No Jokes, Please: The Weird, Crooked Road to UNTIL THE LAST DOG DIES
by Robert Guffey on December 21
Rachel Pollack, the World Fantasy Award winning author of such sui generis novels as Unquenchable Fire and Temporary Agency, kickstarted my novel Until the Last Dog Dies without realizing it. When I was attending the Clarion Writers Workshop during the summer of 1996, during the final week of the workshop, Rachel gave the students a unique assignment: to dream up an idea that was unimaginable. My fellow student, Justina Robson, came up with the following: “Imagine a universe without the concept of God.” This intrigued me, as the implications of the concept were so vast that they seemed to defy any attempt at fictionalization.
A few days later, while waiting in an unusually long line at the Seattle airport during that pre-9/11 era, I glanced up and saw something I’d never noticed before: a glowing, rectangular sign that read “NO JOKES, PLEASE.”
Of course, the purpose of the sign was to discourage people from making casual comments about having thermonuclear warheads tucked away inside their luggage. Haunted by Rachel’s mind-bending assignment, however, I chose to interpret the sign in a completely different way. The characters, the locale, and the basic plot of a most peculiar tale began to percolate in my brain at that moment. The first few bricks in the weird, crooked road to Until the Last Dog Dies had just begun to be laid down.
When I eventually began writing the story that became Until the Last Dog Dies, I asked myself, “How would the world look if people began losing their innate sense of humor, slowly, over a period of months or even years due to a virus that affects only the humor centers of the brain?” My initial assumption was that this would require complex world-building skills on my part. Two seconds later, the obvious, dreadful answer came hurtling back at me: “It would look exactly like the world in which you’re living now.” No world building skills required. Just open your eyes and look. What evolved from this process was a contemporary novel built on what at first appeared to be a completely science fictional concept. The result: a science fiction novel for people who don’t like science fiction.