Eliot Pattison on Ashes of the Earth

From a recent guest post by Eliot Pattison on Omnimystery News:

“Endings of worlds have occurred throughout human history. Some have been abrupt, like the annihilation of the original, ancient Carthage by the Romans. Some have been gradual, like the destruction of the Tibetan world over the past fifty years by the Chinese. But none have encompassed all of humankind. Only in recent years have we developed the capability for annihilation on a planetary scale. While there may be many reasons to believe that such a nightmare will never occur, the moment that capability became real, global apocalypse entered the realm of the possible.

Ashes of the Earth is certainly not meant to be a prophecy, but implicit in its backdrop are predictions about the state of technology and science after such universal destruction. Even with highly trained scientists among its inhabitants, it seems likely that a society of survivors with no electricity and no internal combustion engines would turn to early industrial age technologies. Locating the Carthage colony on the Great Lakes endowed its inhabitants with an environment rich in minerals, timber, water and wildlife, meaning that simple technologies like those for making matches, paper, cloth, glass and lumber would be readily available. Once foundries and forges were developed, steam engines and other simple machines would not be far behind. The setting on the inland sea also means the colonists are able to travel long distances by water—and in a region of long winters with few roads, incentives would be great to advance the iceboat technology of an earlier century.

The effects of global destruction on the external trappings of a community of survivors strike me as far easier to anticipate than the effects on the human psyche. Certainly baser human cravings and prejudices would not become extinct, yet nor would dignity, honor and spirituality. With survivors comprised of a random cross-section of modern society, there would be ample opportunity for the glory, and the shame, of humankind to be exhibited. It was this unique mix of worlds and peoples that drove my curiosity in writing this book. A stage on which a 21st century cast relying on 19th century technology struggles with murder, starvation, tyranny, and even the meaning of civilization itself provides fertile ground for imagination.

As my characters became more like companions on this journey, I began to sense an inevitable tension between the survivors, who must shoulder the nearly unbearable weight of memories of the past world and collective guilt over its fate, and the new generation, who would have to cope with inexplicable physical and emotional remnants of the old world. After being severed from their world would survivors lose all confidence in their past, would they shy away from history? Would the lost world seem more a myth than a nightmare to the new generation? How would it feel to glimpse the possible dying of humankind’s light? What would define the people who were the most successful survivors—and how far must humanity be sacrificed for the survival of humans? Of all the mysteries explored on these pages, perhaps the greatest is the nature of the spark that must be kept alive.”