Swarm is set during times of peak oil. Well, post peak oil, actually. Deeply post peak oil.
Very simply, peak oil is the theory that there is a peak at which we’ve tapped all the easily available oil reserves in the world.
After that, petroleum becomes harder to find and more expensive to extract.
You know the drill: higher gas prices, a shrinking economy, headlines about ocean wells going deeper than ever before and new, dangerous and dirty technologies like the tar sands and fracking.
We protest, we cry corporate greed, and then we drive our car to work and buy bananas at the 24-hour supermarket.
What’s the answer? I have no idea.
This is the world that I wanted to explore in Swarm. One that seems to be echoing in the news more and more since I started writing in the winter of 2009, after gas prices climbed to $1.40 a litre and the housing bubble burst in the U.S.
Things seemed crazy and, while imagining my “futuristic” collapsing city, I pulled details off the Internet.
Sandy, my main character, sees, as I did, images of mountain lions lounging around an algae-filled pool in a foreclosed house in a California suburb. She talks about the increase of stray dogs and cats, abandoned by cash-strapped owners. Morgues and funeral homes fill up with bodies their families can’t afford to claim. Police and firefighters are laid off. All true.
What amazed me at the time and still does, is that nobody in the mainstream seemed to be speaking about the role peak oil had to play. Sure, there were “radical” websites, the Transition Town movement and so-called forward thinkers (really realists) like Jeff Rubin and James Howard Kuntzler, but you didn’t hear anything on CNN or CTV.
My aim in writing Swarm was to address this truth and explore the corresponding human experience.
What would it mean to be a young person, told you could have it all, suddenly cast adrift in this historic time? In the face of sheer survival, coming down from a hundred years of the oil-fueled capitalist trip, wouldn’t we still want what we want and strive to get it? And, in a very human way, wouldn’t we desire those things we always have – love, family, community, connection – but be faced with confusion about how to live?
As the fracking debate heats up and Imperial Oil works on sinking drills deeper than ever before in the Beaufort Sea and climate change wreaks havoc on our planet, we need to talk about our future. All of us, not just the supposed “fringes,” the supposed “environmentalists.”
Swarm is currently on the Canada Reads Top 40 list in the search for the “the book that could change Canada.” There are many excellent conversations waiting to be had with all of these novels. Please vote to make this one of them so we can broaden this conversation, broadcast this truth.
Image from Truthout.org
Am currently reading Swarm and greatly appreciate your reasons for writing it. I live on a tiny farm and feel the inevibility of some of your scenarios. I look at my full freezer and don’t feel secure knowing one power failure would do me in. But for the moment, am in good shape and urge every young person I know to get a bit of land somewhere while there’s still a chance.
Am really curious about one thing in your book so far. Why do your characters smoke so much? It would seem to me such a luxury in their circumstance, to say nothing about the assault on their health. It seems so prominent a feature that I wonder if it will factor into the story later. Guess I’ll find out as I keep reading.
Thanks for writing this book. The mainstream media doesn’t want this kind of story told because it might affect some corporation’s profits somehow, so it becomes the duty of the story tellers to get it out there. And you have, so thank you.
Now back to the book.
Thanks for your comment, Hallyhook. Glad you’re enjoying the book, and great question re. the smoking.
Yes, a few of the characters (Marvin and his crew) smoke a lot. You’ll notice that Marvin rolls his own, cutting down on the cost (and also tobacco was once grown widely in Southwestern Ontario which could be a returning industry in this future world).
At some point before starting the book I heard something about how western society has been smoking for hundreds of years longer (with fascinating ups and downs in its acceptability) than the habit has been condemned in modern times. I also know quite a few people who still smoke (mostly artists and activists and those living in poverty who I worked with at a food bank for awhile) so I don’t believe that it’s a habit that’s totally gone by the wayside.
In Swarm, it plays a role in both defining these characters as “rebels” and in placing them in an unstable future. Once the world as we know it starts caving in and many people lose hope, a lot of people would smoke, I believe. Addictions and short-term thinking rise in times of chaos and crisis.
For all these reasons it made a lot of sense to me that there would be smoking and that the ones who are playing with fire would be doing so literally as well.
Thank you for asking!
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I knew there must be something sound behind these characters’ behaviour. Really interesting, your explanation. And this is SO fun to be talking to the author while reading the book, though I promise not to bother you frivolously.
No problem! It is interesting for me to engage with readers as well!
STOP MAKING ME THINK DAMN YOU!!!!
Lauren, lately when I read Swarm, or contemplate the innane world that I live in, the HIP song Wheat Kings and pretty things keeps intruding. Especially the line /nobody’s interested in something ya didn’t do/…
I actually had a dream last night where kids were drilling through the bottom of a pool, and there I was underneath seeing that there were a host of horrors that would be unleashed when the drilling broke through… They were just drilling because they could and because someone told them to drill through in a certain year….
Ok, it was bizarre, but I keep wondering if I am a little bit crazy because ‘we’ seem so willing to ignore what is right under our noses, right before our eyes. I feel like I’m being Spin Doctored to death. Anyway, I will make every effort not to become too complacent or ‘comfortably numb’