The year was 2020. Except as I write this the year is 2008. Let's just say it's written in hindsight. 20/20 hindsight. Believe me, you'll forgive me a bad pun by the end of the book. I live in a time when violence is a religion, God is dead, and humor is something grandfathers used before the war. Fitzgerald claimed irony was dead in The Beautiful and Damned. If by dead, he meant reborn, he would have been more accurate, because the true age of irony didn't die for another ninety years. Somehow Fitzgerald was wrong about many things: no second acts in American lives? America was about to begin the biggest second act in the cosmos.
So I am sitting at a desk in Los Angeles in 2008, a young man with a new family trying to make ends meet. I am also a man of fifty, a teacher, waiting out the apocalypse. I am also a man of indeterminate age feeling sagely and satisfied. There are three people writing this book at once. A triumvirate of past, present, and future. A trinity even, but evoking the Bible is both boring and overblown. I haven't earned your trust yet.
Is this book merely the product of a young man's overreaching imagination or is he onto something? He is a deeply flawed version of myself-this is saying a lot because I am also deeply flawed. He is just beginning, as a man, as a writer. He is starting the novel with the idea that he might, finally, justify his life. The novel will take him years to complete and only parts of it are accurate. Which is where I come in. I take this flawed young man's rough draft and revise the shit out of it, a complicated form of self-criticism. He has no idea it's happening because I am like a ghost. I am both a product of his imagination and a mentor. Nobody ever said inspiration could be defined.
So if the young man in 2008 is writing this book and you-his elder-are helping him, he's not a prophet at all. Really, he's getting Cliffs Notes from the future. True and false. First, he had to bother to ask. He had to know which answers to look for. I am proud of him; he's closer to me than a son. I could not write the book for him. In short, it's a two-way street.
I forget that you don't know what I'm talking about. There's so much to cover, there's almost no place to begin. Simply, War World III happened. Great, another World War III novel. Not true, WWIII really did happen and this book comes from the future, across space and time, things now mastered, only because World War III happened and those who were left inherited not just the earth, but space.
And by the way, please don't classify this book as science fiction. File it under history, or a memoir of the future. Fiction, fine. But not science fiction. For you purists, this is not a cop-out, I am all for science fiction. But if it is considered science fiction, it will be considered a lie, speculative, which it isn't. If it is seen as fiction, it might be seen as closer to life. In the end it is not prophecy, because prophecy is a prediction of something before it occurs, and this is something that has already happened. I am less a seer than a witness.
Maybe I should start at the beginning. 2001. September 11th. It was why I started this book in the first place. I was sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, watching the early morning news. I had spent the morning walking the dog around the neighborhood-I bought myself an egg sandwich and an orange juice, someone eagerly handed me an election flyer: I felt like I belonged to the timeless city. I was waiting on the couch to pick up my then-girlfriend who was arriving on the 9:00 train from Florida. I had forced her to leave because I thought I needed the space to write a novel. I wept like I never had before when she left for the plane. I know now it was a kind of mourning for our unborn daughter. Proof that maybe I do have some premonition in me. I wrote a hundred or so pages, all the while hard-up and lonely and begged her back. She was living with an ex-boyfriend who had become a cult member, a follower of the Falun Gong movement. I write these details because they don't seem real exactly. Rarely does my life seem interesting enough for fiction. Perhaps on that day everybody had an equal story to tell.
Sitting on the couch, drinking coffee, wondering about the day to come. Out of the corner of my eye a low-flying wavering plane, as if struggling.
Now, this was a daydream I'd had before.