The Rocheport Saga-Part 2

Last week I talked a bit about my post-apocalyptic series The Rocheport Saga. I said it was part philosophy, part family saga, part satire, part libertarian thought, part action/adventure novel, and all post-apocalyptic speculation. I also noted that the series is written in epistolary form; that is, as diary entries. I’m very fond of the epistolary format because of the intimate picture it can give us of the main character’s thoughts. Provided of course he or she is a reliable narrator. If not, then we enter a mystery world of trying to figure what is real and what is not. Either way, the epistolary novel is an ideal vehicle.

The Saga is written in story arcs, not unlike television writing, and the first seven novels form the first arc. The arc itself is divided into three parts.

Part I comprises the first two books: The Morning Star and The Shining City. And might be called “Beginnings”. This is where the story begins. Where we learn about Bill Arthur’s dream and how he intends to go about it. His dream of creating a libertarian utopia and of returning to the 21st Century’s technology.

Love Is Little, The Troubled City, and By Leaps and Bounds form Part II. The little community of Rocheport faces enemies from without and within. Our hero, Bill Arthur, is struggling to hold it all together and to do so faces the ugly reality that he will have to betray a few of his most cherished beliefs.

Nevertheless, in By Leaps and Bounds we begin to see that it does indeed look as though the community has turned a corner and will in fact survive.

Part III comprises Freedom’s Freehold and the soon to be published Take to the Sky. Whereas Part II might be titled “Conflict”, Part III could be called “Hope”. The corner has been turned and Bill Arthur feels confident the people of Rocheport will usher in a new era of peace, freedom, and technological advancement.

While The Rocheport Saga is many things, it is all post-apocalyptic speculation. The series is a realistic attempt, I think, at speculating how civilization might come back from a massive catastrophic event — and come back better than it was before the disaster. Therefore there are no zombies or other monsters in the story. Nor are there aliens from space. This is a human story of human dreams and aspirations.

The Marquis de Sade wrote philosophy in the form of pornography. And pornography was a suitable format for him to present his philosophy.

The post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe, I found, was the most suitable format for me to express my philosophy and social views. Because, at base, the cozy catastrophe is about building a better world.

Which makes it a vehicle by which the author can criticize the current world in which he or she lives and present a model of how the problems can be solved.

S. Fowler Wright used Deluge and Dawn to portray the legal injustices against the labor class and to challenge certain social assumptions. John Wyndham used The Day of the Triffids to hint at the dangers associated with bio-engineering and to point out the dangers of military weapons orbiting the planet. In Earth Abides, George R Stewart points out how a poor black rural working family would be much more capable of surviving, than a white urban couple in New York City. Pointing out how fragile our urban worlds are. Stewart also pointed out that when push comes to shove, we are all equal by having his white protagonist marry a woman who wasn’t white. All that in a book written in the late ‘40s.

The cozy catastrophe is the perfect vehicle for world building. For creating our utopias. I’m surprised that few writers see this and utilize this form. For in the end, all writers are philosophers. Our books are either our ideal worlds or a graphic picture of what we think is wrong with the current world.

And so, in The Rocheport Saga, I present my version of what utopia would be like. No government. Sovereign and self-responsible individuals. Family centered. Social and intellectual freedom. A place where people follow the Golden Rule, respect each other, and help each other. I think it’s a vision that is very appealing and attainable.

As always, comments are welcome! Let me know your thoughts. And until next time, happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

The Rocheport Saga

 

The Rocheport Saga is part philosophy, part family saga, part satire, part libertarian thought, part action/adventure novel, and all post-apocalyptic speculation. It is my contribution to the cozy catastrophe sub-genre of post-apocalyptic fiction.

The story structure is that of one of my favorite forms: the epistolary novel. The story is told by means of diary entries from a man named Bill Arthur, with occasional diary entries from other characters.

Bill’s diary begins eight months after the cataclysm that kills off most of humanity, the event he simply calls “That Day”. The first sentence he writes is “Today I killed a man and a woman.” He follows that sentence with a brief explanation of what life is like in the new world where everyone is faced with a daily struggle to survive and where some do not make it.

Today I killed a man and a woman. I didn’t want to, but I had no choice. It was me or them. This is how it is now. How it has been for not quite eight months. Everyone on his or her own. The quick or the dead. It wasn’t how it used to be, though. We complained about the old days. Now anyone who remains would do anything to return to even the worst of the old days. But they are gone and will not return for a very long time. Maybe never.

