Alum Melds Philosophy with Science Fiction in The Measurements of Decay
When K.K. Edin (CGS’13, CAS’16, GRS’16) was a 20 year-old undergraduate at Boston University, he was working through the ideas in Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. As he wrestled with the political and the social implications of Descartes’ work, he says, “The logical thread quickly ended up somewhere between absurdity and nightmare. In other words, perfectly suitable for the crucible of science fiction.” And so, during a snowy Thanksgiving break, Edin began writing the novel that would become The Measurements of Decay, published this March.
Readers have found it riveting. Starburst Magazine, the preeminent magazine of science fiction, reviewed the book: “Unless another author pulls out something very special, The Measurements of Decay could end up becoming the finest science fiction novel of 2018.” A blogger at Gallifrey Buccaneer wrote that despite some initial skepticism, “I found myself completely and utterly sucked in. I couldn’t put it down. I read it every spare minute I had.” Goodreads reviewers have said, “Sometimes you will read a book that stuns you into such a deep silence that the backlash envelops you and kicks you out of space and time. This is one of those books,” and “It is one of the most rewarding and enlightening novels of recent memory.”
Edin started his Boston University academic career at the College of General Studies before going on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy and a master of arts in philosophy the same year. He says of his time at CGS, “I thought it gave me an extremely well-rounded education and I think it actually changed me and turned me into a more disciplined, serious student.”
When people ask how he found the time to write his novel while earning a double major and a master’s degree at the same time, Edin says his studies and his writing “went hand in hand.” Studying philosophy as an academic discipline can be somewhat constricting, he says, so he used the novel to explore the ideas he was learning and to process them in a creative way.
A CGS professor played a key role in encouraging Edin’s writing: Jeffery Vail, master lecturer of humanities. Vail saw an early draft of the novel and gave Edin direct and honest criticism–and also encouraged Edin to get it published. “His opinion really meant a lot to me,” said Edin. “He really encouraged me to see it through.” Vail also encouraged Edin’s literary education outside of class, recommending books that shaped Edin’s literary style– books like Herman Melville’s epic Moby Dick and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.
“I told him right away his talent was so superior to so many of the published– in some cases, famous published– science fiction and horror authors that I often read,” Vail says. “He’s only gotten better with time. I think certain people are born with a certain genius for certain things and I think his is…a genius for writing.” CGS Dean and Charles Dickens scholar Natalie McKnight also read the manuscript and deemed Edin’s’s villain one of the best and most complicated villains she’d read in literature.
The Measurements of Decay is set in the “far future” and tells three intertwining stories. First, at a time when people have chosen to retreat into their own hallucinations, a renegade “embarks on a mission to destroy the galactic tyranny and liberate humanity from its own dreams.” Second, in the twenty-first century, “a disillusioned philosopher … proceeds on a hermetic quest to save humanity from itself, while also succumbing to his own moral decline.” And third, “a young girl reappears through various epochs” and “becomes unwillingly entangled in a political scheme spanning centuries.”
The book’s three stories take on questions of knowledge, freedom, and duty– abstract philosophical concepts but questions that have material consequences for our lives, Edin says. If you push them to their particularization, he says, “What you end up with is something that impacts the whole fabric of how we live our lives and how we interact with each other and how we think of ourselves and how we simply are in the world.”
Of course, we are living in a time when people do escape reality via devices; and like Edin’s disillusioned philosopher, we see a polarized society of people failing to understand each other. “It seems like there’s this frustration at the level of trying to communicate with others and to understand others,” Edin says. He wanted to push that question to its extreme and ask, why is that the case? “What I like about science fiction is the ability it gives you to speculate, to fantasize without it being…too fantastical,” Edin says. “It’s grounded in some kind of reality, but you’re allowed to speculate.”
Edin’s book is a weighty one–both in its 588 pages and in its philosophical musings. “The thing about big novels is they’re extremely uncompromising,” Edin says. “They really test the patience of the reader but they’re ultimately rewarding.” That is what he aimed for–a novel that both wrestled with life’s deep questions and told a story that rewarded the reader. “There are all these layers to it,” he says. “It’s philosophical and it’s literary and so on, but there’s that fundamental aspect of it being a good story.”
Read more about the book and find purchasing information at KKEdin.com. For an in-depth discussion of the novel’s philosophical underpinnings, read a recent interview with the American Philosophical Association blog.