I have discovered that when listing a book is not enough, there is a tool handy at the back of most books called the Reader’s Guide. Until now I have read these just to see what trajectories the book I have read could take me on. These guides are usually geared to book clubs but, as I found out, they are wonderful aides to the goal of reading slowly and profoundly.
Instead of being just a “book guide voyeur” I have decided to do the work and think about the book I’ve just read. I don’t recommend you plough through the reader’s guide of a book that only moderately grabs you; only follow this path if the book has grabs you intellectually and emotionally.
A book that has set my imagination reeling is that by Canadian author Shane Joseph, After the Flood. My response to his book is included here as much for instruction about how to read slowly and meaningfully as for the sheer insight that Joseph imparts by dragging the future into the present for our instruction. This book was well worth the slowing down of my compulsive reading schedule.
Here is Shane’s summary of the book from his Synopsis and my responses to the Reader’s Guide that he has provided, below.
After The Flood by Shane Jacobs
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. This book has been called “Noah’s Ark meets Samson & Delilah at Camelot in the Brave New World.” What aspects of these classic stories are present in the novel?
Noah’s Ark is one of the greatest second chance stories told. The entire world is wiped out in order to start again under a renewed covenant. The challenge begins at rainbow’s edge, God’s pledge not to punish humanity in totality again, but what about the human side? Noah and family pledge allegiance to God through obedience. Noah, like Shane’s protagonist Samson, succumbs to desire and finds himself drunk on the wine he has made. His son Ham disrespects the patriarch and suffers the generational consequences. So much for new beginnings but the offer was on tap.
Samson and Delilah, another story from the Hebrew Scriptures, depicts a faithful, hard-working, national hero-leader brought low through lust. Delilah leads Samson by the newly acquired hormonal ring in his nose to forsake his nation and his God. Severely humiliated by his own actions, Samson demolishes his place of imprisonment destroying himself and his enemies through an act not unlike the desperation of our novel’s protagonist, Samson. The question in both stories is: what shall arise from this ending, a new beginning or another less heroic start?
Camelot, Samson’s favourite pre-Flood movie, reiterates the second chance sagas of the past. The perfect fellowship of the round table and the gender balance of Guinevere and Arthur produced a stable society which eventually became stale and without authentic dynamism. Samson in his patriarchal protection didn’t allow his children to see the last part of the film not only because of its lustiness but more likely because it mirrored the future of his own society building. His role as civilization-builder full of hubris and in denial of human foibles led to his own Camelot’s reversal in Tolemac. Too much law, too much discipline and raw power invited an unconscious corrective not unlike the Pre-Flood days and the Capitalist society that Samson and his fellow citizens disdained. The lesson clearly is: you become what you hate.
Repression through a drug called “soma” was the clamp that held down humanity’s genetic dispositions in the Brave New World. Repression in Tolemac put the clamp on human nature through idealist spirituality, perfectionism and restrictive legislation. Without personal freedom there was no opportunity to learn responsibility or withstand powerful temptations. Samson’s son David, as well as many of Tolemac’s visitors to New Eden, immediately succumbed to what they lacked and became indiscriminate consumers. David makes quite a fool of himself at the Pink Gypsy bar in New Eden when he encounters blatant sexuality and unrestrained drinking. With no temptation in Tolemac there was no inoculation to temptations. In distinction, Billy White-Dove, a former alcoholic from Tolemac, overcame his drinking when the clamp of repression placed there by Tolemac’s prohibition was withdrawn. Billy’s recovery was completely dependent on the risky freedom of choice, something there was no lack of in New Eden.
2. In his Author’s Note, Joseph disclaims that this is a work of science fiction. Would you agree? If not, why?
While there are some allusions to future technological advances such as the novel’s ubiquitous “communicator” device (sounds like an iPad to me), the emphasis on science per se is minimal. After the Flood is more of a cautionary tale regarding human propensities that lead to the misuse of our creations, our communities and our conceptualities.
