When I write, I prefer to explain not present, so not very much background information is given in these stories. For those who want a bit more backstory, here it is.
The starting point for this cycle of stories is August 2, 2011, the day two crises occur: the US Federal Reserve discounts Treasury Bills (Default Tuesday); and a massive earthquake centered on the Hayward fault wipes out the North American Pacific coastline from Vancouver to San Diego. The inability of the our political and economic system to adapt to these catastrophic developments leads to the collapse of civilization.
The stories in this book are set between 200 and 230 years after Default Tuesday. The technological center of this world is the Canadian mid-west, while the population centre is further north, in a now habitable arctic. The main country in these stories is the so-called Federal Republic of Alaska and the Northern Territories. The Republic has an aristocratic (patron/client) model of government. The idea is that as social development declines, so too does democracy. Although the model for this aristocratic system is the mid-19th century Russian aristocracy, it has libertarian elements, reflecting its roots in current North American class structure. A recurring trope is that libertarianism doesn’t make you free: it leads to a class structure that favors the wealthy.
The Federal Republic of Alaska is actually controlled by Canadian successor states. The story here is that in the early 22nd century Alaska invaded the Yukon, and then got conquered by a coalition of Nunavut, the North West Territories, and what’s left of coastal British Columbia. After 100 years the coalition – including conquered Alaska – has evolved into the Federal Republic of Alaska and the Northern Territories, which is colloquially shortened to Alaska, or The Republic. It has a voting franchise based on property ownership, so is more aristocratic than democratic. On the Atlantic coast the political economy is dominated by city/county states; there is no centralized control. The rising Atlantic has turned most of New England and the mid-Atlantic into islands.
Don’t get bogged down in the impossibility of this alternate future because ultimately these stories are about right now: our drift toward a patrician form of government; the erosion of state institutions; the various identity problems we face in a class/gendered/hierarchical/technological society; the conflict between religion and science; the conflict between folk religion and established religion; our seeming inability to learn from history; our destruction and/or rejection of paradise etc.
Notes on spelling and language
The use of Canadian spelling is thematic, with the exception of toward, which I use instead of towards.
Comments and edits are welcome. I can be reached at brianmacmillan.ca
-Brian MacMillan May 7, 2012 revised April 1, 2018
Notes on the Individual Stories
Notes on Mr. Market
The story begins when a ship called the Yéil arrives at Los Angeles, two centuries after California was destroyed (mostly flooded) as a result of the Hayward Quake. The name of the ship (Yéil ) is a reference to the trickster, Raven, who in Tlingit mythology is credited with – among other things – stealing the moon on behalf of mankind. Disruption is an important narrative device in all of the stories.
Long Beach Island was created when the Hayward Quake – and its numerous aftershocks – caused much of the western coast of North America to flood. The “Island” is what remains of the southern suburbs of Los Angeles. It is comprised of what is now the area west of highway 405 (the San Diego Expressway), including land currently under the Pacific Ocean. Its northern tip is the area between Highways 110 and 405, just south of downtown Los Angeles. Downtown Los Angeles is completely under water.
The set for the story is the shanty town that has grown up around the old Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO) headquarters, in Newport Beach. In the story, the ruins PIMCO headquarters is slightly closer to downtown Los Angeles than it is today.
I chose the PIMCO headquarters as the set for this story’s parody of financial shamanism because at the time of writing PIMCO had more bond assets under administration – $1.8 trillion in May 2012 – than any other company, and is the largest financial firm on the west coast of the USA. Mohamed el-Erian, the person whose personal communication device is featured in the story, is one of the two CEOs of the firm (along with Bill Gross).
The idea behind the parody is that when the Collapse happens, trade decays and, as a result, communities have to draw upon local resources in order to survive. The natives who live on Long Beach Island have few skills to help them survive – knowledge about bond and equity trading has become practically useless, and quite meaningless in a world without global financial markets. Over time this “knowledge”, because of its association with the lost wealth of the early 21st Century, gets turned into the magical language of the local religion. All this is to parody our current deification of free market economics.
