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Climate change, dystopia, history and politics

7 February 2019

Our Neoinklings Literary Coffee Klatsch today was mainly about the kind of dystopia likely to be brought about by climate change, and we discussed some dystopian fiction that followed such themes, and also history, mainly European, and some of the problems brought about by changing borders, with consequent demands for changing loyalties.

But first, David Levey returned our copy of Elidor, which he enjoyed, and said it was more gritty and focused than a lot of Alan Garner’s other books.

I certainly find it the best of Alan Garner’s books. The prose is tight and sparse, and the tension in the story builds up with unrelenting pressure. If that is what constitutes the genre known as “thriller”, then this is the thriller of all thrillers.

Janneke Weidema said she is in a Quaker group concerned about climate change, and David Levey mentioned some books about people who had tried to escape the consequences of climate change. One, whose title I didn’t get, was about people who retreated to spaceships orbiting the earth, and then there was a series about people who colonised Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars being the first of a trilogy on that theme.

Another he mentioned was The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. It was about a girl who lives in a gated community, built to protect its inmates from the angry proletariat outside. Her father is a Baptist preacher, but she finds his preaching irrelevant to the kind of world she lives in, so she creates her own religion and leaves the gated community to go and sow the seed of a new religion about a God whose main characteristic is change.

One of the dystopian novels that I recalled was Earth Abides by George Stewart. It was reading that back in 1961 that introduced me to the word “ecology”, and how the various elements of life hang together and influence one another.

The ecological question led into a discussion of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, who has a reputation as a “green” patriarch, but I had to try to explain why he is not looked on with much favour by the rest of the Orthodox right now, but that gets of the topic of books, so you can read more about it here.  An interesting sideline on that, however, is that the Roman Pope has been challenged to adopt Orthodox fasting rules for Lent.

Val mentioned a historical novel rather than one dealing with a future dystopia, Tombland by C.J. Sansom deals with a peasant revolt led by Robert Kett in East Anglia, protesting against the enclosure of land by landlords, and that has echoes in the present of peasants at Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape resisting threats to their rights and livelihood by international mining companies.

Perhaps we need to heed the word of the Lord spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth! (Isa 5:7-8 ).

From there the discussion somehow moved to wars and occupations and shifting borders in Europe, and how in the 1870s the European countries met to do the same thing in Africa that they were doing to each other. And that led to a book I am currently reading, Boereverraaier: Teregstellings tydens die Anglo-Boereoorlog. During that conflict the borders were constantly shifting, and a town occupied by one side one week might be occupied by the other side the next, and those who had declared themselves neutral one week could find themselves regarded as renegades the next. Some were accused of high treason, and ended up being shot by a firing squad composed of their friends and neighbours, and even, in some cases, members of their own families.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 14 February 2019 2:48 am

    That’s my next Octavia Butler, methinks. Sorry I don’t read all your work, but I appreciate your thoughtful posts.

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