Monday, November 7, 2011

Total Oblivion, More or Less

Macy Palmer is a contemporary sixteen-year-old living in suburban Minnesota, whose life is turned upside down when...

wait for it...

...the United States crumbles as waves of Scythian warriors on horseback start rampaging out of the frozen North, looting and pillaging and burning as they go. In the south the Empire musters its forces to repel the Scythian threat.

Macy and her family become refugees, traveling south along the Mississippi on a riverboat. The Plague breaks out. Dogs can talk -- at least, there's one dog who can talk, but he has a good reason.

Macy's old life is gone forever. The future, no one can predict.

Yeah. Alan DeNiro's Total Oblivion, More or Less is like that.

So how did we get from Point A (the world of today) to Point B (mounted Scythian warriors pillage suburbia)? I'm going to spoil the end for you, just a little: there's never any explanation for the world being turned upside down.

So what gives?

You can read the author's thoughts on what it all means here.

Here's my interpretation. This isn't why I think all this stuff happened in-universe. Speculating on that would be besides the point. Rather, this is how I choose to interpret the novel as a whole.

Throughout history, people thought they lived in stable communities. If your family has lived in the village for generations, and you haven't witnessed dramatic change and upheaval in your own lifetime, then you'll naturally expect that while people will come and go, local businesses will change hands, and bits and pieces of everyday minutiae will undergo a slow turnover, the big picture will never change.

Especially in premodern societies, people thought like that. And they were often right. A village might stay in more or less the same state for several generations. People would live and die without ever venturing far from their homes. You would have no reason to doubt that things would continue on the way 'they always had'.

And then everything would fall apart. No matter where in the pre-modern world you were situated, the dislocation would eventually come, as waves of Mongol or Germanic or Bantu or Hunnish or Spanish or Arab or Turkic warriors would come tearing into your ancestral lands and turn your life upside down. Then they would recede (or become the new distant imperial overlords) and a new normal would be established. Except you might be dead. Or a refugee in a distant land where things don't make sense.

We 'modern people' think we're past all that. True, we worry about our civilization collapsing around us, but there are certain ways in which we think it's likely to happen (meteor strike, plague, nuclear war, etc).

We don't think our civilization is going to undergo catastrophic change that we're unable to wrap our minds around even while it's happening.

Macy and her family and her suburban American civilization thought they had a handle on what their future was going to be like. Turns out they were no better off than anyone else in human history.

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