The Big Idea: Bill Quick
Posted on March 24, 2014 Posted by John Scalzi 23 Comments
It’s the end of the world as we know it — and we do know it, because the end of the world has been essayed enough over the years. How to change it up and make things fresh? That was the question Bill Quick asked himself for his latest novel, Lightning Fall. This is how he decided to do it.
I’ve been writing science fiction for going on fifty years now. I was weaned on the later Golden Age guys like Asimov, Heinlein, Clark, Niven, Pournelle, and the man who inspired me face-to-face, Ted Cogswell, who wrote a landmark story called The Spectre General back in the day, to whom I dedicated my first published novel, Dreams of Flesh and Sand.
I still like all these writers. For better or worse, their use of big canvases, themes, and concepts still inspires the way I write and what I choose to write about. In particular, I’ve always been moved by what were once called disaster novels, but now have been sliced and diced into several sub-genres, including apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. There aren’t many books I still re-read. Books like Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land have not worn well with me, but every few years I pick up an book called Lucifer’s Hammer, written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, turn to page one, and make the trek out of a burning Los Angeles once again.
I’d always intended to try my hand at this sort of epic, but somehow, in the course of writing and selling a few dozen other books, I never quite got around to it. Until now.
EMP (electromagnetic pulse) fiction has become almost a sub-genre of its own. I’ve read several examples, and found one or two impressive, but I noticed that most of them used EMP as a McGuffin: An EMP happens, and that’s the end. Everything else is all about surviving the sudden imposition of an 18th century environment on a technological civilization. A particularly risible example of this approach was a recent TV series, Revolution, which depicted young people contending against threats with steel swords. Apparently none of the screenwriters had any idea just how much technology was involved in making swords, let alone making and working steel, and how rare that knowledge is in present day society.
My view of modern technological culture is that it is well-nigh impossible to understand how interconnected everything has become. But I wanted to write an EMP disaster novel that tried, as well as I was able, to show the social, political, technological, economic, and cultural brittleness and frailty inherent in the existence we take for granted.
The best way to do so, it seemed to me, was not simply to turn out the lights, but to turn out only some of them – and then tell the tale of the sort of problems modern America would face if somebody or something abruptly removed, say, California from our current scenery.
A book I read a long time ago, The Late, Great State of California, took a similar tack, but handled it as a laundry list of what America would lose if California sank into the ocean after The Big One.
After much thought, I decided that things would be considerably more complicated than that. It took me a couple of years of research and writing to work out those complications, and I discovered in the process that human factors and reactions would likely have at least as much effect, if not more, than the problems created by the technological disaster.
We like to console ourselves that things generally work out for the best, that our leaders usually make intelligent, rational decisions, and that tomorrow will be a better day. Unfortunately, history teaches us this is not always, or even usually, the case.
Lightning Fall: A Novel of Disaster, is my attempt to explain, in classic hard SF tropes, why and how catastrophe has been such an enduring and intimate feature of human history.
And is there a happy ending?
Well…maybe. Depends on what you mean by happy, I guess.
Lightning Fall: Amazon (Kindle)|Payloadz (ePub)|Createspace (paperback)
I love a good armageddon tale – in for the ePub, and now I have something to read after I finish the latest Humble eBook Bundle novels. As always, thanks to our host for the Big Idea series of posts – I get to learn about new interesting novels I might not have discovered through my other usual methods.
Huh. I’ve read both “Lucifer’s Hammer” and “The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California”. Have them both in paperback, actually. The latter is a lot of fun, with bits of interesting and quirky California history mixed in. It’s very late 60’s/early 70’s. Still, I think it’s aged better than “Lucifer’s Hammer”, what with the latter’s rampaging cannibalistic horde of inner city black nationalists.
I thought The Big Idea didn’t allow self-pub… http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/09/07/big-idea-guidelines/
You missed this part:
“In very rare cases self-published work by authors with substantial, successful previous publishing history will be considered.”
Mr. Quick qualifies.
And that’s the end of this particular discussion in this thread.
Thank You for….. “A particularly risible example of this approach was a recent TV series, Revolution,…”
The show is an entertaining romp but because it is the near future I just can’t suspend reality for some of what I consider to be gross errors. Yes the steel swords, all the uniforms. Who the heck is making all this stuff??? And now we have The 100 – they are on a cobbled together space station but where the heck are the cloths coming from let alone the jewelry. And if they “space” someone for a crime, they do it to the person with their clothing one? Why waste good clothing that can be used by someone else???
I am off to get this book!
This BI resulted in an instapurchase. Looking forward to it!
Yes the steel swords, all the uniforms. Who the heck is making all this stuff???
