I’ve seen John Michael Greer’s name around and have probably heard interviews with him before, but this is the first time I’ve read one of his books. A couple weeks ago I heard him on the Kunstlercast talking about his latest book and decided I’d check it out.
The story takes place about 400 years in the future in what the author describes as a period that would be towards the upswing of a Dark Age in America where society gets more stability and things are starting to look up. The industrial age is long dead and climate change has radically altered the land. The protagonist is a “ruinman”, one who makes their living disassembling the wreckage of the ancient (see: modern) world who finds a document that could uncover the mystery of “Star’s Reach”, a place where the ancients may have talked with aliens. A quest begins to figure it out with all the usual trappings of a quest story.
The story itself is pretty good but what stuck with me about the book is the ideas in the way of language, mythology, culture and even astrobiology that the author weaves into it. I think this book will stick with me for a while because of this.
The story mainly takes place in the Ohio River valley and the place names have changed but are still mostly recognizable. If you think about it, a lot of our place names come from Indians and mean nothing to us except that specific place and the words we use have probably morphed a bit from their original pronunciation to suit our needs. What’s an “Ohio” or “Cincinnati”? I live in Des Moines, Iowa. It’s two French words, but not pronounced like someone from France would and they don’t have any meaning to the people who live here. “Iowa” is the name of a long-gone people who inhabited this general area. I did feel kind of stupid for not getting one place described as a great center of learning from the ancient times name, even though it’s the city technically my degree was from (did it online so I never stepped foot in “Belumi”).
I also thought some of the mythology was cool, especially surrounding what we know today as the Washington monument. We don’t always understand why people in the past did they things they did and do our best to explain them. There’s a few instances in the book where seemingly trivial things from the modern world pass on into the future, especially circus related stuff (which is kind of funny, since a lot of that is holdovers from the Roman era). It’s kind of interesting to think about what can be lost by time and what can make it through. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but we have tons of sayings, customs, etc. that we do today that come from the past that we don’t associate directly with their older meanings.
Greer predicts some major climate change to this patch of land we’re sitting on – modern day Arkansas becomes a jungle, Kansas a desert and the Ohio River Valley gets a rainy subtropical climate. The coastline changes drastically to the point that a lot of the Gulf Coast and Eastern seaboard is underwater. The major shifts in climate and the end of the current era leads to new religious movements and new holidays based around the weather patterns (as ours are today if you look back). I didn’t know that Greer was a big shot in the druid world while reading this, but it makes sense now and that kind of earth-based spirituality runs through the book.
He also brings up a lot of interesting thoughts about astrobiology and who the aliens that humans may have contacted would be.
I read one of his books, “Not The Future We Ordered” after this one. Interesting guy. I’m going to have to pick up a few more of his.