Joseph Wallace is the author of Diamond Ruby (2010, Touchstone), set in 1920s New York City, and the new global apocalyptic thriller Invasive Species (2013, Berkley Books). His stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and anthologies including Bronx Noir, Baltimore Noir, Hard Boiled Brooklyn, and two Mystery Writers of America collections: The Prosecution Rests and Ice Cold. He has also published nonfiction books on dinosaurs, natural history, and baseball, and written about nature, travel, and health for magazines and newspapers. He lives north of New York City, where he runs storytelling workshops in the local elementary schools and work as a writing mentor for high-school students. You can find him at his website JosephWallace.com, on Twitter as @Joe_Wallace, and on Facebook.
“What inspired you to write a novel?”
Sooner or later-usually sooner-every writer hears this question, so it makes sense to have a response ready to go. For my new novel, Invasive Species (an apocalyptic thriller with a scientifically plausible monster), I have several. Most are about half a joke: “Every writer should end the world at least once!” I say. Or “Everyone’s always clamoring for a solution to climate change, so I thought I’d invent one-eliminate humanity!”
Much less often, I share another answer, one that cuts to the heart of why I wrote Invasive Species: Science fiction made me do it.
But not the books you’d necessarily expect. Not such classic works of apocalyptic fiction as Walter Miller’s pioneering A Canticle for Liebowitz or J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World or The Burning World, though I loved those books when I discovered them as a teenager.
In fact, you won’t find the end of the world anywhere in Invasive Species‘ foremost influences: Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky and the works of James H. Schmitz, especially the novels The Demon Breed and The Witches of Karres and such stories as “Balanced Ecology.”
Anyone who’s read these tales knows they take on a wide array of subjects and themes. What they share is their vivid portrayals of colorful worlds filled with unforgettable-and frequently dangerous-creatures. From Tunnel‘s dopey joes to the Worm World’s inhabitants in Karres, the humbugs of “Balanced Ecology,” and countless others, these environments and their inhabitants set my imagination alight.
No wonder. As a child growing up in New York City, where the most exotic wildlife covered the whole spectrum from A to B (i.e., squirrels to pigeons), I was awestruck by Heinlein and Schmitz’s richly imagined worlds. Strangely, though, their writing never made me dream of traveling to distant galaxies. Instead, they made me want, desperately and unstoppably, to explore my own world and its wildernesses, which seemed as distant, inaccessible, and mysterious to me as the extraterrestrial ones they had dreamed up.
So I did. I chased my dreams by becoming a professional writer. My first specialties-all nonfiction-were science, nature, and travel, subjects that allowed me to escape New York City and escape into the wild.
I wandered the forests of Peru, the mountains of Papua New Guinea, the endless grasslands of Patagonia, and so many other environments that couldn’t have seemed more alien to me if they’re required a spacecraft and years of travel to reach. And they were filled with amazing creatures straight out of the books I’d read in Brooklyn: dripping carnivorous plants, flightless birds that could kick you to death, gigantic tree-climbing weasels, lizards that rose onto two legs like dinosaurs and stared you in the eye, huge flying beetles that illuminated the jungle with glowing green headlights.
Heinlein and Schmitz let their great imaginations run free, but they set their stories safely on worlds that (to the best of our knowledge) are confined to the page. What I learned on my travels was that worlds just as beautiful and mysterious do exist. And that they contain threats-both to individuals and to the human population as a whole-that are at least as great as anything faced by Rod Walker in Tunnel in the Sky or Captain Pausert and his three wards in The Witches of Karres.
That’s why, turning to fiction, I wrote Invasive Species: To bring my characters face to face with the wonders and marvels and horrors of an alien planet.
Only…our alien planet.