Read: “Far North”

26 Jun 2010

James Lovelock—the scientist who helped the world discover ozone-hole-creating chemicals and developed the idea that life on Earth has managed the planet’s temperature—says we should start planning a retreat.

“At six going on eight billion people,” Lovelock told Andrew Revkin, a New York Times reporter, “the idea of any further development is almost obscene. We’ve got to learn how to retreat from the world that we’re in. Planning a good retreat is always a good measure of generalship.”

And, Revkin writes, “The retreat, he insists, will be toward the poles.”

Marcel Theroux’s novel Far North imagines what it would be like to live through this retreat. I don’t know if he’s aware of Lovelock’s idea or not. Animals and plants have the same idea, though. As the planet warms, they’re moving toward the poles. Earth could wind up a much different place. Crocodiles roamed the Arctic tens of millions of years ago, and they might again, eventually.

But before that, we’ll get to the not-too-distant future where Far North is set. It’s an age that requires grit to get by. Villages that are doing alright have to defend themselves against those who waited too long to move north, and arrive starving and impatient. It’s a world of scavenging from the fallen industrial age. It’s a polarized world, where people see the fall as a reason to cling to religion, or a reason to give up on it.

Instead of science fiction—or sci-fi—you could call this novel eco-fi, or ecological fiction. The burgeoning genre doesn’t seem to have a name yet, but eco-fi fits the best to my mind, even though it’s already trademarked as the name of a type of polyester fabric made from used plastic bottles.

Regardless, I’m going to call these novels eco-fi unless someone else has got a better name for them. I’m putting together a list of them here. Far North is the best of them I’ve read so far.


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Mason's favorite books »