I find a nihilistic sort of irony in this piece, which seems to allude to our sense of purpose as being tied to each other/society, while presenting an overriding, large-scale drive to destroy each other. Do you believe that this sort of ending is inevitable, or perhaps, probable? Or do you see it as allegory for the way we treat each other now?
So this is probably due to me being a history/political science major (which I don’t recommend if you want to keep your illusions about the inherent goodness of people). Looking back through humanity’s history, we find time and time again that civilizations destroy themselves, either by starting wars with other civilizations, or by starting wars against their own people. It happens fairly regularly once a civilization gets big enough, and to me it’s this interesting paradox of “We have to work together to establish a niche for ourselves in the world, but if we get too big it falls apart,” and I think a large part of it is driven by all the baggage we’ve inherited from our evolutionary ancestors. In geologic time-frame terms, we’ve been “civilized” for not even an eyeblink, and we’re still trying to figure out how to make it work. Based on the evidence we’ve accumulated, I’d say this sort of ending is highly probable, but if we acknowledge that and constantly work to avoid it, we might be able to write a different ending. Won’t be easy though.
Another irony presents itself in the hesitation after Fang says, “You could come too, you know.” Especially when up against isolation and desolation; this notion that, in some way, not sticking together is preferable to working together. It actually reminds me of the loneliness of the introverted, the conflict of a need for company against the discomfort of having it. Do you attribute this sort of moment to human nature, to a particular psychology, or to a culture that is somewhat individualistic? For example, would someone from a culture whose philosophy is “the group is more important than the individual” make the same decision as these characters?
So this part is meant to invoke the idea that, on a purely animal level, people generally make one of two decisions when confronted by an overwhelming disaster. One decision is to curl up and die. The other decision is to keep going, no matter what the odds are, perhaps even knowing that those odds are futile. We know what decision Fang makes. We don’t know what decision the narrator (and by extension, the reader) makes, because that decision can only be made by the person reading the story. Only you can know which way you’ll fall.
In the story, vids of the “old wars” are “supposed to warn us, keep us from our heritage.” And there’s this great line: “The pebble’s lament—nobody ever thinks they’re the one to start the slide.” The PoV character talks about greed as being the reason for this conflict, but these other lines imply a certain level of ignorance, and perhaps accidentally ending up in a terrible situation, despite efforts to avoid it. What sorts of measures could we realistically implement to avoid self-destruction?
A big one is placing a heightened value on the idea of empathy. A lot of conflict (pretty much all of it, actually) arises from a lack of empathy—of seeing someone else as the “other,” rather than part of your own tribe (or as Terry Pratchett so wonderfully put it, “seeing people as things, not as people”). We need to expand our idea of our “tribe” to include all of humanity, otherwise we’re eventually going to kill ourselves.
A big thing that I talk about to anyone that’ll listen is the idea of technological progression versus empathic progression. As a species, our technological progression is increasing exponentially. We build on the discoveries of those who came before us, and it keeps picking up pace. Unfortunately, our empathic progression is only increasing linearly, because we don’t really place much value on being empathic, and so it muddles along in fits and starts. However, we really need to, because as our tools (and therefore our weapons) become increasingly powerful, the only thing stopping someone from ultimately pushing the button is if they’re empathic enough to understand what pushing the button will mean for those they care about, and eventually, all it takes is one button push to end everything.
So many ideas live in this one. Did this story start as a statement piece, or as a cool idea? Where did this story come from?
So this idea actually came to me when I was at the Nebula awards last year (2015). Someone (I think it was Larry Niven) was giving a speech, and he was talking about dinosaurs, and for some reason my mind wandered to the idea of what a mass extinction would look like from the perspective of being in the middle of it, and knowing how it all happened. I also tend to think that it’s entirely plausible that this is the way we go out, since we’re beginning to open up space as a new frontier, and historically, whenever you get new frontiers, you get wars between those on the frontier and those back home, and it would be ironic as hell if we killed ourselves the same way the dinosaurs went, except we did it on purpose, even knowing the consequences.
I’m a blast at parties!
Is there anything about this story that I haven’t asked, that you’d really like to share with readers?
One thing that I thought was a big part to the piece is that you don’t know who the narrator is. There’s no gender, no name, no hint of sexuality, nothing except a blank slate on which you, the reader, write your own view of the world (and that’s important to me, because everyone should be able to see something they can relate to in a story). At the end of the story, does the narrator fall into the planet, one last sacrifice to the death of a species? Or does the narrator fall outwards, follow Fang (as a friend? a partner? A spouse?), maybe beat the odds and restart humanity again? Only you know. What you see there is what you bring.
Thanks so much for the story. For me, at least, obviously, it carries a lot of elements that can be brought into larger, longer conversations, despite its brevity. What are you working on now that we can look forward to?
Right now I’m working on the sequel to Prime: A Genesis Series Event, which is an SF book I co-authored with my good friend Andy Reiner. The sequel is called Splice, and I’m really excited for people who liked Prime to get a chance to read it. We learned a lot writing the first one (Prime’s a bit rough, and mistakes were made), but I think Splice is going to be pretty awesome. We’re hoping to have it out before the end of the year on Amazon.
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