Monday, July 30, 2018

Corvus by Johnson

Corvus / Harold Johnson
Saskatoon: Thistledown Press, c2015. 
277 p.

I first read Johnson's The Cast Stone some years ago, and was always interested in finding a copy of this one as well, a novel which takes the collapse of the world's environment into 2084 to see the outcomes.

This year, with all the dystopian fiction I've been reading, I thought it was time to fit this one in! 

In this world, two wars over resources have been fought, and people have overwhelmingly moved north in search of water and soil that can still grow things. Most of the previous fertile soil of the prairie farmlands has been rendered into desert, dead earth, by the practices of chemical farming in the 20th/21st century. Water has dried up as the glaciers melted,  and the setting, the northern town of La Ronge, Saskatchewan, is no longer a small town of 3000 or so residents -- it's now quite a large city, with suburbs, a slum called Regis, and elite suburbs tethered in the sky above the massive storms that regularly hit these days. There's also an ashram just out of town, in which we find some of our main characters.

There's Lenore, a prosecutor and troubled war veteran, and George, a coworker who she has her eye on, who both live in La Ronge. The ashram gives us Richard, a war vet, and Katherine, a woman taken in by the ashram at 17 and who seems to be a natural, though unofficial, leader.

As the story opens George has a disappointment at work and ends up buying himself an expensive ORV (organic recreational vehicle). These are partly organic and partly tech - George buys himself a raven and takes to regular flights when he needs to think. In one storm, he crashes near an Indigenous settlement far from town. Experiencing their hospitality as he recovers, and the wisdom of an elder, Two Bears, changes the way he thinks about his life. 

Richard works on the land on the ashram and spends summers harvesting algae from the lake. He has a brief affair with Lenore before she settles on George and he settles on Katherine, but this links their stories throughout. 

Johnson tackles things that were issues in 2015, but in 2018 are scarily top of mind. Intrusive tech, government surveillance, the widening gap between rich and poor, climate change & its resultant extreme weather and soil/water conditions, valuing the economic story over the human one, and much more. He extends all of these things to likely outcomes, and it's quite plausible, and also alarming. But he uses creative storytelling to provide a way to take all this in, and includes brief segments from the viewpoint of Raven, giving an overview of history in a sense.  

There are many philosophical asides, which simultaneously are the point of the book and slow down the narrative. There is much Indigenous wisdom shared, in a natural way, during these asides. But the thing that most niggled for me was the role of Lenore and Katherine - their stories are dramatic and could have been explored much more deeply, but it's the men who get the guidance and insight here.The women are more valued for their ability to give life.  I'd hope that dynamic would have changed by 2084. There's also George's last case in which begins to think he should no longer punish people and take part of their lives away as a prosecutor - the circumstances of this crisis of faith didn't sit well with me at all. 

Still, this was a fresh take on a likely future if we keep going the way we are -- he points out that leadership is lacking politically in our world, that chasing the economy is destroying the earth and our relationship with it -- all quite resonant today. The story didn't so much build a world as explore our current world from a wider vantage point. The focus was on these characters and their existential journeys. It was intriguing, and a good addition to the world of  "Cli-Fi". He was ahead of his time in tackling this!

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