April 23, 2013

Hamish  MacDonald  is  the  author  of  four  novels and  the  creator  of  the  DIY  Book  podcast.  It  was this  last  that  I  heard  of  first  a  number  of  years ago,  and  it  struck  a  chord.  The  idea  of  being  in control  of  the  publishing  process  right  from  the first   germ   of   an   idea   through   the   writing   and printing   and   binding   all   the   way   to   selling   the finished   book   online   was   (and   is)   an   intriguing one.    The    project    is    now    complete    and    the complete  archive  is  accessible  for  free  at  the  link above.   I   highly   recommend   you   have   a   look   if you’re interested in publishing your own writing.

It  was  with  this  background  that  a  few  of  us  met MacDonald     last     year     at     the     International Alternative  Press  Fair  in  London.  I  almost  always leave  events  like  the  IAPF  having  spent  our  entire take  on  small  press  books  and  magazines,  and that  day  wasn’t  any  different.  One  of  the  things  I picked   up   was   MacDonald’s   novel   Finitude,   an adventure  story  set  in  the  midst  of  catastrophic climate  change.  This  year  I’m  supposedly  catching up  with  my  unread  backlog,  or  at  least  making  a sizeable  dent  in  it,  and  so  a  few  weeks  ago  I  finally got around to reading Finitude.

I  shouldn’t  have  waited  so  long  —  it’s  a  great  little book.Although  set  in  an  almost-Earth  engulfed  by  the devastating  effects  of  changing  climate,  it  doesn’t read   like   a   polemic.   It   remembers   to   be   an entertaining   story   first;   it’s   a   fable   of   climate change.   It   helps   that   MacDonald   has   Douglas Adams’   ear   for   dialogue.   The   world   might   be falling  apart  around  them,  but  the  characters  in Finitude  never  sound  anything  other  than  human. Wittier  than  most  of  us,  but  human  nonetheless. It  is  this  bounding  good  nature  that  carries  the episodic     narrative     through     to     the     book’s beautifully gauged conclusion.

Even  if  this  was  a  normal  book  I’d  recommend  it, but  if  you  are  interested  in  DIY  publishing,  you need  to  pick  up  one  of  MacDonald’s  creations,  if only   to   understand   the   kind   of   quality   that   is achievable  by  doing  things  on  your  own.  Finitude is  beautifully  written,  strongly  edited  (often  a  key failing  of  self-published  books),  well  designed  and constructed.  I’ll  be  reading  more,  and  so  should you.

- Euan

Hope for the Best and Prepare for the Worst

January 10, 2010

In Hamish MacDonald’s ‘Finitude,’ humankind teeters on the brink of extinction after failing to clean up its environmental act and save the planet

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Over the past few months Taiwan-based journalist Dan Bloom has become more and more concerned with climate-change issues, notably the prospect of humanity retreating to new cities built in the polar regions to escape rising temperatures elsewhere. So when he strongly urged me to read a new novel, published online and set in an environmentally devastated future, I felt duty-bound to take a look.

E-books are the modern version of self-publishing. Contrary to what many choose to think, this is an honorable way of issuing works, and one with a long history. William Blake printed and colored his own books, Shelley had pamphlets privately printed and then tried to hand them out to passing citizens, and Ronald Firbank self-published all his novels, now considered by many as classics, in the 1920s. Even James Joyce’s Ulysses was self-published in a way — brought out by a friend who ran a Paris bookshop rather than by an established publishing house.

Hamish MacDonald stands in this august tradition, writing novels and issuing them online, but also hand-printing and binding them in his own workshop. This combination of the newest and one of the oldest technologies feels like the true mark of a dedicated indie publisher.

Finitude is set at an unspecified time in the future. Two men, Jeremy and Victor, are heading for somewhere called Iktyault in search of Jeremy’s parents. On the road they encounter other travelers, plus whole societies, that have responded in different ways to the horrors brought on or threatened by climate change. “Terraists” roam the land, frozen ground is thawing and releasing methane that’s waiting to ignite, there are Non-Reproduction Benefits, compressed air cars (now obsolete), something intended to be edible called Mete (“no amount of cooking was going to make it better”), a city of the blind, a sea of plastic, gangs, looting and, needless to say, wars over resources.

This is essentially a novel of ideas. None of the characters is particularly memorable, and you wouldn’t lose much sleep if one of the major players disappeared in a flash of light — an ever-present possibility. But the ideas are strong — sometimes ingenious, but more often just humane. Others had “spent the wealth of the world,” says a warlord, Tydial Lupercus, in a memorable phrase; once a farmer, he began to move north as his topsoil turned to dust. Disaster struck because people debated the science of the situation rather than simply caring for the planet, argues another. And carbon trading was intended to help poorer nations, but when one of them didn’t play ball the world government (the “International Coalition”) simply invaded, and so on.

There’s some grim humor, too. The pair arrive at one destination and a character offers a toast to “the ultimate survivors.” Jeremy, however, “wasn’t sure if he was referring to them or the cockroaches.” And the permafrost is thawing, the ice in the oceans melting, and if the trapped methane suddenly erupts the planet is going to become “a big, lifeless rock.” To which a character replies: “Suddenly the fact that I’m feeling hungry doesn’t seem so important.”

The government and its efforts are viewed with considerable skepticism. It had announced a “VC (Victory over the Climate) Day,” and was now planning to launch a rocket to block the sun’s rays and so reduce the Earth’s temperature. Little goes according to plan, however. Yet the book ends on a slightly optimistic note, with any final collapse at least temporarily delayed, and the now reunited family setting off by boat towards some sort of viable future. The author doesn’t give many credible grounds for their optimism — someone mentions the possibility of a 50-year reprieve — and you feel that this ending was adopted in preference to a bleak one of total collapse, or an ecological equivalent to Orwell’s Room 101.

