Saturday, August 30, 2008

World Made By Hand

I've been intending to blog about this, but time has been at a preminium for me lately. I just wanted to share a good book with all of you. It's called "World Made by Hand", by James Howard Kunstler. It was published earlier this year. I have talked about Kunstler before, he is the author of an outstanding book called "The Long Emergency", which introduced me to the theory (and some would say a reality, a near-future one at that) of peak oil, and the many consequences the world will face as a result. "World Made By Hand" is Kunstler's fictional interpretation of a post-Peak Oil world. While reading "The Long Emergency" isn't necessary to enjoy "World Made By Hand", I'd still recommend reading it first if you haven't done so.

I have trouble categorizing WMBH. Some might say that it's science fiction, since it takes place in the future, but what science fiction takes place in a future without electricity or gadgetry?

Anyway, WMBH takes place in upstate New York, in a post-apocalyptic future, in which our wars in the Middle East have resulted in the annhiliation of several American cities, including L.A. and D.C. It revolves around the former president of a software company turned carpenter in a small town, and his everday interactions and trials with the town's inhabitants. As a result of peak oil, the town has reverted back to a 19th century way of life. There's no automotives, no electricity, so as a result, people walk everywhere (or ride horses, which are very expensive since they can't be bred fast enough) and often work on farms for one or two employers. Serfdom is back in this future, and farming is big again too, obviously. What I found striking was how Kunstler identified many characters by what they'd done before Peak Oil hit. The main character was a president of a software company who flew everywhere, other characters were insurance agents, lawyers, one managed a drugstore, etc. Positions that are considered by Kunstler to be pretty much useless in a post-Peak Oil world.

Anyway, the story takes place in the course of one summer, and the town is trying to survive a gang of criminals on the outskirts of town, an even bigger gang of extortionists in the former capital of Albany, and a new religious sect that has taken up occupancy in the town's old high school, whose motives appear to be just, but also possess a tendency to make the town's inhabitants live just as they do.

I know I'm doing a shitty job of explaining this. It'd been over a week since I finished the book, and it isn't as fresh in my mind. But it's really good. I don't judge a book by its prose or even its story, but rather on its ability to hook me. To say "I had trouble putting this down" is the highest compliment that I can pay a book, and I had that experience with both "WMBH" and "The Long Emergency".

BTW, at the end of the book, Kunstler states the fate of other areas in the New York region, including Long Island. He says something to the effect of, "Due to the effects of brutal weather (presumably hurricanes) and dengue fever, Long Island's population is at 1800 levels. This means that there's plenty of free parking"> Ouch.

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