In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Ted Kosmatka to tell us a bit about the background of his story for Lightspeed, “In-fall.”
What gave you the idea of using the Schwarzschild radius, and the afterlife, as a bargaining chip?
I was reading about black holes and the way in which certain extreme environments seem to cause physics to break down into its constituent parts. Physics gets strange at the extreme edges. There are some good theories floating around about what happens inside black holes, with some theories more favored than others, but the truth is that they’re all we have right now, theories, because no one has ever crossed over and then come back to say what’s on the other side. In this way, black holes remind me a lot of death. Or as an ancillary to that, religion. I was thinking of black holes and religion when I came up with the idea.
You play with the loyalty of the reader in this story. We might feel sympathy for the young man at first, the tortured, zealous freedom fighter, but then the old man reveals he is a survivor of the community wiped out by the young man’s people. Did you create this dichotomy intentionally? Is there really a right or wrong side here?
There is a right and a wrong, I think, that exists independent of perspective. But still, most widely held positions are defendable on some level, even though they may ultimately be dead wrong. People do things for reasons; evil doesn’t exist in a vacuum for its own sake. I intentionally created the dichotomy in the story as a way to explore that idea in my own head.
The young man is faced with a martyrdom unlike any he expected—the hope of an afterlife will be removed if he doesn’t give the old man names, yet he doesn’t cave. Why do you think that is?
Because to him, in his twisted view of the world, what he’s done is right. But where is the sacrifice in a martyr who believes he’ll live eternally in paradise? I was trying to think about the idea of true martyrdom—the sacrifice of not just your life, but of the hope for an afterlife. How much are you willing to sacrifice for your beliefs?
Despite him holding out, the old man kills him anyway, although his superiors will surely see this through the cameras. It’s an act of mercy, and perhaps defiance, too, against those in charge. Do his choices here have anything to do with his daughters?
I think his choice does have something to do with his daughters. Beyond that, I do have my own ideas about his reasons, but the story belongs to the reader here.
The old man waits, at the end, to be frozen in time. Hypothetically, he’ll never find his judgment, yet he seems to have a fair amount of peace regarding his fate. Why is that?
All afterlives are not created equal. Beyond that, again, I’d rather defer to the reader.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about this story?
A thought just popped into my head. Like physics, maybe religions get strange at the extreme edges.
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