Researching the End of the World

WorldOfTrouble_FinalWhat would do if you knew that an asteroid was going destroy the world?

Novelist Ben H. Winters wrapped up his Last Policeman trilogy last month, a series of novels about how our world would cope with an impending strike by an asteroid.

Ever since I finished the final book, I have been obsessed with the idea of asteroid strikes. So I caught up with Winters to find out more…

Q: For writers and readers interested in learning more about the science and news of potential asteroid strikes, what are the best places to look online? Any books or other sources you would recommend?

It’s a fascinating subject, isn’t it? I highly recommend the website of the B612 Foundation (The Sentinel Mission). They have an agenda, but it’s a good one.

Check out the site of the Minor Planet Center; the director there, Dr. Tim Spahr, was a huge help to me in preparing these books, and it’s really fun to learn about the work that they do.

At the website of the Jet Propulsion Lab you can learn a lot, and download the Asteroid Watch.

The person with a serious interest is going to want to read about the Natural Impact Hazard Interagency Deliberate Planning Exercise from 2008, and maybe even download the full 107 page report.

I did, three years ago, when I started writing The Last Policeman, and it proved invaluable.

Finally, buy Death From the Skies! by Phil Plait, which is basically a charming handbook of end-times scenarios; and if you want to get into the question of odds and risk, a book by Richard Posner called Catastrophe: Risk and Response.

Q: While writing this trilogy, how has your view of the future of the human race evolved? Do you feel more or less positive about the world after writing about the collapse of civilization? Why?

The only thing I really find distressing about the human race is how easily we become worked up over short-term disasters—disease panics, distant wars, the slim chance of asteroid impact—but totally manage to do nothing about very serious, long-term disasters, like climate change, population explosion, and looming water scarcity. People flip out over things that barely affect them and about which they can do nothing, and then sort of shrug at these massive preventable slow-motion calamities and go “what can you do?”

But in general, I love humans. I like most of the humans I’ve ever met, and love a few of them very much. I think most of the things that are good about people come to them naturally, and most of the things that are bad—callousness, racism, bad decision-making—are learned, and can be unlearned, too.

Finally, here’s more about Winters’ final novel in the Last Policeman trilogy, World of Trouble:

“With the doomsday asteroid looming, Detective Hank Palace has found sanctuary in the woods of New England, secure in a well-stocked safe house with other onetime members of the Concord police force. But with time ticking away before the asteroid makes landfall, Hank’s safety is only relative, and his only relative—his sister Nico—isn’t safe.”


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