A good parallel may be the Space Trilogy of C.S. Lewis (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) that place future speculation in the context of theological, ethical and moral categories. The broader class of Speculative Fiction might well be applied to After the Flood, so as not to constrict its genre too rigidly. I can’t get the sound of Frankenstein’s monster out of my head as I turn each page of Shane’s After the Flood.
3. The ideologies of Humanitarianism and Capitalism are portrayed as forms of Fundamentalism, and David tries to forge a middle way between them. Discuss other forms of extreme attitudes in society today that could be classified as Fundamentalist. Based on your discussion, would you say that North America is tipping toward, or way from, fundamentalism?
I appreciate the use of the term "fundamentalism" to define the bifurcated post-flood world but I wonder if a better description might be ideological or ideologue societies. The religious baggage that accompanies "fundamentalism" may misdirect the reader; Joseph is correctly indicting all inflexible mental constructs.
The difficulty may be that our society is in the process of redefining, and perhaps discarding, the left-right spectrum. Being aware of the varieties of religious fundamentalisms from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu, I think it vital not to neglect the wide-ranging fundamentalism of the Leftist Progressives, NeoCons, New Atheists, and Ecofascist-feminists and Animal Anarchists.
Apparently “religious” fundamentalism is not in vogue especially in the Western liberal democracies. We have, however, maintained their rigid mindsets through our secular and politicized ideologies. Religious fundamentalism, still vocal and violent, may be receding but the more covert secularized mutation keeps that rigid ethos alive.
4. David is a reluctant hero while his father, Samson, believes in getting things done regardless of the consequences. How likely is David, passive hero, to solve Tolemac’s problems compared to a swashbuckling, action hero figure?
Years ago I read H. G. Well’s The Time Machine and was impressed by the evolutionary insight that as the challenges of human adjustment become less we as a species become flabby, so to speak. The leisure class, the Eloi of the future become weak, pale, uncreative and ineffectual whereas the Morlocks, the working class, become increasingly violent and intent on eating Eloi. The Tolemacians are prone to legislating moral struggle and instinctuality out of existence thereby becoming bland, predictable and incapable of adaptation. On the other hand, the New Eden Capitalist’s greed, lust and aggression orient them toward cruelty, social indifference and ultimately cultural cannibalism (colonialism).
Samson reared in the Pre-Flood experience has both the memories and habits of a competitor. He had to adapt to the dire days immediately after the Flood and fight to build a new world. David has for the most part inherited a stable social environment and is therefore constitutionally oriented to accepting unquestionably the mores of his society.
The effects of stagnation are beginning to wreak havoc in Tolemac: its quietism is being challenged as trade and pluralism becomes more frequent. David must learn to adjust and find a way to balance his energy if he is to become a competent leader. In the novel, David has learned some of these lessons such as: life-work balance, sexual desire, gender equality, tolerance of others, and finding mutually satisfying solutions when opposites conflict. Samson as a leader could not make the transition to the new world of cultural exchange and ultimately felt the need to resort to violence. In order to resolve the corruption of New Edenic influence, patience is needed.
5. The children of Tolemac see ghosts. Is that something to be expected in people after a cataclysm of this proportion?
No matter what metaphysical or psychological labels we may want to place upon the experience of seeing ghosts, it is important to appreciate why people experience the phenomenon. Before life can go on after deep catastrophe, mourning the loss of the past needs to take place. The children seeing ghosts is not in my opinion a sign of immaturity or illness but a healthy response. Like many cultures where ancestors are honoured these children are accepting the wisdom of those who have gone on before them. They are listening for the wisdom that has been lost to them through the deaths of their friends and neighbours. Adults, because of their rigid plausibility structures, are unwilling to become open to this reality and therefore require other rituals to make the transition. The children however are leading the way forward through their direct simple attentiveness and imaginations. Another framework to place this ghost-sighting phenomenon is apocalyptic. People who are downtrodden begin to construct symbolic structures that enable adjustment and justice to take place when historical reality seems to contradict their desire for justice.
