World Made by Hand
James Howard Kunstler, 2008
Around the time I read Jared Diamond's Collapse
I also read a
blog post by a guy named James Howard Kunstler predicting all sorts of dire
things for 2006. They didn't come true then, but a number of them (e.g., burst
of the housing bubble, $100+/barrel oil, potential collapse of GM and Ford) did
shortly thereafter. Kunstler went on in other posts to predict that the end of
cheap oil and the economic shock thereby produced would knock the world back
into a patchwork of localized agrarian societies. So I thought it might be
interesting to read his novel based on the same premise.
Nope. Kunstler skips over the interesting part — the transition from
the world of today to the "world made by hand" — and opens the book
in a Hudson Valley town that has already settled into a standard of living
roughly equivalent to that in the year 1800. Same technology, same population
levels, same social structure — Kunstler casually avers that basically
as soon as the electricity went out women silently stepped back into basket-weaving
and butter-churning and let the menfolk run things. There are a number of problems
here. One is that the characters, even the younger ones, are set up as being
issei: they were big-city software engineers and corporate executives and
things as recently as fifteen or twenty years ago. Now they're farmers and
carpenters and things — fair enough — but we're supposed to
believe that this automatically turns them into rustics? There are several
conversations that go something along these lines:
"Say, you remember that there Mountain Dew?"|
"I surely do. Had it in the break room back at Centrex Systems."
"Mountain Dew'd go down real smooth about now."
"You said a dadgum mouthful. Even if it was full a' chemicals."
"Reckon that attitude got us in this fix, though."
"Maybe so. Could be we're better off now."
"Leastwise there's no grunge music. Pass the applejack."
That's not the only thing that's screwy about the timeline, though. For a
while I thought that this must be some kind of alternate history rather than
a tale of the future, but no, Kunstler establishes that the timeline is the
same as ours up until at least 2006, so that means this novel takes place in
the 2020s at the earliest. That means the oldest of the main characters are
around my age. So why do they all sneer condescendingly at my generation's
Seriously — if you're a Baby Boomer, and you can only write Baby
Boomers, then maybe
is not the best time
frame for you to be working with.
|James Howard Kunstler, 1948–|
Ultimately, World Made by Hand is standard post-apocalypse fare.
, a small
community of survivors banding together around our protagonist's
reluctant but steady leadership, gangs that have reverted to tribal
protagonist, major supporting character whose entire personality
boils down to "he tells bad jokes," female character whose sole
purpose is to provide healing sex to a man twice her age. Most
tellingly of all, World Made by Hand has the same sort of
reactionary, Revelation-inspired agenda as
Alas, Babylon and Tomorrow!
and the Unabomber manifesto and the rest — the idea that,
yes, burning everything down sure will suck for those caught in the
flames, but if that's what it takes to return to a simple world of
honest toil, living life according to the seasons, entertaining
yourself not by watching DVDs in your living room but by getting
together with the same 50 neighbors you'll be spending your entire
life with, playing folk music (as opposed to that horrible, horrible
grunge rock) and getting drunk/stoned/laid... well, then that's what
it takes! Pass the fiddle!
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