a horse and some pepper would be nice
James Kunstler’s new novel “World Made By Hand” is an excellent, brisk read which I recommend. This novel, along with the nonfiction “… Geography of Nowhere” are two essential works by the author. The novel certainly may be safely passed along to a reader who normally lacks interest in the topics which define it.
Many people hear the word oil as “blah blah blah.” Times are changing, though.
The narrative speed accompanied with the first person perspective of the “World Made By Hand“ seem quite by design, reflective of an era in which there is no survival value in morose reflection, navel gazing or irony. Strong emotions and shock are expressed to the reader as a series of thunder shakes and tornados on an already stormy day.
Injecting a bit of commentary, which I intend to approach delicately to avoid giving away the plot, relates to the supposed “science fiction” elements of the novel. In fact I presumed this myself last year, a reaction of humor because here is someone in Kunstler who “reads next to zero science fiction” writing a novel with some of the standard trappings of a work in the same genre.
A particular section of the novel seems intended as magical realism. It certainly describes magical thinking and creation of a local legend, right at ground level. Tracking this idea throughout the entire work, I have the opinion the Kunstler is expressing a view that science and hyper-technology will no longer be an organizing principle for humans in his imagined future, and the paranormal experience of the protoganist symbolize this, rather than being some some sort of sci-fi sprinkle. Unfortunately, the intended effect is apt to be confusing for those who have actually read widely in the genre.
Kunstler implies that a regression to a prior pattern of living will turn out to be ultimately more successful than our techno-blip century in oil. The trickster will trump science and tribalism will trump secular humanism.
It is quite directly anti-science fiction, but is a bold enough statement to be ambiguously shelved next to “Lucifer’s Hammer” without raising any eyebrows. If it were science fiction, it would be of a sort written in the fifties, a brand orphaned by Ellison and everything after. Thus the author seems to inhabit the same bubble that his protagonist lives in, where all the news from the outside, larger world is second hand.
And for all that, the town described in the novel, upstate New York twenty years in the future, is perfectly plausible. It is just one little place that may come into existence, in a world of many small places.
I imagine a raggedy view of the future, and certainly this possibility is not precluded in Kunstler’s novel. One where existing technology fails to pop like a soap bubble a few seconds after the oil and gas deliveries stop. And that time could be soon. Certainly it will be a big world after all, and the steady hum of hydroelectric in the Pacific Northwest won’t help millions of people walk out of the desert Southwest if there is no gas at the gas stations one fine day. Terroir. The shape of possible outcomes is defined by essence of territory, region by region, river to valley.
The novel “World Made By Hand” allows a reader the chance to internalize these possibilities for themselves, a valuable service. One cannot read the book without looking around their neighborhood. Bravo.