Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Retrotopia: Dawn Train from Pittsburgh

This is the first of a series of posts using the tools of narrative fiction to explore an alternative shape for the future. A hint to readers who haven't been with The Archdruid Report for long: don't expect all your questions to be answered right away.


I got to the Pittsburgh station early. It was a shabby remnant of what must once have been one of those grand old stations you see on history vids, nothing but a bleak little waiting room below and a stair rising alongside a long-defunct escalator to the platforms up top. The waiting room had fresh paint on the walls and the vending machines were the sort of thing you’d find anywhere.  Other than that, the whole place looked as though it had been locked up around the time the last Amtrak trains stopped running and sat there unused for forty years until the border opened up again.

The seats were fiberglass, and must have been something like three quarters of a century old. I found one that didn’t look too likely to break when I sat on it, settled down, got out my veepad and checked the schedule for the umpteenth time. The train I would be riding was listed as on time, arrival 5:10 am Pittsburgh station, departure 5:35 am, scheduled arrival in Toledo Central Station 11:12 am. I tapped the veepad again, checked the news. The election was still all over the place—President Barfield’s concession speech, a flurry of op-ed pieces from various talking heads affiliated with the losing parties about how bad Ellen Montrose would be for the country. I snorted, paged on. Other stories competed for attention: updates on the wars in California and the Balkans, bad news about the hemorrhagic-fever epidemic in Latin America, and worse news from Antarctica, where yet another big ice sheet had just popped loose and was drifting north toward the shipping lanes. 

While the news scrolled past, other passengers filed into the waiting room a few at a time. I could just make them out past the image field the veepad projected into my visual cortex. Two men and a woman in ordinary bioplastic businesswear came in and sat together, talking earnestly about some investment or other. An elderly couple whose clothes made them look like they came straight out of a history vid sat down close to the stair and sat quietly. A little later, a family of four in clothing that looked even more old-fashioned—Mom had a bonnet on her head, and I swear I’m not making that up—came in with carpetbag luggage, and plopped down not far from me. I wasn’t too happy about that, kids being what they are these days, but these two sat down and, after a little bit of squirming, got out a book each and started reading quietly. I wondered if they’d been drugged.

A little later, another family of four came in, wearing the kind of cheap shabby clothes that might as well have the words “urban poor” stamped all over them, and hauling big plastic bags that looked as though everything they owned was stuffed inside. They looked tense, scared, excited. They sat by themselves in a corner, the parents talking to each other in low voices, the kids watching everything with wide eyes and saying nothing. I wondered about them, shrugged mentally, went back to the news.

I’d finished the news and was starting through the day’s textmail, when the loudspeaker on the wall cleared its electronic throat with a hiss of static and said, “Train Twenty-One, service to Toledo via Steubenville, Canton and Sandusky, arriving at Platform One. Please have your tickets and passports ready. Train Twenty-One to Toledo, Platform One.”

I tapped the veepad to sleep, stuffed it in my pocket, got out of my seat with the others, climbed the stairs to the platform. The sky was just turning gray with the first hint of morning, and the air was cold; the whistle of the train sounded long and lonely in the middle distance. I turned to look. I’d never been on a train before, and most of what I knew about them came from history vids and the research I’d done for this trip. Based on what I’d heard about my destination, I wondered if the locomotive would be a rattletrap antique with a big smokestack pumping coal smoke into the air.

What came around the bend into view wasn’t much like my momentary fantasy, though. It was the sort of locomotive you’d have found on any American railroad around 1950, a big diesel-electric machine with a blunt nose and a single big headlight shining down on the track. It whistled again, and then the roar of the engines rose to drown out everything else. The locomotive roared past the platform, and the only thing that surprised me was the smell of french fries that came rushing past with it. Behind it was a long string of boxcars, and behind those, a baggage car and three passenger cars.

The train slowed to a walking pace and then stopped as the passenger cars came up to the platform. A conductor in a blue uniform and hat swung down from the last car. “Tickets and passports, please,” he said, and I got out my veepad, woke it, activated the flat screen and got both documents on it.

