A History of the Future
© 2014 Jim Kunstler
Christmas has arrived in Union Grove, and unlike their ancestors in days past – for whom the season was an exhausting, expensive enterprise involving frantic consumerism — the people of the village are enjoying a respite from their work. The harvest season is done and the long winter has begun, and these residents of a world made by hand – in a place that has slowly begun to regenerate after the collapse of the oil economy, epidemics, and blight – have each other. But while Brother Jobe celebrates his tavern’s opening, and a father welcomes his wandering son home, a voice cries in the darkness; a man and his son are dead.
A History of the Future is third in Jim Kunstler’s “World Made by Hand” series, depicting a year in the life of the community of Union Grove, a small village in upstate New York which survived the end of the old order. The future is very much like the distant past – the 18th century, say, but with curious fragments of the old world floating around. In previous books we have seen how the city of Union Grove is slowly restoring its fortunes, going beyond mere survival. Now we learn a little what lies beyond upstate New York, as young Daniel Earle has returned from travels along the Erie Canal, with news from what was once the Deep South. Unfortunately, what we learn from Dan comes from telling, not showing; at one point in his adventures he’s picked up by some remnant of the US Navy and given a full lecture on the collapse of nation-states across the globe and chaos at home, including a race war between white and black ethno-states in the old Midwest and Deep South. Kunstler’s depiction of Appalachia is worse than stereotypical, with no connection whatever to the region’s character or problems. I was surprised by the lack of imagination, frankly, and the depiction was too cartoonish to be offensive. That made the Union Grove thread, with its focus on the need for lawful order even amid stressful times, carry more of the weight of the book than intended. Dan’s adventures, which should be exciting and revealing, are more….tedious and ridiculous, culminating in his half-hardheartedly strangling some mix of Dolly Parton and Adolf Hitler while they’re in the throes of passion. (Women are….weird in this book. If they appear for more than two pages, they’re absolutely bonkers.)
A History of the Future is not a great novel, and definitely not one of the better World Made Hand novels. Those who enjoy reading Kunstler’s commentary on the meaningless of modernity and the insulting waste of resources that is modern development will find it here, woven into the fiction; this series exists more as an illustration of what might happen than because there’s a story that needs to be told. That said, I will be finishing the series….mostly because I found a used copy of the fourth book!
A World Made by Hand and The Witch of Hebron, the ‘summer’ and ‘autumn’ titles in this series.
Lucifer’s Hammer, Larry Niven. Another ‘end of the world’ type book, this one based on an asteroid strike.
One Second After, William Forschten. Another end-of-world book, this time following the aftermath of an EMP burst.
The first book still has a trailer on YouTube, which explains the premise of those who are curious: