How growing up during the Cold War inspired Terri Favro's new novel
Terri Favro dreams up a genre-bending adventure in Sputnik's Children. Narrated by a successful, lorazepam-addicted comic artist, the novel jumps between two realities: the one we all know (Earth Standard Time) and another, which has been ravaged by nuclear war (Atomic Mean Time).
Below, Favro, who was a finalist for the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize, tells us how her Cold War upbringing inspired her wildly imaginative new novel.
Cold War memories
"I'd been noodling around with writing about the experience of growing up in a place that was very paranoid about the possibility of a nuclear bomb falling because I grew up near Niagara Falls in Grantham Township. As kids we were always told that if there was a nuclear war, we would be the first to go because we lived so close to the hydro station, which was a first strike target for the Russians. The kernel of inspiration for the book came out of asking, 'What if the bomb actually had dropped?' I think that, on some level, I always really believed it would happen.
"I guess I always imagined that if it had happened, it would be very much like the things we were told about Hiroshima in the immediate aftermath. In the late 1960s or 1970s, when I was in high school, they showed us some footage of interviews with survivors of Hiroshima and it was absolutely horrific. If we hadn't been terrified of the prospect of a nuclear war before that, we certainly were afterwards. Those reports from Hiroshima really informed the way I described some of the events toward the end of the novel."
Revisiting the 1970s
"This was part of my own lived history, but I did try to go back and look at the popular culture of the early 70s to late 70s. I looked at how people were living, how people were dressing, their ideas and more. It is very easy, even if you grew up through it, to forget what people's mindsets were like. My two worlds, although they are two different worlds, are obviously very closely coupled. I tried to keep some of the events and some of the mindsets very similar in Atomic Mean Time and real time. I actually researched the events of my own lifetime."
Quantum physics, alternate realities and Star Trek
"A lot of the research that I did had to do with the notion of whether in fact there could be an alternate reality and, if so, how could we talk to it. There was a quantum physicist named Hugh Everett III who came up with this idea that every time we make a decision, there is some other reality in which an opposite decision has been made. In other words, there are an infinite number of other worlds out there. People thought Everett was completely out of his mind when he came up with the theory of closely coupled worlds in the 1950s, but then by the 1960s people started to kind of take that seriously.
"One place where the theory really shows up is the Star Trek original series because that was where they started playing around with the notion of going back in time and whether it was OK to try to change history. I actually went back and looked at a couple episodes and read some scripts, including 'The City on the Edge of Forever' by Harlan Ellison and 'Mirror Mirror' by Jerome Bixby."
Terri Favro's comments have been edited and condensed.