I have seen the future and it's dank, dark and dystopian -- and it takes place in Alaska. At least in one Oklahoma author's eyes, it does.
Last year, as a newbie book producer, I commissioned novelist Jim Laughter in Oklahoma to write a book about mankind's shaky future on this third rock from the sun, and he immediately said yes. The novel, titled “Polar City Red,” is out now, and the entire story, from page one to the final paragraph, belongs to Mr. Laughter. His name is on the book cover, not mine, and all profits, if any, go to him. It's his book.
What did I do? I gave it its title, and I suggested, as a former Alaskan, its theme and its setting in Fairbanks. Jim wrote the entire yarn, creating his own cast of characters and giving it his own time frame. I originally suggested setting it in 2500, some 30 generations from now. Jim decided to set the story in 2075, to give it a more immediate and closer to home feel. He was right to do so.
Having read the book, I can tell you this: climate denialists are going to say it's not science, and die-hard climate activists are going to say it's just fiction.
Laughter's “polar Western” is set in the Last Frontier just 60 years from now, and it poses a very important and headline-mirroring question: Will mankind survive the “climapocalypse” coming our way as the Earth heats up over the next few centuries? The end is not coming in 100 years, but it might happen by 2500 A.D.
In Jim's book, sea levels rise and millions of “climate refugees” make their way north to Alaska. Think scavenger camps, “Mad Max” villages, and U.N.-administered “polar cities” — cities of domes, as the author calls them.
“Polar City Red” is more than mere science fiction. Laughter, a retired grandfather of four, comes across as a probing moralist and a modern Jeremiah. His worldview befits a former Christian pastor who built two churches and finds in his inherited religion both an anchor and a place for hope.
And his book is not just about climate change or northern dystopias. It's also about the moral questions that must guide humanity as it tries to keep a lid on global warming's worst-case scenarios while also looking for solutions to mankind's worst nightmare: the possible final extinction of the human species due to man's own folly and extravagant ways. Can a small, 150-page novel do all that? No, it's just entertainment, fiction, science fiction, a good book to put on your summer reading list.
Writing the novel took Laughter seven months of research and keyboarding, but I have a feeling that what he wrote will last 100 years...
It's more than a “cli-fi” thriller. It also exposes the underbelly of humankind's most terrifying nightmare: the possible end of the human species and God's deep displeasure at what His people have done to His Earth.
The book is prophetic, futuristic and moralistic. As a reader, you will get through this nightmare alive. But will our descendants, those in Alaska and those in the Lower 48, survive the Long Emergency we find ourselves in now? That's the question that Laughter poses. And you don't have to believe in global warming to enjoy the story.
I can tell you this: the book ends on a note of hope and redemption, so it's not a downer at all. “Polar City Red” might inspire you or it might annoy you, but as the world heads closer and closer to climate chaos, even in Alaska, Laughter's book sounds an ominous note. I'd read it if I was you.
Dan Bloom is a former editor of Juneau's Capital City Weekly and now works as a book producer and packager. His climate blog is available, here.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.