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Missed Anniversary

Phealan CaineYou’d think someone as militant as me about history, and with a penchant for marking significant anniversaries, would have been paying attention two weeks ago when an anniversary of my own came and went. If you happened to be passing St. David’s Catholic Secondary School in early October, 2003, you would have seen on the school sign a message: Oct. 9 Kenneth Tam Book Launch.

Ten years and twelve days later, I’m still writing for Iceberg, so I probably should have bothered to notice that milestone. I didn’t. We’ve been busy with website upgrades, and drafting, and editing War Footing… and it just glided by. Fortunately, the characters with whom I share that important anniversary don’t seem to mind –– they are, after all, too good to be true.

The book we launched that evening at St. David was The Human Equation, which means the characters who I’ve stood up for this big anniversary are the Earthers. This naturally means there’s no drama at all, because Earthers simply don’t get wrapped up in ordinary human drama. And thank God for that.

I’ve spoken recently about how I miss writing for the Earthers, but I must admit that sometimes I fear that I’ve lost the ability to do them justice. Setter Caine and his fellows were the product of a much clearer time in my life –– when I was younger and far less cynical. Back then I was certain that good people, doing right for right’s sake, could truly change the world. This perspective was not gained from naivete: I’d seen a certain amount of pain, but my family had proved to me that death and torment did not have to bring with it endless darkness. What the mind forgot, the soul could remember.

Kenneth Tam The Human Equation first edition
The very first edition of The Human Equation, launched October 9, 2003.

The Earthers were a manifestation of that belief –– they were people who could face the end of their world with dignity, make impossible decisions, and live with the consequences. They believed that good will and good deeds filled you with light, and that one day, when it was needed the most, all that light could be summoned to help you through whatever struggle mattered most. These were my grandfather’s qualities and experiences –– the sort I found again in the veterans and serving members of the RCN –– and they formed the backbone of Earther society.

Which is why some people (fictional and otherwise) just can’t cope with the Earthers. Make no mistake, some people find their goodness too impossible –– almost like a poison. It’s not hard to understand why: it can be easier to call the world cruel, and demean any whose optimism defies your own difficulties, than to admit that you need to work harder to try to improve things. We’ve all done it… some more than others… and for people fully possessed by that philosophy, the Earthers are positively toxic.

That’s unfortunate, but unavoidable.

As I’ve indicated previously, I have gathered plenty of first-hand experience to lapse my own idealism. From politics to publishing to world events, there seem to be ample examples of the dark side of human nature, and the older I get, the more corrosive all these instances become to my optimism. Perspectives inevitably change, mine included, so I wonder: isn’t our time better spent examining all our flaws, and the way in which they make our lives miserable? Shouldn’t we congratulate each other for coming up with newer and more creative ways of articulating how miserable our lives are?

Sometimes that sounds tempting, but here’s where I’m lucky: one of the legacies of spending eight books with the Earthers is that they continue to exist in the back of my mind. While I may have grown more jaded, they haven’t –– they are a lifeline to a time in my life when I had a much better perspective on the world, untarnished by betrayal and disappointment. That helps more than I can say.

I think we all need the ability to look back and see clear indications of what we believed when we still had faith in humanity –– not just to remember how we felt, but to have hard evidence. I’m therefore incredibly fortunate to have a bunch of Earthers on the page (and in my brain). Their presence makes me want to be better –– wiser –– and encourages me to keep struggling, no matter how futile things might seem. Perhaps that makes me naive… but after a decade in print, I think I’ve earned the right to believe in the future.

For now, ten years after it was first launched in print, the Equations universe will continue to stand by. Before we all forget to celebrate our twentieth anniversary, I hope to return there again… and I feel like I’m getting closer. As I said recently, Alex and Stephanie are the most Earther-like characters I’ve spent time with since The Destiny Equation, so perhaps they’ll help me make the trip.

So happy belated anniversary, Earthers. Thanks for not being mad at me for forgetting our big day… and as a belated present, here’s a new series website. As ever, see you around.