If you could meet anyone no longer with us, who would it be? At times I wonder what an afternoon of conversation with Ben Franklin would be like. Or a day fishing with Hemingway followed by a night’s drinking at Harry’s Bar & Grill. My father has been gone nearly fourteen years now—what about having a couple of draughts with him at The Sportsman’s Den? Runner and writer Haruki Murakami says, “Memories are what warm you up from the inside. But they’re also what tear you apart.” So could I handle a couple of beers with my dad only to have him gone again the next morning? I don’t know.
In The Wastelanders, the dead threaten to return from the past. Though my approach to the theme is different, I was strongly influenced by Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece, Ubik. In the novel he blurs the line between life and death, allowing the two dimensions to communicate. Dick’s writing is more satirical than mine, but anyone who has ever read him will agree he was well ahead of his time. “The Divine Machinery has a peculiar brutality to it. . . . It isn’t romantic. It’s cruel—it really is,” he says in The Divine Invasion. It is this brutality, combined with political intrigue, I tried to capture in The Wastelanders—a dead president looking to extend his power beyond time and beyond death itself. Absurd? Perhaps, but then the past holds a strange power over us that affects the present as well as the future.
In the end I agree with Vladimir Nabokov: “Life is a great surprise, I do not see why death should not be an even greater one.” However you want to look at it, I believe we are all on that karmic wheel. To be stuck on one turn is simply spinning your tires in divine mud. Remember in Our Town how Emily, now dead, wants to relive a day from her past and chooses her twelfth birthday? It doesn’t go so well for her as she realizes that many people travel through life without savoring the time they have. I believe you must acknowledge the past and plan for the future. However, for life to be a great surprise you must embrace the present. And while I said I agree with Nabokov, I’m not in any hurry to check out the second part of his statement.