The Literary Nook Interview
An interview with Edward Rubin, author of science fiction novel titled THE HEATSTROKE LINE.
Can we begin by having you tell us about yourself from a writer’s standpoint?
EDWARD RUBIN: I’m a university professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt University. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, went to Princeton and then Yale Law School. After practicing entertainment law for a few years, I joined the law faculty at Berkeley and I’ve been an academic ever since. I came to Vanderbilt to be dean of the Law School, but now I’m back on the faculty, teaching and writing. I write mainly about modern government, but also about its historical development. My most recent book is Soul, Self, and Society: The New Morality and the Modern State (Oxford University Press, 2015). It argues that a new morality is emerging, one that is different, but no less demanding, than the previous morality, and I link this change to our changing ideas about government. My other books are about American federalism, the prison reform process, and the concepts that we use to describe modern regulatory government.
I’ve been a science fiction fan my whole life. I’ve read most of the classics, and try to keep up with the contemporary work in the field. I teach a political science course to undergraduates called “Visions of the Future in Science Fiction” and joined with several of my colleagues to organize a science fiction reading club at the Law School. So when I thought about writing a novel, science fiction was the natural genre for me.
When not writing, what do you like to do for relaxation and/or fun?
Pretty much what one might expect: I read, listen to music, go the movies, and travel. I used to watch sports on TV, but I find that I don’t have the time now, and that it not as much since the Yankees haven’t been winning.
Congratulations on your novel THE HEATSTROKE LINE. Can you give us the very first page of your book so that we can get a glimpse inside? (Just the first page please.)
''Daniel Danten didn’t really want to have a family. What he wanted was to be a scientist, to teach at a university and produce original research. But this seemed so unlikely, given the state of things in Mountain America, that he decided to hedge his bets or he’d have nothing to show for his life. So he married a woman he convinced himself he was in love with and had three children. As it turned out, somewhat to his own surprise, he achieved his original goal, probably because he switched fields from astronomy to entomology, a subject of enormous practical concern these days. And now, with a secure position at one of Mountain America’s leading universities, his own lab, and a substantial list of publications to his credit, he spent most of his time worrying about his family. His wife, Garenika, was depressed, his ten year old son Michael was suffering from one of the many mysterious ailments that were appearing without warning or explanation, and his fourteen year old daughter Senly was hooked on Phantasie and running wild. Worst of all, his sixteen year old, Joshua, who had always been such a reliable, level-headed and generally gratifying son, had become an American Patriot.
''On a blazing, early September afternoon, with the outdoor temperature spiking at 130 degrees Fahrenheit, he was sitting with Garenika in the waiting room at Denver Diagnostic Clinic while Michael was being examined by still one more doctor. Garenika thought they would get some sort of answer this time, but Dan was convinced that the doctor would come out of the examining room and say that she really couldn’t tell them what the problem is. Senly was spending a rare evening at home and Joshua was just returning from his field trip to the Enamel, an expedition that, Dan felt sure, was designed to make the participants angry, rather than providing them with information. The doctor appeared and Garenika jumped to her feet.''
Would you say it’s been a rocky road for you in regards to getting your book written and published or pretty much smooth sailing? Can you tell us about your journey?
EDWARD RUBIN: I was talking to a colleague at Vanderbilt Law School who is one of the leading legal experts in the U.S. about climate change and its potential consequences. Frustrated by the failure of Congress and the American public to listen to experts and take the issue seriously, he suddenly exclaimed: “I wonder if a work of fiction would be more convincing than academic articles of the sort I’m writing.” That evening, when I was working at my computer, I remembered what he said and started sketching out the situation for a novel about climate change. I worked on it off and on for a few days, not knowing whether I would continue, and then, all of a sudden, the situation and the characters came to life for me. The rest of it just flowed.
EDWARD RUBIN: Shortly after I finished the book, and while I was still uncertain about what to do with it, I wrote a blog piece for Salon about climate change and the unwillingness of the American public confront what Al Gore has correctly called “an inconvenient truth.” In the blog, I noted that the current public seems to have an enormous appetite for disaster stories -- books like Earth Abides, Oryx and Crake, The Road, and Station Eleven, or movies such as Max Mad, The Postman, Planet of the Apes, and Waterworld. Why then, I asked, are we so averse to thinking about the real disaster that awaits us. My speculation was that these post-apocalyptic books and movies, good as many of them are, use the disaster they envision to clear away the government control and technological complexity of the modern world so they can tell an adventure story with long journeys by foot and hand to hand combat. They don’t deal with the reality of a disaster like climate change that will degrade our lives and destroy our hopes without freeing us from the intricacies of modern existence. A few days after the blog appeared, I received an email from Dan Bloom, who coined the term “cli-fi” and runs a blog about the subject at cli-fi.net. “Why don’t you write a novel of the kind you tell us isn’t being written,” Dan wrote. I wrote back and said “I have” and Dan wrote back and said “Send it to me.” He read it, liked it a lot, and got it published two weeks later with Sunbury Press.
If you had to summarize your book in one sentence, what would that be?
Edward Rubin: The Heatstroke Line is a science fiction adventure story that is set in a not-too-distant future when the United States has shattered into a number of small, impoverished principalities due to the rising temperatures from uncontrolled global warming and the biological, social and political stresses that result from this climatic change.
What makes your book stand out from the rest?
Edward Rubin: While it belongs to the genre of post-apocalyptic science fiction, and more particularly to Dan’s Bloom’s sub-genre of cli-fi, it is, as far as I know, the first such book to portray a negative future resulting from the actual threat that climate change creates, which is increasing temperatures. More significantly still, it differs from other post-apocalyptic novels in not using the envisioned disaster to clear away the modern world. In The Heatstroke Line, there are still governments, still cars and factories, and still all the mundane details of modern existence. It’s simply that life has become much worse for nearly all Americans. In other words, this is a realistic picture of what life might look like in our country if we allow global warming to continue unabated.
If your book was put in the holiday section of the store, what holiday would that be and why?
Would you consider turning your book into a series or has that already been done?
Edward Rubin: I don’t think so. I think it says what I wanted to say and ends on with the mixture of despair and hope that I wanted to convey.
What’s next for you?
Edward Rubin: I’m writing another science fiction novel, which will also be published by Sunbury. The main character is a man who runs a French restaurant in a human settlement on a distant planet, and whose sister happens to have become the dictator of a newer settlement on a neighboring planet. The action also centers on people’s response to an environmental disaster, although in this case it’s something other than global warming. For my day job, I’m writing a book about the theory of democracy and a treatise on administrative law for Oxford University Press.