When her mother dies in a heat wave that kills 20 million people, Zia León gives up a promising diplomatic career to lead humanitarian aid operations in regions hit by drought, forest fires, and rising sea levels.
What Zia doesn’t know is that secret forces gather around her to pursue a colossal secret: someone has kidnapped the climate and the future of human civilization is at stake.
To avoid a world war that seems inevitable every day, Zia must form a coalition of the powerless and try the impossible. But success depends on facing the grief that defines your life and rediscovering friendship, family and what it means to be true to yourself as everything falls apart.
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Follow your curiosity
A few years ago, I was listening to a podcast interview with award-winning journalist Charles C. Mann, describing scientists who were researching how to deliberately manipulate global climate to offset the worst effects of climate change.
While geoengineering proposals range from sowing the oceans with bacteria to extracting carbon dioxide directly from the air, with today’s technology only one approach is practical. They fly airplanes into the stratosphere and spray inert dust, which makes the earth a little more shiny, reflects a little more incoming sunlight back into space, reducing the amount of energy that enters the earth system and cools the planet. The kicker is that it would only cost $ 2 billion a year to offset the current rate of global warming. This means that every country and even a few wealthy individuals could choose to create such a program themselves.
This scenario raises so many questions that will determine the coming century: what does it mean to exist in an environment in which we ourselves are the main change? What will the future be like if technologies like nuclear weapons, CRISPR, the Internet and geoengineering can give a single person the power to literally change the world? How can we use our own nature to use such technologies to actually make the world a better place?
Holy shit, I thought. Someone has to write a novel about it.
And veil was born.
Don’t try to be original
The more I learned about the science of geoengineering, the more I put pressure on myself to construct a story that was as complicated as the climatology models I read about. Part of it was a desire to honor the source material, but there was also a less honorable aspect: the desire to impress readers with an original science fiction version of an important topic.
We have all had the pleasure of appreciating a truly original work of art – something that opens up new worlds. But is the originality we experience the result of the Creator’s quest for originality? My best work is when my ego goes out of the way, when a story flows aside, as if I were nothing more than a channel. Veil refused to get started until I stopped being smart and only wrote what seemed obvious.
Don’t try to be original. Just do what comes naturally. Others will call what comes naturally from you “original” because * you * are its source, your nature has informed it. But you know the secret: you did what was obvious and that inspired it.
Don’t let routine bother you
When we protect ourselves locally to smooth the curve of a global pandemic, it feels like life, but last year at that time my wife and I went on a pilgrimage. The Way of St. James is an old pilgrimage route, a network of trails across Europe that leads to the alleged resting place of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. My wife and I are not religious (only about half of the pilgrims we met were Catholic), but we love walking, and over the course of five weeks we hiked five hundred miles along the mountainous north coast of Spain.
I should have finished writing Veil before we started.
I hadn’t done it.
After spending the whole day lugging a heavy backpack through pouring rain, howling wind, or baking sun, I sat on my bunk in the converted gymnasium of a remote village albergue – volunteer shared dormitories for pilgrims – and wrote a chapter. or a scene or a sentence before it passes out.
I am so often mistaken that I cannot write if the conditions are not right: a large block of time, a minimal number of words, a quiet place to work, the best breakfast, plenty of inspiration, etc. But routine can both hinder and help . I finished the Veil on the Camino design because the routine was not in my way. I wrote whenever, wherever and as I could, and so can you.
Choose the roller coaster
Writing veil was an emotional roller coaster ride. Here is the assembly version from the 1980s: full of ideas and enthusiasm -> I think, “Wow, this is different in a good way” as I whiz through the first chapters -> insidious doubts gather in my mental shadows until -> somewhere halfway point I have an existential crisis that this book will not work -> after extensive struggle the crisis dissolves in a new understanding of history itself -> the momentum increases until I experience the excitement, the climax itself to read how I write it -> etc.
It turns out that this will not be easier. It’s a roller coaster ride that I climb every time I write a new novel. The only difference that the experience makes is that I now know that when I sit down to create a new story, I buy a ticket. The roller coaster is an essential part of my process. I choose the roller coaster.
It is crucial to recognize that the roller coaster is a choice. It means that I sign up for work. It means that I realize that struggle is work when it gets difficult. It means that when fear raises its ugly head, I face it – with clear eyes and an even keel.
Find the heart of the story
I only ever find out the heart of the story as I write it. Rather than following a clever plan, working through a manuscript sentence by sentence feels like hacking through thick undergrowth and following an overgrown path that may or may not lead to the other side.
When I explored this particular jungle, patterns appeared. Zia took on unexpected depth and made decisions that surprised me. Her circle of friends came into focus. Strange loops connect decisions, objects and places more closely with each other – ways to increase the density of history, a pocket universe that reflects itself.
But only after a long train ride through Italy – interrupted by wildfire on the tracks, where conductors were distributing plastic water bottles to sweaty passengers – did my wife ask the ultimate question: Why are you writing this story at all? ?
It was only through the answer that the answer became clear to me. I wrote this story to take readers on a journey that would challenge them to think about life in the Anthropocene. I wrote it because the characters’ personal losses reflect how we’ve all lost capital-n-nature – the ability to draw a clear line between man and the environment. By developing ever more ingenious tools that extend our reach from the subatomic to the cosmic realm, we have lost a proper metaphor to explain the world to us. The cast had to find the courage to face their grief, to reconcile, to find a way forward. It is exactly in this situation that we are in relation to the Earth system: we can no longer afford to pretend that our actions have no consequences or that it is possible to turn the clock back. As difficult as it may be, we must take responsibility for the extraordinary forces that we have developed and use them to build a better future together.
* * *
Eliot Peper is the author of Cumulus, True Blue, Neon Fever Dream, the Uncommon Series and the Analog Series. His novels have been praised by the New York Times Book Review, Popular Science, San Francisco Magazine, Businessweek, io9, Boing Boing and Ars Technica. He has helped build technology companies, survived dengue, translated Virgils Aeneid from Latin, worked as an entrepreneur for a venture capital firm, and explored the ancient Himalayan kingdom of Mustang. His letter appeared in Harvard Business Review, The Verge. Tor.com, TechCrunch, VICE and the Los Angeles Review of Books, and he has been a speaker at Google, Comic Con, SXSW, Future in Review and the conference on world affairs.
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