Richard Truss reads Anthropocene Park
Dystopias are back in vogue with The Handmaid’s Tale, but this is a book which turns dystopia into utopia. Though it has many fraught, even tragic moments, the whole is, like The Tempest itself, & the Christian story, finally a comedy in that it all comes right in the end. Or does it?
In what is an extraordinary tour de force, Nigel Timms finally puts us in the shoes of both Propertius Sparrow (Prospero) and Miranda, the first a flawed observer of life and the latter an embracer of promise. Yet, particularly because we are invited to share Propertio Sparrow’s “uncertainty principle at the heart of things”, we are left with multiple questions, about our human moral capacity to cope with scientific and technological advance, to survive when our use of the planet threatens life itself, about alternative visions for human society. There are echoes throughout of various brave new worlds – from The Tempest itself, through utopian islands and more sinister ones including Treasure Island, communist ideals, through Huxley, Orwell, Anthony Burgess’s Earthly Powers, and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Underlying them all is an undercurrent of biblical apocalyptic and the Christian narrative of redemption.
The book starts by introducing three representative groups: the first, a revolutionary works force under the absolute control of the Great Leader, who are gradually are led or broken down into a discovery of their real flesh and blood natures; the second a rag-tag assembly of so-called Paygans. It’s here that the reader has to take time as they speak in a form of text messaging, for example. “Nivver mine. Pink E 8s walkin coz E no tony 4 kin ole, E zwot U call Klinkly Beez 2 but he won B 4 long cozzers fuckall tweet nowadaze.” They are clearly at the bottom of the social pile in this new world, but in fact, once you get the hang of it, it is out of their mouths that wisdom comes, simply because they relate worshipfully to the natural world, whether that be Mother Earth, Neptune, or god Gr8 Ouse(sic). The third group are a single family from America, the father a professor from the Massachussets Institute of Technology, the epitome of modern intelligensia. In addition there is the ultimate fruit of this scientific labour, Sonyboy, robot and voice of reason, the one who might with other forms of artificial intelligence, embody the real future of the planet.
All are brought together through a man-made disaster, a great flood caused by the breaching of a dam, and the rest of the book concerns their consequent adventures and eventual encounter with Propertius Sparrow & Miranda, and The Beast (Callum/Caliban). The interaction is at once earthy, often very funny, and at the same time challenging. Do we end in the tranquility of the island chapel with everyone enjoying their new found peace or rather do we stay with Propertius’s unresolved “enemies” still lurking, or most challengingly, as the book actually does, with Miranda taking Aerial, thus embracing the technology of the future, as her mother?
There, I’ve told you the end! But don’t worry, every reader will come away with different impressions and questions. Nigel Timms has produced a provocative and entertaining work which calls for more than a single read to do it justice.
If you would like to read Anthropocene Park, here is a link to its Amazon page: