The Story Behind the Book
Author: Edward Rubin
Name of Novel: The Heatstroke Line
BackStory: as recalled by the author
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’m a life-long fan of science fiction, and I teach a political science course called “Visions of the Future in Science Fiction” to undergraduates at Vanderbilt, so I thought I might be able to write something in this genre. 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.
After I finished writing the book, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I’ve published eight books about law and political theory with academic presses, but the fiction that I’d previously written had been solely for my own amusement. The closest I had come to writing for popular audiences were a variety of blogs on topics related to my work. One of these was a 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 invented the term “cli-fi” and runs a blog about the subject. “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.
Although my career as a professor is based on writing factual work (at least I hope it’s factual), I believe fiction can be a powerful force for good. It can encourage people to sympathize with those who are different from them, alert people to dangers that they may not recognize, and impel them to take beneficial action. I hope my book can serve that function.