Creating an “Antidote” to Our Dystopian Futures

By Neal Comment

I’m not entirely sure what the uniting theme of Sunday’s Festival of Books panel on “Finding Truth in Imagined Places” was; I thought it had something to do with literary writers who incorporated elements of the fantastic into their work, but panelist Gary Amdahl suggested that his stories were much more documentary than imaginative, and if they did seem fantastic, “it’s the placebo effect from sitting next to these guys.” Then, too, the moderator’s questions wandered all over the map, including some blatant fishing for material for the LA Times book blog, Jacket Copy, which chewed up at least five minutes, so that when there was absolutely no time left for questions from the audience at the end, I think some people were a little disappointed.

(Though not as much as the festival attendee I chatted with earlier in the day, who was appalled that the panel on “critic’s voices” hadn’t included any women—which struck us as odd given that the LA Times Book Review has Susan Salter Reynolds, and local author Carolyn See is a regular contributor to the Washington Post.)


Once we started hearing about the books that brought these authors to the table, though, James Howard Kunstler (left) told the audience how his new novel, World Made By Hand, extrapolated from the themes of his last nonfiction book, The Long Emergency. When he turned the novel in to his editor, Kunstler recalled, “he behaved as if I had handed him a basket of garlic and crosses,” and then tried to dissuade him with a lowball offer. (That was before he got a new agent, though.) He conceded that, in writing about a world a few years into the future where the depleted oil supply leads to the collapse of our technological infrastructure, “I was very conscious of The Road being out there… I knew what it was about, and I wanted [my book] to be the antidote to that, to suggest that this isn’t the worst thing that could happen.”

Kunstler and I chatted earlier, before the panel began, about the trailer he’d made for his novel, and he told me about a second short film he’d produced, again a series of still images but this time with soliloquies and dialogues rather than voiceovers. It’s interesting—I’m not entirely convinced that the dramatization through still images works consistently, this actually got me thinking about the possibilities of podcasting audio-only adaptations of novels like serial dramas for the radio. Not that I have any idea how to make such a thing commercially viable just yet, but give me time…