“Physical passport, please,” the conductor said when he got to me.

“Sorry.” I fumbled in my pocket, handed it to him. He checked it, smiled, said, “Thank you, Mr. Carr. You probably know this already, but you’ll need a paper ticket for the return trip.”

“I’ve got it, thanks.”

“Great.” He moved on to the family with the plastic bag luggage. The mother said something in a low voice, handed over tickets and something that didn’t look like a passport. “That’s fine,” said the conductor. “You’ll need to have your immigration papers out when we get to the border.”

The woman murmured something else, and the conductor went onto the elderly couple, leaving me to wonder about what I’d just heard. Immigration? That implied, first, that these people actually wanted to live in the Lakeland Republic, and second, that they were being allowed in. Neither of those seemed likely to me. I made a note on my veepad to ask about immigration once I got to Toledo, and to compare what they told me to what I could find out once I got back to Philadelphia.

The conductor finished taking tickets and checking passports, and called out, “All aboard!”

I went with the others to the first of the three passenger cars, climbed the stair, turned left. The interior was about what I’d expected, row after row of double seats facing forward, but everything looked clean and bright and there was a lot more leg room than I was used to. I went about halfway up, slung my suitcase in the overhead rack and settled in the window seat. We sat for a while, and then the car jolted once and began to roll forward. 

We went through the western end of Pittsburgh first of all, past the big dark empty skyscrapers of the Golden Triangle, and then across the river and into the western suburbs. Those were shantytowns built out of the scraps of old housing developments and strip malls, the sort of thing you find around most cities these days when you don’t find worse, mixed in with old rundown housing developments that probably hadn’t seen a bucket of paint or a new roof since the United States came apart. Then the suburbs ended, and things got uglier.

The country west of Pittsburgh got hit hard during the Second Civil War, I knew, and harder still when the border was closed after Partition. I’d wondered, while planning the trip, how much it had recovered in the three years since the Treaty of Richmond. Looking out of the window as the sky turned gray behind us, I got my answer: not much. There were some corporate farms that showed signs of life, but the small towns the train rolled through were bombed-out shells, and there were uncomfortable stretches where every house and barn I could see was a tumbledown ruin and young trees were rising in what had to have been fields and pastures a few decades back. After a while it was too depressing to keep looking out the window, and I pulled out my veepad again and spent a good long while answering textmails and noting down some questions I’d want to ask in Toledo.

I’d gotten caught up on mail when the door at the back end of the car slid open. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the conductor said, “we’ll be arriving at the border in about five minutes. You’ll need to have your passports ready, and immigrants should have their papers out as well. Thank you.”

We rolled on through a dense stand of trees, and then into open ground. Up ahead, a pair of roads cut straight north and south across country. Until three years ago, there’d been a tall razor-wire fence between them, soldiers patrolling our side, the other side pretty much a complete mystery.  The fence was gone now, and there were two buildings for border guards, one on each side of the line. The one on the eastern side was a modern concrete-and-steel item that looked like a skyscraper had stopped there, squatted, and laid an egg. As we got closer to it, I could see the border guards in digital-fleck camo, helmets, and flak vests, standing around with assault rifles.

Then we passed over into Lakeland Republic territory, and I got a good look at the building on the other side. It was a pleasant-looking brick structure that could have been a Carnegie-era public library or the old city hall of some midsized town, and the people who came out of the big arched doorways to meet the train as it slowed to a halt didn’t look like soldiers at all.

The door slid open again, and I turned around. One of the border guards, a middle-aged woman with coffee-colored skin, came into the car. She was wearing a white uniform blouse and blue pants, and the only heat she was carrying was a revolver tucked unobtrusively in a holster at her hip. She had a clipboard with her, and went up the aisle, checking everybody’s passports against a list.

I handed her mine when she reached me. “Mr. Carr,” she said with a broad smile. “We heard you’d be coming through this morning. Welcome to the Lakeland Republic.”

