Not getting enough sunlight can have adverse effects on a person’s psyche. It’s something writer Michael David Ares explores — and takes to the extreme — in his new dystopian thriller Dayfall (hardcover, Kindle). Though in talking to Ares about this sci-fi novel, he explained that the inspiration for his science fiction story wasn’t exposure to sunlight, but exposure to someone else’s classic tale.
To start, what is Dayfall about?
As the result of a nuclear conflagration between Pakistan and India, Manhattan has been shrouded in perpetual darkness for over ten years, and sunlight is about to return fully for the first time. A serial killer and some apparent mob violence have been cutting a bloody swath across the city every time the sun has appeared briefly leading up to the Dayfall event, and some experts are saying that there will be total chaos when it arrives. A small-town detective named Jon Phillips, who single-handedly solved a prominent case in his home area, has been brought in by the Mayor to both stop the serial killer before the day returns and to hopefully cement her power in the city, which is being challenged by a wealthy industrialist who may or may not be behind all the crimes.
Where did you get the original idea for Dayfall, and how did the story change as you were writing it, if at all?
The inspiration came from Isaac Asimov’s classic 1941 short story “Nightfall” [available in Complete Stories, Vol. 1 and other Asimov collections], which was once voted as the best story ever by the Science Fiction Writers Of America. Asimov’s editor, the legendary John W. Campbell, suggested the idea for the story to him, and my own editor, the should-be-legendary Brendan Deneen, suggested that we flip the idea. Instead of the night coming after a long period of sunlight, as in Asimov’s story, we wanted to explore the coming of day after a long time of darkness. At first we considered the cause of perpetual darkness might be catastrophic damage to the moon and its orbit, but then in my research I learned that no one would survive that, so we switched to the idea of “nuclear night,” which happens to be very plausible.
In writing Dayfall, you consulted with a real cop to make sure the police procedure aspects were accurate. Why did you decide to do this as opposed to basing it on something you saw in a movie or TV show?
I hope that some cops themselves, or others with similar first-hand experience, will read the book, and I didn’t want them to lose their “willing suspension of disbelief” because of a lack of realism. Plus, it was really interesting to learn about how the police do their work.
Did you do anything similar in figuring out how to depict the effects of a nuclear winter?
Yes, I did a lot of research to find out what would or could actually happen in the northern hemisphere if nuclear weapons were used in places like Pakistan or India. Which, unfortunately, is quite possible…I discovered that also in my research.
Dayfall has been described as a dystopian thriller. But it also seems like it has elements of noir crime. Does it?
Yes, I wanted to write a noir novel with some science fiction elements, so it would actually fit more into the category of “neo-noir.” I love classic noir, especially the Philip Marlowe novels by Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, etc. But as much as I love re-reading them, they can’t be re-written, so “neo-noir” is the way to go for authors like me. And since I also love science fiction with a psychological bent, like the early works of Alfred Bester and Philip K. Dick, those kinds of elements were a perfect way for me to add the “neo” to my noir.
Aside from the noir crime writers you just mentioned, and aside from Asimov, what other writers or books do you see as having the biggest impact on Dayfall?
I love a novel called Monstrum by Donald James that we could call “Russian future noir.” It’s about a serial killer in a dystopian Moscow who may be politically motivated. Great atmosphere in that book, and the near future it depicts is probably very possible, because James lived and worked in Moscow for a long time.
What about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big influence on Dayfall?
Blade Runner, of course, the atmosphere in the first two Max Payne games, and my all-time favorite TV show, Philip Marlowe Private Eye, a series done by HBO in the ’80s. I think it may have been their first TV production, and I’m so bummed that it’s not being distributed anymore, because apart from some occasional cheesy action, I think it’s terrific. The most authentic Raymond Chandler adaptation ever, in both script and set design, with Powers Boothe perfectly embodying the iconic P.I.
And this is my last influence question, I promise: prior to writing Dayfall, you worked as both a book editor and a ghost writer. How did working on other people’s books influence what you did in Dayfall?
To step back and try to keep a more objective view of my writing rather than being married to every idea that comes to me, and to listen to my editor.
As you probably know, a lot of science fiction novels these days are not stand-alone stories, they’re part of a series or a larger saga. Is this also the case with Dayfall? Is it part of a series?
I wrote it as a stand-alone story because I’m not sure whether I will have the opportunity to write any sequels. But I do have a plan for additional novels set in the European cities that are next in line to experience Dayfall — London, Paris, Berlin, and Moscow — which would explore those cool places along with some themes introduced in the first book.
I’d then like to publish another series of novels set in the not-so-near future, about 50 years from now, and a third series set in the more distant future, all of which will have connections to one another in an epic literary world called the Exos Universe.
We talked a bit before about the movies, TV shows, and video games that had an influence on Dayfall. But has there been any interest in adapting Dayfall into a film, show, or game?
Macmillan Films has the rights for the book and is seeking to develop it into a movie, which I think would work really well. The plethora of cool Manhattan locations, most of which are real places, and the dark, light, ultraviolet visual themes would make for some great-looking cinematography.
If it happens, who would you like to see them cast in the main roles?
Tom Holland [Spider-Man: Homecoming] could play the young detective Jon Phillips, if he was ready to do a more “grown up” role and talk with a deeper voice than Peter Parker does. Or Miles Teller [Whiplash], who’s a bit older but looks young enough. Russell Crowe [Man Of Steel] would be absolutely perfect for the older cop Frank Halladay, while Kaya Scodelario [The Maze Runner] with really dark hair would work well for Mallory.
Finally, if someone enjoys Dayfall, what similar novel would you suggest they read next and why that?
You can’t go wrong with my classic “source material,” like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe stories or Philip K. Dick’s neo-noir novels. And try the lesser known Monstrum, Potter’s Field, and “Peacer” books that I mentioned before.