A Tale of Two Novels: Hope and Grief in Climate Fiction

A Tale of Two Novels: Hope and Grief in Climate Fiction.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

These are the opening words of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. This famous quote speaks to the experience of living in a time and place of great disparity. A “spring of hope” for some and a “winter of despair” for others.

I definitely feel a sense of growing disparity (despairity?) living in the United States in the year 2023.

I live at the heart of one of the biggest, wealthiest, and most powerful empires in human history. But I live in Southern Illinois, a region where a tragic combination of extractive development models, poor intercity transportation, neglect from upstate politicians, and rural flight have left many people and towns without much in the way of gainful employment or prospects for the future.

I also live in a state and country where growth in renewable energy installation and electrification are creating many new jobs and great hope for a just transition. But most of the green jobs never seem to make it to the poorest rural and small town regions, and we keep burning increasing quantities of oil and gas no matter how much solar and wind power we install.

Maybe this disparity is what inspired me to write two climate fiction novels with two very different themes.

The first novel, Welcome to Solardale, is a tale of climate hope. It’s set a few decades in the future when the small city of Carbondale, Illinois — the place I call home in real life — has transformed itself into an eco-municipalist utopia. The world beyond Solardale’s doorstep still has vast problems that the reader catches glimpses of as the novel progresses, and the residents of Solardale must decide how to deal with the challenges created by an influx of climate migrants from other places. But the city itself is a place where residents have learned to live together in a free and democratic community where no one goes hungry, the local solar plus storage microgrid provides power and prosperity to all, and everyone works together to meet their needs and make major public policy decisions.

The second novel, Burning, is a tale of climate grief. It’s set in the present day and follows the story of a woman who suffers tremendous loss when a wildfire made more likely by climate change burns everything and everyone she holds dear. In her grief, she sets out on a mission to hunt the people responsible for the climate crisis. There are no grand solutions or doe-eyed hope for a better world in this story. Only a deep, lingering grief and a desperate, violent bid to alter the course of the global crisis that took everything from her.

These two novels aren’t directly related. Aside from the presence of climate themes and references to my chosen home town, they are in many ways polar opposites. Emotionally, they are contrasting tales of hope and grief. Politically, they are contrasting tales of the constructive program and the resistance program — the movement to build a better society and the movement to reduce the harms caused by the current society.

But in their contrast, I see a complementarity.

There is no single magic bullet solution to the climate crisis. There is also no single “right way” to feel about the climate crisis, as I explore in my climate poetry book, All the Climate Feels. Instead, there is a complex landscape of deep feelings and meaningful responses to the climate crisis.

With these two novels, I’m exploring two sides of my response to the climate crisis. One side is hopeful and solutions-oriented, looking for ways to make something like Solardale possible in the real world in my own town and elsewhere. One side is grieving and resistance-oriented, looking for ways to process my climate grief and hold powerful individuals and institutions responsible for their willful contributions to the climate crisis.

Both of these sides are necessary components of a comprehensive and effective response to the climate crisis. And I hope that both of these novels will be thoroughly entertaining tales that make important contributions to public discourse on the climate crisis.

If either or both of these novels sound like something you’d like to read, you’re in luck!

The first several chapters of both novels are now available on my Ko-fi page. I’ve decided to write a chapter or two per month and share each of these new chapters with my Ko-fi members as soon as I finish it. When I’ve completed all of the chapters, I’ll revise them and publish Burning and Welcome to Solardale as traditional full-length novels in print and ebook formats.

If you’d like to catch up on the existing chapters and read new ones as soon as they’re posted, please subscribe to my Ko-fi campaign! For as little as a dollar per month, you’ll get access to all of my published works and works in progress (WIPs) like Welcome to Solardale and Burning.

If you’d rather wait for the full-length novels to come out in print and ebook formats, please sign up for my newsletter. I send about one or two emails per month with updates on my writing and related topics. This will include letting you know when I’ve set the final release dates of these two novels.

Not everyone is familiar with a chapter-by-chapter approach to publishing novels. But serialization is a long-standing literary tradition that has gone in and out of style depending on the technology and social considerations of the day. Oddly enough, A Tale of Two Cities was first published in a serialized format! If serialization is good enough for A Tale of Two Cities, it’s good enough for my two tales of climate hope and climate grief. And if you prefer waiting to read the whole thing at all once, you can always buy the final novels when they’re ready.

If you enjoy reading, don’t miss your chance to get new climate fiction chapters in you email inbox each month! Subscribe to my Ko-fi campaign today or check out my newsletter for the final release dates. In the meantime, thank you for reading!

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