Don’t run away. I know it’s a scary word (scares the pants off me, in fact), but its ability to elicit such a powerful reaction is what makes it so intriguing. That’s why I wanted to write a novel that confronts the issue head on, and it’s what inspired me to explore the subject from new perspectives.
Now, I’m not generally a fan of post-modernist philosophers (for a number of reasons I won’t get into right now), but Jean Baudrillard wrote something about terrorism that caught me off guard. To paraphrase, “By dealing all the cards to itself, the system forced its opponent to change the rules of the game. And the new rules are savage, because the stakes are savage.”
This sparked an idea that smouldered in my head for the next five years, and eventually led to some very big questions: What could drive an otherwise ordinary person to engage in terrorism? Can terrorism ever be justified? At the other extreme, who could resist the urge to strike back once all hope is lost?
And I had to admit that I didn’t have the answers, but I was keen to explore them. The magic of science-fiction is that it gives us a safe arena to examine complex questions like these. We can cast them in a different light and see what shapes emerge. This spirit of exploration is what finally became the core of Stars Rain Down.
There are several threads that make up the final story, but at the heart of them is Jack Hernandez, a humanitarian aid worker and pacifist who miraculously survives a holocaust. Billions of lives are smothered all at once, and as the dust settles, Jack enlists with the human resistance in order to strike back. This is a man who once dedicated his life to helping the helpless, but now he’s stabbing at a genocidal enemy any way he can, driven by a potent cocktail of anger and unimaginable sorrow.
As readers, we witness his physical journey across a blighted Earth, and at the same time follow his psychological journey through regions of hurt and blind rage. We watch him mount a personal war using ever more desperate tactics, until he faces the ultimate test and learns the true price of his actions.
My greatest challenge was in making Jack’s decisions ring true to the reader. He’s essentially acting out of character, but he’s been driven there by a situation so monstrous, so horrific, that any one of us might do the same. Even when we’re disgusted by his choices, it was imperative that we be able to sympathize and understand how he came to them. Redemption had to remain within reach.
In many respects, Stars Rain Down is an intentionally subversive work about good people driven to do terrible things, and the unexpected consequences that attend our every action. It’s about the savage rules that come into play when the stakes are savage.
Does it answer any of those big questions I posed? No, nor would it be very honest to pretend it did. The best fiction, in my estimation, doesn’t ever try to answer our questions. Instead, it casts a spotlight on them, forces us reconsider them, and helps each of us come to our own conclusions. That’s what I set out to accomplish with this story, and I’ll leave you to judge whether I was successful.
And if I miss, at least I was aiming high.