January selection for the Post-Apocalyptic Novel Reading Club: "Prelude" by Kurt Cobb
PANRC, by the way, is the acronym for "Post-Apocalyptic Novel Reading Club" pronounced by those in the know (ie, the person who just made this up 3 seconds ago) as "Panric" ;-). And while December's selection (we'll start on 12/1), Jim Kunstler's _The Witch of Hebron_ has been out for a bit, Kurt Cobb's _Prelude_ (which is, in fact, an immediately pre-apocalyptic novel) is now out. YAY!!!!
I've read _Prelude_ and besides the fact that I think it is fun and readable - a peak oil novel someone might actually read for fun - I think what Cobb is doing is important and I want to support it. There are simply too many people out there who will never sit through a talk or read a book of non-fiction about our energy situation, but who would read a novel that lays the issues out clearly in the language of fiction. Cobb took on this project, not to write a best-selling novel, but to write the kind of book you can give to your sister-in-law who won't read the other books you want to give her!
As of now the story of peak oil has yet to reach the broad public, most of whom have never even heard the term, let alone contemplated its significance. Without broad public awareness it will be difficult for politicians and policymakers at all levels to find support for initiatives aimed at addressing peak oil.
When I conceived of Prelude three years ago, it was based on the notion that ideas only become widely dispersed in the public mind when they are infused in the arts. Since then several peak oil-themed novels have found their way to the bookstore shelves. Most of these, it turns out, are based either on an apocalyptic vision of a post-peak oil world or on the device of a sudden, catastrophic loss of oil, often through means that have little to do with peak oil production as it is commonly conceived.
I decided to create a narrative set firmly in contemporary society. I wanted a story that would reframe the way people read the daily news and the way they interpret their everyday experience. My premise was that readers would more readily identify with a world familiar to them than one set in the distant future or transfigured by an imaginary crisis.
A lot of the work that I do, that Cobb does, that all of us do is frustrating and kind of dull - we have to say the same thing over and over and over again until people hear it. I know I'd much rather go on to the next topic - I don't want to explain peak oil again, or climate change. But the reality is that until the general populace is ready to go there, thousands of us have to spend some of our time saying "here, look, this is important." Because if there are a million people who grasp peak oil in the US and a few million in the world, that's not enough - not enough to do what we need.
Cobb has done the community an enormous service by writing this. He's also written a good book - which is a service in itself. In many ways, I think his book is even more useful than the post-apocalyptic fiction that references peak oil like Kunstler's books or _Julian Comstock_ - because a lot of people who need these concepts aren't ready to go straight into the full darker implications of them. Cobb's is a transitional space, and one that was desperately needed. I'm excited that the book is out, and I hope many of you will read it, encourage your library to purchase it, or give it as a gift to that person you think it might influence.
I know in choosing a new book, I've made it hard for some of my lower-income readers, so Cobb has generously offered to donate a few copies that can be circulated by mail among my readers who genuinely can't afford to buy it and can't get it through their library systems. I have a copy as well that I'd be happy to share with others. We can set up a mail system to ensure that as many people possible get it. I know this places a burden on some readers, but I also think that if we want there to be more mainstream peak oil novels (and hey, I want to write one), the best way we can show that there is an audience for this is to support the work.
Kurt Cobb has also agreed to participate in our discussion about the book that will make it a lot of fun. I'll be extending the same offer to any living authors that we choose who I can locate and get in touch with, including Jim Kunstler, although I can't speak to their availability or interest. As you may remember, we had several spontaneous participations in the last PANRC discussions, most notably SM Stirling, which was terrific.
I know I'm looking forward to all this!