The focus in the cozy catastrophe is on building a better world out of the ashes of the old one. And The Rocheport Saga is no different.

There is no focus on and very little discussion of the disaster. It happened. It was horrible. And now we must move on. The milk is spilt. No sense crying over it.

And Bill Arthur doesn’t. His quest is to preserve as much knowledge as possible and bring the Twenty-first Century back on line as soon as possible.

Of course no story, even one that is essentially “plotless”, can survive without conflict, and Bill has plenty of conflict in Rocheport. All the way from the silly and inane to the deadly serious and life threatening.

Next week we’ll take a look at the books published thus far in the series and provide a synopsis of each.

Until then, happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

A Message of Hope

Post-apocalyptic literature addresses the question: what would life be like if the world as we know it came to an end?

The answer can be dark or light, dystopian or utopian. All depending on how the author wants to play the game. For now, the dark, dystopian answer seems to be what everyone wants. Hence the popularity of all the various iterations of the zombie apocalypse, and such books as The Hunger Games, or such TV series as The 100.

The end of the world as we know it ushered in Hell on Earth. In most cases, this approach to the post-apocalyptic story is survivalist in tone. The main character or characters are in a fight for their lives from beginning to end, with little relief in the middle.

However, the apocalypse, if we survive it and depending on the state of the world if we do, doesn’t have to be a hopeless cesspool. It can be a time of starting over and hopefully making things better. Everything depends ultimately on the author’s Weltanschauung, or worldview.

That is why I like the cozy catastrophe. At the end of the day, it offers us hope. It offers us a vision of the world where our better side triumphs. In the midst of disaster and its aftermath, the best of what makes us human comes to the fore.

The cozy catastrophe may have a battle for survival as part of the storyline, but the main emphasis is on rebuilding the world. And hopefully make it better than it was before the catastrophe.

S. Fowler Wright in Deluge and Dawn, classic cozy catastrophes (you can read for free at http://www.sfw.org), spends little time on the catastrophe and no time on why it happened. The bulk of the story in both books is allotted to how Martin Webster is going to create a new society without the flaws of the old one and how he will deal with the opposition to his leadership.

The ending of his 2-part saga in Dawn is somewhat bittersweet, and yet the world goes on. In spite of everything it goes on and humanity will survive.

In The Day of the Triffids, the book closes on a note of profound hope. Hope that all will become better for the human race, we’ll learn, and that humanity’s mucking around with nature won’t be the end of the human race.

Writers of cozy catastrophes, for the most part, see the catastrophe as wiping the slate clean. Then, if the survivors are up to it, they can build utopia.

In Dean Wesley Smith’s Dust and Kisses, the enterprising main characters are doing alright on their own when they run into each other. And then trouble comes to town. But is it? Again, hope wins the day.

Not all cozy catastrophes have a happy ending. Some are bittersweet. Fowler’s above mentioned Dawn. Earth Abides. Terry Nation’s book Survivors. But generally they are on the whole upbeat.

My own The Rocheport Saga is part philosophy, part family saga, part satire, and part action/adventure. And all about one man’s quest to fulfill his dream for a new world, a better world. In other words, utopia.

Perhaps it’s painting with too broad a brush to say writers of dark dystopian post-apocalyptic books are pessimists and cozy catastrophe writers are optimists. Nevertheless, the unrelenting darkness of something like The Hunger Games trilogy stands in stark contrast to the optimism expressed in The Day of the Triffids. Or even Earth Abides, where the main character doesn’t get what he had hoped for and yet the human race will survive and perhaps end up better than before.

Pessimistic or optimistic. Dystopia or utopia. Which is your preference?

Until next time, happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Cozy Catastrophe Review: Deluge

 

 

deluge

In some ways, Noah’s flood could qualify as a cozy catastrophe — made all the more cozy by divine revelation informing Noah of the impending disaster and telling him how best to survive it. However, I don’t know anyone who classifies the story as one.

On the other hand, God deigned not to intervene in S. Fowler Wright’s 1928 novel Deluge and it is an excellent example of the cozy catastrophe.

We’ve already observed that the cozy is not a recent phenomenon as some would suggest. It goes as far back as 1885 with Richard Jefferies’ After London; or, Wild England. And perhaps further. Especially if we include Noah.

