In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Sarah Langan to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “Hindsight.”
The image of garbage spinning around the Earth like the rings of Saturn haunted me long after I finished reading this story. Where did the idea for “Hindsight” come from?
The idea came to me like a bolt of lightning. I’d been researching technological singularity, and started to wonder, what would happen to us, if we all uploaded at the same time? Would the density of our consciousness create a gravitational singularity, and if so, would we be hastening our own end, rather than avoiding it?
On top of that, I’ve been thinking about black holes for a long time, and was happy to use this story as an excuse to research them. Their existence seems like proof of an afterlife to me, as much as that can be proven. I wound-up calling Betty an anomaly instead of a black hole because I was trying to respect the hard science aspect of the story, but couldn’t resist peppering my anomaly with black holes, and an Event Horizon. The symbolism is too perfect.
To be truthful, I go more for emotion than realism. It’s rare that I have honestly original ideas—typically characters and emotions are my strong suit, and I shoot for realism with a monster or two thrown in, to add tension. For that reason, this story was especially satisfying to write. It’s a total departure.
Fear is a powerful motivator. We see examples of this over and over throughout history and in current events; political leaders and governments using fear to influence people one way or the other. This story is no exception, as Kliffoth Cybernetics announces the disaster, and then the CEO, who (coincidentally?) is also the President of the US, creates and secures the only escape pod, Second Coming. Why do you think there weren’t any other escape pods created?
Demagogue is one of my favorite words. It’s practically German, it’s so specific. Anyway, the world is full of them, and it’s easy to fall prey, especially when you have people in your life that you’ve got to protect. You wind up taking the safe route, instead of the moral one.
In my imagining of this story, the Second Coming is the only ship because it’s headquarters for the Offutt Military Base, and in the near future, corporatized America has destroyed the rest of the world. There are no other ships because there are no other places with an accumulation of resources.
What inspired you to turn the Second Coming into both the cause and effect of the end of the world?
I was having my regular, weekly lunch with a friend who writes horror, and he asked, “Would you kill zombies who weren’t trying to kill you?”
My answer was essentially: “It’s their nature to eat people, so of course I’d kill them, even if they were picking flowers and protesting the bomb, I’d kill them. I’ve got a daughter to think about.”
His eyes got wide, and he said, “Mothers are a scary thing.”
He was right. What’s scary about being a parent, and an American, is the temptation to make decisions that are best for loved ones, but worse for the larger world, and the future of humanity. We pollute, but we pay the college fund by doing so. We declare preemptive wars. We eat animals that are treated worse than Bubonic Plague, but the meat is cheap, and we’ve got families to support.
It’s these constant compromises that erode our character, I think. Humans are compassionate, and our fundamental natures are good, but we make Faustian bargains in the name of love that wind-up destroying our very futures, and the thing about us that is worthwhile.
Why did the guard initially refuse to let Sarah and her family on the ship despite their paid passage, only allowing them entry after she revealed she was a physician?
The Vaughans were allowed on the ship because Sarah had a skill that the Emperor needed. It was a corrupt regime, so it didn’t matter whether they had a legitimate right to be there, or not.
Sarah wonders if it’s possible to love someone after the degrees to which they’ve stooped to, but she doesn’t swerve from her commitment to her husband and children. Did her love for her family play a part in her survival (until the end)?
Yes; their love for each other is what kept them alive, and also what drove them to make compromises that hastened the demise of mankind.
Let’s imagine for a moment that they succeed, that the Second Coming didn’t cause the Black Betty, and there is a happily ever after, as much as possible. What did they accomplish (besides survival) by downloading minds into the mainframe of the ship? What happens next for these people whose consciousness’ are crammed together into the mind of this biological ship?
I think that’s an interesting question. My guess is, they’d all be pretty miserable, trapped together for eternity with a homicidal maniac and what have you. I don’t necessarily think technological singularity is a bad idea—just in this specific story. In general, I like the idea of transcending flesh, and never getting sick, but I also like the option of keeping the flesh and blood around, too. There’s a temptation to imagine technological singularity as the Borg, but just as easily, it could truly be a leap in human evolution. Maybe there’d be less mental illness, disease, and sadness. Maybe we’d be able to explore space, which would be pretty cool. “Hindsight’s” Singularity is based on compromise—they’re scared of death. Ideally, Singularity wouldn’t be a tool to deny the inevitable. It would be an expansion of consciousness.
Your highly acclaimed novels are marketed as horror. For a reader who is more familiar with science fiction, which of your books do you recommend they start with?
That’s a tough one. I wrote a story called “Independence Day” in an anthology edited by Harrison Howe called Darkness on the edge: Stories Inspired by Bruce Springsteen that science fiction fans might like. It’s about a young girl in the near future, who turns her father in to the thought police.
Of my three novels, I’d suggest my most recent, Audrey’s Door, since it’s got some speculative elements. It’s about a woman who moves into a haunted apartment building. Once there, her latent obsessive-compulsive-disorder flairs, and she begins to build a door.
Spread the word!