“Thank you,” I said. She handed me back the passport, and went on to the family with the plastic bag luggage. They handed her a sheaf of papers, and she went through them quickly, signed something halfway through, and then handed them back. “Okay, you’re good,” she said. “Welcome to the Lakeland Republic.”

“We’re in?” the mother of the family asked, as though she didn’t believe it.

“You’re in,” the border guard told her. “Legal as legal can be.”

“Oh my God. Thank you.” She burst into tears, and her husband hugged her and patted her on the back. The border guard gave him a grin and went on to the family in the old-fashioned clothing.

I thought about that while the border guard finished checking passports and left the car. Outside, two more guards with a dog finished going along the train, and gave a thumbs up to the conductor. A minute later, the train started rolling again. That’s it? I wondered. No metal detectors, no x-rays, nothing? Either they were very naive or very confident.

We passed the border zone and a screen of trees beyond it, and suddenly the train was rolling through a landscape that couldn’t have been more different from the one on the other side of the line. It was full of farms, but they weren’t the big corporate acreages I was used to. I counted houses and barns as we passed, and guesstimated the farms were one to two hundred acres each; all of them were in mixed crops, not efficient monocropping. The harvest was mostly in, but I’d grown up in farm country and knew what a field looked like after it was put into corn, wheat, cabbages, turnips, industrial hemp, or what have you. Every farm seemed to have all of those and more, not to mention cattle in the pasture, pigs in a pen, a garden and an orchard. I shook my head, baffled. It was a hopelessly inefficient way to run agribusiness, I knew that from my time in business school, and yet the briefing papers I’d read while getting ready for this trip said that the Lakeland Republic exported plenty of agricultural products and imported almost none. I wondered if the train would pass some real farms further in.

We passed more of the little mixed farms, and a couple of little towns that were about as far from being bombed-out shells as you care to imagine. There were homes with lights on and businesses that were pretty obviously getting ready to open for the day. All of them had little brick train stations, though we didn’t stop at any of those—I wondered if they had light rail or something. Watching the farms and towns move past, I thought about the contrast with the landscape on the other side of the border, and winced, then stopped and reminded myself that the farms and towns had to be subsidized. Small towns weren’t any more economically viable than small farms, after all. Was all this some kind of Potemkin village setup, for the purpose of impressing visitors?

The door at the back of the car slid open, and the conductor came in. “Next stop, Steubenville,” he said. “Folks, we’ve got a bunch of people coming on in Steubenville, so please don’t take up any more seats than you have to.”

Steubenville had been part of the state of Ohio before Partition, I remembered. The name of the town stirred something else in my memory, though. I couldn’t quite get the recollection to surface, and decided to look it up. I pulled out my veepad, tapped it, and got a dark field and the words: no signal. I tapped it again, got the same thing, opened the connectivity window and found out that the thing wasn’t kidding. There was no metanet signal anywhere within range. I stared at it, wondered how I was going to check the news or keep up with my textmail, and then wondered: how the plut am I going to buy anything, or pay my hotel bill?

The dark field didn’t have any answers. I decided I’d have to sort that out when I got to Toledo; I’d been invited, after all. Maybe they had connectivity in the big cities, or something. The story was that there wasn’t metanet anywhere in the Lakeland Republic, but I had my doubts about that—how can you manage anything this side of a bunch of  mud huts without net connections? No doubt, I decided, they had some kind of secure net or something. We’d talked about doing something of the same kind back in Philadelphia more than once, just for government use, so the next round of netwars didn’t trash our infrastructure the way the infrastructure of the old union got trashed by the Chinese in ‘21.

Still, the dark field and those two words upset me more than I wanted to admit. It had been more years than I wanted to think about since I’d been more than a click away from the metanet, and being cut off from it left me feeling adrift.

The sun cleared low clouds behind us, and the train rolled into what I guessed was East Steubenville. I’d expected the kind of suburbs I’d seen on the way out of Pittsburgh, dreary rundown housing interspersed with the shantytowns of the poor. What I saw instead left me shaken. The train passed tree-lined streets full of houses that had bright paint on the walls and shingles on the roofs, little local business districts with shops and restaurants open for business, and a school that didn’t look like a medium-security prison. The one thing that puzzled me was that there were no cars visible, just tracks down some of the streets and once, improbably, an old-fashioned streetcar that paced the train for a while and then veered off in a different direction. Most of the houses seemed to have gardens out back, and the train passed one big empty lot that was divided into garden plots and had signs around it saying “community garden.” I wondered if that meant food was scarce here.