Wright is a new author to me. He was very popular in his day. Unfortunately, he is faded into oblivion. There is a website dedicated to him — www.sfw.org — which includes nearly all of his works.

I was very impressed with Deluge and am currently reading the sequel, Dawn. The characters are well-drawn and believable, at least believable given the standards of 1928. Which means there is a definite class structure as well as a definite sexual divide between men and women, something some modern readers might have trouble with. However, Wright includes strong leaders among the lower class and includes two very strong female leads, which shows Wright to have been an author ahead of his time.

The novel is a wonderful blend of survival, love triangle, and nascent future building. Wright knew how to keep the tension mounting. His hero and heroines don’t have an easy time of it.

If the novel has any flaws it is that Wright tells the story in the third person omniscient. We learn everything about everything, which at times I felt bogged down the story with information I didn’t think necessary or that could have been given to me through some other form, such as conversation.

Engaging in descriptions of sex was taboo back then and I found amusing some of Wright’s circumlocutions to get around the subject and say what couldn’t be said. One involves one of the character’s claim she could be pregnant. Having only been with the man for five days and not intimate for most of those days makes pregnancy unlikely. However, Wright couldn’t come right out with the couple engaging in sex. So he uses the euphemism of pregnancy to tell the reader they were indeed getting it on!

Aside from the third person omniscient point of view and subject taboos we might find resulting in odd circumlocutions and euphemisms, the book is eminently readable.

The story tells us first of Martin and Helen, husband and wife, who get separated by the overnight catastrophe, and of Martin’s subsequent attempts to survive. The story then shifts to Claire, her survival, and her eventual meeting up with Martin. And because writers must make their characters suffer… Well, Gentle Reader, I’ll leave it there. You will need to read this tale to find out how it ends. The ending, I will say, is a satisfying surprise.

The cozy catastrophe is alive and well. There are many wonderful examples out there waiting to be discovered. Examples of human courage, hope, and ingenuity. For me, that is what makes the cozy catastrophe so enjoyable. It gives me hope the good within us all will win out over the evil.

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Cozy Catastrophe Review: The Rocheport Saga

cover

The Rocheport Saga is my contribution to the cozy catastrophe subgenre. Freedom’s Freehold, the sixth book in the series, is available for pre-order, and the entire series is on sale for 99¢ per book until the 13th of June. Do get your copies now, if you haven’t already. They are available at the retailer of your choice.

Without even knowing what a cozy catastrophe was, I wrote about Bill Arthur’s attempt to preserve the accumulated knowledge of the human race in the wake of an overnight virtual annihilation of humanity. Taking as a general guide Stewart’s Earth Abides. And so it was quite by accident I incorporated all the features that make a cozy a cozy.

The Rocheport Saga is a sprawling work. It covers one man’s lifetime: from his late 50s to his death at 103. It is the second “novel” I wrote and the first after I came to the realization I was a pantser who had a liking for the “plotless” novel. By which I mean to say, The Rocheport Saga is very much like most of our lives: we have story arcs, picaresque adventures, but very little in the way of plot. Most of us, myself included, live from day to day. We don’t plot out our lives. Sure we have our plans. Most of those end up as merely wishes.

Kazuo Ishiguro, in his novel An Artist of the Floating World, summed it up quite well, I think. Most of us, at the end of the day, find ourselves to be, for all our dreams and efforts, ordinary people in extraordinary times. We give it our best to be great and usually fall far short.

That is why virtual life is so popular. Whether that virtual life be novels, games, TV, movies, social media, or a façade carefully maintained as though we were actors and actresses on a stage. Virtual life allows us to be great. It gives us the chance to be winners.

All literature, in my opinion, is ultimately fantasy. It is wish fulfillment. We want to be the hero who succeeds at the quest. Or to be the man or woman who finds true love. Or perhaps that one person to succeed where others can’t and thereby receive the recognition and adulation we know we are all entitled to.

The Rocheport Saga is no different. It is fantasy masquerading as science fiction. Because, let’s face it, what are the odds of a Bill Arthur surviving such a cataclysm and being able to guide and hold together such a rag tag group as that in Rocheport? Probably nil. And yet, we all would like to be Bill Arthur. I know I would.

