In light of the terrible things people have done to other people lately, at our most vulnerable time, it’s easy to understand Thanos’ and Ra’s Al Ghul’s genocidal tendencies. But there’s good in us humans, too; something worth saving. You just have to look for it. Which brings me to the following email interview with writer Adrian J. Walker about his new sci-fi novel The Human Son (paperback, Kindle), in which the fate of humanity rests with a single boy.
To begin, what is The Human Son about, and when and where is it set?
The Human Son is set on a future utopian Earth populated by a small number of highly advanced beings called the erta. Ultra-scientific and free from desire, the erta were genetically engineered by humans in a last-ditch attempt to combat climate change. Five hundred years later and their purpose has been fulfilled, but at a cost; in order to fix the planet, they had to allow humanity to die out. Now they must decide whether or not to resurrect it.
In order to help them decide, a quiet and clinical atmospheric chemist called Ima volunteers to raise a single human child as her own by way of experiment. The story is as about her experience as a parent, and what it means to be human.
Where did you get the idea for this story? Because the idea that humanity is the problem is not unique, though neither Thanos nor Ra’s Al Ghul ever suggested taking it as far as the erta do.
The book is not really about whether humanity is the problem or not — it’s more about why we are our own problem and what might be done to fix this. As a species, we are currently enduring a period of extreme self-analysis, and I wonder sometimes whether we’re too hard on ourselves. It’s true that we have done and continue to do terrible things, but we are capable of so much more, and perhaps our continued failure is only down to lack of guidance. We have no manual for either the planet or our own psychologies, so perhaps we need something like the erta to help us make decisions; to steady us, like a parent steadies its child.
On a side note, I think the erta dispose of humanity in a fairly appealing way. Rather than obliterating them they allow them to die out naturally in a period of bliss during which all their needs are met. Our extinction is kind of like an all-inclusive package holiday.
Although, of course, this is only part of the story, and Ima soon finds out that there is more to her species’ history, and ours, than she realized.
So is there a reason you made the human child a boy as opposed to a girl or just didn’t say either way?
I’ve written four books now in which the main child character is a girl, so I thought I’d flip it this time. I also wanted to be sure I got Reed’s development right, especially when he hits puberty, and some things are better written from experience.
Now, it sounds like The Human Son is a sci-fi story, but may have some social satire in it as well. Is that how you’d describe it?
I would describe it as speculative fiction with a parent’s story at its heart. I wouldn’t describe it as socially satirical, as it’s fairly blunt in terms of its central tenet. However, it does ask some questions about our history and future, and about the role guidance plays in our development both as individuals and groups.
So did you set out to write something that asks questions about our history and future or did you start writing what you hoped would be a cool story that just naturally lent itself to that?
I was far more focused on writing about the social / human side of things than anything else. That said, science and technology feature strongly in the book, not just in terms of the erta themselves but in the elements of their world — the quantum telescope, for example, which allows a user to witness events on the earth from centuries past; the sentinel “lanterns” made of photon arrays; or the second moon made from plastic dredged from the oceans.
The Human Son is your seventh novel. Are there any writers or specific stories that were a big influence on The Human Son but not on anything else you’ve written?
Non-fiction books played a huge part. Sapiens and Homo Deus by Noah Yuval Harari, The Storms Of My Grandchildren by James Hansen, and Conscious by Annaka Harris spring to mind, along with a few books about quantum physics I struggled through. My wife, who is an atmospheric chemist like Ima, also gave me lots of inspiration and guidance.
In terms of the writing style, it’s different to my other books because of Ima’s uniquely clinical (at least at first) voice, but again, I can’t identify any particular influence from which I drew.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a big impact on The Human Son?
I don’t know about movies, TV shows, or video games, but music always has a big impact on my writing. I compile a playlist (link here) of music I listened to when writing every book, and tracks by Winged Victory for the Sullen, Hammock, Phoebe Bridgers, and Aphex Twin helped to inspire the atmosphere for a lot of the key scenes.
Now, as you know, sci-fi stories are sometimes self-contained and sometimes part of a larger sagas. What is The Human Son?
It’s definitely a stand-alone book. Although I so enjoyed writing in this world that I wouldn’t take much persuasion to write in it again.
Earlier I asked if The Human Son had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interesting in making The Human Son into a movie, show, or game?
My agent seems to think it’s adaptable, and he’s employed the help of a film agent to scout for interest. We’ve had nothing concrete yet, but I’m hopeful.
Do you have a preference?
I think a film would be difficult to do, if only because the story takes place over 16 years. Also, I’m a strong believer in dramatic adaptations being just that — an adaptation of the story rather than a rote telling of it on the screen. I think a TV series would be a great vehicle to explore and develop the history of the erta, the years leading up to their inception, and the story of their success, all of which is only really hinted at in the book.
If The Human Son was to be adapted into a TV show, who would you like to see them cast as the main characters?
Ha ha…you got me! I think it’s a terrible habit for writers to cast existing actors in their books, but it’s one I’m guilty of and I know I’m not the only one.
Okay, so, for Ima I had three actors in mind: Jodie Whittaker [Doctor Who], Cush Jumbo [The Good Wife], or Gwendoline Christie [Game Of Thrones]. Jorne: John Boyega [Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker] or Tom Hardy [Venom]. Haralia: Jameela Jamil [The Good Place] or Natalie Dormer [Game Of Thrones]. Kai: Tilda Swinton [Doctor Strange]. Greye: Idris Elba [Star Trek Beyond] …I could go on, but I won’t.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Human Son, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
In terms of genre, I’d suggest Colors, which is the first part in a trilogy called Earth Incorporated. I’m just about to start writing the second part.
But really, any of them. Please. My kids need shoes.