One of the first reviews for On the Edge of Gone was my starred review from Kirkus, which—among other blush-worthy praise—called the book “ life-affirming science fiction” and appreciated its portrayal of “optimism in the apocalypse.”
I loved those lines, because they highlighted exactly what I wanted to accomplish.
That may seem strange, given that I wrote about the literal end of the world: a comet hits Earth, and an autistic girl and her drug-addicted mother try desperately to survive the immediate aftermath.
Not a recipe for optimism.
In fact, stories like that are often the exact opposite: (post-) apocalyptic narratives are a fantastic vehicle to show just how harsh, unfair, and cruel life is. A darker approach resonates with many, and this approach has become popular across practically all genres of speculative fiction, from superhero comic books to high fantasy.
I like a lot of these kinds of grittier, realistic stories about survival, corruption, and death, which are straightforward about how the good guys don’t always win, or how there might not even be any good guys to begin with; I’ve even written a couple of those books myself.
When I was plotting On the Edge of Gone, I realized it might become one of those stories. Given the topic, a dark approach seemed only natural. You can’t write about the end of civilization as we know it, the death of billions, and the destruction of our ecosystem and end it on an optimistic note.
The problem was … I kind of wanted to do exactly that.
As much as I and many others enjoy those darker stories, I also felt like they were pretty well covered already. Many talented authors have tackled the idea of humans showing their darker side when it comes down to pure survival, and continue to write about this topic in fascinating ways; I didn’t have much to add to that perspective myself.
I wondered: did the book really have to be dark and gritty? Is that the only way to write about difficult things? I don’t like that idea.
Let me go further: I think that idea might even be dangerous. I absolutely believe people are capable of great cruelty and turning on each other in difficult situations. When resources are tight and the world shatters around us, we’ll do a lot of ugly things.
But I also believe people are capable of more than that. Some of the world’s greatest acts of compassion, courage, and generosity happen in the aftermath of disasters, when people’s own lives are at stake. That’s what makes those acts and people so courageous. Knowing you’re risking your own survival makes it infinitely harder to offer a hand instead of a fist.
When we believe that all stories about difficulty must, by default, be about the depths of human selfishness, and anything else is naïve, it’s almost like we’re saying that bashing in each other’s skulls when things get bad is the only option.
It’s almost like we’re excusing it.
I didn’t want to do that.
In the world of On the Edge of Gone, bad things happen. Some because of the comet. Some because of the people trying to survive it. Characters face difficult, selfish, and impossible choices to keep themselves and their loved ones alive.
But there are also people who are scared, but still decide to trust a stranger. Who are hungry, but still decide to share their food. Who see survival within arm’s reach, but aren’t willing to pay the price.
Because those are options, too.
There’s nothing unrealistic or naïve in believing that.
I appreciate stories about how far we’ll go in the face of human extinction, but this time, I wanted to ask:
How far won’t we go?