Today, as part of Sci-Fi Month, I’d like to share a guest post, written by author Nick Cole. Nick’s most recent work, The Wasteland Saga, a collection of his three novels, has been published by HarperCollins. Thank you also to HarperCollins for contacting Nick on my behalf. Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.
Conan in the Post Apocalypse
Guest post by Nick Cole
A few years back I wrote a novel called The Old Man and the Wasteland. I had some good success with the initial Indie Explosion and was asked by HarperVoyager to produce a sequel. I agreed.
The Old Man and the Wasteland is the story of a salvager surviving in the Post American Apocalyptic Southwest. He’s only had one book to read for the last forty years and that book is Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. It’s adventurous and meditative. It’s close to Jack London and it falls in style somewhere between Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway. Or at least that was my intention. A lot of people liked it. So, for the second book I wanted to give people a bigger taste of the New American Dark Ages as set forth in the first book. I wanted to show its savagery and civilizations. I wanted to show what mankind does to itself after forty years of lawlessness and survival by any means. To do that, I needed another character besides the Old Man, the hero of the first book. I needed someone who was half savage, half civilized. Someone who was introspective and possessed a greater perspective than just the regional, local politics of some outpost survivor. And because the New American Dark Ages are especially violent, I needed a warrior.
I’ll stop there.
Here’s how I wrote the first book. In a nutshell, I’m a big fan of the Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I was playing a Post-Apocalyptic video game called Fallout 3. One day I thought, “Hey! Wouldn’t it be neat if Santiago’s story (yes, that is Hemingway’s fisherman’s name) was set after a nuclear war?” That was the jumping off point for my book. Instead of it being Santiago, it became an Old Man whose favorite book is the one Santiago is the hero of: The Old Man and the Sea. In fact my Old Man liked Santiago so much, he’d become such a real friend to my Old Man, that he’d begun to talk to Santiago as if he were real.
How did I become such a big fan of The Old Man and the Sea? Well, I fell off a building. Yes, I fell off a building and broke my arm one summer and I had to spend the rest of the summer sitting by the pool and reading since I couldn’t go in the water. I can read a lot, about a book or two a day. So of course I began to frequent a used book store because of the expensive nature of my addiction, and that is where, one hot afternoon when the old book smell seemed like a sweet blanket in the back of the store, I discovered The Old Man and the Sea.
It resonated within me. I was down and out. I’d gotten out of the Army and I was floundering. People were giving up on me. I had given up on me. Exactly like Santiago in Hemingway’s book felt on the morning he began to row out farther into the gulf than he’d ever gone before. He would either catch the big fish or never come back. So, it was a very inspirational story to me. It’s a good book. You should read it. It’s very short.
I was also reading a lot of other books that summer. Among which, I discovered the works of R.E. Howard, a little known West Texas pulp writer who no one ever heard of while he was alive. He wrote prodigiously and died tragically young. If you’ve heard of Conan the Barbarian, he’s the guy who developed the character. Conan was a long process for him. If you read some of his earlier works you begin to see other characters that are early models of the black-haired, blue-eyed Cimmerian, Conan. Most people have an idea of Conan in their heads and it’s probably a poor idea due to the movies that have been made and the actors who have portrayed him. So, to set the record straight, Conan is, yes, a barbarian. In modern terms, he comes from a group of survivalist/preppers that have decided the ways of civilization don’t work for them and they choose to live high in the mountains, out of the reach of gentrified society. They eschew wealth and the finer things in favor of strength, competence and self-reliance.
Now, Hollywood has a tendency to see the word “Barbarian” and immediately cast a stereotype. “Dumb, stupid, hulking, muscle-bound, savage, prone to reasonless rage,” might read the casting call breakdown. Conan, this is not.
In the Hyperborean world, the world Howard set Conan in, Conan is often a fish out of water. Citified ways and customs seem alien and stupid to him. Lies, deceptions, and connivery lack the importance of integrity, one’s word, and the contests of skill and strength he prefers to measure himself and others by.
And here’s the really amazing thing about Conan: Howard wrote him as having a high IQ. No formal learning, no education, but a vast intelligence. Which is a stunningly brilliant character choice. The execution comes off almost flawlessly because Conan can never realize he is actually smarter than everyone else. His actions must prove it, which fit nicely with his outmoded, at least in Hyperborea, moral code. Thus Conan has an affinity for languages and tactics and reason. His mind is unclouded by the petty politics and social mores of a dozen competing world views that we find in the Hyperborean world. Everyone perceives Conan as a savage because of his dress, his lack of connections, his outlander appearance, his brute exterior. They perceive him thus and they immediately assign him a small role in their worldview, which is their first big mistake.
Everyone underestimates Conan because of his appearance.
Here’s a typical Conan Novel scenario: Conan wanders into a town. Conan drinks a lot, eats a lot, and meets a pretty and shamelessly immoral woman. Conan then needs money because what the drink and the food haven’t seen to, the pretty immoral woman has made off with. Conan’s massive intelligence often fails its saving throw when a comely wench enters the story.
Now, within the novel there’s probably some kind of power struggle going on in the town, region, or kingdom. Plans laid are coming to fruition. Both sides perceive Conan to be little more than a pawn in their evil schemes to attain power. Both sides try to at once enlist and/or destroy Conan. By the end of the novel, Conan has most likely:
a.) slain a lot of people b.) turned the tables on both sides and ended up making off with all their money and prizes which were the focus of each faction’s efforts
c.) He’s met an even prettier, not so immoral girl.
Did I mention a lot of people get killed very violently?
So, I had my character archetype for the next novel in The Wasteland Saga. I called him the Boy. He’s disabled. One side of him is super strong, but the other side is withered because of all the nuclear background radiation. He’s got an affinity for the savage pidgin-speak of the mass of tribes that have formed in lieu of civilization. The Possum Hunters. The Psychos. The DeathKnights… etc. And he’s really good with weapons and tactics. His mentor is the last surviving U.S. Soldier. Staff Sergeant Lyman Julius Presley. Together they’ve journeyed across the entire United States to arrive in the overgrown ruins of Washington D.C. to see if the government has survived the nuclear annihilation of the entire planet.
There’s some Conan in the Boy. He’s a peerless warrior. He’s often underestimated because of his disability. He’s been raised by the last living voice of an America that disappeared in a blinding flash. He’s a fish out of water in all of these bang and rattle salvage outposts. He has no tribe, no people, and no language that isn’t someone else’s. And yet he must live. He must live one more day, each day, relying only on his wits and strength to survive in a world gone into savage darkness. But there are other aspects to the Boy. There’s Shakespeare’s Romeo. Because what young man doesn’t fall in love at least once and sometimes forever? And then there’s a little of “us” in the Boy. Because like us, the Boy is trying to find out who he is. Just like we are, every day, in every thing we do.
We’re trying to answer the question of who we are.
The Savage Boy is the story of a young man trying to answer that question in a world no one today would recognize. There are hints and rumors and shadows of what once was, among the fallen skyscrapers and crumbling roads of the New American Dark Ages. And like us, like Howard’s Conan, we must fight to survive one more day, every day, and maybe we will find the answer to all our questions. Maybe we will find out who we are.
Years after a nuclear holocaust, a sense of normalcy has settled over the post-apocalyptic wasteland that was once Yuma, Arizona, and the survivors don’t need to fight for life quite so hard. But one Old Man has nothing but his survivor’s instincts. Nothing but those, his bad luck, and a battered, read and re-read copy of The Old Man and the Sea. A cross between Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, The Old Man and the Wasteland takes readers on an odyssey into the dark heart of the Post-Apocalyptic American southwest in an incredible tale of survival and endurance. One man must survive the desert wilderness and mankind gone savage to discover the truth of Hemingway’s classic tale of man versus nature.
Armageddon has long since happened; a thermonuclear apocalypse has ravaged the landscape of America and turned it into a wilderness straight out of the Dark Ages of man. Barbaric tribes run rampant and dole out chaos and terror with no regard for the morals, safety, or sanity of others. In the midst of the hellish Wasteland, a young soldier boy is tasked with a final mission from his dying commanding officer: go to California and join up with members of a fractured army. With nothing but his horse and lessons from a dying man, The Savage Boy undertakes an epic journey across the Wasteland—from which he may never emerge.
The Old Man returns… only to set out on his most dangerous journey yet. With his granddaughter in tow, he sets out across a post-apocalyptic wasteland to free a group of survivors trapped beneath a mountain in the underground bunker at NORAD. They trek across the desert, riddled with the terrors of insane vagrants, infected with radiation poisoning, and head into the dangerous tribal territory of the Apaches, rescuing a mysterious Boy in the desert along the way. This is King Lear as viewed through a gritty, post-apocalyptic lens, and the madness becomes tangible as our heroes confront the infamous and unsettling King Charlie—a maniacal fool bent on the nonsense of utopia.
Published in one volume as The Wasteland Saga, you can find out how to purchase the book here.
About the Author
Nick Cole is a working actor living in Southern California. When he is not auditioning for commercials, going out for sitcoms or being shot, kicked, stabbed or beaten by the students of various film schools for their projects, he can often be found as a guard for King Phillip the Second of Spain in the Opera Don Carlo at Los Angeles Opera or some similar role. Nick Cole has been writing for most of his life and acting in Hollywood after serving in the U.S. Army.
Thank you to Harper Voyager for providing the prize, which is one copy of The Wasteland Saga. The giveaway is US only I’m afraid, sorry to my readers from elsewhere! (giveaway removed after migration to WordPress)