The Story Behind the Stories
The Far Side of Extinction by K.C. Norton
The Far Side of Extinction started off as fantasy, with a unicorn and some dragons
and an actual dog, and it was a mess.
Fortunately, my father - who works in genetic sequencing and bioinformatics -
asked to read it. He told me, "I know that you're talking about thylacines, but
other people might not get it. You should make that clearer."
"Of course I should," I told him, and immediately set off to research thylacines. I'd
heard of the so-called Tasmanian tiger, driven to extinction in the 1930's. Its diet
and territory conflicted with the interests of local farmers, and so - like so many
species - it was hunted until there were only a few individuals left. The last of
them died in captivity.
Those are the facts, sad but remote: a statistic. But then I stumbled across a video,
and that changed everything.
There are only a few minutes' worth of film showing thylacines in motion, but for
me, they brought the animal to life. Their skeletons are virtually identical to those
of dogs, but I've worked with dogs for years and I have never seen one that moves
like a thylacine moves. Their jaws are massive, and their eyes are small but
piercing. The film was accompanied by light honky-tonk music, but before it was
half over I had tears rolling down my cheeks.
Of course, this meant the story had to change dramatically - because now I had to
write about thylacines. Tale had to feel as protective of her specimen as I felt
about the creatures in the film. The difference was, Tale could do something.
Fiction is a place where we can play out our fantasies, where we can bring our
wishes to life. I wished for a way to save thylacines, if only for the length of time
that readers spent in the story - but more than that, I wanted to make readers think
about the species that still exist in our world, especially those that are in danger of
crossing to the far side of extinction.
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