I Spy Cli-Fi

  • Date: 20/02/18
  • Geoff Chambers

I once wasted a chunk of my life reading Ian McEwan’s “Solar” which was billed as an intelligent climate change novel. It isn’t.

Climate Fiction is big business. There’s even a website devoted to academic research in the subject with its own Research Tool (Dan Bloom is his name. He’s a 1971 graduate of Tufts University in Boston where he majored in post-modern European literature.)

Most of it seems to be rough, tough American stuff, but I’m sure a more genteel version could be created for the British market:

Kathy looked up from the HADCRUT GISTEMP4 Northern Hemisphere Land temperature graph she’d been poring over and stared out over the rolling hills of Surrey where a herd of skeletal goats were feeding on the scant tufts of pampas grass, while vultures wheeled overhead. “We can’t leave it any longer, Damian,” she whispered. “Thank Gaia for the cottage in Cornwall. If we go now we’ll arrive in time for the monsoons.”

“You’re right darling,” Damian replied brightly. “I’ll pack the kids and the Perrier in the e-Golf straight away.”

“No, not the e-Golf,” said Kathy. “According to today’s Guardian there’s no charging point working between Reading and Exeter, not unless the wind picks up.” It’ll have to be the Land Rover.”

“OK darling. I’ll tie the bikes on the back. It’ll look better, and if it comes to the worst and the petrol runs out…”

He was interrupted by the sound of machinegun fire from the direction of Weybridge, where a gang of pro-Brexit Climate Denialists were holed up…

I once wasted a chunk of my life reading Ian McEwan’s “Solar” which was billed as an intelligent climate change novel. It isn’t. McEwan can write novels which, while not exactly enjoyable in the normal sense, are at least thoughtful and well-written, but Solar isn’t one of them. It’s awful, terrible, worse than you thought possible. There’s a laboured joke about the hero, a Nobel prize-winning scientist, nearly losing his penis pissing outdoors in the Arctic. The joke takes about ten pages to tell, and the only amusement comes from the fact that the physical description of the hero bears a striking resemblance to Sir Paul Nurse, which gave me a certain frisson of pleasure. Then there’s the hero’s wife’s lover who dies suddenly, slipping on a polar bearskin rug – another sideslapper. And the hero’s wife’s other lover who chucks rocks at the Nobel hero’s solar panels at the opening ceremony of his groundbreaking project, thus putting paid to his efforts to save the planet.

For actual references to climate science, there’s just one paragraph in which the hero moans about sceptics, and that’s it. So bored is the author with the whole idea of climate science that he doesn’t even bother giving names to the team of young geniuses who are saving the planet, merely referring to them as “the ponytails.” The fact that McEwan was clearly bored, and no doubt bored his readers, is a plus from our point of view, but that doesn’t compensate me for a wasted weekend.

This weekend I read an old John le Carré spy thriller, “Absolute Friends” – something completely different, except it wasn’t.

A large part of the pleasure of le Carré comes from the tensions between his socialist convictions and his descriptions of the upperclass, almost Kiplingesque atmosphere of the British spying establishment. At his best, as in “the Little Drummer Girl,” you get a subtle feeling for the complexity of the background to the world’s woes; at his worst, you get wooden, unbelievable characters, particularly of the female genus. I know one of his themes is the difficulty British public school chaps have empathising with other chaps, particularly the XX chromosome variety, but still – after twenty novels you’d have thought he’d have sorted that one out. The Girl Guides and Podgy Pig’s sister in my Rupert annuals were more rounded characters than anything in a skirt in a le Carré novel.

Full post

We use cookies to help give you the best experience on our website. By continuing without changing your cookie settings, we assume you agree to this. Please read our privacy policy to find out more.