Casaubon's Book

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!

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Peak Oil Hausfrau
    November 16, 2010

    If your library doesn’t carry Prelude, you can suggest it to them (and ask your friends to suggest it too). Your library might even have a way to do this online. You’ll be doing the rest of your city a favor!

  2. #2 Don
    November 16, 2010

    Sharon, this post reminds me to ask, when will the discussion begin on The Witch of Hebron, and how will you announce it? With a blog post?

    I just started reading Witch of Hebron–I’m about four or five chapters into it. I completed World Made By Hand first, so I would have the background. It was a very interesting story, and the writing style is not at all like Kunstler’s non-fiction. I will especially be interested in how your readers react to the New Faith sect and their strange leader, Brother Jobe.

  3. #3 dewey
    November 16, 2010

    “style is not at all like Kunstler’s non-fiction”

    You mean he doesn’t swear every other sentence, shriek about the well-deserved certain doom awaiting southerners and suburbanites, or suggest that we declare war against every Muslim man, woman and child on the planet? Good for him, if so – maybe he’s gotten his meds adjusted. I’m still never paying another dollar of royalties to that man, sorry.

  4. #4 Don
    November 16, 2010

    Dewey:

    Well, if you put it that way, yes, the style is different. And FWIW, I borowed a copy of Witch from the library, and my copy of World Made By Hand is a remainder. So I didn’t give JHK any royalties either.

    Sharon, I just noticed your comment that we’ll begin discussing Witch in December. I’m sorry I missed that comment. I thought we were going to start it this month.

    I definitely need to loook for Prelude!

  5. #5 Brad K.
    November 17, 2010

    Sharon,

    Your point about sharing the knowledge to those that can’t afford to buy a copy is very good.

    For the rest though, consider something Anne McCaffrey wrote 30 years ago or more. That the one to be encouraged is the publisher, ’cause if the copies don’t sell, they look to other authors and other genres and topics for something to publish next month and next year.

    If you like an author, Anne requests, *buy* a copy to give to the friend, or for a gift. One of the things book lovers usually discover very early on, is that you seldom “loan” a book – it just never doesn’t come back, usually. It is better to keep your beloved, pristine tome, and encourage friends (and publishers) with fresh copies that represent (commercially) true interest in the story, the author, and the topic.

    I have three copies of McCaffrey’s “Dragonsong”, and three of C.J. Cherryh’s Pride of Chanur. I can’t find a fresher copy of “The Ship Who Sang”, dang it. And two copies of Programming Perl. (One at home, one for work ;-)

  6. #6 curiousalexa
    November 17, 2010

    Will it be available anywhere other than Amazon? (I fear ordering a hundred books if I order one!)

    I’m surprised at the price – it appears to be double what I’m used to seeing paperbacks at. Do we know why?

    I enjoyed the chapter 1 excerpt! Given the author’s background credentials, can I assume the technical descriptions are accurate? (I haven’t the fainest idea how they produce oil from tar sands, and was surprised to ‘learn’ it’s rude to call them tar sands!)

    I was shocked to learn that my partner-in-farm (aka housemate except that I’m building my own cabin on the property instead of sharing the house) does not know about peak oil. At least not in the technical Hubbert’s curve sense. I get the impression she senses gas and propane are going to become largely unaffordable, and grocery stores unreliable, thus the motivation for developing independent homesteading skills, but I haven’t been able to learn her external motivations/expectations. she’s not a reader – it’s my job to research and learn then point her to relevant sections of homesteading books. But she’ll read novels, especially when she’s sick. A perfect example of the target market for this book.

  7. #7 purdum
    November 17, 2010

    I had the pleasure of chatting briefly with Kurt Cobb at the 2010 Sustainability conference in Grand Rapids last weekend. Nice guy. Very well informed. I’m looking forward to reading Prelude.

  8. #8 Kiki
    November 17, 2010

    Funny, at first glance I thought the title of this posting was January PANIC Selection. D’ya think I’ve already read enough Kunstler for awhile? ;-)

  9. #9 Richard Stein
    November 18, 2010

    I have a book of mine in press on “Energy and the Environment” and am frustrated at the lethargy of the public about problems of the climate and energy which I feel can threaten the existence of our civilization. My book is an attempt to explain these problems in ways that non-specialists can understand. I hope yours may help bring awareness and desire to learn and act. I’d be very interested in furtherv discussions and to learn more..