Why? Because he is not like us. He is underneath it all an extraordinary man who gets to live in extraordinary times. He is the quintessential nobody who rises to the occasion when the occasion presents itself. Which is a key feature of the cozy catastrophe. He and he alone is capable of leading the people of Rocheport and ultimately of Missouri. The stuff of which dreams are made.

In The Morning Star, we meet Bill Arthur. He is searching for a home. The urban areas are too dangerous for his liking. Along the way, he meets Mert, Mel, and Sally. They are the beginning of his blended family through which his dream eventually comes to fruition.

Book 2, The Shining City, finds the inhabitants of Rocheport doing what it seems people do best: fighting. There is war and Bill’s group eventually wins, but not without loss. For war only comes with loss.

The losers of the civil war in Rocheport are very poor sports and in the next two books, Love is Little and The Troubled City, our hero has no end of grief in his attempt to ensure the group’s survival and accomplish his dream of a return to high technology and for everyone to live by the Golden Rule.

By Leaps and Bounds, Book 5, sees a turn. On his way to a libertarian republic and living by the Golden Rule, Bill disbands Rocheport’s communal way of life and makes everyone responsible for his or her success or failure.

In Book 6, Freedom’s Freehold, Bill, in the face of dangerous external and internal forces, as well as personal crises, continues his technological advance and his desire to implement a libertarian republic — that best form of government which governs not at all, as Thoreau wrote.

Just as Europe emerged from the Dark Ages to realize the world was a very large place, so too does Rocheport emerge from its isolation to find there are many little communities like itself.

Bill embarks on building a telegraph network to link together likeminded cities. He builds steam-powered cars and trucks for travel and trade. And for long distance exploration and trade, he builds a steam-powered airship.

The forthcoming books will chronicle the ever growing world in which Rocheport finds itself. The question always being will Bill and his dream remain in the center of that world and will Rocheport truly become the shining city set upon the hill.

The Rocheport Saga is the cozy catastrophe on a grand scale. I hope you enjoy it.

Comments are welcome, as always. Until next time, happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Cozy Catastrophe Review: On the Beach

on-the-beach-nevil-shute-1957-heinemann

 

The human spirit thrives on hope. I think the King James translators put it best (if not a bit inaccurately) when they wrote: and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. Humans have wanted and longed for peace and utopia ever since one person set him or herself above another.

Persecution and oppression always produce in those persecuted and oppressed the hope that there will come a day when persecutions will end and oppression will be no more.

The Israelites created their Messiah. Marx envisioned a utopia with no state and no bosses. And for those of us who grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we longed for a time when the atomic bomb would be no more and we’d wage peace instead of war.

The ‘50s and early ‘60s we’re especially fraught with tension. Nuclear drills in school. The H-bomb. The Korean War. The Vietnam war. The U-2 incident. The Cuban missile crisis. There was a subtle and constant fear that the human race would completely annihilate itself in a nuclear holocaust or a nuclear winter.

The book that perhaps best epitomized that fear is On The Beach by Neville Shute, first published in 1957. It is a novel of nuclear holocaust and how we might react to the impending annihilation of the human race.

There is very little plot in On The Beach and the story line is simple. A nuclear war has occurred before the book begins. The northern hemisphere is obliterated and the radiation cloud is slowly sinking southwards. The people there, in the south, have perhaps another year to live.

The story focuses on two couples and how they deal with their impending deaths. This is tragedy, pure and simple. The novel opens with impending doom, there is a brief moment of hope which turns out to be false, and then the unrelenting radiation cloud arrives and with it — death.

On The Beach has to be one of the saddest novels I’ve ever read. I found it to be a rather ponderous and slow moving read. Even boring at times. But Shute pulled out one of the most heart-wrenching endings I’ve ever read. I think the novel is worth reading. If for nothing else then to see a picture of the end of the world that isn’t met with hedonistic abandon.

Shute gives us a picture of ourselves at what might be called our finest hour: meeting our certain end with dignity and grace.

A modern riff on this idea can be seen in the movie Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World.

The question, though, in my mind is this: is On The Beach a cozy catastrophe? The novel regularly appears on list of cozies. The calm approach to impending doom, drinking tea and eating crumpets, is frequently cited as a hallmark of the cozy. However, I don’t think the novel is a cozy.

