who are you trying to impress? McDonald’s Hopeland and skiffy diasporae

It’s yer man ADH, who else? “Space is dead”, sez he:

The moon landing happened because capitalism and American empire actually had a rival. These forces had to prove they could outrace, outplan, and outspend communism and Soviet empire. It was probably the biggest PR campaign of all time, if you don’t count our bloated military. But such grand flexes are not necessary in our current capitalist realist status quo. When there’s no alternative, who are you trying to impress?

I do think we can go to Mars, and beyond, if we want to. But we’d have to decide to do so, collectively and democratically, probably not even as a nationstate but as a species. We’d have to put aside capitalist and nationalist competition. We’d have to take up more pressing moonshots first——decarbonization and climate repair——and then keep that momentum of big public spending flowing.

So if you want to write a story about space, that’s where I think it should start. How do we get through the bottleneck of climate collapse and polycrisis, through to a better system that offers more expansive possibilities?

Quoting for truth, naturally, but also for a more serendipitous relevance. I read Andrew’s piece this morning, after staying up later than I should have done last night in order to finish McDonald’s Hopeland, which is a strong contender for the best genre novel I’ve read so far this year. Nonetheless, its second half didn’t work for me so well as the first, and its three-page slingshot coda/pendant—which winds forward nearly a millennium, and features members of a solar-system-diasporic (post)humanity coming back to a particular location on Earth from Mars habitats and gas-giant moon-bases—actually annoyed me somewhat.

To be clear, this slingshot ending is earned, and is arguably even necessary in that it closes a large durational cycle which has been telegraphed all through the book (and which is basically something like the Long Now Foundation’s clock, but more magical/artistic and less pompous in its conception). But at the same time, that a book which takes such pains to imagine a mundane yet hopeful future for small nations and peoples at the edge of things, in a world where the big changes to come put them at greater risk—a book which is so resolutely down to earth (both literally and figuratively) about futurity and the struggle implicit therein—still had to cap off that careful walking of the tightrope of hope with an optimistic onward-and-upward skiffy bit tacked on at the end?

Well, I was disappointed by it, as is presumably obvious. But it’s quite possible (and reasonable!) that I am not at the center of the demographic being aimed for, here. I’m also aware that sometimes publishers will insist to an author that an otherwise more blunt ending be leavened with some hint of uplift, and that the exigencies of the business of authoring* likely make it hard to decline such requests.

But if we leave my crabby and picky viewpoint behind—sighs of relief all round at that suggestion, I’m sure—think we could say that Hopeland is doing something like ADH is suggesting above. And that the book presents the skiffy diaspora only as a brief and very distant pendant to a pretty hefty tale of more mundane, immediate and terrestrial struggle—as a first few tottering steps toward a time when said skiffy diaspora might actually be economically and socially plausible—is thus to be praised.

There are lots of other reasons for Hopeland to be praised, and if time allows I may write about them here. But time is a little short at present, for reasons which I really must make the time to recount…

[ * Regarding those exigencies, McDonald notes in his thankyous at the end of the book that its research was supported by a grant from Arts Council Ireland. If we’re at a point where a writer with that level of talent, strong critical reception and (I presume) reasonable midlist sales figures can’t actually take the time to research a new novel without topping up what they’re paid for the thing by the publishing process, then, well—I guess I was right when I decided to look for other ways to pay the rent than just writing fiction, but it’s a rightness in which I take zero satisfaction. ]

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