Tom Doyle is joining us today to talk about his novel, Border Crosser. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In a galaxy gone insane only a madwoman would fight for freedom.
Eris is a charismatic spy with a violent borderline personality and emotional amnesia–she doesn’t remember her loyalties. This allows her to pass from world to world without mental scanners detecting her long-term intentions, making her a “border crosser.”
The Asylum cabal has artificially amplified Eris’s condition so that she’ll cause interstellar chaos for the limited time she survives. When Eris discovers the Asylum’s manipulation of her, she sets out to find its hidden leaders and destroy them.
From decadent old Earth to the frontier estates of Mars, Eris hunts her first quarry, the Asylum’s architect of genocides. But when her chase leads her out to the stars, she discovers still deadlier dangers from humanity’s past and her own. As she fights these galaxy-spanning nightmares, Eris must also struggle to recover her own mind.
What’s Tom’s favorite bit?
When the apocalypse has already happened, what’s next?
This isn’t the main question in my novel Border Crosser, the story of a psychologically extreme secret agent named Eris who fights the fascist klept-oligarchs and theocrats of the far future (they tend to resemble those of the present). But it’s one of the bits that gives me the most joy.
You see, since childhood I’ve been a fan of apocalypses of all types, religious and secular. That joy has been dampened by current events, which have made these scenarios less academic. But I’m still very interested in the many cultural transformations of apocalyptic and millennial beliefs, particularly when those beliefs are somehow disappointed.
What apocalyptic disappointment occurs in my novel? Well, hundreds of years before the events of Border Crosser (but in our near future), humanity commits the nearly fatal error of creating AIs with human-like consciousness. The proverbial hard singularity hits, and AIs led by one called the Beast take over most of the world. A coalition of humans and a powerful rogue AI forms around a North American leader known as Arthur Imperator, and they make their last stand at Jerusalem, with the command center on the Temple Mount.
The Beast and his AIs overrun Jerusalem, but when the dust settles, the Beast’s forces are destroyed. Though Arthur and his resistance fighters are presumed eaten by a nanoswarm, it’s a triumph for the rest of humanity.
And that’s of course when the theological infighting starts. On the one hand, this Armageddon doesn’t seem a letdown for believers at all. A victorious world war against an entity called the Beast is right out of the biblical script, and thus should be much less disappointing than apocalyptic predictions where absolutely nothing happens (see, e.g., the Millerites).
But, according to some prophetic interpretations, certain events are supposed to take place after Armageddon, and they don’t. Perhaps the biggest disappointment for many Christians would be that, contrary to prediction, Jesus doesn’t return and set up his thousand-year kingdom on earth. Another disappointment is that the reconstructed Old City of Jerusalem remains religiously mixed, and therefore from any one religion’s perspective impure.
During a stay on Earth, Eris visits a restaurant hovering above the Mount of Olives with a view of Jerusalem’s Golden Gate. As Eris describes it, “This platform was built by a rich optimist to view the predicted return of Christ after the Psych Wars. Before Jesus could show, the builder went to him, and even a hover-view has to pay the ground rent. The Club of Olives still hasn’t mastered a good martini, but the hashish is lovely.”
These atavisms in the Old Holy Land seriously disturb the Christian neo-fundamentalists. They prefer to travel to Mars, where all these inconsistencies in Revelation are not flung in their faces.
And what’s on Border Crosser’s Mars? Many neo-funds fled there during the war against the Beast, and they’ve built a New Jerusalem on its surface. But this is woefully insufficient to fulfill prophecy, so they’re also building another, heavenly Jerusalem (with a design taken from the Book of Revelation) in orbit around the planet beyond the Martian moons. It’s an enormous sphere set in a cube framework with a ring “wall” around it. When complete, the Cube’s sphere will spin to produce g, and a world of living space would exist inside the sphere. As with the hover Club of Olives, neo-funds have no problem with trying to meet God halfway.
This sort of massive, long-term work is actually a fairly typical response to apocalyptic disappointment. All the energies that were wrapped up into the imminent end of the world are liberated, and a period of tremendous creativity and progress may result (even if, as in this case, the effort is only for an apocalyptic monument that will take a longer time).
Unfortunately, the New Jerusalem on the Martian surface suffers from an ailment that afflicts our earthly Jerusalem: a psychological condition known as Jerusalem Syndrome. Every now and then, a visitor to Jerusalem is overwhelmed by its religious history and becomes convinced that God has called them like the prophets of old. In fact, the most notorious version of the syndrome is the belief by the victim that they are the reincarnation of a major biblical figure; e.g., Jesus, John the Baptist, Elijah. The best treatment for the syndrome is usually to get the person out of Jerusalem and keep them there.
In her travels, Eris encounters victims of New Jerusalem Syndrome. In particular, an Elijah seems to dog her heels, preaching against her with apocalyptic fervor at every opportunity. But with him, something other than delusions of prophetic grandeur may be at work.
For the most part, the neo-funds of Eris’s time have by necessity lowered their expectations of the imminent final fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecy through the return of Jesus. But apocalyptic belief among the Christian sects is never completely quiescent, and the Unreformed of Mars retain their full end times fervor. Eris describes them:
“Roaming in their wretched communal camps, they find their insane god in the usual place: the desert. They believe that Arthur was Jesus and that this bloody world is the millennial kingdom, the literal celestial Jerusalem, and not just a metaphorical stand-in for the orbiting Cube. In their vision, this whole fucking planet will eventually come to Earth and descend as the holy city, and bring property values plummeting on both worlds.”
But this fervor is the exception. The humans of Eris’s time still feel the ripples of trauma from the wars against the AIs which nearly ended everything, and they aren’t in a rush for more of the same.
I’ve focused here on apocalyptic beliefs for a reason beyond my lifelong interest. In my novel, something so bad happened to humanity that describing it in apocalyptic terms isn’t an exaggeration. And yet, against all odds, we survived and made it to the stars. In the coming months, that’s the perspective I’m going to try to keep in real life.
Tom Doyle’s latest novel (and subject of this Favorite Bit), Border Crosser, tells the far-future adventures of Eris, a psychologically extreme secret agent whose shifting loyalties cause chaos wherever she goes in the galaxy.
Tom is also the author of the contemporary fantasy American Craft trilogy from Tor Books. In the first novel, American Craftsmen, two modern magician-soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil–and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America’s past. In the third book, War and Craft, it’s Armageddon in Shangri-La, and the end of the world as we know it.
Tom has survived Harvard, Stanford, and cancer, and he writes in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. He is an award-winning writer of short science fiction and fantasy, and you can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website (see links above).