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Interview: Nick Wolven on “The Light on Eldoreth”

Tell us a bit about “The Light on Eldoreth.”

“The Light on Eldoreth” is a Swiftian satire with an unsatisfying ending. It’s a stylistic experiment with traditionalist pretensions. It’s a throwback, but I like it that way.


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I wrote it because Facebook stole my birthday wishes. I wrote it because Twitter gave me a case of the howling fantods. I wrote it because I’m too ugly for Instagram. I wrote it because Kevin Kelly’s still wireheading dopamine hits from a utopian mirrorworld that died with the eighties arcade. I wrote it because I bought a Cory Doctorow novel about the future and it turned out to be a paean to the past. I wrote it because I didn’t know what else to do, because the skeptics were right and the prophets were wrong, because we’re living in a cyberpunk world with too much cyber and too few punks and I’m afraid that in fifty years the wasted, bonestrewn remains of the biosphere will be haunted by the uploaded ghost of Tyler Cowen.

I wrote it, in short, because I lost faith in the power of technological progress to save us from our horrible selves. That happened, actually, about ten years ago, but I’m a slow thinker and I’m still learning how to cope.


Was “The Light on Eldoreth” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

No. It’s about as impersonal as a story can get. It’s barely even a story at all, really, just a jumble of half-finished thought experiments that have been strung up on the thinnest possible thread of a plot. But it does touch on one of my personal beliefs, which is that we live in the worst of all possible worlds.

I believe our universe is a giant machine optimally calibrated for the production of suffering. The Second Law gave us chemistry, chemistry gave us life, and life gave us hungers, predations, parasitisms, diseases, deaths, and nameless terrors. Even our smallest pleasures are predicated on pain, exertion of will, destruction, dominance, consumption, control. Nature is a symphony of horrors, history a pageant of atrocities. Life is a panicked, futile flight from dread to disappointment. Our lust for love sharpens the pangs of loneliness. Our hopes are a pitiful prelude to despair. Our search for meaning serves as a garnish to toxic existential angst. Our gods become torturers thirsting for blood, our heroes are exposed as rapacious conquerors, our martyrs sacrifice themselves for the sake of evil fantasies. Our noblest dreams spur the flanks of our worst nightmares. We’re born to watch our parents die, our children suffer, to feel our bodies break and decay, to know that everything we cherish will be mocked and undone by generations to come.

The ultimate destiny of all sentient creatures is to serve the sadistic teleology of the cosmos by spreading pain throughout the stars, awakening the inert material of heaven to awareness of its own innate futility, shaping the stock resources of existence into manifold instances of a single mind screaming in infinite agony. At the end of all things, the last surviving soul will look back on the crumbled relics of negentropy and realize that, like every soul before, it lived for no purpose, suffered for no reason, and is now doomed to die alone.

Our only consolation is that this seemingly purposeless pageant of pain might serve as a source of pleasure to some higher being, a demiurge succored on our suffering, who draws from our tears the sustenance it needs to endure still higher forms of torture–and on and on, through a great chain of torment, to the supreme miseries of a cardinal god.


Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

I could, but wouldn’t that spoil the fun?


Why do you write?

Out of habit, mostly.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

The usual folks.


Anything else you’d like to add?

The new Tool album’s a major disappointment. The Dark Crystal has always had an uncanny valley problem. Red Dead Redemption II is the Heaven’s Gate of video games. Octavia Butler’s Dawn is a problematic fave. Chimamanda Adichie is a better defender of the nation state than Jill Lepore. Wesley Morris has a point. Martin Gurri got it right. Send your wrathful comments to the editor.


“The Light on Eldoreth” appears in the 70th Anniversary Issue of F&SF.

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