A rattle and a bump, and the train was crossing the Ohio River on a big new railroad bridge. Ahead was Steubenville proper. That’s when I remembered the thing that tried to surface earlier:  there was a battle at Steubenville, a big one, toward the end of the Second Civil War. I remembered details from  headlines I’d seen when I was a kid, and a history vid I’d watched a couple of years ago; a Federal army held the Ohio crossings against Alliance forces for most of two months before Anderson punched straight through the West Virginia front and made the whole thing moot. I remembered photos of what Steubenville looked like after the fighting: a blackened landcape of ruins where every wall high enough to hide a soldier behind it had gotten hit by its own personal artillery shell.

That wasn’t what I saw spreading out ahead as the train crossed the Ohio, though. The Steubenville I saw was a pleasant-looking city with a downtown full of three- and four-story buildings, surrounded by neighborhoods of houses, some row houses and some detached. There were streetcars on the west side of the river, too—I spotted two of them as we got close to the shore—and also a few cars, though not many of the latter.  The trees that lined the streets were small enough that you could tell they’d been planted after the fighting was over. Other than that, Steubenville looked like a comfortable, established community.

I stared out the window as the train rolled off the bridge and into Steubenville, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. Back on the other side of the border, and everywhere else I’d been in what used to be the United States, you still saw wreckage from the war years all over the place. Between the debt crisis and the state of the world economy, the money that would have been needed to rebuild or even demolish the ruins was just too hard to come by. Things should have been much worse here, since the Lakeland Republic had been shut out of world credit markets for thirty years after the default of ‘32—but they weren’t worse. They looked considerably better. I reached for my veepad, remembered that I couldn’t get a signal, and frowned. If they couldn’t even afford the infrastructure for the metanet, how the plut could they afford to rebuild their housing stock?

The cheerful brick buildings of Steubenville’s downtown didn’t offer me any answers. I sat back, frowning, as the train rattled through a switch and rolled into the Steubenville station. “Steubenville,” the conductor called out from the door behind me, and the train began to slow.


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Eric Backos said...

Dear Mr. Greer, Your Grace, &c.
We have returned from the annual D-Day Reenactment in Conneaut, Ohio. ( The British Women’s Land Army (Land Girls) showcased Green Wizardry in a variety of ways including teaching all comers to milk a cow using a rubber training udder. Several of us suspect that there is a strong element of ancestor worship afoot and wonder if you would favor us with your opinion. Also – we will be holding a meeting Thursday evening and once again beg the favor of advertising on your forum.
Many thanks for your consideration.
The Members of GWB&PA Chapter 440 and Ruinmen’s Local 440

Eric Backos said...

The weekly joint meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Chapter Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 will be held at 6:30 PM on Thursday, July 23, 2015 at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, 9434 Mentor Avenue, Mentor, Ohio, 44060. Splendorem Lucis Viridis! Public Welcome! Tables for Failed Scholars.

Andy Brown said...

Ah, shades of Ecotopia. I always was a sucker for this kind of trip. I look forward to following along.

pygmycory said...

So one country has spent its money maintaining internet and other advanced technologies while the other picked a less complex infrastructure but did a better job of making it function. Interesting.

Are there any areas you know of that have made this choice now? If so, where, and how well is it working in practice?

Katelan said...

Thank you Archdruid, from a very long-time lurker. What a fascinating read.

Chris Balow said...

The Lakeland Republic sounds like an absolutely charming and healthy place to live--the kind of future I'd like to be a part of, and the kind of future I hope my children can inherit. I'll keep my fingers crossed that my fellow Kentuckians would want to be a part of it too.

steadystatecollege said...

Thank you for this.

Aron Blue said...

