The Asia Institute
The Asia Institute’s senior associate John Feffer recently published recently a remarkable dystopian novel Splinterlands in which looks back on the coming conflicts and contradictions of the 21st century from midway and gives us a chance to pull together the various strands of current geopolitical transformation, from climate change to the rise of the far right and grasp the larger zeitgeist in midstream.
The following is an excerpt from Splinterlands. It’s a look back at our world from the shattered Earth of 2050. Feffer’s novel has come to read ever less like futuristic fiction and ever more like a vivid journalistic report on the latest developments in our distressed, Trumpian universe. The story is about a “geo-paleontologist” named Julian West who looks back from the year 2050 on a world shattered by the unexpected rise of nationalism and the devastation of climate change. The excerpt below is the first thousand words from the novel.
More than twenty-five years ago, as I sat on the roof of our house watching the neighborhood’s furniture float down the street, I thought things couldn’t get any worse. Everything I owned was under water. The capital of my country was ruined. Mother Earth was exacting its revenge upon its most arrogant inhabitants.
As it turned out, things got a lot worse.
If anyone should have anticipated the world’s vertiginous descent into chaos, I was the most likely candidate. I was the author of Splinterlands, a bestselling book on the fracturing of the international community that made Julian West a household name (among the more discerning households at any rate) and launched an entirely new field. That book also led the chattering classes to dub me, dismissively, Professor Chicken Little.
True, I’d been warning people that the sky was about to fall. I just didn’t think it would fall on me.
No one predicted that the “extreme weather event” known as Hurricane Donald would flood Washington, DC, and its surroundings in 2022. I’d gone to sleep the night before expecting, at worst, high winds and heavy rains. I was roused from sleep by sirens and rapidly rising waters. My wife, fortunately, was on a business trip in Chicago. My children were safely abroad. It was dawn, and I’d woken to a nightmare.
From my second-floor window, I could see a river sweeping down our suburban street. My car had already disappeared beneath the roiling brown water. Behind me, I could hear something lapping against the stairs. The river, I soon discovered, had already claimed the first floor. I entertained the idea of diving in to retrieve my wallet and my computer, both of which I’d foolishly left downstairs. I quickly scotched that idea. They weren’t salvageable, and I didn’t have time.
There was no place to go but up. I grabbed my phone, put on two more layers of clothes, and climbed out onto the roof. The chimney provided a small measure of shelter from the wind and water. From this precarious perch, I could see other families huddled on their roofs. We looked like a flotilla of refugees, our chimneys as masts in the storm. My neighbors held tightly to their most precious possessions: grandma’s walker, a small safe, the family dog. Virtually all these things, including the dog, would eventually be left behind. There just wasn’t room in the boats that finally came to get us.
“This is the end,” a young woman kept repeating to no one in particular as we huddled in the fishing skiff commandeered by the Coast Guard. Rain lashing her face, she clutched her laptop to her chest as if it were a flotation device. “This is the end, and everything has gone to shit.”
Just as those who don’t live in the Arctic north lack a sophisticated vocabulary for describing snow, we hadn’t yet found the words for the catastrophes about to befall us. For the time being, “shit” would have to do. Soon we would see the collapse of everything we considered so stable: the European Union, multiethnic China and Russia, and eventually the United States itself. We would be visited by an almost biblical succession of plagues: disease-bearing mosquitos, killer robots run amok, the perils of too much—and too little—water. Even our own genes turned against us, with multiple mutations that we unwittingly passed to future generations like defective holiday gifts.
I don’t want to diminish the impact of Hurricane Donald. Several thousand people died. The economic toll ran into the hundreds of billions of dollars. The US capital moved to Kansas City. But this was nothing compared to what came next. And still we haven’t come to the end.