The Sustainable Garden – aka Eden – was built during the Collapse. This is one of my favorite historical themes – that even in dark ages technology develops.
Notes on The Cell
This story is about how libertarian societies can become oppressive. On a character level it is about the loss of innocence.
The term “hoarder” comes from Stalinist Russia.
Notes on The Doctor Returns
This story is the happy ending to the previous story. Its not a particularly happy ending, because the libertarian-aristocratic society that created the injustice in The Cell is still in place.
Notes on Lots
The backstory to Lots is that Rhonda got pregnant when she stayed over night with Cody on Long Beach Island, in Mr. Market. She wanted to get pregnant so that her child could have Cody’s genetic alterations. That’s why at the end of Mr. Market Rhonda has the marines kidnap Cody.
In the Republic of Alaska, procreation with genetically engineered people is taboo. When Rhonda reveals that Cody is the father of her child (Tanya), she is shunned by her aristocratic family and forced to live a middle class existence, which given the low level of social development at that time, is pretty rough.
The main theme of the story is scarcity versus plenty, played out in as many ways as I can think of. I also have some fun considering unusual ways in which beauty can be socially constructed.
Narratively, Lots is a re-casting of the ugly duckling story with a focus on identity issues.
I play with voice in this story – does it work or is it too much?
Notes on Social Networks
This story is a study of how social constructions define and distort identity.
Its also a love story influenced by the sun and the moon (and of course that trickster Raven).
There is a third theme about how culture – in this case poetry – plays out in real (non-literary) circumstances. That’s what the varying renditions of the Romeo quotation are about.
For non-information technology (IT) folks, the joke about the wooden internet may not resonate. The joke is that “building a wooden internet” is an answer to the question, “What is the stupidest conceivable IT job?” A computer network made up of poplar and pig iron is practically impossible. It would have to be too big. The Director’s insistence that building an internet out of wood is a strategic goal for the Republic reveals him to be an ignorant bureaucrat.
Every poetry fragment is thematic.
Notes on The Battle of Tar Island
The Battle of Tar Island is the final battle in a resource war between the north and the near-north, caused by global cooling. In the 21st and 22nd centuries the arctic has become heavily populated, thanks to global warming. The decline in manufacturing and global population that has happened because of the Collapse is causing a reduction in man-made greenhouse gasses, which is resulting in cooling.
Most of the imagery is 19th century – the Republic has early 19th century technology (Napoleonic wars) and the Albertan’s have late 19th century technology (US Civil war). The battle is absurd because it takes place in a 21st century artifact, so everything is out of place and/or time.
References to the Tar Island factory – and the north and south pits – are entirely fictional but based on fact. Google Tar Island Alberta to see one of the world’s largest surface mine (its approximately the size of Manhattan and growing steadily), and the factory there. Those concerned about water issues will be horrified to know that pollution from this mine is allegedly polluting the entire Mackenzie water system, included much of the planet’s remaining supply of fresh water. Horrific fish mutations in Lake Athabasca lend credit to the allegations. Sadly, the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is actively suppressing research into this issue. The two maps – Route Taken by the Second Army 1 and 2 – illustrate much of the Mackenzie River watershed.
The protagonist, Anton, has spent his life defining himself externally – as the child of his parents, and as a node in a military hierarchy. Mutiny within the Republic’s army forces him to make existential decisions.
Initially I gave this story a completely ambiguous ending, but decided I liked it better when the protagonist achieved his objective without killing anyone, and without surrendering.
Notes on Spinning Wheels
On the surface, this is a “here we go again” story. I have gone to great lengths to make the ending ambiguous so that optimists can have a happy ending, and pessimists one full of dark humor.
The following maps illustrate Mr. Market, the Battle of Tar Island and Spinning Wheels. They’re down-sampled to fit on a kindle. If you want them in full resolution contact me at brianmacmillan.ca.