I published the novel just before my thirtieth birthday. It was an instant sensation—New York Times Bestseller, Pulitzer Prize winner, you name it. (I never really thought it was all that good—the artist is always his own worst critic). The praise it received was not unexpected since it was the last original idea known to mankind.
Every possible storyline, melody, or reasonably viewable combination of brushstrokes or chisel marks had been tried, and tried again. My novel marked the end of all creativity—the last page of human imagination. Like a Dust Bowl of originality with no crop rotation to fertilize the soil.
We’d all seen it coming for a long time.
The music industry had been showing signs of maximum creative density for years. Really, how many times can eight notes uniquely be combined into a three-minute song? After Bach, Benny Goodman, and Bowie had so brilliantly peppered the musical scale, what more was there? The record companies lamely distributed covers of tired old songs, performed by fresher, newer faces. We all knew the words by heart and our hearts ached.
In the Art world, there were rumblings of stagnation when the Mannerists thought that Michelangelo and Da Vinci had done it all. But it came to a head when piece after piece of abstract art churned out the limited forms that Klee, Kandinsky, and Calder wore out in their day. Then there were the kitschy, pastel landscapes created on assembly lines and slapped on everything from coffee mugs to bookmarks accompanied by psalms and daily affirmations. Shock was the only original value towards the end and that got old very fast.
The publishing houses had nothing left to print but anthologies. They paraded out the greats again and again like Kafka, Carver, and King’s Greatest Hits (as if anyone hadn’t read them the first time around). Magazines crumbled to dust. Poetry passed away. Authors retreated into their teaching day jobs and wept quietly over the classics that their jaded students would just as soon use for tinder.
Of course people were jealous of my novel.
Not only had I come up with an original idea, but a novel. A novel! Not something small like a short story or a poem, but a bona fide, three hundred-page book. It had been years since anyone had written a book. Not that it wasn’t difficult—like extracting my own wisdom teeth to write it. My writing career prior was littered with false starts. I’d come up with something superb—something that drove me to write for days straight fueled by inspiration and caffeine. Only afterwards would I find that what I’d slaved over had been done already by some older, more famous author and often, disappointingly, during his more adolescent years. I felt cuckolded, like my wife had been enjoyed again and again by some hoary, lobster-nosed Hemingway-type and I was the last one to know about it.
Creativity Summits popped up all over the globe. The leading scientists of the world were consulted. They were asked, “What can be done? Won’t new generations find fresher, more novel ideas?” “No,” the number crunchers said. “The algorithms show that the idea pool was always finite.” (Leave it to the mathematicians to suck all the life out of Art.)
The dinosaurs reached an evolutionary point of no return 65-million years ago. Tyrannosaurus Rex was the perfect killing machine; Triceratops was perfectly adapted to defend itself against that perfect killing machine. What was that old adage? What if the irresistible force smacked into the immovable object?
The world needed a clean slate.
The day my novel hit bookstores people asked, “What now? What more is there?” At that moment, the asteroid came streaking across the horizon. It was brilliant white, narrow, and straight like the finger of God in the sky.
This story originally appeared in QuarterReads.