subconscious as the story is developing. I remember finishing this story. I actually went, “Ewww.” Then I told my husband and first reader, Dean Wesley Smith, that I couldn’t mail this story. It was too icky. Dean made me give him a copy. He says when I say something is “icky,” it’s worth reading. So I trust him on these things. It has certainly proven the case with “Craters,” which, on my own, I would never have mailed.
Do you think this encounter with the child had any lasting effect upon the narrator? Even if the child gave her new information, would she allow herself to change at all?
Oh, yes. I think this encounter had a huge effect on the narrator. That’s why she’s writing the personal stuff. As for her changing . . . I doubt she’ll change beyond her realization. She can’t. If she does change too much, she can’t do her work.
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