Unwind and Challenger Deep author Neal Shusterman talks Scythe, the first book in a new series.
National Book Award winner and author of the UnWind Dystology, Neal Shusterman talks Scythe, the first book in a new book trilogy that takes place in a future in which diseases have been eradicated, but where people are “gleaned”, aka killed, at random by scythes to prevent overpopulation.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Shusterman talks about the inspiration behind this new story, the plot, and what he’s excited for readers to find see.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKY: What inspired this dark series?
NEAL SHUSTERMAN: After a decade of teen dystopia, I wanted to do something that flipped it upside down. Rather than a tale of a dystopian world, I thought “What would be the consequences of a truly perfect world?” A world without war, poverty, crime, or disease. A world where we’ve found solutions to all our problems, to the point of even conquering death Then I realized that once we stole death from nature, we would be obliged to be it’s sole distributor. I envisioned a world where a jedi-like order — highly moral and ethical – was responsible for thinning the population. I called them scythes, because a scythe is the tool of a reaper, and these individuals are the tools of society. They do what they do not because they want to, but because they need to. Civilization requires it.
What else can you tell us about the plot? How was disease eliminated?
The story follows two teens — good kids, who would never want the job of a scythe. For that very reason, they are chosen to be apprentices to a scythe. They must learn the art of killing, and the courage to do it with great compassion. However there are forces within the scythedom that are beginning to corrupt it from within. As for how disease was eliminated, it was done through the very methods we use today. Bit by bit we are conquering diseases. Eventually, we will find a way to defeat them all. So what does a disease-free world look like? That was my starting place.
Why don’t the scythes just glean old people?
Because, in a perfect world, no one ever has to grow old. People can, technically, live forever, and set their physical age wherever they wish. And in a perfect world, shouldn’t it be illegal to discriminate against a person because of their age?
What are you most excited for readers to see?
I’m most excited for readers to see the vision of the world. World-building for this series has been extensive. It’s not just a matter of telling a story within a world, it’s making that world extend beyond the borders of the story. In writing it, I would constantly ask myself questions about how things would work, what problems and issues would crop up in such a world, and how we would realistically solve those problems. This futuristic utopia should feel very real.
One of my favorite aspects of the world is “The Thunderhead.” Basically it’s “the cloud,” but evolved into a sentient artificial intelligence. We’ve seen so many stories about the dangers of AI, from Terminator, to The Matrix. I wanted to spin that in the opposite direction. What if the entire wealth of human knowledge becomes a living thing — but rather than being a threat, ends up being the most benevolent power on earth? It ends the need for government because it rules with perfect justice. It solves the problems that we weren’t able to solve on our own. It is far wiser, and far more trustworthy than we are — to the point of being almost, but not quite god-like. (“I am not all-powerful,” the Thunderhead says. “I am almost all-powerful. There’s a big difference.”) But there are consequences to global benevolent rule…
Read the rest of the interview at EW.com