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Eugene author Howard Libes debuts sci-fi novel When All Else Fails
Howard Libes
Howard Libes

Ecological calamity has come to planet Koda. The climate is scorched and uninhabitable. Domes cover Koda’s major population centers, and martial law prevails. Anti-anxiety medications waft through public transportation like air freshener, and shady government agents lurk around every corner to keep the population in check.

This is where When All Else Fails, a sci-fi novel by Eugene author Howard Libes, begins.

Generations prior, the SEEDER program launched from planet Koda. The program’s purpose: to find a habitable planet for the population to escape to before complete ecological failure. Vessels left, but none returned, and all hope in the SEEDER program was lost — that is until the spacecraft known as When All Else Fails miraculously reappears. At the helm of the WAEF was Yorlick Vanderlord, a global hero. 

Vanderlord’s great-grandson and namesake, Yor Vanderlord, is left to solve the mystery of what exactly his ancestor brought home to Koda all those years ago. The secrets Vanderlord carries with him send shockwaves through the Vanderlord family and Kodan society for generations to come.

Both dystopian and hopeful, When All Else Fails is engaging and well-paced, mixing political intrigue, police procedural, classic noir and thoughtful sci-fi.

Libes took the time to talk to Eugene Weekly about his own family history, Earth’s impending ecological disaster and how an existential crisis brought him back to writing.


You hold an MFA in creative writing from the University of Oregon, but this is your first published book. What brought you back to writing?

Over the past 28 years, writing has always been a big part of my life. In 1992, I finished a novel but never found a publisher. I was frankly frustrated with the entire process of attempting to get my book published by dealing with agents and publishers, so I decided to utilize my writing skills in other ways. 

In 2014, I sort of had an existential crisis and decided I needed to get back to what truly made me happy: writing fiction. With print-on-demand, I could just release the book myself, and I didn’t need a publishing company to accept my work for a book to see daylight.


How much did your personal family history figure into the book?

I was the family historian growing up. The main character in When All Else Fails, Yor Vanderlord, is a historian. I was intrigued by my family’s history, especially the things that I noticed weren’t being talked about — the secrets, the darker moments. I’ve always thought that learning your family history was important to understand where you came from and how that history shapes who you are, both good and bad. Yor Vanderlord is applying that philosophy to understand the past and save his planet.

Also, I came from an immigrant family who persevered to achieve better lives for the future generations of their family. The Vanderlords feel an obligation not only to create a better world for their family but for the people of their planet.


Can you talk about WAEF and our current climate of anti-science?

Scientific innovation is viewed by the Kodan people as a way to survive the impending worldwide crisis, whether it’s finding a new habitable planet or placing domes over cities. The entire Kodan population works toward those goals, and they find comfort and hope in their scientific achievements. 

I grew up in the time when the space program was booming. I can vividly remember as a six-year-old, watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon. There was a romantic quality to that time. 

I’m mind-boggled by the way the current administration has pushed away science, but I’m also heartened by people like Elon Musk who have stepped into the breach. 


WAEF is book one in a series. Any spoilers for the next book?

When All Else Fails lays out the Vanderlords’ scheme to make the Kodan population see the truth. The second book reveals Yorlik Vanderlord’s solution to the crisis. Also, the first book revolves around the Vanderlord men perpetuating their plan and in the second book, the female protagonist takes charge.

Find When All Else Fails at Amazon.com, HowardLibes.com and in-store or online at The Duck Store Book Department. Howard Libes will read from When All Else Fails 7:30 pm Saturday, Dec. 16, at Slightly Coffee Roasters, 545 East 8th Avenue; free.



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