This putting of On The Beach in the cozy catastrophe camp bothered me because the world comes to an end. No one survives. Recently I watched the movie Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World. The story line of Seeking is simple. (Spoiler Alert) An asteroid is going to destroy Earth. A man and woman meet, eventually fall in love, get separated, get back together, and meet the world in each others arms. A doomsday story, pure and simple.

And so is On The Beach. It’s not the end of the world as we know it. It’s the end of the world for the entire human race. It’s doomsday.

For a cozy catastrophe to be a cozy, the earth must be survivable and there must be survivors. Neither is the case in On The Beach. The book is an end of the world story. Not a cozy catastrophe.

However, the book is worth reading. Contemporary audiences, however, may find the book slow moving. Be aware there isn’t much plot here. There’s a heavy emphasis on duty and civility and a fascinating insight into how we delude ourselves. And the heart-wrenching ending.

On The Beach is not a cozy catastrophe, but a great end of the world novel.

As always, comments are welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Cozy Catastrophe Review: Ray Bradbury’s “The Highway”

Lonely_road

Good things often come in small packages. A surprisingly delightful cozy catastrophe can be found in Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Highway”, which appears in his 1951 short story collection The Illustrated Man.

The story is very short, only seven pages, and basically has no plot. However, don’t be fooled. Bradbury, by a masterful use of character portrayal, tells a very effective story. In fact, the story is a perfect illustration of Bradbury’s dictum: create your characters, let them do their thing, and that’s your plot.

I am going to forego summarizing the story because I don’t see anyway to do so without giving away the ending, which would be a shame if you wish to read this delightful and thought-provoking little tale. I will point out why I think this story falls into the cozy camp and in doing so give you a bit of a feel for the story.

The Catastrophe

First of all, the catastrophe is quick and there is little discussion of it. A nuclear war has occurred.

The Amateur

The main character, Hernando, lives on his farm with his wife near a river and a road. The road is a main north-south highway, but isn’t a freeway. From the description, we are safe to assume it is a two lane road. One on which lots of tourists travel.

Where Hernando lives exactly is not specified. But because Bradbury also makes clear Hernando’s first language is Spanish, we can again assume his farm is probably in Mexico or Central America.

Contrary to the so-called cozy stereotype, Hernando is not middle-class, nor British. It’s obvious he’s poor. He has a burro and a wooden plow. His wife grinds corn with a block of lava rock. Aside from his farm, the highway provides him with important things which enable him to live apparently  somewhat comfortably. The highway provides him money from tourists who want to take his picture, it’s provided him with a shiny hubcap that he and his wife use for a bowl, and the highway provided him with a tire, which he cut up to use for the soles of his shoes.

Clearly, not all cozy catastrophes are about middle-class British blokes who hate the working class.

The Setting

The setting is recognizable. It is a rural place south of the US border. The story focuses on Hernando and his wife. He is going about his everyday tasks when the disaster hits. What tips him off to something going on, is the highway has no cars on it. Something big has happened.

A Survivable World

Suddenly, a stream of cars appears all going north and when the stream is finally gone a lone old Ford shows up that’s overheating. Hernando fills the radiator with water and finds out from the young people in the car a nuclear war has happened. And then the car drives off. What is obvious, there is no sign of the calamity where Hernando lives and we can assume his little corner of the world is survivable.

A New World

The only point I see which might disqualify the story as a cozy catastrophe is the hope of building a better world out of the ashes of the old. For Hernando and his wife, there are no ashes and life goes on. Which is a point Bradbury liked to make: our modern world is too complex and too fragile and isolates us from the simple pleasures of living an uncomplicated existence. So, in a way, for Bradbury, Hernando’s world is the desired new world.

One can, of course, argue something must be survivable for all the cars to have headed north into the war zone. If the US had been totally obliterated, why go there?

The story, though, is about Hernando and for him there is no other world than the one he has always lived in.

Conclusion

In this seven page story, master storyteller Ray Bradbury tells a tale which uses the cozy catastrophe format to tell us a story of the value of simple living.

The tale is very much worth reading and I encourage you to do so. Add a copy of The Illustrated Man to your library. You won’t regret it.

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Cozy Catastrophe Review: Earth Abides

earth_abides_1971b

 

The cozy catastrophe can have no better representative than George R Stewart’s Earth Abides. To the modern reader who is expecting a thrilling nail biter of a novel, oozing zombies at every turn, this is not the book for you.

However, if you are looking for a thought-provoking story of a person, a story of a person’s life, a story about a real person who is not always likable and yet has a vision that rallies people around him, a story of hope and inspiration — than this book is your cup of tea.

Earth Abides is about Isherwood Williams and his life after he survives a rattlesnake bite and a deadly pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s population. While the world of the ‘40s, ‘50s, and into the ‘60s quaked in its boots worrying over a nuclear holocaust, Stewart showed us there are other things about which we need to be concerned. Primary of which is our lack of concern about our impact on the natural world and its counter-impact on us.

When Ish, as he is called, comes down out of the mountains where he has been hiking and discovers the world as he knew it had died in a matter of weeks, we see a person befuddled by the enormity of the tragedy and yet one who as a result develops the resolve to not let knowledge die. He gets a car and drives from his home in California to New York City and then back to California, taking in a grand tour of the devastated country.

What Ish learns is that people don’t know how to survive for the most part and secondly, they never knew what to live for. What really matters in life. Earth Abides is in part philosophy masquerading as a novel. The questions Ish asks himself and what he eventually demands of the group that collects around him are important questions we should all ask ourselves before disaster strikes us.

Ish discovers that the world of businessmen and middle-class values does not prepare one for the real stuff of life. Stewart contrasts a southern African-American family with a Euro-American couple in New York City.

The poor blacks know more of life than the prosperous whites. The African-Americans set about to create a family of survivors: a man, a woman, and a young boy. Ish finds the woman pregnant. They have collected some farm animals and planted a garden. They make Ish realize that is what he needs to do rather than simply scavenge the detritus of the dead world.

The white couple in New York, by contrast, have no children, drink booze all day, play cards, read mysteries, and eat their meals out of tin cans, sometimes to Chateau Margaux. They have not given one thought as to what will happen when winter comes. Ish likes them for they are not despondent over what happened, but he realizes they will not survive because they don’t know how to and aren’t capable of thinking beyond their urban middle-class box.

George R Stewart wrote Earth Abides in the 1940s, it was published in 1949. His language is a bit dated by our politically correct standards and his science is also. But Stewart’s vision of hope is timeless. He was a professor of English at UC Berkeley. He was educated at Princeton, Berkeley, and Columbia. Dr Stewart was something of a polymath and unfortunately is virtually forgotten today. He wrote widely on a great array of subjects.

Stewart’s vision of a possible future for the human race is an interesting one. In a time when blacks were largely ignored by the greater society, Stewart shows them to hold the future in their hands. They know how to survive. Ish, whose name is symbolic, Ish meaning man in Hebrew, and is white marries a woman, Emma, who is at least partly African-American. That in an era in which miscegenation was very much taboo. Emma’s name is also symbolic for it means whole or universal. Ish calls her “the Mother of Nations”.

The style of writing is a partial throw back to the Victorian third person omniscient, which I find to put a certain distance between the reader and the story. For the story is told to me by an all-knowing narrator. Earth Abides is somewhat in this style and therefore creates a certain distance between reader and story. If one can overlook the manner of the telling, then one will find the classic that this novel truly is.

The detractors of the cozy, and I’m primarily pointing a finger at Brian Aldiss and Jo Walton and those websites that repeat their criticisms, have so narrowly defined what the cozy is, as though it is solely a British thing, they have turned off readers to a truly great treasure trove of fiction that can stimulate the best in us in the here and now. Earth Abides busts wide open what very much appears to be the self-loathing of Aldiss and Walton. Their own dislike of their own middle-class existence.

In Earth Abides, we see a college student collect together a band of largely working class people and craftsmen. He draws inspiration from a class and race that was marginalized in his day and age. The main character breaks the old taboos in his quest for a better society, but realizes he can’t do it alone. Earth Abides is not a tale filled with thrills and spills. It is one filled with ideas and filled with hope for a better world. Something we all want. It is the classic cozy catastrophe.

Comments are always welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Cozy Catastrophe Review: The Time Machine

Class-in-Time-Machine-crop

The Time Machine by HG Wells is a classic work of science fiction. The story is often classed as a cozy catastrophe. After recently re-reading the book, I’ve come to the conclusion not only is the work not a cozy catastrophe, it isn’t even post-apocalyptic literature.

