My Love Life and the Apocalypse is a YA sci-fi with slowburn romance and vintage 90s-00s culture references. Set in New York City where humans have gone and cities are empty but looked after by bots, Melissa Welliver’s novel follows Echo who is part-human, meeting Pandora whose space-pod crash-lands in his neighbourhood. They are each other’s last hope in this post apocalyptic world… We had the honour of chatting with Melissa Welliver about writing this fun read under lockdown:
We started the story with a lot of technical details about a robot, from CPU to Build Time etc. What kind of research did you do to ensure the robotics part sounded convincing?
Thank you for saying it sounded convincing, because that did worry me! I’ve actually been working in programming since I was sixteen, so I leaned on some of that knowledge. We don’t programme robots, sadly, but Payroll software. My Dad is a software engineer and it’s a family business, plus I got a lot of my love for tech from him. I had my first PC at the age of five in the mid-90s, and I grew up in that millennial era where everyone dabbled with programming their Myspace page and Neopets Guild in HTML. When it came to editing the book, I wanted to test the code, so I checked a couple of ‘missing semicolon’ forums to see whether my boot up messages would theoretically work. I mostly based the language on system startup of a windows PC, but I threw in a couple of programming jokes in, like error 404, for my fellow amateur programmers out there!
Many of the robots took things very literally. Did writing their parts change the way you think about how figurative language often is?
It did, yes! There’s an old programming joke which is “Why did the programmer get stuck in the shower? The shampoo bottle said “Lather, rinse, repeat.” It’s called an infinite loop and it trips up programmers a lot – essentially, computers only do exactly what you tell them to, no more, no less. This still applies to AI, even as they are learning, so without human emotion to colour those instructions, they would revert to the most basic understanding of exact language. When Echo reacts to things, he has a brain and a heart (albeit a faulty one!), so he has emotional responses as a character to follow through with. Whereas Gort, his robot sidekick, has no access to that human part of him, so he must revert to his robotic programming, making him take things very literally.
There are many vintage references in the book, which we love. For the younger readers, or those reading this in 100 years who might not know all of them, which would you recommend the most?
A few adult beta readers I had early on asked me whether it would be a problem that teen readers might not catch all the references I make. Gort was named after the robot in The Day The Earth Stood Still, which came out in 1951, two years before my Dad was born. So I do have faith that with internet access, they seek out those references for themselves. I love the idea of someone reading the book with one hand and googling the references with the other, making a “to be watched” list! I’d definitely recommend Gort’s movie, but if they haven’t caught The Fresh Prince of Belair, I’d strongly point them in that direction. It’s an eclectic mix – hopefully, readers now and in future will be able to come out of the book with some recommendations and there’s something for everyone, from Sci-Fi to Vampires to multi-coloured parachute pants.
Different YA books have a different reason why the world was ending. How did you decide upon your particular setup?
When I first started plotting the story, my idea was to do a sci-fi retelling of Sleeping Beauty. What if the whole world slept for 100 years? Why would they be doing that, how would it be possible? So I settled on cryogenic freezing, and I focused on a climate change event that would be enough to wipe out life on earth, without wiping out their cryogenic pods in the process! Something humans could see coming from far enough away that they could build in such provisions, instead of tackling the problem head on. I wanted something to show devastation after something potentially preventable.
You showed a lot of creativity and imagination in My Love Life and the Apocalypse. What was the most difficult part to imagine?
That’s really kind, thank you! I found the city at the start simple enough, especially the overgrown areas like the football stadium, because I based that on a visit to Chernobyl I took in 2017. I’m also an American citizen and have visited many parts of the states, including New York, the Mojave Desert, and several universities – all used to help base settings in the book. The hardest part to imagine was probably the abandoned mall, because I’ve never been in one! But I watched lots of videos on YouTube of explorers breaking in to them to help me.
And whenever you felt stuck, how did you get creative, especially when it’s difficult to go anywhere during lockdowns?
I refilled the creative well – it’s what I always do. Watch old classics, or say watching an emotional scene to help with one I’m trying to write, really helps. Can you see how all those references crept in now?!
And finally, did writing My Love Life and the Apocalypse make the lockdown a little easier to pass, or did it simply make you think about the dreaded problem of climate change more?
Good question! I was really very lucky in lockdown. I wasn’t able to work but I had my health and so did my family so for me, it did help to have a fun project to pass the time and escape the news cycle. I think that’s where the humour came in, too. Keeping my spirits up in the face of a world changing event, much like Echo and Pandora are going through. And seeing things like oil prices plummet as people used cars less really did highlight how much the planet needed a rest. It’s the light in the darkness, the humour in the dystopia, and that’s what I’ll always try to find in my writing.