• Climate Change Book Review: Splinterlands, by John Feffer

    December 10, 2016

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    Posted in: Other Ideas


    Looking Backward: 2000–1887 is a utopian science fiction novel by Edward Bellamy, first published in 1888.

    In it, Julian West falls into a deep sleep, only to awaken 113 years later. As he opens his eyes, it is the year 2000 and, as Bellamy imagined it, the U.S. is a socialist utopia. West wanders through this new land musing on the problems of capitalism, and how a socialist solution was what made turn-of-the-century America into paradise.

    John Feffer’s new novel, Splinterlands, features as its protagonist an American geo-paleontologist named Julian West who “awakens” politically in the near future to an America, and a world, hurtled into dystopia. Whereas Bellany’s book was meant as a prescription for a better future, Feffer’s is a look back from the future to America 2016 framed as a dire warning: there’s still time, but not much. Think of this as a future history of the Trump Era.

    Via the vehicle of his main character, West, using future Virtual Reality technology to visit each of his children, Feffer devotes a chapter per child to exposing a current problem, and projecting that forward to the horrors to come. Just make sure the point is driven home, West begins his journeys by reminding us the “last straw” for America was the destruction of Washington DC by Hurricane Donald, the name no coincidence. “Splinterlands” is the name of the main character’s seminal academic work predicting the chaos of a world breaking apart into smaller and smaller cultural and political units, the opposite of globalization — disintegration.

    West’s first child lives in a future Brussels, which serves as a platform to look into the break-up of Europe into 17th century duchies, all made worse by the presence of terrorist forces called Sleepers, members of a dying-but-never-quite-dead Caliphate. Clever in large part, subtle this ain’t. There are hints that West’s health is failing, and that standard sci-fi trope, a mysterious giant multinational corporation possibly up to no good.

    Child number two lives in western China, and serves as the vehicle to condemn predatory capitalism, specifically the ability and willingness of too many to profit off the suffering of others, a future Gordon Gecko with global reach; and indeed, the child is actually named Gordon. The concept of the One Percent is covered by an efficient statement of how the ultra-rich have seceded from society entirely, living in enclaves of enormous security and luxury while the world burns around them. “I make money precisely where the system moves out of sync,” says Gordon. The son’s statement that harmony is overrated might be 2016’s version of the 1980s’ “greed is good.”

    The final child is found in Botswana, now a pleasant tourist destination due to climate change. He is a “white hat” terrorist, once a warrior against the Caliphate, now on some other secret mission he can’t even reveal to his own father. We learn the over-extension of the American Empire, without economic and political stamina behind it, was a big factor in the disintegration of the world of 2016.

    A final visit by West is to his estranged wife, now living in a semi-utopian commune in Vermont called (again, minus subtlety) Arcadia. The people there are clear-eyed, with a huge arsenal (but only for self-defense), and depend on solar power, barter, organic farming, and consensual decision making. The last bits of the book tie to together multiple story threads in a cascading series of plot reveals.

    Splinterlands, labeled as a novel, comes up a bit weak as a fiction read. Too much of the plot is packed into the (fake) footnotes of some anonymous future editor, and then rushed through in the final chapters. A beach read this is not.

    But I suspect the author had no intention of writing something simply to entertain. He instead is standing on the rooftops, watching the literal floodwaters of Hurricane Donald rise, alongside climate change, globalization, predatory capitalism and all the other horrors of our world. As Edward Bellamy’s 1888 character Julian West was brought to life to show us the future as it should be, 2016’s version of Julian West has come back from the future to warn us our current path can only lead to a dystopia, one we may yet be able to forestall.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...


      With Demented Donald in the White House, the author’s predictions of global disaster make one believe it is later than you think. Reading this is enough to give one a heart attack.

      I also read the CIA wrote a report that the Russians helped Trump win the election. The CIA kills threats to our country all the time. Wonder what it will do next. Not making any predictions.

      12/10/16 5:25 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      First question…. How did you have time to read this??? What I found is that its only been available for a few days.

