Books

One of the reasons I write science fiction is that it lets me paint the big picture with a broad brush. Empty Cities of the Full Moon has been that kind of writing experience for me - lots of research, lots of locations, lots of thought.

The thought came first. Twenty years and more ago, I read King's The Stand, Crichton's Andromeda Strain, and Lanier's Hiero's Journey. Memories of those books underlie my most recent novel, but I wanted to use the idea of a biotech-mediated apocalypse and its afterworld to test some personal hypotheses. After I'd finished writing the first draft of the book, I came across a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson to the effect that "the end of the human race is that it will die of civilization." I realized that was one of the major questions I was addressing in Empty Cities: Is urban civilization ultimately fatal? If so, can the future of humanity be separated from our increasingly urbanized existence?

Other thoughts I wanted to experiment with in this thought experiment: Is extinction like karma — what goes around comes around? Is it possible to take ancient tropes of myth and fantasy (shapeshifting wer creatures, aquatic mermaids and mermen) and provide a plausible scientific and technological basis for their reappearance on a vast scale? Is it possible that the newest technology (a 21st century combination of biotech and nanotech) might resurrect the oldest religion — the shamanic world of drumming, dancing, dreaming, shapeshifting and soul-flying? Is it possible that the plague this tech unleashes upon the world might not only result in a mass death but also a mass transcendence?

With those ideas in mind, I set out writing a big two-stranded tale. One strand of the story takes place in 2032-2033, during the pandemic that empties the cities and wipes out more than ninety-nine percent of the human species. That strand involves events worldwide — from Los Angeles to London, Bombay to Johannesburg, Hong Kong to Seattle. The second strand, which takes place from 2065-2066, involves the quest for a true history of that vast pandemic a third of the century in the past — a quest that begins in the Bahamas then proceeds up the East Coast along the Inland Waterway, ending at last in an empty New York City. Even that, however, does not fully exhaust the locales both temporal and spatial in the book. Its earliest episodes reach forward in time as early as 1966, and extend by the thinnest of tendrils into the parallel universe chronicled in my first three novels —LightpathsStanding Wave, and Better Angels.

Since Empty Cities of the Full Moon takes place in a different universe from those previous books, I had much travel and research to do, particularly on prion biology, "many worlds" physics, shamanism, and what might be called "the dynamics of urban entropy" (significantly more than just the rust, vines, and weeds of ruined cities). More broad-canvas than my previous books, I still strove to make Empty Cities as weirdly consistent and consistently weird as anything I've ever written. That was why this book took over my life, full time, for two years.

Of course, all of this barely scratches the surface of Empty Cities of the Full Moon. To get a fuller flavor of Empty Cities, bookmark this site — I'll be posting a sample chapter or two, most likely in late June or early July. I'll also be touring extensively (doing readings and signings) beginning after August 15th, so check out the "Meet the Author" page too.