The MedFaire artisans, duh. (Kidding – I’m kidding!)
Forget steel swords and uniforms; those are luxuries. What about the necessities? How many folks know how to grow their own food (which includes saving some of this year’s seeds to plant next year)? Or where to dig an outhouse (next to the well is a bad, bad idea)? Or are willing to butcher their own meat?
Following a collapse of this sort, the death toll from ignorance would be astonishing. It would make 1918 look like a picnic and the Black Death look like a romp in the park.
Anyone that cites Lucifer’s Hammer gets an insta-buy from me. Now queued in my Kindle…
He’s been writing sf for 50 years? I’m not familiar with him.
Very timely after an article I read in the WSJ last week covering a report from homeland security that “Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer”
Added to my Amazon saved for later queue, think I need to read this one.
I don’t know this author’s conventionally published works, but reading the first chapters of this self-published novel at Amazon gives me the clear impression that his writing could benefit from an experienced editor. Way too much attention is given to descriptions of the physical attributes of his characters, for example, as he introduces them.
What I mean by happy? If there’s a dog/cat/other pet-like animal it survives and is reasonably assured of a happy life thereafter. This will sometimes be the major point on which I judge a story which is unfair, but I’m trying to be honest here.
It is a fair point that medieval weapons are not a common sight in this day an age, but there are people who have kept the art alive. In the event of a EMP disaster it isn’t unreasonable to imagine their customer base exploding along with every other renaissance enthusiast such as leather workers, weavers and fletchers, just to name a few.
Bill, your book sounds very interesting and I think I will get the ePub version, if I can ever remember where I put my Sony Reader. The advantage with paper books is that you can only lose them one at a time! Misplace your ebook reader, and 50 books go with it!
I share your opinion of Revolution. I found the characters somewhat engaging, but the huge logical holes in the plot made it impossible to watch. Okay, there’s no electricity, but what about diesel engines? Steam engines? Sterling engines? Did it occur to no one that there are all sorts of power technologies that don’t require electricity?
The whole “no electricity” thing is pretty sketchy in the first place, actually.
Does that mean there’s no lightning storms? No static shocks when you take off your sweater? No electrochemical activity in your neurons? No global magnetic field?
re swords… Although it’s not the best choice for swordmaking steel, the steel used in automobile and light truck leaf springs makes decent pointy stabby thing raw material and can be ground down by hand with a file and emery cloth if need be, rather than fancy grinders or working a forge, etc. In an immediate post-industrial cataclysm there’s enough sword steel around from scrapping the cars for everyone to look like they came out of a bad D&D movie props department, if they want.
Yes, I have tried this. With hand tools for one end of the blade (power grinder for the other).
They also make good crossbow springs, with much less cutting/grinding.
It’s also not that hard to make your own backyard forge, but learning how to forge work metal IS a fairly substantial time investment that a lot of people won’t be able to do in a crisis.
He writes under various names. Check out W.T. Quick, William Thomas Quick, Margaret Allen, William T. Quick, Quentin Thomas, and Sean Kiernan.
He was also the (uncredited) co-author of William Shatner’s six novel Quest for Tomorrow series.
Quite a large and varied body of work, actually.
The TV series Dark Angel had a situation where part of the USA had been hit by an EMP weapon. This resulted in that part being set back to a third world level of underdevelopment. Tech was available but expensive, power supplies were intermittent etc.
Not an outright disaster but major inconvenience and poverty for those affected.
Ellen W.: What I mean by happy? If there’s a dog/cat/other pet-like animal it survives and is reasonably assured of a happy life thereafter. This will sometimes be the major point on which I judge a story which is unfair, but I’m trying to be honest here.
I agree. I really enjoyed The Forever War up to where there was a cat that did not have a happy ending. :(
“Okay, there’s no electricity, but what about diesel engines? Steam engines? Sterling engines? Did it occur to no one that there are all sorts of power technologies that don’t require electricity?”
Sure, but these things do not spontaneously generate. Unless you have them already, if the juice goes down how exactly are you making them?
FWIW, I just finished the book and it was very fun. Bill DOES capture that same optimistic 70s California feeling that permeates “Lucifer’s Hammer”, although it is just an echo these days.
Great job Bill. Halfway thru Lightning Fall. Very entertaining- a west coast version of One Second After, with a bit more edge. Useful prep tips too.
Well, check your local library, they have these things called books. One of these will certainly be titled something like “blacksmithing 101” for instance. Read and apply vigorously. Some people still buy physical media they stack on their shelves for later recall (me included.) There’s books about everything available out there.
Then there’s the whole survivalist/self-reliance/self-preparedness/homesteading movement that’s out there.