      Second, I’m guessing the author really hates Trump? To come out with hurricane Donald, that quickly.

      Third. Sounds like I would fit right in Vermont. Sounds like my kind of place.
      But, the last son, in Botswana, sounds like me. An awful lot like me.

      Fourth, Do you know the author, personally? I’ve met a few people with resumes like his. Every one was from some agency.

      Fifth. Ever read the short story, ” The Final Blackout “, by L. Ron Hubbard ?
      Its about WW2 that never ended. Ever.

      Sounds like Splinterlands is written along the same lines.


      12/10/16 7:42 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Splinterlands doesn’t get to the core of the problem of overpopulation that depleted the earths clean water supply, while increasing the oceans warm water that fueled Hurricane Donald. It would be ironic if Demented Donald had the Final Solution to that core problem.

      12/10/16 9:22 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      On an old Topic…


      I am Very well aware it can happen here. Very Well Aware.



      12/10/16 9:27 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Assuming Trumps EPA doesn’t kill US, he has a solution to enjoy this brave new global warming world: underwater golf.

      12/10/16 9:33 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      It is Obama who says ,”We had to destroy democracy in order to save it”, not Donald Trump.

      12/10/16 9:43 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Enough of this global warming nonsense, Trump says it’s time to move on…downward. At least we don’t have to waste taxpayers money on the Intelligence community, because they always lie like Trump says.

      Trump has already made history; he’s the first person to be called both a fascist and a commie stooge.

      12/10/16 9:45 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      John Poole said,

      ,”We had to destroy democracy in order to save it”

      To quote a friend of mine,

      “overheard in a German cafe, ” … In 1932.

      Pretty scary when you look at what France is doing to “protect” their
      Wonder how many people really believe that crap.

      And that example is why I will never be able to jump on the socialism wagon.
      As I learned in college, extreme form of socialism…. Dictatorship.


      12/10/16 9:54 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      An opinion- Peter may be trying to do Feffer a favor. Same with Tomdispatch. So why not post Parenti’s writings also?

      Oh, regarding Obama demanding the CIA find evidence of Russian meddling in the election. A half white prissy and scorned POTUS is a terrible thing to witness. His partner in crime Hillary was rebuked and poor Obama can’t deal with it.

      12/10/16 10:01 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...




      But, if Killary had learned previous lessons, she might have won.
      First lesson being,
      Demand Obama not support her.
      Everything and everyone he ever supported fell apart.

      He gets behind candidates… They fail. He got behind the EU with Brexit… Look what happened.

      Pretty simple solution to all of it….

      In the immortal (paraphrased) words of Segmund Freud…

      “I’m not saying kill all the stupid people…. I’m just saying we remove the warning labels…. And let things sort themselves out ”


      12/10/16 10:08 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Bauer is right. Get the planet down to 1 billion and all humanity’s problems are solved. An unyet discerned virus may do that easily -no asteroids but something suboptical but more deadly.
      We can’t have a nation (India) celebrating their one billionith birth as something wonderful. What in fuck were they thinking? We can feed the ones we have but we want to be a nation of one billion. Remind me never to travel to India.

      12/10/16 10:15 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Splinterlands is the most recent warning siren that time is running out on us. My favorite Cassandra warning is On the Beach by Nevile Shute which details the last days on earth after the nuclear apocalypse. Splinterlands is way too optimistic. With Demented Donald in the White House, we are all in the Dead Zone.

      12/10/16 10:16 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      India is not much different than… Tijuana…. Or the slums outside Washington D.C.


      12/10/16 10:18 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Even the Rich won’t find a place to hide from Hell on earth.

      12/10/16 10:20 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      Try reading War Day, or Nature’s End by Whitley Strieber.


      12/10/16 10:25 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      What’s the difference between hell on earth, and. Say….

      Afghanastan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Gitmo, etc, etc….
      And yep…. Those would all be places the United States are fighting, killing… Destroying.

      I realize War is good for “business”….

      But, things have to change…. Now.


      12/10/16 10:30 AM | Comment Link

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