Book Review: The End of the Beginning by Zachary Eichholz

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The End of the Beginning is a mixed bag that would benefit from serious editing and revision. However, it explores compelling ideas and themes that make it a good read for anyone with a strong interest in climate fiction and the idea of a global rescue organization responding to the climate crisis.

Genres: Cli-Fi, Sci-Fi, Political (Thriller?), Search & Rescue, Utopian (& Dystopian)

Before delving too deeply into the nuts and bolts of The End of the Beginning, I’d like to reflect on what genres it may belong to and the nature of genre itself.

Genre is a big and complex topic. There’s a whole field of study called genre theory that explores how and why literary works are attributed to genres. I plan to dedicate an entire post to the topic of genre and climate fiction later this month. In the meantime, let’s just say that my views on the subject of genre are very contemporary. Genres are dynamic frameworks that describe texts with similar or related forms and contents.¬† Readers and authors alike are free to ruminate on the nature of genre and how it relates to any given text.

The End of the Beginning qualifies for membership in a surprising number of genres: cli-fi, sci-fi, political (thriller?), search & rescue, and utopian (& dystopian).

Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi)

This is very solidly and self-consciously a work of climate fiction. Many cli-fi texts relegate their climate themes to the background, using catastrophic climate change to establish an apocalyptic setting without actually having the plot or characters grapple with the climate crisis directly. This novel is at the opposite extreme. The primary purpose of the novel, as evidenced both in the text itself and in the promotional materials, is to educate “the masses” about climate change and highlight a fictional high-tech international organization that the author has created to respond to the climate crisis.

Science Fiction (Sci-Fi)

Technically, all cli-fi can be considered sci-fi because all cli-fi deals with the concept of climate, which is itself a scientific concept. Most cli-fi that I’ve encountered has clear sci-fi roots — tales of the future informed by current scientific projections about the catastrophic impacts of anthropogenic global warming. However, there are some works of cli-fi that have little or no obvious connection to sci-fi aside from the inclusion of climate-related themes. So it’s important to consider whether or not a work of cli-fi is, in fact, sci-fi.

This novel has many of the clear hallmarks of science fiction: the near-future setting; the exploration of implications of science and technology on society; the emphasis on high-tech solutions; and so on. Even though the setting is a very near future setting, the emphasis on science and technology as a foundation for the entire story places this novel solidly in the sci-fi genre.

Political (Thriller?)

This novel definitely qualifies as political fiction. It deals with the global climate crisis, wars, terrorism, and the formation of an international rescue organization with an emphasis on climate mitigation and adaptation. It also has some elements of a political thriller: political intrigue, a mystery involving infiltrators/spies, a few big action sequences, etc. But the long chunks of scene description, character development, etc. prevent it from building with the same relentless intensity as a pure political thriller.

Search & Rescue

Is “Search & Rescue* a genre? Genres are ever-evolving and subject to interpretation, so maybe it’s a lesser-known or emerging genre. It doesn’t seem to be a well-defined genre from either a literary perspective or a marketing perspective. But there’s definitely a lot of fiction on this subject out there, and this novel definitely qualifies.

One of the main reasons why I’m writing about this novel at all is because it was fascinating and unique to find a story at the intersection of “Search & Rescue” and “Cli-Fi.” Most cli-fi that I’ve encountered exists at some such intersection — a political thriller about climate change, a post-apocalyptic story about climate change, a contemporary fantasy tale about climate change, etc. “Cli-Fi” plus “Search & Rescue” is a new one for me, so I decided to read it — and I’m glad that I did.

Utopian (& Dystopian)

At its core, this novel is a utopian novel. The near-future setting is in many ways dystopian, with references to a devastating war, a global climate crisis, terrorism on the rise, and so on. But the whole plot revolves around a powerful and fundamentally good international organization that is created to respond to these global crises. The author describes this organization in great detail, from the principles of its founding to the remarkably specific minutiae of the architectural and design elements of its bases and operations. The mission of this organization is quite utopian — and I get the impression that the author would like to see this fictional organization serve as inspiration for real-world international efforts in response to the climate crisis.

Strengths of The End of the Beginning

The greatest strength of this novel is the fascinating ideas that it presents regarding the climate crisis and its solutions.

The idea of a massive international organization tasked with responding to the climate crisis is a great concept for climate fiction. I haven’t seen anything quite like it before. This novel is worth a read purely on the basis of that idea. Whatever else you may think of any other aspect of the novel, I’m glad to see someone putting such a big climate fiction idea out there. It will definitely get people talking. What would it be like if we had something like that in real life?

I was also glad to see the novel exploring a variety of technical solutions to the climate crisis. On the one hand, as someone who generally opposes geoengineering, I found the novel’s seemingly uncritical embrace of it troubling. The technical and ethical challenges associated with geoengineering could be the subject of a whole nother post (and probably will be at some point). On the other hand, the author clearly put in a great deal of effort and research into their portrayal of various climate solutions, including geoengineering. I thought that it all fit well with the overall themes and plot of the novel, even though I don’t advocate pursuing some of these solutions in reality. Science-based portrayals of geoengineering are a good way to start the conversation since many people are more responsive to fictional narratives than they are to dry technical papers on the subject. As long as we remember that this is a work of fiction, and that massive geoengineering projects are not the only climate solutions on the table, I think it makes for good thought-provoking drama.

I also found the search and rescue elements of the story very interesting and possibly unique in terms of their prominence in a work of climate fiction. I can think of a few individual scenes in other cli-fi novels that had something resembling search and rescue elements, but none that used it as a driving force of the entire novel! The End of the Beginning goes a step further, presenting an international rescue organization as a proposed framework for organizing a global response to the climate crisis. I would like to see more of this in rescue action (versus just in training) in future novels in the series. Perhaps more importantly, I would like to see some serious discussions of the underlying idea and its applications in real life. What would the real-life equivalent of UNIRO look like? How would it be similar to, or different than, the fictional organization? Is it just a good idea for a story, or could something like that become an important part of the international community’s response to the climate crisis?

As for storytelling, I ultimately enjoyed reading the story, which is of course a very important consideration when reviewing a novel! There were several aspects of the novel that detracted from my enjoyment, which I’ll describe in more detail below. But ultimately, I found the plot, characters, and setting interesting enough to keep reading. With some revision and refinement, I could easily see a story like this being selected for a major film adaptation. The ambitious scope of the plot, setting, and environmental themes all call out for an appearance on the big screen.

Weaknesses of The End of the Beginning

The three major weaknesses of this novel are the need for further editing, the limited depth of the plot and characters, and the infeasibility of the timeframe.

Like many self-published novels, this novel could use some serious editing. It’s definitely readable in its current form, but there were typos, quirks of style, and minor formatting issues that would likely be easy to smooth out with the help of an editor (or a new set of eyes if an editor has already done their editing). The average reader won’t be too concerned about this, especially if they’re used to reading self-published novels and pulp thrillers where this may be the norm. But more discerning readers may find it distracting. Minor proofreading and formatting corrections wouldn’t even require the release of a new edition — just an upload of the edited file.

My assessment of the realism of plot, characters, and setting varies significantly depending on the genre in question. I don’t expect the same depth of character development and nuance of plot in a slapstick comedy as I do in a work of literary fiction. Since this novel has hints of numerous genres, it’s hard to be sure how seriously I should critique it. The main character is the most developed character, and he is developed well enough for me to find him interesting, believable, and sympathetic, if a bit clich√© at times. Most if not all of the other characters, though, seem very two-dimensional or even one-dimensional. They would fit well in a certain types of sci-fi and political thriller where the main goal is to present a colorful cast of characters who are entertaining and supportive of the main character’s story arc. But I found them too simplistic and at times even stereotypical for me to accept them on the more serious end of literary cli-fi (which is what I expected the novel to strive for given the strong emphasis on serious climate and environmental themes).

Finally, I found myself distracted at several points by what I consider to be the infeasibility of the timeframe of the rise of UNIRO, the fictional organization tasked with saving the world from the climate crisis and its consequences. It’s a fascinating and highly advanced organization, and I was willing to suspend disbelief about how advanced and idealistic it is just to see where the author was going with it. But even with vast resources at their disposal, it seemed unrealistic to me that UNIRO would be able to create these incredibly sophisticated bases, and organizational structure, and geoengineering projects, and so on, in just a handful of years. I would have been much more likely to believe it if the timeline had been stretched out another ten years.

Closing Thoughts on The End of the Beginning

As I said earlier, The End of the Beginning is a mixed bag. It could benefit from another round of editing, and the heady mix of climate rhetoric, utopian eco-infrastructure descriptions, political intrigue, recovery from personal trauma, and an international climate-themed pararescue organization will be a bit much for some readers. However, it’s also a fascinating tale of a massive international organization whose mission is to respond to the climate crisis, and a recovering hero who may be the only one who can help them succeed in that mission. Many people would enjoy reading it — and even those who have mixed reviews may find themselves inspired to some serious thought-provoking discussions about climate solutions because of it.

About

My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois where I write books and volunteer for the Illinois Initiative and Gaia House. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Patreon to stay up-to-date on my latest cli-fi releases and Real Life Superhero adventures. Sign up for my newsletter to receive free cli-fi in your inbox.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Cli-Fi, Climate, Geoengineering, Global Warming, utopian

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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