[Note for TomDispatch Readers: This is the official publication day for our newest Dispatch book, Splinterlands, by John Feffer, and so we have a special offer for you. Splinterlands began in November 2015 as that rarest of all things for this website, a piece of fiction in which a "geo-paleontologist" named Julian West looked back from the year 2050 on a world shattered by the unexpected rise of nationalism and the devastation of climate change. It was an instant hit. Managing Editor Nick Turse and I both loved it and suggested to Feffer, a remarkable columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus (and a playwright in his spare time), that he turn it into a dystopian novel for us, which he promptly did. Of the new book, Mike Davis says, "John Feffer is our twenty-first-century Jack London and, like the latter's Iron Heel , Splinterlands is a vivid, suspenseful warning about the ultimate incompatibility of capitalism and human survival." Barbara Ehrenreich adds, "A startling portrait of a post-apocalyptic tomorrow that is fast becoming a reality today. Fast-paced yet strangely haunting." In a starred prepublication review, Publisher's Weekly called it "a chilling, thoughtful, and intuitive warning."
For TomDispatch readers, this will, I hope, be a must-buy book. It's both a riveting read and a way you can help support this website in its ongoing efforts in the age of Trump. And here's our special offer: if you go to the TomDispatch donation page and give us $100 ($125 if you live outside the USA), Feffer will send you a signed, personalized copy of the book. It's one hell of a novel. Think of it as an owner's manual for the age of Trump and beyond. And keep in mind that this website is going to need all the help it can get! Tom]
Old as I am, I can still remember secretly reading books by flashlight under the covers at a time when my parents thought I was asleep. Those were the haunted hours of my young life, a perfect time -- my early teens -- to check out, say, an Isaac Asimov space opera or some shivery little H.G. Wells nightmare like The Island of Dr. Moreau or The War of the Worlds, or to dip into that other genre of horror, the dystopian novel -- say, Wells's The Time Machine, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, George Orwell's 1984, or Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.
Dystopian fiction has always been a haunted form, offering the bleak thrill of a futuristic plunge into the black hole of what we humans are capable of doing to ourselves. And I must admit that, even at age 72, once I slip under the covers at night I still find a magnetic fascination in such futuristic fiction, as in, say, Paolo Bacigalupi's The Water Knife (a conjuring up of a drought-ridden, climate-changed future Southwest in which water is gold). However, what I find far stranger at the moment, both locally and globally, is the curiously dystopian path that reality seems to be taking before our eyes and in broad daylight rather than in the witching hour of our predictive nightmares. As The Donald puts together the wealthiest cabinet in American memory, possibly in history, on the evident principle that government of the billionaires, by the billionaires, for the billionaires shall not perish from this Earth; as Europe is repeatedly rocked by similar eruptions of right-wing populism and a nationalism that threatens to sink the European Union; as the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa are plunged into a chaos of failed and failing states and extreme jihadist outfits while experiencing a cacophony of conflict and a wave of refugees of a sort not seen since the end of World War II, we increasingly seem to be living in a dystopian novel.
This gives my most recent encounter with the form a certain poignancy. As part of TomDispatch's publishing program with Haymarket Books, we are this very day putting out our latest Dispatch Book, John Feffer's striking new dystopian novel, Splinterlands. It's a look back at our world from the shattered Earth of 2050. What's made the experience so strange for me is that, in these recent months, as we prepared for publication day, as the planet visibly threatened to shatter before our eyes, Feffer's novel has come to read ever less like futuristic fiction and ever more like a vivid journalistic report on the latest developments in our distressed, Trumpian universe. With that in mind, we asked him today to return to the world of Splinterlands, and launch the book at this website by offering us the view not of the "geo-paleontologist" Julian West, the central figure in his novel, but of West's ex-wife, Rachel Leopold, herself looking back from 2050 on the planet that Donald Trump's election helped produce . Slip under the covers and read it late tonight! Tom
Pulling the Lever for Doomsday
Or How Donald Trump Changed Everything (2016-2020)
By John Feffer- Advertisement -
I didn't vote in the pivotal American election of 2016. Thirty-five years ago, in that unseasonably warm month of November, I was in Antarctica's Allan Hills taking ice core samples with a hand augur. The pictures I have from that time show my team drilling deep into the blue ice, but what we were actually doing was digging a million years into the planetary past to gaze upon the panorama of climate change. The election was a bad soap opera playing out far beyond my field of vision.
At the time, I lived in Washington, D.C. So my vote, I told myself for years afterward, wouldn't have made any difference in that overwhelmingly Democratic city. And of course, I never had a doubt about the result, nor did my family and friends, nor did the pollsters, the media, and the entertainment industry, nor the members of the political and economic elite of both major parties. Ours was a confidence composed in equal parts of ignorance and arrogance. We underestimated the legitimate anger and despair of large sections of the country -- as well as the other darker motivations much discussed in the years since.
"Remember, Rachel," my ex-husband used to say, "Homo homini lupus: man is wolf to man." I criticized him for slandering the poor wolf, but he was right. Beastliness has always lain just beneath the surface of our world.
My ex-husband, the author Julian West, is a man who cared little about ice or nature. We couldn't have been more ill-suited in that regard. He was always focused on politics. At that moment, he was less worried about Donald Trump winning the presidency than a far slicker populist coming along to galvanize the same anti-establishment constituency four years after a Trump defeat. In 2016, Julian was still a relatively conventional political scientist. The election would change all that, setting in motion the events that ultimately inspired his seminal bestseller, Splinterlands, which, as you no doubt remember, was published in 2020 and predicted -- with considerable accuracy -- the broke-down, shattered world all of us now live in.
I used to think geologically, which transformed the grand sweep of human history into a mere sliver in the planet's 4.6-billion-year timeline. The Earth had repeatedly warmed and cooled in a set of protracted mood swings that encompassed the epochs. Don't imagine, though, that just because I thought in million-year intervals I was entirely above the fray. By examining those columns of ice we were extracting from Antarctica, I hoped to understand far more about our own era of global warming.
What I'd learned by 2016 was not encouraging.- Advertisement -
In every previous cycle, the Earth had regulated itself. Then we humans came along and started fiddling with the global thermostat. The era of climate change that began in the nineteenth century with our concerted use of fossil fuels would prove unprecedented. Scientists began to speak of our 11,700-year epoch, the Holocene, as the Anthropocene, the first period in which the actions of a particular species, our very own anthropos, changed the planet. (I used to half-jokingly call our era the Anthro-obscene.)
Already by 2016, we were experiencing "the hottest summer on record" year after dismal year. By then, we'd raised the global temperature by one degree, and that fall the Arctic was an astonishing 36 degrees warmer than normal. In Antarctica, where our 12-person team was using a Badger-Eclipse drill and hand augurs to collect samples, the ground seemed to be turning liquid beneath us as we worked.
At that point, of course, the looming reality of global warming should have been obvious to everyone, not just scientists. But in that era of fake news and rampant conspiracy theories, climate change proved to be just one more "debatable" topic. In the past, at comparable moments, wisdom had eventually won out over wrongheadedness, whether the shape of the world or the position of Earth in the universe was in question. Alas, in the most important debate of them all, the one on which the very existence of human life on this planet depended, calmer heads did not prevail -- not in time anyway.