The Logic of the Grand Design

By: Peter Goodchild

The essay “The Grand Design” is based on six separate passages from my book-length manuscript Dream of the Metamorphoses. I tried to improve those passages, and I changed past tense to present. I omitted all names of people and places.

What I was really trying to do, in my usual 5-a.m. caffeine-reinforced madness, was to write some fiction — not exactly science fiction, and not cyber-punk, but rather dystopian futuristic fiction. But even then, not dystopian in any way that involves fantasy, but dystopian in as realistic a way as possible.

In turn, the reason for doing so is that I’ve often toyed with turning my manuscript The Coming Chaos into a novel — rather a huge leap in genre. It seems to me that the manuscript is too dry for people to read, or perhaps just plain too difficult. I’d tried to weed out the “symmetric logistic distribution curves” and so on, but perhaps there are too many.

I would think, however, that all the data should be workable as a novel. It wouldn’t be terribly easy, I admit, because most of the themes that I (and others) refer to as “systemic collapse” aren’t really flashy enough for fiction. When Cormac McCarthy used nuclear war as a plot, he was certainly using something “flashy,” but systemic collapse will largely be slow, boring, and barely noticeable — a long dull slide into poverty. The frog in the pot, with its water getting imperceptibly hotter.

But it can be done. I don’t know if Diamond was thinking so consciously in terms of genres, but his Collapse is certainly written as a series of stories, much like fiction in their structure (not that the average “environmentalist” would let facts get in the way of a good story anyway and endanger his sources of funding). The result is far inferior to Catton’s Overshoot, but which one gets read more often? Which one can be seen prominently displayed on the shelves of the monopoly book-store chains?

Not that I intend to do a major o-my-god-I-forgot and leave “peak oil” out of any “collapse” book I’d been writing, or tell long pointless tales about my home state. I don’t have Diamond’s flair for things of that sort. But I’m always on the trail of a good story.

About the author: Peter Goodchild is the author of ‘Survival Skills of the North American Indians’ (Chicago Review Press). Click here to mail him.