Perhaps a good way to paraphrase the children’s desire is: you can’t keep good people down.
6. There is no real evidence of whether Delia committed murder. What is your opinion?
Delia, Doug and Joshua are medical refugees from New Eden. This capitalist state colonizes and isolates its weakest members giving them only a minimum of subsistence. Once a citizen is unproductive they are considered a form of human waste. This family fled to Tolemac in order to avoid this life of poverty and ultimately death. Doug is a convalescent who is unable to work. He is so disabled that his wife Delia is required as a full-time caregiver. Tolemac’s compassionate socialism is indeed a godsend to them. But even in this idealized state their problems cannot be eradicated as Doug becomes embittered and emasculated by his disability; he begins to psychologically and physically abuse Delia and is un-cooperative in his own recovery.
Delia arrives as a strong vivacious woman fully intending to nurse Doug but as time goes on and the kindness of Samson, Tolemac’s leader, turns into a more promising romantic affair that increases Delia’s need for relationship, her moral fibre falters. Over time she begins to double-dose Doug, which will lead to his death. The excuse of Doug destroying or losing his medication can only be used selectively, so she appeals to Samson, her soon-to-become lover, using his leverage to obtain extra medication. As this slowly induced double drug regimen of canceral takes effect, Doug himself begins to at least subconsciously sense betrayal. In the hospital his last words to his son Joshua reveal a type of awareness concerning his wife’s betrayal.
“Josh-remember… it’s all about you, boy. Don’t leave it to anyone. Don’t trust them. Especially when they come with their sweet smiles. The women… they are the worst. Remember…”, the voice was fading fast and his grip weakening. 172
Both Dr. Karya and his volunteer Frieda Parks are suspicious of Doug’s symptoms. Frida informs David Samson’s son,
well, let me tell you this straight and. I think Doug Stone is suffering from an overdose, wittingly or unwittingly. 173
Both the reader's and David’s idealization of Sampson as a man and as a leader crashes as we witness that the temptation of his sexual dalliance with Dalai overcomes his Tolemac morality.
While there is no indisputable evidence of motive that could stand before Tolemac court that Delia and Samson conspired in committing murder, there certainly are circumstantial factors that suggest the pressure got too much for her and she overdosed her husband with Samson’s help. Samson was found guilty of supplying drugs in an unlawful manner and sentenced to community service.
Beneath these actions of Samson and Delia lies the social pressures of their respective societies. In Dalai’s case her aggressive libido out performed her marital loyalty. When Doug became a liability, he became dispensable. Sampson on the other hand, after years of service to the community, and with a repressed sexuality, was tempted beyond his capacity when relief in the form of Dalai presented itself. There is something profoundly ironic that Samson’s legal guilt involved drugs since Tolemac was recently combating the influx of illegal drugs from other states. Neither the adults nor the adolescents of Tolemac’s citizens could withstand the pressures of pluralism.
7. Why does Kamala get sick after Samson’s trial?
The split between Kamala’s judicial role and her intimate relationship with Samson caused such an inner emotional tension that it had a somatic, physical manifestation. Kamala was not only the mother of Sonya, David’s wife (Samson’s son), she also carried a long-lived flame for Samson since the death of her husband. Her explanation of her illness was,
Well, when you discover that you've been upholding laws that deny people their humanity, it starts to make your life seem rather unlived. That’s probably why I fell ill.” 243
Behind Kamala’s denial lies her own denial of her age-old repression of her love of and attraction to Samson. Perhaps the adage that the Spirit gives life but the letter of the law kills might be applicable to Kamala’s health and that of her entire society.
8. Sean and Leo are victims of their respective societies. One self-destructs in a heroic act while the other is saved through his teacher’s belief in him. How do we reach out to victims in society today? Are there more Seans than there are Leos in our world?