Fun! What a great story. Wednesdays are my favorite. What's the music scene like in Retropia? I bet my band would fit right in LOL

BTW, in the comment section a few weeks ago, someone mentioned a foreclosing judge that Studs Terkel wrote about in his Great Depression book Hard Times. I wrote a song about him and played it at the Brooklyn Country Music Festival. I just wanted to share it with you and your awesome comment section people if that's okay. (If not, feel free to just post the first couple lines of my comment-- I don't mind.)

Travis Marshall said...

One region using remaining resources wisely another hopelessly hanging on. Thank god someone still has an iphone or I might as well have cashed it in now.

Merle Langlois said...

I loved it JMG. Maybe it's only my own Great Lakes jingoism and anti-high tech bias, but I loved it. I like how the main character doesn't know jack about what's going on in Lakeland Republic. It's like going into North Korea, or a secret zone in the USSR. The family who was immigrating to be on the right track, against the expectation of the narrator. The partial recovery of both states is very interesting. Even if the east coast republic sounds a little bit dystopian, the fact that there's even a state standing after the second civil war is impressive enough. I remember reading something about Byzantine history and the author said something to the effect of "they recovered, but life kept getting worse and worse." Lakeland Republic, by contrast, via ditching high technology, and defaulting, seems to have chosen the right policy suite for that situation. It's like when you said it's better to turn around when you're going on the wrong path than to accelerate.

Thinking further, this brings to mind the thought that but for world politics from 1776 onwards, the US might have been a lot better off as six or so large but completely separate republics. Such an arrangement might have created more cohesive states without timid constantly gridlocked legislatures.

John Roth said...

Interesting start. I'd question the ability to feed a video image directly into the visual cortex, but that's a nit. I take it the end of the war was about 40 years previous? I also note that the narrator seems to be able to recognize the type of crops from empty fields, which doesn't seem really likely if they're using mixed planting organic styles. Or maybe I don't know what they'd actually look like.

Conrad Schumacher said...

I always enjoy your fiction pieces, I first started reading your posts after coming across Star's Reach somehow or another. I wonder whether this story takes place in the Twilight's Last Gleaming timeline? The reference to Chinese destruction of infrastructure hints at that, but I don't recall any Chinese attacks on the mainland US in those posts (I haven't read the book though).

So thanks anyway, and I'm settling down to enjoy the ride over the next few weeks.

John Brink said...

John: Thank you for reminding me of my childhood home of Iowa farmland in the 1950's. My grandmother would come to visit from 50 miles away via train. We stood at ground level at the station while the big engine rumbled in. I usually put a penny on the tracks.

ando said...

Interesting, JMG, and I am interested. Looking forward to this one.



John Michael Greer said...

Eric, glad to hear it! I hope you're also posting your announcements to the Green Wizardry forum.

Andy, why, yes, I wondered how many people would catch the deliberate homage to Callenbach's piece.

Pygmycory, it's considerably more complex than that. Stay tuned!

Katelan, you're welcome and thank you.

Chris, Kentucky's part of my notional Lakeland Republic -- it's West Virginia minus the far eastern panhandle, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois minus Chicago, which is a fabulously corrupt independent city-state. So you and your children are already in!

Steadystatecollege, you're welcome and thank you.

Aron, one of the things about my style of fiction writing is that I rarely have any idea what my characters are going to encounter in advance! I don't know what the music scene is like in the Lakeland Republic; we'll just have to see what Carr finds when he gets to Toledo.

Travis, try doing without your iPhone for a while. This may not have occurred to you, but countless generations of humanity lived interesting and worthwhile lives before those were invented, you know.

Merle, glad you enjoyed it! There's a lot more going on even in relation to technology -- stay tuned.

John, a cornfield typically has the stumps of corn stalks sticking out of the ground; a wheatfield has typical wheat straw, and so on. In an organic farm, you always get plant matter left in and on the soil, which allows you to identify what was grown there.

