The Science Behind the Ashes Trilogy
So my idea going into the ASHES trilogy was that I wanted to create something that would bring down civilization in a big hurry, wasn’t a virus or some deadly plague, would let me actually create a setting where you could see/watch the disaster unfolding afterward, and was just credible enough to allow me to play around a bit with just how nasty people, in the aftermath of a disaster, can really be. Having cut my teeth on science fiction as a kid—I mean, it really was the YA lit of my day, which might tell you how ancient I am—the sf I most enjoyed was not . . . hard (really, if I wanted that much physics, give me the textbook) but at least believable. In fact, I once did a college paper on the science in sf. Great way to read a ton of books and get credit, too.
Basically, believability and verisimilitude were big for me. I probably gravitate to this naturally because, you know, I’m a doctor. I studied science. I know a fair bit of physics and astronomy because I am an über-geek and the fun of being a writer is learning new stuff. Since I’m also a shrink . . . the brain is my thing. Human behavior under stress was what I studied and did.
So a lot of the science in the trilogy, I just know because I know, and there wasn’t a ton of research involved, unless you count . . . wait a second . . . yeah, four years of college, four years of medical school, and then five years of a residency. So that’s, what, thirteen years of research? I’m not being cute; I’m just saying. It’s all that background that allowed me to think of the idea in the first place, and then know where to look to see if it was even feasible.
For example, sure, a massive sunspot cycle could decimate all the Earth’s electronics, and I knew that the EMPs from a-bombs are a big problem. Whether you could actually build and then deploy dedicated e-bombs was the research, and it didn’t take me all that long, although I am certain that I’m on Homeland Security’s radar. I have friends who’ve worked in defense systems, too, and having been in the military, I know that people there and in government are worried about this kind of attack. (Congress even held hearings.) The huge irony is that the military has tried to harden its equipment but if the scenario I paint is possible . . . no one’s going to be pumping and refining oil to turn into fuel, so all those military toys aren’t really going anywhere fast and you can kiss manufacturing good-bye.
The really dicey part of the equation—what might happen to people in the event of a massive wave of EMPs—well, that’s the fiction. No one knows because you really can’t do these kinds of experiments (although there is evidence that weird things happen to animals in terms of cumulative exposure to EMPs). But I do know the brain pretty well, including what happens to the traumatized brain, what age groups are most at risk, and all that. I know that the teenage brain is just this seething stew of chemicals and functions that being reset, re-equilibrated, just as I know that the aging brain is much more like a wizened little raisin: not set in stone but in need of a good juice now and again. So morphing my adolescents—whom most adults view as aliens anyway—wasn’t that big a stretch or figuring out what might protect some of my teenage characters. The task was to make all the science work without calling too much attention to it, and leaving just enough ambiguity so you’d have a story and not a textbook.
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