Cincinnati author and architect Peter Seidel places his first novel, 2045: A Story of Our Future, clearly in the tradition of dystopian fiction classics 1984 and Brave New World and James Kunstler’s recent World Made By Hand.
Seidel’s lead character, Carl, wakes after 35 years in a coma to witness the cumulative effects of behaviors and decisions he supported — such as promoting “growth,” as defined in 2010. Concerns about political control central to prior dystopian fiction are complicated in 2045 by growing commercial dominance over public and private life.
A Wisconsin native who says he was stranded here during the Lyndon Johnson administration, Seidel moved to Ohio from Ann Arbor, Mich., to plan a new town outside of Cincinnati. When that fell through, he bought 188 acres of land in Clermont County to build an eco-community where residents could live in harmony with natural beauty and resources.
Seidel, who now lives in Northside and considers Cincinnati home, recently talked to CityBeat about his new book.
CityBeat: Why fiction, and why now?
Peter Seidel: My earlier non-fiction books, Invisible Walls and Global Survival (edited with Ervin Laszlo), examined why we don’t respond to obvious problems like global warming. I thought if I fictionalized important issues, they might resonate with people in ways that charts and tables don’t.
Also, I love to tell stories. When I was young, my father would tell me stories, completely made up, about Calcutta. That made me want to go there, and eventually I did.
CB: How does 2045 compare with other dystopian novels like James Kunstler’s World Made by Hand?
PS: World Made by Hand focuses largely on what happens when we run out of oil.
I look at multiple issues that combine to create the world of 2045. Some things in the future are certain: global warming is happening, water tables are dropping, human population is expanding. Some things are variable. The world of 2045 will not be exactly as I present it, but it will definitively reflect the results of our attitudes and behaviors from now until then.
CB: Your world in 2045 includes a much larger population, a hotter planet, a limited water supply and an oligarchy of eight global corporations controlling what people buy and what is permissible to think and do. Did any other themes in contemporary culture stand out for you?
PS: Terrorism is represented in the book, along with scarcity of fossil fuels. I also address our current ideas about growth. We can’t keep growing in a finite space. Growth is not the solution to everything.
Underlying everything we face in the future is the idea of a certain population size, with people leading lifestyles of varying efficiency and waste. We’re starting to address efficiency, but it’s difficult to discuss limiting population size because people jump to concerns about forced abortions or genocide. That need not be the case. In fact, there’s evidence that simply improving the education and treatment of women worldwide can reduce population to more sustainable levels.
And though there’s a lot of uncertainty about what difference it ultimately makes, we all can reduce wasteful behavior and make better choices, knowing that it’s the right thing to do for many reasons.
CB: How did you choose 35 years in the future as the time for your protagonist, Carl, to wake up?
PS: Older people can remember what things were like that long ago; young people today will be alive 35 years from now. I hope they’re smart enough to take cues that they’d better start imagining what kind of world they want and make it happen. Also, 35 years is long enough for the consequences of present behavior to play out, many in negative ways, as Carl finds out.
CB: What do you, as author of this vision in 2045, say to people who will be alive in 35 years?
PS: My book is dedicated to the people of 2045. We — my generation, our recent generations — are making the world you will live in. Look at what we’re doing now. Don’t let our short-term mentality and unwise priorities destroy your world. It’s yours. Start thinking differently.
2045: A Story of Our Future, published by Prometheus Books, is available at prometheusbooks.com and at online retailers.