Conrad, no, this is a different future history, though it's similar. Instead of a negotiated dissolution, as in Twilight's Last Gleaming, the US descended into domestic insurgency and civil war between the federal government and a flurry of dissident movements, and Partition happened after the Second Civil War when the victors fell to quarrelling among themselves and fragmented. There will be more on this in bits and pieces as we proceed.

Ian R Orchard said...

Off subject, but JMG does not appear to be a lone voice crying out in the wilderness. Interesting article popped up today over at Our Finite World on the likelihood of financial collapse

Yucca Glauca said...

Abslutely ecstatic to see another narrative!

I have a question I've been meaning to ask for a while that this post reminded me of, though it wasn't directly talked about: You've mentioned the, "mountain west," in the past and I was always a little unclear if that referred to the entire area from Colorado to California or if it started further west.

Yupped said...

This is very cool, thanks. I hope Mr. Carr is going to have at least as good a time as William Weston did!

Patricia Mathews said...

Well, at least two of you took the words right out of my mouth. I was getting Ernest Callenbach echoes right off the bat! (ECOTOPIA is in my print library even as we speak. Of course.)

Keep the story rolling ... you know I'll snap it up, saving complete economic or physical collapse here.

John Michael Greer said...

John, you're welcome! I travel by train almost exclusively these days -- it's the one mode of travel that's still actively enjoyable, not just a misery to get through for the sake of the destination.

Ando/Mac, you're welcome and thank you!

Ian, Gail and I have both been shouting this particular message in the wilderness of iPhone screens for years now. Glad to see it getting a bit more purchase -- granted, a world-class stock market crash in China doesn't hurt. Which reminds me...

All of my readers who don't currently own a copy of John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash 1929 need to get one. Those who do need to pull it off the shelves. If you want to know what's happening in the global economy today, READ THAT PUPPY.

This has been an announcement from the Emergency Archdruid Network. Thank you, and we now return you to your previously scheduled Archdruid Report.

pygmycory said...

I was just making sure I'd got the basic idea. It makes sense that that there's more going on than that.

I shall indeed stay tuned (in between learning to weave, weeding the garden and getting that wisdom tooth out)!

Samwich said...

"Maybe I'll see some real farms later on". Oh dear, Mr. Carr, those business lessons of yours weren't much help. Turns out that many small independent farms are indeed capable of producing a decent surplus and enough small surpluses can become something quite large.

Thank you for this fiction (or maybe I should say prediction?). I do like the juxtaposition of the neural implant Iphone (ye gods) with the broken escalator and elderly fibreglass- clearly more than a few things had to go so that they could keep what's really important.

Part of me hopes that my native Canada is still one nation, though if that proves impossible, can my little slice of land between Erie and Huron have warm relations with the republic? Seems like the horse to bet on.

pygmycory said...

re 1929 and economic collapse: I've been watching the markets and economic news over on Zero Hedge with a great deal of fascination in recent weeks. History in action...

John Michael Greer said...

Yucca, Colorado to California, and also Montana to Washington State.

Yupped and Patricia, thank you. Callenbach's Ecotopia was a major contribution to the utopian genre -- more innovative and also, frankly, more readable than any other twentieth century Utopian fiction I can think of.

Pygmycory, that's part of one of the basic ideas. I hope the wisdom tooth comes out without too much trouble!

HalFiore said...

Andy Brown:

Holy Mac'l, Andy! Why didn't I pick that up right away???!!!

Christophe said...

I suppose, if the preachers of progress endlessly pose dichotomies to their advantage, then a wily Archdruid ought to be able to turn their weapon against them. So long as the Lakeland Republic does not become some impossible Utopian ideal, which I can't see John Michael entertaining even in the brainstorming phase. It will be interesting to see where his tale takes us.

The closed-border, unfalsifiable propaganda fed to the narrator is reminiscent of late Soviet messaging. Or even late US messaging. Seems to be what happens when Utopian ideals go awry and their beneficiaries don't want to admit it.

pygmycory said...


I doubt Canada will be one nation indefinitely for several reasons:

1)it is too big and too sparsely populated to hold together well at lower technology levels.

