Review: A faux-paleo world with email stumbles on its contradictions

Knocking on Heaven's Door, by Sharman Apt Russell

Knocking on Heaven’s Door, by Sharman Apt Russell

A strain of environmentalism sees civilization as a mistake, a wrong turn in history taken 10,000 years ago at the invention of agriculture. The error sparked a chain of events taking us down the path to global warming and if you extend the trendline, global apocalypse. It would’ve been better if the first seeds sown by humans had fallen on rocky ground or were choked by weeds, goes the logic.

That civilization might be an intelligent adaptation to a harsh, dangerous, and above all unpredictable environment (Will I find game this week? Are enough berries ripening this season?) doesn’t figure in this thinking. The success of farming and the resulting rise of urbanization has meant a paradise lost. Fiction writers in particular are prone to view our hunter-gatherer past with envy, seeing our ancient ancestors as “in harmony” with the earth. Continue reading

Review: To get at The Truth, dig deeper

Cover image for The Truth

The Truth, by Michael Palin

You can read a book through different lenses. Most reviewers of The Truth, the second novel by ex-Monty Python comic Michael Palin, read it as mainstream literature. I read it through a narrower lens, as a writer interested in how fiction makers work with environmental themes. Seen in this way, Palin’s book is about hero-worship, and how emotional closeness to a subject can obscure the truth.

Protagonist Keith Mabbut is a divorced, middle-aged writer personally and professionally adrift. In his youth, he won an award for an investigative piece exposing an industrial polluter, but his career stalled out, and now he’s writing histories of oil companies to make ends meet. Mabbut is an intelligent, if easily manipulated man naive despite his years, and when he’s offered a chance to revive his journalism career, he falls into the trap of believing he’s found the truth when, in fact, he asked the wrong questions. Continue reading

Review: A Being Darkly Wise

A Being Darkly Wise Cover

A Being Darkly Wise, by John Atcheson

Environmentalists share a kinship with devotees of religion the former prefers to ignore and the latter enjoys lampooning. Extremists in both camps have a matching emotional commitment to their cause an anarchist or Taliban mullah would admire. Both have a mystical attachment to an idea, one an invisible spiritual value of nature, the other a devotion to an unseen God. Except for Jake Christianson, the antagonist in John Atcheson’s self-published psychological thriller, A Being Darkly Wise. Christianson brings both traditions together into a megalomanical monster, while another monster worthy of Greek or Norse mythology lurks nearby.

The protagonist, Pete Andersen, is a middle-aged, mid-level bureaucrat in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sick of the insularity and unresponsiveness of Washington D.C. politics. He’s disillusioned by his careerist colleagues, whose drive for power leads to watered-down policies on combating climate change. And he suffers a guilt complex over the murder of his brother, which prevents him from taking on K Street lobbyists working for the coal and oil industries. Andersen is the cubicle drone ordinary people fear becoming. Continue reading

Review: ‘Grumbles’ is a bit of fun at the greens’ expense

Grumbles The Novel cover

Grumbles: The Novel, by Karen Faris.

The environmental movement lacks a sense of humor. Too many greens resemble fire-and-brimstone preachers who threaten you with eternal damnation if you don’t clean up your act and come to Jesus. Activists have a point: Climate change, industrial pollution, and unfettered genetic modification technologies pose real threats to humanity. It’s hard to tell a joke as the earth succumbs to man’s stupidity. But campaigners’ dourness gets in the way of the message. Who wants to listen to Cassandra night and day, even if she’s right?

Author Karen Faris cuts across this grain with Grumbles The Novel: Take A Pill, the first book of a three-part scifi series that puts a humorous spin on the world’s biggest environmental challenges. Pettie Grumbles is a retired special agent with the U.S. Postal Service in a future upstate New York town of Prêt-a-Porter. Climate change has a firm hold on the planet, though most people don’t seem to notice, because a mad scientist with the sobriquet “The Weatherman” has managed to fix it with a constant forecast of “72 and sunny.” Grumbles is called back into service by her old boss, Tellmemydoom, to defeat this evil, and she’s off on her quest, dodging rivals tossing bombs made of stinking cabbage while reluctantly caring for homeless waifs.

Grumbles is part art project, part therapy for Faris, an activist for good government in Rochester, New York. It’s a short distance from concerned citizen to wing nut, and writing satire is no doubt good for Faris’ soul. For the reader, Grumbles is a chance to step back and see the damage we’ve done to the environment as another facet of the human comedy. It you can’t laugh at life, even the scariest bits, you might as well drink a vial of benzene and be done with it.