One curiosity is that there’s a casually-treated gay element in the story. Maybe the lack of comment by other characters is meant to represent a likely characteristic of society in general in the future. Certainly it’s never explained in any other terms.

Finitude stands in the tradition of dystopian novels like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984. These offered visions of nightmarish futures with the implicit message that this was how things might turn out if we didn’t take action to change our ways. Huxley warned of eugenics, or tampering with the genes of our descendants, and Orwell of the totalitarianism that was inseparable, as he saw it, from communism. In the place of these fears, Finitude offers unchecked global warming, the danger almost everyone is now focusing on. The strange thing is that we haven’t been deluged with novels on this theme already.

This book reads more like Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy than the science fiction it would have been classified as 10 years ago. Science fiction is supposed to deal with future events that are, from a rational viewpoint, never likely to happen. Finitude, by contrast, feels more like ecological prophecy.

This is a coherent, lively and fast-moving attempt to put a widely feared future into imaginative, fictional form. It’s all the more attractive for being available free of charge online for prospective

readers to sample at their leisure. All this author’s novels are available in a format that can be downloaded to e-book readers at hamishmacdonald.com/novels/novels.html. Finitude can also be read online at hamishmacdonald.com/novels/novels/finitude.html, and hand-bound copies ordered from the home page of the same Web site.

Reader Reviews

Hamish  MacDonald's  novel  Finitude  should  be  a  favourite  for anyone   concerned   with   the   environment   and   who   also doesn't  want  to  be  overwhelmed  with  doom.  There  are  not too  many  light-hearted  end-of-the-world  adventure  stories  -with   a   little   bit   of   romance   thrown   in-   that   are   well-researched    and    optimistic    in    spite    of    the    dystopian cataclysmic setting.

Like   all   of   Hamish   MacDonald's   books,   the   characters   in Finitude  are  fresh,  memorable,  and  very  likeable  accidental antiheroes.  After  finishing  the  book,  I  was  left  hoping  for both  a  prequel  and  sequel  that  could  expand  the  story.  A prequel  because  the  beginning  of  the  book,  set  in  a  near future  world,  was  full  of  fun  quirky  details  such  as  ingenious devices   to   buy   privacy   back   from   ever   more   invasive advertising,   designer   rhinestone-studded   gas   masks,   and 'Mete',  favourite  food  of  the  masses.  And  a  sequel  because most   of   the   story   takes   place   after   all   hell   breaks   loose (environmentally)  and  is  a  fast  moving  adventure  spanning oceans,  continents,  and  epiphanies  on  plastic  gyres  -  that leaves  the  reader  wanting  to  know  what  happens  next  in  a changed and challenging world.

What   holds   the   story   together   through   a   multitude   of dynamic  twists  and  turns,  are  the  three  main  character's abilities  to  feel  love,  hope,  and  determination  to  keep  going, no  matter  how  bad  things  look.  It  is  exciting  to  find  a  new author  who  uses  intelligence,  heart,  and  humble  humour  to confront   the   frightening   environmental   realities   of   our current world.

- Cynthia L'Hirondelle, Three Penny Publishing

Speaking   of   the   End   Of   The   World   As   We   Know   It,   I’m reading  a  book  by  an  amazing  micropress  publisher  who hand-makes    all    his    (gorgeous!)    books.    He’s    Hamish MacDonald,  and  the  book  is  Finitude.  It’s  not  really  the  kind of  book  I’d  normally  read…  speculative  fiction,  sci-fi,  end-times   kind   of   thing.   But   the   confession   is   —   I’m   really digging it.

The  world  is  ending  because  of  humanity’s  environmental abuses.  But  our  anti-hero  —  a  gay  salesman  who  just  wants to  save  his  own  ass  —  makes  it  superfascinating  and  not preachy.

MacDonald   knows   how   to   tell   a   story   well,   and   has   an imagination  on  par  with  some  of  the  most  famous  science fiction   writers   out   there.   The   characters   are   well-painted and  the  action  is  downright  filmic.  Thumbs  up  for  making me read something out of my normal range… and like it.

- Sandra Alland, blissfultimes.ca

I  finished  Finitude  at  the  weekend  —  I  totally  loved  it!  I  found myself    really    looking    forward    to    nabbing    another    10 minutes   to   read   some   more   and   really   wondering   what would  happen  next.  It  has  a  right  rollicking  plot  line  (a  bit like  teen  fiction)  that  grabs  you  by  the  scruff  of  the  neck  and pulls    you    forwards.    I    loved    the    inventiveness    of    the 'universe'   it   created   —   I   believed   it,   and   that's   half   the battle.  It  was  also  really  special  to  hold  a  book  made  by  the author themselves... it added to the experience.

- Liz Holt, LizHolt.co.uk

Hamish  MacDonald  has  seen  the  future  and  written  it  down in  a  picaresque  new  novel  called  Finitude.  It's  not  about  the end  of  the  world,  but  almost.  It's  about  climate  change  and global  warming,  set  in  the  near  future  in  a  parallel  world which   has   fallen   into   chaos   —   and   is   borderless   and nameless.  It's  Mad  Max  meets  The  Road.  It's  Douglas  Adams on   acid.   It's   a   world   that   very   well   might   be,   and   it incorporates  the  very  real  headlines  of  today  to  create  a very  realistic  world  of  tomorrow.  It's  not  a  pretty  picture,  but it's  very  well  written,  very  well  plotted,  very  well  paced  and with   a   cast   of   characters   that   will   keep   you   turning   the pages  until  the  very  end.  And  it  ends  on  a  positive  note... Sort of.

- Danny Bloom, northwardho.blogspot.com

* Mr Bloom has also written a longer review