My novel D’Arc is the third book in the War With No Name series, which tells of a global conflict between humans and sentient animals. Amid the chaos, a cat named Mort(e) searches for his lost love—a dog named Sheba. Along with its apocalyptic themes, the book discusses the failures of political systems, the power of superstition, and the tribal impulse that drives all species. Below are some of the books that helped to inspire and inform D’Arc, separated by theme.
THE END OF THE WORLD
The War With No Name series is firmly set within the postapocalyptic genre. I’m drawn to these kinds of stories not only because of the Mad Max movies I grew up with, but because of the sense of upheaval, the reset, that comes with them. With a clean slate, people have the opportunity to start anew or to recreate the world of the past. But try as they might, they cannot avoid repeating the same mistakes that unraveled the former world.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
If you haven’t been browbeaten into reading this book yet, allow me to join in the bullying. Atwood’s novel captures the frustration and the stunned silence that would accompany a complete overhaul of society. The protagonist Offred has no choice but to adapt, and her ability to do so surprises her. This book was so influential for me that I used this line as the epigraph for the first book. “God is love, they once said, but we reversed that…” And really, that sums everything up.
Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz
With the precision of a scientist, Newitz lays out what the world will look like in the years following a global catastrophe. It’s an antidote to the tropes that so many authors use when building a fallen world.
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
This one rightfully draws comparisons to Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. In it, a girl is moved to an act of almost unthinkable heroism in the midst of a global pandemic. I often thought of this book while trying to develop the character of Sheba, who leaves her innocent childhood behind. Like Jessie, Sheba chooses rebellion as a way of finding her new destiny.
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee
I read this hoping to find a postapocalyptic story that felt authentic, and it did not disappoint. From the matter-of-fact narration of the end of the world, to the detailed descriptions of the fish farms that feed the population, this book feels real from start to finish.
In this series, I deliberately avoided writing from the point of view of a human. Only animals get to tell the story, with humans firmly segregated as the other, the alien, the enemy. Though the animal characters assume human-like behaviors, they remain beholden to their experiences as pets, livestock, or ferals—a past they cannot escape.
“Leave It to Beavers,” an episode of Nature
Perhaps my favorite new characters in D’Arc are the beavers of Lodge City, an outpost threatened by wolves, bears, and a strange monster desperate for revenge. Noble, hardworking, and devoted to their families, the Lodgers are also talented musicians who recite their history in song. Of the resources I consulted, this documentary is my favorite, as it shows how beavers can save the world. Toward the end, there is a scene that makes me cry every time I’ve watched it.
A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam
Told from the point of view of a lab chimp, McAdam’s book is nevertheless grounded in its ageless story of growing up and adapting to the terrors of the world.
Anthill by E. O. Wilson
Wilson is the leading authority on ants, and he channels that knowledge into this compelling novel, in which a colony struggles for survival following the death of its queen. But the novel also gives the human perspective, showing that the desire for survival and power is shared between the two species.
Because violence plays such a prominent role in the series, I tried to brush up on depictions of it that were accurate, brutal, and, in a weird way, logical. In other words, I wanted the violence to actually make sense, to both build the characters and advance the plot, rather than simply grab the readers’ attention.
The Face of Battle by John Keegan
You’ve seen this stodgy British historian on PBS before. In this classic, Keegan describes three military case studies: Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme. In all three battles, soldiers die horribly, while their officers confront scenarios they never imagined. Thus there is little glory or bravery to boast about. One interesting note: at Agincourt, the vaunted cavalry discovered the hard way that horses will not charge over dead bodies into sharpened pikes, no matter how hard you whip them.
The Kept by James Scott
Here’s a book, much like the work of Cormac McCarthy, that depicts the unfairness of violence in a vivid, haunting way. In particular, there is a scene in which people are crushed under blocks of ice. No rhyme or reason to it, no heroes, just madness.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The best Star Trek film is also an abrupt departure from the peaceful, utopian vision of the show and the first movie. Here, noble Starfleet has become a military operation, building weapons of mass destruction and exiling prisoners to barren planets. The characters—villains and heroes alike—seem almost stunned at this, as if their ideals have been crushed by the cruelties of the real world. [SPOILER ALERT] And, as readers of my book will discover, I’m a big fan of the climactic battle in the Mutara Nebula.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu (translated by Samuel B. Griffith)
Though it has been coopted by the business world, I think this book is equally appropriate for fiction writers. As I see it, Sun Tzu’s central thesis is this: You should fight only when you have no other choice, and only when you’re as sure as possible that you can win; if those elements are not in place, you must find another way to achieve your goals. Smart people get this. Stupid, inexperienced, or emotional people do not. Your characters should act accordingly.
Religion plays an enormous role in the series, mainly because the instigator of the war—the nearly immortal Queen of the ants—believes that humans are evil because of their stubborn assumption that a higher power has placed them at the center of the universe. Some of the animals agree, some disagree, some refuse to care. Regardless, the Queen’s relentless anti-Crusade places an unavoidable dividing line between all potential allies and foes.
Full disclosure: in my day job, I help to edit these two scholarly websites. Each contains thousands of reference articles, along with learning resources, interviews, and multiple translations and concordances of the Bible and the Qur’an. In other words, a treasure trove of information for someone who wants to learn more about the Abrahamic traditions and their sacred texts.
The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad by Lesley Hazleton
There is a glut of prophets in my novel, so I figured I should investigate the early days of the world’s second-largest religion. Among the books I encountered, this one sticks out for stressing the Prophet’s humanity under incredible circumstances. And, like any other attempt to humanize a person who claims to speak for the divine, Hazleton’s work has come under fire from scholars with competing interpretations.
Writing God’s Obituary by Anthony Pinn
Where there is religion, there is also apostasy, and it was important that my book speak of this issue from the perspectives of both the believers and the faithless. Pinn’s memoir tells of how he left the church of his youth and became a scholar of religion. Rather than simply dismissing his experiences as a believer, Pinn is sympathetic, and tries to alleviate misunderstandings in a culture that seems hellbent on making them worse.
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
When I first pitched my book, I called it “Animal Farm as imagined by Cormac McCarthy and Philip Pullman.” Like His Dark Materials, Good Man challenges the traditional narrative of the human experience of the divine in such a profound and fearless way, something I was hoping to do as well. This is not a book that smugly points fingers, but instead asks the reader to view Christ as man in over his head, trying the best he can in an imperfect world.
PEOPLE PUSHED TO THE EDGE
A recurring theme in my work is the herd-like mentality shared by both the lowly animals and the supposedly enlightened humans. These books help to illuminate this failing in surprising and frightening ways.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
The protagonist of Okonkwo could stand for anyone faced with the unknown. Scared, resentful, he reacts violently when interlopers invade his quiet village. But he never seems to accept that the world simply doesn’t care.
The Plague by Albert Camus (translated by Stuart Gilbert)
No book captures the problem of evil better than Camus’ masterpiece. In it, a town is driven mad by an unpredictable pestilence. To survive, people cling to their traditions, their institutions, their superstitions. None will save them. And so they have a choice: search for the hand of the divine in all the suffering, or accept the bitter truth that they are on their own.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Though polite and genteel, the protagonist Changez simmers with rage over his own personal failings and the rapid geopolitical changes following the 9/11 attacks. And as the novel closes, it is unclear which path in life he has chosen, which road he has been forced to take.
Robert Repino earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize among other awards, and has appeared in The Literary Review, Night Train, Hobart, The Coachella Review, and more. Repino is the pitcher for the Oxford University Press softball team and quarterback for the flag football team, but his business card says that he’s an editor.