How Long Til The End Of The World?
♦ Luther writer and creator Neil Cross has a new sci fi series, Hard Sun, starting next month on the BBC and here’s the writer’s introduction to the show…
Ideas creep up on me like spirits in a haunted house. Usually I’m alone, going about the business of the everyday – reading a book or feeding the dogs or doing the laundry – and I become aware of a sense of presence. Of something delicately fading in behind me like a Polaroid photograph.
If I look too abruptly, it’ll disappear and I’ll find myself alone in an empty room.
And like phantoms, ideas sometimes visit me in the lonely watches of the night. I awake and there they are: forms in the darkness.
What became Hard Sun coalesced around an abstract sense of a central relationship: of Hicks, a happy family man, loyal to his friends, committed to his job… and yet profoundly corrupt. I wanted to throw him into desperate, reluctant alliance with Renko, a solitary, damaged woman who is yet utterly incorruptible. Hicks: the bright, lying sun. Renko the unforgiving truth of the hunter’s moon.
I didn’t know what world they inhabited or even the source of their enmity. But I knew I wanted to meet them; I could feel the complicated energy between them, the sense of stories waiting to be told.
I’d been living with them in my head for a bit when, one dusty, sunny morning, I found myself trying to bring order to my unruly bookshelves.
Some of those books I’d owned half my life. One or two dated back to my childhood. Others I’d bought that week or the week before. There were books I’d owned for a decade which I’d never read and knew I never would; there were books I’d read dozens of times. There were books that had disappointed me; books that had surprised and delighted me; books that had disgusted me; frightened me; made me laugh and cry and sit in silence as if punched in the gut. Each of them had in some way changed me. And all of them were arranged in a random sequence that somehow encoded all the people I’d ever been.
We all carry around such a catalogue, a unique cryptogram encoding who we are. We’re made of all the moments we chose and all the moments that were given to us: our favourite songs and books and movies and TV shows. Our favourite places. The towns in which we were born, and the people we were born to. The schools we attended. The people we miss; the people we wish we’d never met. The friends and the parents and the bosses and the neighbours and the colleagues. The sweet kisses and the guilty kisses, the hello kisses, the goodbye kisses. The laughing in pubs and the trudging to rainy bus-stops. The teenage parties, the childhood sunburn, the weddings and the divorces and the births and the deaths. The happy sunlit rooms.
In the background, while I thought about this, a song was playing. It was Five Years, by David Bowie. It’s a song about the end of the world.
And I thought: one day, all this will be gone. Not just me – everything. These books would be gone, never to be read again. The schools would be gone. The statues and the citadels, the cathedrals and mosques and synagogues, the bus stops and the corner shops; the Pyramids and the shopping centres. The rivers and the mountains and the trees. All our songs would fade to silence, never to be sung again. Nothing would remain to mark their passing.
But instead of sorrow, I felt a surge of joy – because these things were here, now, in this moment. And the knowledge of their impermanence made them precious beyond measure: these books, this house, these memories: but most of all, the people I loved and the time I got to spend with them.
And I wondered: if the world really was going to end in five years, what would I do to protect these people? To preserve this life, this moment, for as long as I could?
The answer was: I’d do anything. Because that’s what most of us would say. That’s what makes us who we are. Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.
At that moment, listening to that song and looking at that catalogue of my life, I suddenly knew the story. It was about Renko and Hicks, allies and enemies… and what they’d do for their loved ones in the shadow of the Hard Sun.