Ideas for Exploring Half Lives
Half Lives is a story told in two voices from a pre- and post-apocalyptic time – challenging the nature of faith and the power of miscommunications but most of all the strength of the human spirit to adapt and survive.
The story encourages readers to think about:
- Survival – Not only what it might take to survive but how far they would go to save themselves and others.
- Legacy – What are we leaving behind for future generations? How will they judge our way of life?
- Faith – Everyone develops a belief system. For some it’s based on an organized religion. For others it’s grounded in superstition or history or logic.
The Inspiration for Half Lives
In November 2009 Sara’s Little, Brown editor sent her a link to a podcast and article on Slate.com’s Culture Gabfest. The article was titled “Atomic Priesthoods, Thorn Landscapes, and Munchian Pictograms: How to communicate the dangers of nuclear waste to future civilizations.” It discussed how a United States Department of Energy (DoE) panel planned to label the site of an underground nuclear waste repository.
Some types of nuclear waste are deadly for more than 10,000 years. The article noted that: “China, the planet's oldest continuous civilization, stretches back, at most, 5,000 years. And the world's oldest inscribed clay tablets—the earliest examples of written communication—date only from 3,000 or 3,500 B.C. It's impossible to say what apocalyptic event might separate 21st-century Americans from our 210th-century successors. Successors, mind you, who could live in a vastly more sophisticated society than we do or a vastly more primitive one.”
Creating a substance that will be deadly for tens of thousands of years definitely seems like science fiction, something right out of a superhero comic book. And then there was the added conundrum of how to communicate with future generations, which most likely will not speak the same language or understand our symbols.
That was the seed that would blossom into Half Lives.
Read the article that inspired Half Lives -- “Atomic Priesthoods, Thorn Landscapes, and Munchian Pictograms: How to communicate the dangers of nuclear waste to future civilizations” – available at the following link:
An editorial in The Washington Post outlined the issue: “Nuclear power holds great promise to provide electricity with practically no greenhouse emissions, if government can deal with the radioactive byproducts. But the not-in-my-back-yard-ism of [politicians] has all but killed the waste-disposal project at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, the site Congress chose in 1987 for a permanent repository. Instead, waste is piling up in the back yards of dozens of communities across the United States, at sites that weren’t designed for long-term storage.
“Under existing law, the federal government can’t begin accepting spent nuclear fuel for even an interim storage site in the absence of Yucca or some other permanent repository. So waste continues to accumulate at reactor sites — 72,000 tons so far, three-fourths of it sitting in cooling pools like those that overheated at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility, threatening Japan with much more radioactive contamination.” (“Nuclear waste need not be a radioactive debate”, The Washington Post editorial board, June 13, 2012)
This issue is not unique to the United States. Countries around the world with active nuclear power stations must find a long-term solution. Sara based her setting on both the deserted nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada and the ongoing construction of the Onkalo Waste Repository, a long-term storage facility for highly nuclear waste in Finland.And plans are being discussed for Britain’s first nuclear research and disposal facility.
Over the course of the three plus years it took to imagine, research and write Half Lives – the situation at Yucca Mountain changed. The Yucca Mountain project was abandoned by the DoE. According to the state of Nevada, the Yucca site is nothing more than a single boarded-up, empty tunnel, approximately five miles long.
Half Lives is a work of fiction , but the issues it raises are real, and the debate for where to house nuclear fuel rods in many countries around the globe is ongoing.
Here are a few discussion starters for Half Lives
- How would you communicate with the future? How would you mark a site that is deadly for 10,000 years or longer?
How far would you go to survive? What would you sacrifice to survive? If, like Icie, you were told you had to abandon your life immediately, who are the three people you would
save and why? Icie must escape to a secret underground bunker. What are the ten items you would take with you to survive hidden underground? And why?
- What would aliens think you worship if they watched you for a few weeks?
Fast forward 50 or 100 years. What is your prediction for humankind? Will the world be better or worse? Why and how?
- The meanings of many symbols are culturally specific. Take for example the skull and cross bones. In the US, it a sign for danger but in Mexico it’s a symbol for a national celebration – ‘the day of the dead’. Sometimes the peace sign has been mistaken for the Mercedes logo. Is there a particular symbol that has meaning to you? What is it and what does it mean?
- In Half Lives, Beckett’s people in the future hate an enemy they have never seen. Stories have been handed down from generation to generation. Does this have any parallels with modern day threats? What are you afraid of that you have never experienced?