Since the author of this work, Paul Kieniewicz, writes such excellent reviews of the work of others it is daunting to do his work justice without giving too much away. This is a deeply philosophical work but the philosophy is worn very lightly, and well camouflaged within a plot that wholly engages on its own terms.
It would be tempting for the genre fundis* to call this science fiction, but as this work itself reveals what was fiction once is fiction no longer. An imaginative genetic interspecies is now plausible, given the recent announcement of the hubris of science to construct its own variations on what evolution has painstakingly refined over millennia. The world of ‘synthetic genetics’ is already upon us, with inbuilt self-destruct genes in case things go badly wrong. Which goes to show that irresponsibility is now tossed off with ‘we’ve made provision for our possible thoughtlessness, calm down dear…’
- So back to the book. The setting is 2050 when Scotland is being ravaged by a new plague in the midst of the ecological devastation brought about by global warming. Gaia is doing her best to raise the temperature to fight the infection of thoughtless and greedy humanity, and greedy humanity is carrying on regardless. Unwelcome refugees are hounded from the cities, taking refuge in the remote rural community where one large hearted woman, Linella, offers refuge on her land for the homeless and dispossessed, providing they surrender guns and the means of provocation. Like many practical idealists Linella believes in belief. Her power to sustain belief recognizes no boundaries to its power. She has Gaia at her root drawing sustenance herself from that bond.
This rural haven is split by the deep trauma of the birth and loss of many refugee children, Gaia’s children, the ‘lupans’ who find a deeper sustenance with the wolves, abandoning their human mothers and surviving through the restoration of pack instinct. Needless to say these compelling yellow eyed speechless creatures are the grounds used by the oppressor to justify the harassing and persecution of the refugees that gave birth to them. Protected by their pack and kind, endowed with the instincts that have been restored they seem oblivious to danger; it is their shamed parents for whom they are a grief and blight that face the consequences.
A single character Scott Macguire stands sentry for the blind prejudice of rational man, yet he is himself a refugee from commonplace justice, so perfectly placed to relearn the inadequacy of prejudice when dealing with irrational passion. His enforced stay with the lupans and their protection results in not only a physical recovery but an emotional and spiritual education. To the lupans he is a ‘Messenger’ who crashes from a bird in the sky, to mankind he is a different messenger, one who recovers from Gaia’s children the necessary message for humanity. This incremental redemption is the plot of the book, a redemption that will require the sacrifice of greed, prejudice and intellectual arrogance. Otherwise Gaia will have the same answers for mankind as it had for the Dinosaurs whose physical size militated against survival. Ours is merely brain capacity with the same destructive capacity.
The characters in this book are all ranged along a continuum from Linella’s instinctive earth motherhood and its generosity, through the blindness self interest which takes out a gun as the means of survival, to the doctor open to an intelligent appraisal of evidence, and the wisdom not to reveal that intelligence to those unready for the maturity it requires. Somehow to achieve survival the fine balance between guilt, shame, fear and greed requires the sacrifice of each for what it holds most dear. To move the community into the courage that the new return to a collective wellbeing needs, is a compelling message about individual responsibility. So this is not a concealed polemic about social measures, or any political answers but a call for individuals to face the contribution that their limitations impose upon Gaia. Nothing is irrelevant to the song of the Earth.
From my experience of an uninterrupted reading this book is a finely balanced meal, best served at a single sitting to be digested at leisure , because it does not waste a word and no starch fills out the appetite. In an unself-important way it causes one to ask how would I have fitted in to this community, and what would I have done or failed to do that might have made a difference to what happened? The next examination will be for how one is already contributing to similar circumstances that surround us all? In short, an important book to focus upon the most critical questions relevant to every life. So fiction? Not really.
* A ‘fundi’ is Sou’Thafrican for someone who is or considers themselves an expert