Everybody talks about the weather but nobody's done anything about it
. In The Bone House (New Star
, 2002), author Luanne Armstrong
illustrates how much more our cloudy skies motivate beyond our idle small talk, rendering painfully evident a link connecting unwanted climate change
and unanticipated social change
– and more importantly, suggestively talking from the setting of a non-Kyoto Accord
future whose possible outcome we still may be in denial about in a way that might well prove capable of inspiring action to ensure that it doesn't happen; in short, talking about the weather in a way that might make people at least think twice before continuing to do things to it.
All that modern science can tell us is a statistical prediction of external conditions and their quantifiable ramifications
: decreased crop yields, desertification
, ozone depletion
, increased occurrences of childhood asthma
and skin cancer
, and the burnout
of urban cores tickled at their black hearts by the polluted waters of rising sea levels
– which is not to say that this abundance of information is not of use, but rather that with data expressed abstractly on graphs it is difficult to follow up the information with an essential understanding
of how it might be (and how it is) to live in such a world. To determine and consider the internal, human
response to these conditions as personal ideas and emotions is the place of art and literature.
The inhabitants of this book do a great deal of thinking, feeling and reflecting back upon the circumstances that – at the insidious, slowly-creeping pace of an average temperature increase of only one degree per year – so gradually yet so completely skewed human society, like an unidentifiable heat-warped scrap of twisted wreckage, as to be beyond any casual recognition. These individuals, providing the eyes through which we see, all show little in the way of development or growth, taking a back seat to what it is they peripherally observe as they move through it – the setting. Rather than doing much themselves, the book's players experience the results of what we've done to them - or rather, what we've done to the world and how it passes the buck on to them. We are already well-acquainted with the character types, whose mental theatres we can effortlessly slip in and out of – it is the alienated, parched landscape, familiar yet fundamentally altered, that engrosses, chills and captivates. In a way, the actual story seems largely irrelevant, as in a world so ruled by its setting, individual actions can't amount to a hill of beans.
Perhaps to distant readers the predictions leading to this future deformed British Columbia might be abstract and impassive, but to a local the book is a textual analogue to Dorian Grey's attic picture - showing us all the worry-lines, melanoma scars, societal disfigurements, desperation and unrest our decades of hard-working industry and hard-living overconsumption (us Canadians the most heinous in the world!) have bequeathed.
Though the claim may sound odd at first, this book provides evidence that the dystopia is a hopeful genre, because it doesn't deal in there-goes-your-last-chance apocalypses so much as societies gone wrong, gradually grown awry. But with a perpetuation of human society, social reform, however remote its chances, always remains at least possible – for where there's life, there's hope, a sentiment echoed by the travails of one of the parallel main characters, Matt. Crippled though equipment failure at one of the very few remaining regulated logging operations, he often dwells in low spirits upon how his disability has occluded his chances of living a self-supporting, satisfying life in this increasingly-uncertain world. Still, he lashes out desperately – pursuing lost memories to which symbolic value has been assigned, building up the titular residence in an existential struggle to construct meaning – or at least something that is meaningful to him. He feels he can accomplish nothing and still he is driven beyond his means to attempt to do so nonetheless – because for every minute of despair brought on by adversity, it is counterweighed by a moment of hope.
The book is packed with memorable, confrontational images and possibilities: an economy driven by a black market of water-smuggling to the United States, youth gangs rampaging through the carless streets Vancouver terrorizing the aged who had consumed this generation's fair share of resources, aggressive and contradictory coverage of the outside world (in its handbasket) by hyperactively-disinforming competing NewsNets, and secret communes of backwoods matriarchal anarcho-syndicalists – but my favorite of them is this: By the town's tavern stands a small strand of young trees, dried out and dead, planted by someone who thought that maybe it was about time to start to take measures to counteract the contribution to global warming the deforestation by the town's residents represented. Too predictably little, too tragically late – but as hopeful creatures we are compelled to try nonetheless.
Though this is a book and thus nearly by definition printed on paper pulp produced through the harvest of lumber and culling of forests, it is of course more than the sum of its parts: it is also a seed containing the multitudinous ideas and possibilities of wildly-divergent futures. All of these possibilities have been planted – now, which ones will you cultivate?
ISBN 0-921586-91-4, 288 pp., $16 US/$21 Can
This is what sort of monstrosity you get when you ask p_i to write a book review. A version broken down into bite-sized chunks (or, as I said, WOW! I sent in a fresco and you printed a mosaic!) appeared in the April/May 2003 issue (#13) of Momentum magazine.
After all that, you may well be asking yourself: did he like it? No, though he goes to exorbitant lengths to avoid explicitly saying as much, because he believes it is an important book nonetheless that deserves to be read - never before having had the disarming opportunity to read a dystopic prediction of his own hometown's calamitous future (likely an expired novelty to those of you living in London, New York and San Francisco, but a real kick - in the teeth - for the rest of us.) But until William Gibson starts taking a keener interest in his surroundings this - and Jim Monroe's slyer Everyone In Silico - are the most direct access to this unsettling mindfuck those of us in BC can enjoy.