Both Sean and Leo are fringe-dwellers: Sean from New Eden and Leo from Tolemac. Sean’s cancer relegated him to the productive fringe of the New Eden colonies, whereas Leo’s mental peculiarity, maybe Asperger's syndrome, placed him outside of the service modality of Tolemac. Both were not considered useful in their respective societies.
Sean’s crisis came when he despaired of the drift of his new home Tolemac toward the consumerist greed and misplaced desire of New Eden. His answer was that of the radical to strike hard at the root of the problem through a violent act of self-sacrifice. David tried to warn him of the danger of his behaviour but failed, unable to convince him of hope.
Leo, on the other hand, being younger and more acquainted with David’s Middle Way philosophic approach, managed to recover from his psychotic breakdown and desire to narcotize his pain. David held out the prospect of meaningfulness and relationship through mediating a compromise between Leo’s father Vladimir and Leo on the issue of university vs. trade school. Through doing this Vladimir was able to share with his son, as well as acknowledge his son’s genuine ability. Such vulnerability on his Dad\ ’s part encouraged Leo that hope and restoration of relationship could take place in the context of mutuality.
Fringe-dwellers in fiction and in reality have a desperate need for hope; without it they either give up and die or cause the death of others while attempting to establish a futile justice. Whether at the extreme violent fringes like the Columbine killers or the more quiet but equally sad suicidal victims of bullying, relationship in the context of genuine hope coupled with an adequate and tested faith is the solution. It is however a solution that requires political support and a cultural renewal that avoids the extremes itself and offers resources for those in need of help. After the Flood addresses not only the fringe but the centre as well. It suggests hopeful ways forward in the midst of dystopian realities.
9. The main story takes place in 2046, yet the technology appears antiquated for that time. Do you think that we will be further ahead technologically in the middle 21st century, even if we have to rebuild should a massive flood destroy most of our known world?
An eco-catastrophe like the Flood could accelerate our creative responses through dire necessity. Whether or not many moderate options would survive this urgency, it might be too late to apply them. We may find ourselves opting for immediately applicable and more drastic, perhaps radical solutions.
Paradigm shifts, personal and societal, emerge rapidly and out of necessity. After the flood it is no longer future generations who will be made to pay for the desires and greed of our species but the immediate survivors. Pain will be their prime motivator, the luxury of overly reasoned responses will likely be impaired.
The gap between morality and technology will be quickly spanned and I would think and hope that morality would be the initial winner, at least until the crisis is well past. This is what intrigues me about Shane’s novel. It deals primarily with the second generation’s response to the Flood. Is David’s “Middle Way” programme the way forward or is it the first step toward a regression to an unenlightened self-interest? Like the genetic propensity to lust, are we fated to political hubris?
10. An aircraft being deliberately flown into a building is considered the act of a madman in our post-9/11 world. In this book, it is an act of desperation, to dislodge duplicitous politicians from positions of power. What other parallels to the present time are drawn in this book?
In the first chapters leading up to the great cataclysm of the Flood, there are significant references about social isolation and cultural ghettoization within society. Pre-Flood people don’t know each other at a significant level even though we attend church, play baseball and have backyard barbecues. There is a social superficiality that proves the dictum, “the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.” It is when people are shocked into intimacy that we learn the true value of mutuality and vulnerability. The fundamentals of common humanity rise to the fore in crisis: sharing, providing, grieving and adapting.
Climate-related catastrophes, part of our regular news cycle, have made us more aware of the humanity of others as well as our global vulnerability. It is not only Haiti, China and Pakistan that are subject to the fundaments of human suffering but Katrina, the BP environmental catastrophe and the Alberta Tar Sands have become prods to compassion and empathy in our Western democracies.
