Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Old Green World (2015, by Jason Dewey Craft)

Full disclosure:  this novel was written by a buddy, and I was predisposed to like it for that reason.  I read about 100 pages of the first release of the book in PDF, then purchased the first self-printed run of the book - started that, and then Jason alerted folks that he'd actually landed a publisher, and to hang on a minute.  So, with my third copy of the book, I started over (again) and just wrapped the book Sunday afternoon.*

Old Green World (2015) is the first novel from Jason Dewey Craft, and it's a curious mix of science-fiction and fantasy, though it's unclear where or if the reader should bother to draw a line between the two genres.  It plays off of villages and castles while taking place in a future far removed from our own present day, a post-post-apocalyptic world on an Earth returned to something closer to a state of nature or without deep impact by humanity (depending how you mean).

I'm not much of a sci-fi reader, but part of why I abandoned the genre and had a hard time picking up sci-fi and fantasy was the weirdly patterned and mannered approach to sci-fi and fantasy writing, an overly descriptive method of world building and character which seems more in love with thinking up gadgets and whatnot and less with a reason for telling the story.  The tack can lead to a lack of narrative novelty as writers happily cut from the same few templates, the fandom and limited approach of authors showing through in the execution.

From the first pages, Old Green World seems to co-opt and then transform the conventions of the fantasy building, creating an understandable world despite economical detail in the prose, never bothering to fall into the trap of purple exposition, but, rather, simply describing location, character, scene, etc.. where necessary.  Much is left for the reader to imagine, to parse, to fill in the gaps.  The approach leaves the text subject to interpretation, of course, and many of the ideas that drive the conceit of the story rely on abstraction.

4000 years after some cataclysmic event, the world we see is one of simple houses and wood burning fires in the places considered civilized.  Only in the past few generations has mankind begun to re-organize into villages and farms, governments and economies.  None of this would be possible if not for Adepts guiding the way, strict but kindly priests of The Old Ones, wielding mental or magical ability, for good or ill creating a society dependent on their leadership.

The Adepts also teach the children, sharing not just the 3 R's, but their way of thinking, techniques for meditation, for understanding the world.  There's an undercurrent of the Zen Buddhist and other meditative traditions beneath their methods, and their path toward enlightenment may have deeper meaning for the world of the novel.  They don't intend to leave mankind behind - they're working to create a better world.

Somewhere along the line, modern concepts of love, romantic and practical bonding, sexuality and family have changed, our current mainstream ideas of pairing and family structure no longer exist.  Albert, a young man of 18, lives with his two mothers and father and dreams of his own future with Thomas, the town Mayor's son (the feeling is mutual, and more or less expected by all the townsfolk).  Much like the changes in humankind's physical stature (people have continued to grow in height in 4000 years, and megafauna seems to have returned), homosexuality or fluid sexuality is a given 4000 years hence.

Where Thomas is being trained in bureaucracy, Albert is to be a warrior, and warriors and armies are intended to be used.  Albert may not understand everything being asked of him, but he does understand what he's capable of with weapons, and the two are separated to follow very different (and happily unpredictable) paths.

At it's core, the book holds a mystery as to what the cataclysm was, certainly, but also what occurs that the world is so changed from what we assume was our own Earth. As the Adepts drive men toward war, as the town mounts a new government and economy, why is this happening?

The book is a solid read, perhaps requiring thought to keep pace, but wonderfully written.  Those looking for another overly verbose sci-fi read may find themselves disappointed, but not this reader.

I found the book very satisfying, but I suspect readers looking for detailed explanations of what, exactly is occurring may flounder a bit.  But, to me, the book felt more about the overarching ideas and how those impact the world and therefore the characters than it was about the minutia of a Rube Goldberg plot coming together.  It's the gestalt, something of an impressionistic approach rather than one of bullet point storytelling, that asks the reader to keep up and doesn't simply spoon-feed familiar ideas in new packaging.

I'll be curious to see if JDC continues to write within this world.  It seems ripe for more exploration, but works as a stand alone volume as well.

*I would have finished earlier, but I usually do audiobooks and Jason was not willing to come over and read his book to me.

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