I think it far more accurate to call The Time Machine a dystopian dying earth social satire.

So why review it? Because it is so frequently classed as a cozy catastrophe, I think it exemplifies the confusion about just exactly what is a cozy catastrophe. I think The Time Machine bears examination in order for us to clarify what elements are essential for a cozy to be a cozy.

Let’s take another look at the elements making up the cozy catastrophe subgenre of post-apocalyptic literature.

  • The Amateur
  • The Catastrophe
  • A Recognizable Setting
  • The Small Group of Survivors
  • A Survivable World
  • The Building of a New World
  • The Message of Hope

The Time Traveller, as the story’s main narrator calls the secondary narrator, tells a small group of his friends a story. The story is of his journey to the year 802,701 AD, where he spends approximately a week, and then travels on to a time about 30 million years into the future where he sees the end of the earth.

Even this briefest of descriptions gives us a clue that the story does not fall into post-apocalyptic literature, for there is no apocalypse. There is the Dying Earth and so we could put the story in that category. However, the journey to the dying days of our planet is a very minor part of the story. The focus of the story is that week The Time Traveller spends in the year 802,701 and that, in my opinion, firmly places the story in the dystopian social satire category of science fiction.

The Time Traveller discovers a beautiful land when he finally stops his machine. The land is inhabited by small child-like people who speak a language unknown to him and exist solely on a diet of fruit. They do nothing but eat, sleep, and play. They live in large buildings which are slowly decaying and which they probably didn’t build. They are clothed, but The Time Traveller sees no means of production.

During the course of the story, the Time Machine is stolen, he befriends one of the people, a female named Weena, and learns they are called by the name Eloi. The Time Traveller also learns there is another group of beings that live underground, whom the Eloi refer to as Morlocks. The Time Traveller deduces the Morlocks stole his machine and he makes a brief exploration of their underground world looking for it. In the process, he discovers the Morlocks run large machines and eat the Eloi.

The Time Traveller posits several explanations as to how the future world he briefly visited came about. None of them involve a catastrophe. This is where Wells’s socialism comes to the fore. The Eloi and the Morlocks are the result of natural degeneration due to class conflict. The conflict between the owners of production and workers.

That is the basis for The Time Machine being classed as a dystopian story with a heavy dose of social satire, which takes a side road down Dying Earth lane.

The only cozy elements are those of a survivable world and the recognizable setting. Other than that we have a process of natural devolution in which the human race separates into the roles of predator and prey — with the satire being that the descendants of the working class now literally prey on the descendants of the owner class. There is no catastrophe, no group of survivors, and no desire to rebuild civilization. The Eloi are ignorant of their past and desire nothing but play. The Morlocks apparently clothe them and eat them. No desire to change things there either.

I found The Time Machine, first published in 1895, to be cluttered with Victorian tropes and to be rather dull reading. At least for me, page after page of description with little conflict is on the dull side. True there is the stealing of the Time Machine and the effort to get it back. There is the conflict with the Morlocks, marred by the typical strong man suddenly too easily exhausted and subject to fainting. The science of the possibility of time travel is historically interesting but very dated.

Where the story makes its mark is in the popularization of the concept of time travel as a scientific reality instead of a product of magic or dreams.

I recall the TV show The Time Tunnel, from 1966-67. For me very exciting stuff, even though it didn’t make it to a second season. It’s an example of our love affair with time travel. Along with such movies as Looper, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Back to the Future. And the current spate of time travel romance novels.

The Time Machine, for all its faults as a story by today’s standards, is still worth reading. While it isn’t the first time travel story, it is the story that made time travel a staple of science fiction and started us thinking about the real science of time travel.

The Time Machine isn’t a cozy catastrophe, but it is very dystopian and does give one reason to pause and think about the growing disparity between the haves and the have nots.

Next week we’ll continue our survey of cozy catastrophe literature with the book that resulted in the coining of the term cozy catastrophe. Until then happy reading! Comments are always welcome.

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Cozy Catastrophe Review: After London; or, Wild England

After-London-or-Wild-England

The Victorians were a materialistic lot. I should say the middle and upper classes were. The mass of laborers, those in service, and common tradesmen didn’t have much, if anything, and certainly didn’t have much to look forward to. Appalling working conditions were the lot of factory workers and miners. Those in service worked long hours for very little pay. The common tradesmen had the poor for his customers and while he might have been somewhat better off than those he served, it was only somewhat.

So when we speak of the Victorians, we do need to keep in mind we are primarily speaking of the upper end of society. The ones with money. Perhaps not rich, but they did have money and the annual holiday at Brighton.

Richard Jefferies, born in 1848 and died from tuberculosis in 1887, was a writer and a naturalist. He was opposed to the big city and rampant industrialization, both of which he felt destroyed nature and humanity’s relationship with it. One can see this view rather dramatically portrayed in his somewhat mystical autobiography The Story Of My Heart.

In 1885, Cassell and Co, Ltd published After London; or, Wild England. It is and early example of the ecological disaster that destroys civilization as we know it story. The book is also perhaps the first cozy catastrophe.

The novel is divided into two parts. A nameless future historian tells us, in the first part, a great disaster befell England and by implication the world. But in true cozy fashion, the disaster is not dwelt upon nor even described. Humanity was simply gone and nature was now free to move on unfettered and unaltered. No more the plow. No more the woodlands felled for houses, factories, and farms. Nature was once again unhindered, as it was before human beings existed.

Much like the TV series Life After People, the unnamed narrator tells us of the changes that took place “after London ended”. How the remnants of humanity relapsed into a state of barbarism, how the great city of London collapsed in ruins, and how a great lake arose in the center of England.

The narrator tells us “at the eastern extremity the Lake narrows and finally is lost in the vast marshes which cover the site of the ancient London.” The narrator goes on to describe nature’s destruction of the city and how there is nothing left of it. Nothing that is except for the noxious pollution and a vapor so fatal “no animal can endure”. The water over the site is black and is covered by “a greenish-brown floating scum, which for ever bubbles up from the putrid mud of the bottom.” The poisonous vapors form a “miasma” and “it becomes visible as low cloud which hangs over the place.”

We don’t know what killed off the people, but Jefferies paints a clear picture that humanity messed up nature and what people built, though gone, still pollutes the land.

For the Victorians, London was the center of the world. Jefferies was telling his contemporaries their greatest accomplishment was in fact nothing more then a noxious and toxic cesspool. And by extension, he tells us the same message. A simple life in harmony with nature is humanity’s proper home. Not some stinking city, belching forth pollution and reducing humans to a state less than human.

In the second part of the book, the narrator tells us the story of Sir Felix Aquila, the eldest son of a baron who is not especially wealthy.

English society has returned to feudalism. Brawn is favored over brains. And the new focal point is not London, but the vast lake that now exists in the center of England.

Sir Felix is a bookish man in a society that does not value books. He is excellent with the longbow when it is prowess with the sword that gains respect. Sir Felix does not fit in. A theme that is common with the cozy catastrophe. The hero is nothing spectacular, an ordinary joe, and is very often a social outcast.

However, after the catastrophe, the hero suddenly blossoms and becomes the savior, as it were. In Sir Felix’s case, the catastrophe happened long ago and so his blossoming occurs after a trip of exploration on the lake.

After London has all the elements of the cozy catastrophe. In particular, it’s message: we, our materialism, our disregard for nature, brought about the catastrophe. Yet it is the very destruction of our world that provides the hope we can do it right the second time around.

I didn’t find After London a particularly enjoyable read. The omniscient narrator seemed to suck the life out of the story. I found the book rather boring. Nevertheless, we find in After London the progenitor of a science fiction sub-genre that came into its own some sixty-five years later.

And for me what is most important about After London is that it’s not about some white middle-class Englishmen sitting around having tea and crumpets celebrating the demise of the working class. Which is what the detractors of the cozy seem to think is the point of the sub-genre. The book is an exploration of our abuse of nature and what might happen if that abuse ended. The book is a celebration of brains over brawn. A celebration of the social outcast, the wallflower, who, when the time is right, shows the world he or she can indeed dance the tango. The book celebrates the little guy and gal and tells us that salvation does not reside in some monolithic governmental authority, but in ordinary people.

Most of all, After London is a novel of hope, as are almost all cozy catastrophes. The world is not a dark and miserable dystopia. The catastrophe unleashes human potential, makes possible our dream of a better world. Richard Jefferies made that message key in After London — and it still defines the cozy catastrophe some 130 years later.

We will continue our examination of the literature next week. Until then, happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest