Author Mark Sampson imagined a bizarre post-apocalyptic world where sudden unexpected changes transform how people live, work, and interact. That was in 2016, when he began work on All the Animals on Earth, his new novel from Ontario publisher Wolsak & Wynn.
In his scenario, Earth’s population quadruples overnight with the appearance of new beings called “Blomers.”
They appear human, but spring from animals: “foxes are mathematically inclined, blue jays are visually artistic, and gophers are courageous and strong,” explains the publisher’s website. “But with these aptitudes come a predilection for a free and open sexuality and a tendency toward violence among their own kind.”
His novel follows white-collar drone Hector Thompson on a road trip across North America as he assesses how life has changed.
Humans have to adapt fast. Sampson, who lived in Halifax for many years and occasionally contributes to Halifax Magazine, wonders how the new realities of our COVID-19 world will shape readers’ perceptions.
“There’s an analogy but it’s up for interpretation,” he says. “It’s like a Rorschach test. People won’t be able to resist comparing to what’s going on today… I started in 2016 when it was a period of great upheaval. And now there’s this even great upheaval and I see when you want to write something, you’ve got to follow that and see where it leads you.”
Like the humans in the novel, readers will have no idea how the Blomers will act. Sampson randomly selected each animal’s dominant characteristics, randomly drawing them from slips of paper.
“The ones based on cats are really good at reading comprehension, for example,” Sampson explains. “I wanted to get away from preconceived notions of how animals would act. I look at my cats and think: you can’t read for crap.”
While Sampson’s writing (particularly his previous novel The Slip) often comes with sharp, wry humour, this sort of satire, with all its ensuing absurdity, is something new for him.
“It’s the kind of book I leap out of bed in the morning to work on,” he says “I want to find out what happens as much as the reader does. It’s written with a kind of exuberance… that speaks to the kind of books I want to read. Serious books have their place but there’s an energy when you know the writer is having fun.”
And after writing a book about a transformed world, Sampson is living in one.
“Now that I’m more isolated, I’m thinking this office really needs to be cleaned,” he laughs. “How do you write during a crisis like this? I remember the morning after 9/11 trying to face the keyboard and feel like what you have to say is important, even worth my time investing. My idea is just to keep trucking. I haven’t lost a day of work. I haven’t allowed this to disrupt me. There is a perspective that comes when these things end. Writing provides a level of continuity from day to day.”
All the Animals on Earth is scheduled to launch in Canada
on May 12 and in the U.S. on June 16 on Sept. 6. (Updated May 26, 2020).