West­ward Ho!

How an epic his­tor­i­cal story in­spired Benjamin Percy’s new novel…

SFX - - Red Alert -

It’s not nec­es­sary to be familiar with the 1804 Lewis and Clark ex­pe­di­tion to the Pa­cific to read The Dead Lands, but it helps. That’s be­cause this jour­ney of dis­cov­ery into then un­charted ter­ri­tory – “equiv­a­lent to blast­ing off to some far cor­ner of the galaxy now” – was on the mind of writer Benjamin Percy when he wrote his new novel.

“I grew up in their shadow, in Ore­gon, and ini­tially thought I might pur­sue a non­fic­tion project in which I would recre­ate their ex­pe­di­tion,” Percy says. “Then my wife asked, ‘ How long is that go­ing to take ex­actly?’ In the in­ter­est of be­ing a bet­ter hus­band and fa­ther, I de­cided to make some stuff up in­stead.”

But while Percy may have looked back in Amer­i­can his­tory for his in­spi­ra­tion, The Dead Lands is set in a fu­ture USA where “a su­per flu and nu­clear fall­out have made a husk of our world”. A few sur­vivors cling on in “a walled- in St Louis, known as The Sanc­tu­ary”. Then, a mys­te­ri­ous vis­i­tor ap­pears, who will for­ever change the fate of ( note the names) Lewis Meri­wether and Mina Clark.

Given the buzz around The Dead Lands it’s a huge step up in pro­file even for some­one whose last novel, Red Moon, is be­ing adapted by Fox as a se­ries – so is Percy daunted or ex­cited? Both, es­pe­cially since his “hero” Stephen King emailed and “gen­er­ously of­fered up some words of sup­port”.

Sud­denly, the book’s pub­li­ca­tion seemed all too real. “Once I con­firmed that it wasn’t one of my friends prank­ing me, I had to go for a five- mile run,” he says, “be­cause my whole body felt run through with elec­tric­ity, dou­ble-volted with ex­cite­ment and fear.” The Dead Lands will be pub­lished on 9 April and is re­viewed on page 108. For our full in­ter­view, visit http:// bit. ly/ Dead Lands In­ter­view.

The Dead Lands is Percy’s third novel.

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