Could a Nevil Shute-like novel about global warming raise the stakes?
January 31, 2014 | 2:25 pm
By Dan Bloom
A Nevil Shute-like sci-fi or cli-fi novel about climate change could change the world and possibly even change the political climate that makes acting on climate issues so difficult. And not just a novel with the power of 1957’s “On the Beach,” but a novel that would be turned into a movie as well.
Call it sci fi, cli fi, speculative fiction, fantasy, whatever. Even literary fiction. The label won’t matter, but the content could.
Think about it: What if there was a “Nevil Shute Literary Award for Near Future Climate Novels” that was offering a US $1 million purse for a powerful climate-themed novel written by any novelist, female or male, in any country and in any language. In any genre, ebook or paperback.
First of all, people would ask the organizers: Where are you going to get the money for this prize, to the tune of US $1,000,000? One could imagine the organizers actively canvassing wealthy individuals who made their money in Silicon Valley tech industries or Manhattan media industries to provide seed money for this award, including such angel investors as the founders of Google, Yahoo, PayPal, Ebay, Telsa and others.
The money will come. If you build it, they will come.
At this point in human history, a sci fi or fantasy novel that explores the human and emotional implications and ramifications of global warming and climate change in a wake up call /alarm bell kind of way will go a long way towards awakening humanity to the issues facing the world in the 21st century as we plow along toward the 22nd century. Call the the fate that awaits us now “mutally-assured destruction” (MAD) but “climate-assured destruction (CAD).
What Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel “On the Beach” did for public awareness worldwide of nuclear war and nuclear winter issues is what the The Nevil Shute Literary Award for Climate Novels could be all about. We readers of fiction might find that person or persons who want to write this kind of wake up call novel set in the present or near future in any country on Earth, not just English-speaking ones.
By naming the prize after the famous 1957 book by British-Australian Shute, the award, if it was to materialize, would honor Australia and Mr. Shute while at the same time issuing a global call for such a novel. Who will write it? Stay tuned.
Someone is most likely writing an early draft of her novel right now, his novel, their novel. Outlining it, writing a first chapter or so, putting it through its paces as it morphs from a mere idea and vision into a full-fledged novel, expansive and highly readable. And with a warning to the world embedded in its pages.
“Sometimes, fiction is the best way to win friends and influence people– H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine and George Orwell’s classic, 1984 come to mind,” novelist John Atcheson, who worked on climate issues in the Clinton administration, told me. “Each provoked a visceral reaction that galvanized the culture around it, changing forever the way issues such as class and totalitarianism were perceived. Shute’s On the Beach made the consequences of nuclear war real, and therefore, unthinkable.”
“In a scientifically illiterate culture such as ours, these kinds of myth-based meta-narratives may be the best way to communicate complex scientific issues like climate change,” he added. “Myths, as Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell revealed, are not necessarily false, nor are they automatically at odds with science. At their best, they provide another way of viscerally experiencing a truth.”
“A spate of novels and movies that feature climate change as either an overt part of the story-line, or an implicit backdrop against which mythical heroes strive may be creating the critical mass for a cultural awakening that allows climate change to be perceived at that pre-rational level–the kind of limbic awareness that motivates change,” he said. “Or so we can hope.”
Or so one can hope.