    Best regards,
    Dick Stein
    Goessmann Professor of Chemistry, Emeritud
    University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and
    Member, National Avademies of Science asnd of Engineering

  10. #10 Cathy Strickland
    November 18, 2010

    @Purdum: I also had the pleasure of meeting Kurt Cobb at the same conference last weekend. In fact, I was able to peruse his proof copy of “Prelude” and after reading just a dozen pages, I am hooked. I’m looking forward to the delivery of my very own copy from Amazon this week.

  11. #11 Sharon Astyk
    November 19, 2010

    Yes, you can assume Kurt knows the field and did his homework. He’s a really great writer, a good guy and very smart. Dick, my husband teaches environmental physics at the Gen Ed level and is always on the lookout for more books like yours – drop me an email at jewishfarmer@gmail.com – I’d like to hear more about it!

    Sharon

  12. #12 Sue on the Edge of the Great Basin
    November 19, 2010

    My library is underfunded and not buying many new books lately. I happen to work there, doing interlibrary loans, so I’m also aware that most libraries won’t lend new books to other libraries until the books are around a year old. So I will have difficulty obtaining either “Witch” or “Prelude” for quite a while unless I decide to buy them myself. Which, considering my own finances, I probably won’t. So, just a thought for the planning of these group reads — as much fun as it is to read a newly-released book, choosing year-plus-since-publication books will expand the group that is able to participate! (and maybe the authors will have more time to participate in discussions by then, too)

    So, I’m interested in being on the mail-lend-list for either/both of these books, if possible! Thanks, Sue

  13. #13 Grandma Misi
    November 19, 2010

    oh goody! I can’t wait to read this book. I easily ordered and received (after being #37 or so on the waiting list) The Witch of Hebron from my library.
    So far there is nothing by Kurt Cobb, esp. this book “Prelude” in our library catalog. I am always writing them notes and asking them to order books I feel are important. I will do so for this book too.
    Yet, my financial situation is extremely tight this year, and with Hanukkah coming so early and Xmas 3 weeks behind, there will be no extraneous spending for two months, if that were possible.
    Can someone please share their copy with me when they are done reading it? I’m very respectful of books and will send it right back or forward it on to the next person if we get a list going.
    Thanks again for all you do and you teach and inspire me Sharon!
    Misi

  14. #14 Mike
    November 20, 2010

    This book club is a fun idea. I’m looking forward to Prelude. I’m about halfway through Witch of Hebron, though I put it aside for awhile because I’m also reading several other books.
    Dewey, your assessment of Kunstler seems to be based on his weekly blog, where he adopts a certain “schtick” or persona where he vents. Sometimes his hyperbole is over-the-top, and I certainly don’t agree with all his opinions (I’m not even sure he would himself, on reflection — but blogging is like that), but I’m not offended, as you are, that he expresses them forcefully. Sometimes it’s quite entertaining. There’s nothing really wrong in my opinion with using wit, sarcasm or ridicule to attack stupidity. As Kunstler has noted, “ridicule is the unfortunate fate of the ridiculous.” And sometimes that is quite entertaining, too! (As a cartoonist, I have to defend the right to ridicule the ridiculous.)
    On the other hand, if you read Kunstler’s books, you find less of that. If you listen to his weekly podcasts with Duncan Crary, he’s more considered and levelheaded, and usually not rude. And in his fiction, this may surprise you, but he seems to be actually empathetic with various sorts of people, and insightful into human feelings. Some of the writing is very moving, in my opinion.
    I have some quibbles with his “World Made by Hand” fictional world, as a “prediction.” Maybe I’ll mention those in another post when the book-reading period has begun (there are certainly valid criticisms to be made of some of his blind spots). But I don’t think he intends it as a prediction, just as a speculative scenario that lends itself to interesting stories. And the stories are fun to read — he tells a good tale. They reflect his own personality, interests, concerns and background, of course — as any writer’s work does. I do think the first duty of a fiction writer is to their story, not to some didactic purpose. Especially if they are already writing a bunch of nonfiction that serves that purpose. So I hope Cobb’s book works as actual fiction, not just a dramatized lecture. And I’m happy to contribute to Kunstler’s royalty income.

  15. #15 DennisP
    November 25, 2010

    I am reading “Prelude” right now at Sharon’s recommendation. I’m not impressed. It is an interesting little text on peak oil but as a literary effort (story-writing) I rate him at about a C-. Mystery writers like Tony Hillerman, Dana Stabenow, Margaret Coel, etc. are much better story-tellers. Cobb writes cardboard characters and cartoonish situations. I did not find the story gripping; in fact I had no problem putting it down and going to bed last night. I’m not sure that I will even bother finishing the book. The peak oil ideas are not new (to me or I suspect to this crowd) though they are presented well.

    I’m being a contrarian I know, even heretical, but I thought an alternative perspective might be worthwhile.

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