James Howard Kunstler’s recent World Made By Hand is only one of a number of dystopian novels to be published in the last few years–and no wonder, with global warming a certainty, little concerted action from governments, and confusion or indifference from the majority of people everywhere. A number of artists have contemplated the earth after cataclysms from this all-too-human inaction. Kunstler’s fascinating novel, however, is not entirely bleak in its view. Set in the near future, World Made by Hand posits a U.S. devastated years after terrorist bombings of its major cities, without power sources, communication systems, transportation, or effective government. In one small upstate New York town, the remaining people are in a state of shock and depression, even 20 years after the breakdown of society and its old ways. The younger people don’t remember television, the internet, airplanes, or cars, although certainly they’ve been told of these things; they think of them as fairly tales. It’s fascinating to think of the ramifications, and Kunstler does it convincingly.
Despite the grim scenario Kunstler lays out, he also provides a rich story, driven by complex and engaging characters whose handmade world seems that it could indeed be the foundation of a different kind of life in the future. Without beating us over the head with lectures, Kunstler suggests some of the ways of life that could be sustainable (at least with a vastly reduced population), and some of the essential human connections that are among the true necessities of human life.
A few other books contemplating the aftermath of a global catastrophe are Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Jim Crace’s Pest House, P.D. James’s Children of Men and Alan Weisman’s (non-fiction) The World Without Us.