Traveling great distances is only possible because the laws of nature remain unchanged. But if that wasn’t the case, then taking a trip could be, well, a trip. Just ask Robot, the 11-year-old girl whose travel is at the center of Justin Hellstrom’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi road trip novel The Tide Will Erase All (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Hellstrom discusses what inspired and influenced this story, as well as where this saga is going.
To start, what is The Tide Will Erase All about, and when and where does it take place?
So The Tide Will Erase All takes place in a not-so-distant future, perhaps one where space exploration was funded in equal parts with military R&D. A universe-wide cataclysm has changed the laws of physics and is exploding galaxies from the outside in. They call the phenomenon The Mouth Of God. The narrator is an 11-year-old girl nicknamed Robot who is on a journey with an astronomer and some surviving kids to contact a powerful orbital telescope after the anomaly appears. This is difficult because entities and memories and dreams from other realities wink in and out of existence all over the planet. Weird sea monsters. A monument that violently ejects refrigerators full of oranges. All kinds of very strange stuff.
And is there a reason why you made Robot an eleven-year-old girl as opposed to a 22-year-old woman or a 53-year-old man or, for that matter, a 11-year-old robot?
There are a few reasons, actually. I originally imagined the book being told from just a “cooler” and stronger version of myself, because I was barely 20 and that was my way of dealing with my own insecurities. As I kept waiting to be good enough to write the book, I took a long and hard look at my relationships and who I was at a person, and I realized I didn’t want that kind of story. So Robot ended up telling the story to me instead of the other way around. She is a mixture of a family member I lost when I was young and children from an afterschool program I worked at after college. I was told in my writing program that I wrote in a kid’s voice. I probably will forever at this point.
It sounds like The Tide Will Erase All is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi road trip story. Is that how you’d describe it?
I think calling it a sci-fi road trip isn’t too far off, although there isn’t a whole lot of characters being in a car. A sense of movement has always been at the core of the book, though, and a chunk of the novel takes place on a train that railroads the reader along through the opening act. Hiking is the characters’ main mode of transportation, with some river action and camping, too.
The Tide Will Erase All is your first novel, though you did help write the video game Infinite Adventures. Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on The Tide Will Erase All, but not on anything else you’ve written?
With The Tide Will Erase All being my debut novel, and working on it for a decade, there are a wealth of stories that have had a major influence on me at different times in writing it. One of the first would be Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, which is narrated by a kid with a fair amount of adult subject matter. Next up would have to be The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guinn, it’s just such a cool story and of double interest to me since I studied psychology. Any story with dreams manipulating reality wins me over. Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman was another novel that really put a special spike in my heart and had me pouring over paragraphs to study it.
And how about non-literary influences; was The Tide Will Erase All influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I’m a big video game, movie, anime, and manga nerd, and plenty of stories in all those mediums have influenced the book. Satoshi Kon’s Paprika really helped me visualize some of what a “dream apocalypse” could look like. Beasts Of The Southern Wild was recommended to me by an editor that read an early draft of the book, and the narrator in that film shares a lot of DNA with Robot. And Adventure Time might be the largest influence on the story and how I imagine it visually.
Now, in the press info for The Tide Will Erase All it says, that it “…starts a novel series.” First, what is this series called?
The series is called the Singularity Playtime Saga.
And is this an ongoing series or a set number of books like a trilogy?
I planned on it just being a trilogy, but I ended up cutting the first book in half as it was getting huge while I expanded and fleshed out more and more of the first half. So the series now will likely be 4 books in total. The tentative title for the next in the series is Everything Explodes Beautiful. Spoiler Alert: things don’t stop exploding as the series goes on. I plan on releasing it in 2022.
Given that The Tide Will Erase All is the first book, some people will wait until the rest are out before reading any of them. Do you think that’s the best way to experience this story?
I want people to read in whatever way gets them most excited. But I don’t think that they need to be read back-to-back. My intention is for it to feel like a letter from a friend you didn’t know you had, and I think there is a lot to sit on and decode after reading it. I don’t let letters from my friends sit on my table until there are four of them, I’m dying to read them right away.
Earlier I asked if The Tide Will Erase All had been influenced by any movies or TV shows. To flip things around, do you think The Tide Will Erase All could work as a movie or show?
I would like to see the book as a show more than a movie. I think a movie would concentrate too much on the action and not enough on character relationships.
And if someone wanted to make that show, who would you want them to cast as Robot and the other main characters?
I would almost make it a requirement for Richard Ayoade from The IT Crowd to play the astronomer, Seven. [Venom‘s] Tom Hardy is who I quasi envision playing Mike, and I think Thandiwe Newton [Westworld] would knock Ed out of the park. Choosing the kids is tough. A lot of these kids are influenced by children I actually worked with, but they aren’t kids anymore. I would like to see all the kids cast from totally unknown actors and hopefully have their roles kickstart a wonder life adventure for them all.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Tide Will Erase All, what post-apocalyptic sci-fi road trip novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next? Oh, and extra points if you don’t say Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
That’s really funny — I was just talking to a friend about the book in relation to The Road. But that book is the most depressing road trip ever: no car, a squeaky wheeled buggy trying to give away their location, it’s bleak. The tone is just so completely different in my book for the most part. The Tide Will Erase All is incredibly vibrant and hyper-optic. It’s an emotionally heavy party at the end of the world. Something more in line with the book would be Parable Of The Sower by Octavia Butler. It carries a similar sense of cosmic perseverance and hope. Justin Cronin’s The Passage has a first act that harmonizes with some of The Tide as well.