After the Flood anticipates an ominous and intensified parallel to the desperation of the 9/11 attacks. A terrorist act involving the San Andreas Fault results in a catastrophic event with permanent geographic repercussions, the splitting off of portions of the British Columbian coast from the mainland. Potentially devastating acts of eco-terrorism are unfortunately part of the imaginations of today’s extremists be they of home-grown anarchic or theo-terrorist varieties.
After the Flood primarily focuses on the adaptation of various cultural and economic groups to the new order. These fictional adaptations are grounded in what is and has already taken place in our politics and consciousness. Today there is a polarization between those who believe the solutions can be found in socially provided security or by ramping up the individual initiative of its citizens through private enterprise. Group mind conformity and ideological purity develop in both approaches; attempts are made to persuade struggling societies to pursue either one approach or the other. The socialist-humanitarian option tends toward the repression of individual initiative and creativity. One need only regard the collapse of communism and the faltering steps of eccentric, isolated societies, like North Korea with its dependence on a small leader with a Samson-like persona to imagine the trajectory.
Ironically, China, formerly enamoured by the myth of collectivism, has converted to aggressive capitalism that blatantly leaves behind the peasant poor and all who cannot keep up with the juggernaut of progress. A propitious offshoot is the rise of individuality in dress, culture and economic projects as well as interaction with the global community of nations. In North America there is experimentation with “patient capitalism” and green economics, which seem to be attempts at blending the best of both ideologies. Both are struggles to find the middle ground.
The hope for the future inAfter the Floodlies not with the mainstream philosophies of either model of society, rather it lies in those who straddle between the cultures either through personal necessity or a unifying political vision. Examples of the former are Sean and Leo, both casualties of their culture’s blind spots. Sean has become too ill to survive in New Eden whereas Leo’s mental illness may be complicated by Tolemac’s conformity codes as represented by Leo’s father. A unifying vision can be found in both cultures: in Tolemac David represents the middle way; in New Eden Congressman Gordon and the Knights of New Eden are attempting to fuse the best of both worlds.
It seems that those who respond from personal pain and inadequacy for the most part become dysfunctional, radicalized and desperate whereas those seeking to apply the unifying principle as a cultural renewal show the way forward. Our current social predicament has representatives of both sorts. Hope lies with unity from strength and conviction rather than reaction from pain.
11. In the end, After the Flood, offers no solutions to mankind, other than to propose taking a serious step from extreme rigidity towards openness and tolerance for the other side. Is this “middle way” a prescription for the thousand years of peace to come, or is this approach also fraught with risk of failure, and why?
Before reflecting on whether the Middle Way is a prescription for a new millennium or a riskyoptionworth trying, it might be helpful to clarify what the Middle Way is, especially as described in After the Flood. The Middle Way is a collaboration of unifiers and synthesizers who represent a mature veering away from the extremes of rigid ideologies.
David, a second generation Tolemacian, intuits the political philosophy of the Middle Way initially through playing the Trading Game at school and witnessing how the students reveal the bullying ways of New Eden and the passive perfectionism of Tolemician society and its model. Through the game the problem of extremism is defined. Later, as a political novice, David witnesses the stalemates in the governing of his society and personally suffers from the drivenness of his father’s penchant for nation building from a single perspective. His driven father has paid quite an individual price to maintain the principles of Tolemac.
Nathan’s WorkOut Plan, a creative way to avoid devolving into a welfare state where the weak are merely taken care of and the rest pay the price, is a good example of moderating the two ideologies of dealing with the poor or weak. Nathan explicates the social problem and its consequences well:If we constantly pour money into areas that show no improvement, it amounts to welfare, and welfare impaired the former Canada from reaching her true greatness.(After the Fall 64)
Samson was afraid that Nathan’s proposal would lead to privatization and a calloused capitalism. Nathan, however, is not merely reacting but advocates learning from “outsiders” (New Eden Capitalists) how to gauge results while guiding them toward compassionate responses to WorkOut and the refugee dilemma.
The Middle Way needs enough dynamic tension to move society forward. It cannot be a mushy middle concept or a flaccid approach. If the Middle Way is defined as a union of opposition, then the trick is to integrate options of stark difference while allowing the tension to form a higher resolution. Negotiated settlement of differences is not likely to accomplish much other than mutual dissatisfaction without the honest and vulnerable work of sifting the weaknesses and strengths of each position. David throughout the novel exemplifies such hard work whether socially or personally mediating his own marriage difficulties or finding a solution to Leo and his father’s intransigence.
What makes the Middle Way a risky strategy is the possibility of it becoming a mushy middle compromise. The banality of a rigid, negotiated middle ground is not David’s intention but without vigilance it can easily become laissez-faire. Such a pale liberalism may work in times of stability and comfort but is disastrous in times of crisis and conflict. William Fulbright describes such a time:There has been a tendency through the years for reason and moderation to prevail as long as things are going tolerably well or as long as our problems seem clear and finite and manageable.(J. William Fulbright Quotes)
Tolmacians and New Edeners of the first generation needed a quick and decisive response to the Flood. The very names of the novel’s characters imply the wisdom of Fulbright’s attention to context. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Samson was a judge in the chaos of entering the New Canaan. He was a passionate, driven and flawed character. David reigned as the monarchy was being established. His dynastic rather than charismatic leadership was at that time the way forward. Samson inAfter the Floodis the leader for the immediate post-Flood society but as his culture evolves and begins a stabilizing process, his model outlives its relevance. David, on the other hand, provides a risky way forward using a tempered temperance though dialogue. Mark Twain alerts moderates to the dangers of their path:Temperate temperance is best; intemperate temperance injures the cause of temperance.
12. How would Hanna and Joshua’s generation govern this new world, given that they understand the art of collaboration and are not wedded to either humanitarianism or capitalism? Or would they be too consumed by these ideologies as they now approach adulthood?
Hanna and Joshua will definitely have to fight againsttheir society'scultural imprints but there are indications throughout the novel, which suggest that they are aware of the benefits of the past. They also indicate nascent strengths of their own that contribute to the future. For instance, the idea of dialogue and reaching out from one culture to another is repeatedly mentioned in their correspondence. Hannah mentions that her father David continues to work on inter-economic dialogue with New Edeners. She says that she could have told him connection and outreach is the key to the future and that adults sometimes just don’t get it. David’s legacy has facilitated and set the groundwork for Hannah’s own ease of communication with others. The seed has been sown.
Hannah has an added dimension of communication in her psychic contact with the dead. She mentioned the current afterlife status of her grandparents. A culture that takes time and makes the effort to honour its ancestors, to appreciate the continuity of their legacy, is surely on the way to wisdom. Hannah is nonetheless still in danger of being enmeshed in some of the Tolemacian traditions; she could easily fall into Tolemacian collectivism around children and gender roles.
Joshua has set his sights on an entrepreneurial career as a dude rancher in his new life in Alberta. He is becoming discouraged with the constant moving his mother’s unstable, perhaps even libidinous, life has imposed on his maturity. Because many of the technologies and gadgets of New Eden and even Tolemac are not as available, he desires to make a secure life for himself. He may however fall into the trap of greed and individual initiative represented by his New Eden legacy; his material obsessions suggest the possibility.Josh has undoubtedly been influenced by the kindness of Tolemac in his family's short stay. This kindness is still being extended toward him by way of David who has set time out to regularly tutor him in math by way of communicator. He is also fortunate in having his friend Hannah visit him with her family’s blessing, provision and tolerance.
While Hannah and Josh have to struggle against old patterns there is certainly a good chance that their traditions will be moderated by the temperate efforts of David and the legacy of the past. While they still hold to their cultural values, they are more flexible and willing to admit their stubbornness as well as asking forgiveness of one another. They have come such a long way from the suspicious nature of Samson and the arrogance and avarice of Ethan.