2)Different parts of the country have wild differences in economic base, political culture, and language. There's quite a bit of ill-will between say, Ontario and Alberta, or Quebec and English Canada, or First Nations and the provinces they live in.

Under rougher circumstances and without large-scale engineering projects best tackled at a continental scale, it seems to me quite likely Canada will break up. I'm not looking for it just yet, but given a future of economic contraction and global crisis, I doubt Canada will be whole by 2115, let alone 2200.

Degringolade said...

Well then;
This may take some time. I could see how this could transmogify into "Stars Reach, the Prequel". But I will take what I can get. I am looking forward to the ride.

On an aside, I have been working on the implementation of your maxim "collapse now, avoid the rush". At first it is a royal pain..gets easier though.

Thanks again for your work. Come payday, I'll throw something in the tip jar.


Tom Schmidt said...

If you go west from Pittsburgh, the Ohio River is to your South. You wouldn't need to cross it to get anywhere in the (former) state of Ohio. Geographical quibbles aside, the NY Times has now speculated that in a time of drought, the Great Lakes and their 1/5th supply of all surface fresh water on the planet will again be a place of natural and economic wealth.

Thanks for the read, a bit like Marshall Brain's tale of Manna and Australia.

escapefromwisconsin said...

A bit off-topic, but since the late, great John Kenneth Galbraith was mentioned, readers may enjoy reading some of his thoughts on writing. Good stuff:

In the case of economics there are no important propositions that cannot be stated in plain language. Qualifications and refinements are numerous and of great technical complexity. These are important for separating the good students from the dolts. But in economics the refinements rarely, if ever, modify the essential and practical point. The writer who seeks to be intelligible needs to be right; he must be challenged if his argument leads to an erroneous conclusion and especially if it leads to the wrong action. But he can safely dismiss the charge that he has made the subject too easy. The truth is not difficult. Complexity and obscurity have professional value—they are the academic equivalents of apprenticeship rules in the building trades. They exclude the outsiders, keep down the competition, preserve the image of a privileged or priestly class. The man who makes things clear is a scab. He is criticized less for his clarity than for his treachery.

To be accurate, the Lakeland Republic will need to be quite chilly; it's been about 15-30 degrees below normal year round here in Wisconsin for at least the past 3 years. It's only in the 50s right now in late August, and dark gray clouds this entire week.

HalFiore said...

If I didn't already know you were a regular rail traveler, I would after reading your description of the Pittsburgh station. War has not been necessary to do that to almost every station on the California Zephyr line, which I recently traveled for the 3rd time in two years. A bombed-out wreck of an imposing, architecturally interesting, classy, roomy old building, usually surrounded by chain link and hung with a "for sale" sign, next to a tacky box that would make an ugly Dollar General if it was three times the size could describe several.

Oh, and I just today requested Crash of 29 through inter-library loan today, though it might be moot by the time it gets here. Oh, well, cashed out my two small IRAs earlier this year already, and there isn't much else I can do to make a difference at this point. Better 6 months early than one day late, as they say, or something to that effect...

Joel Caris said...


Excellent! I already want this to be a novel. Any chance this will follow a similar trajectory as Twilight's Last Gleaming in moving from a series of posts to a full fledged novel?

Your timing seems good for me on this one. I felt very bleak this weekend, and at multiple times suffered an intense sadness. This isn't particularly usual for me, but everything began to hit very close to home these last few days. An east wind blew smoke from the endless number of wildfires here into the North Oregon Coast. From the window, in the morning, it simply looked like fairly typical summer fog. But a step outside brought home that it was heavy smoke, the day was hot, and the wind was as well. It was unnerving--when you see haze and wind here on the coast, you generally step outside to cool air and a fine mist. The actual outside sensation was such a contradiction to what it normally is, it left me very unsettled.

Couple that with the stock market gyrations of the last week, the sense that the imminent financial crunch is picking up steam and heading in to clobber us shortly, and the Trump circus as a far-too-possible example of a rise of fascism in this country (read a few of the articles that have come out the last couple days about why people support him, then compare it to JMGs writings about the risk of fascism here in America) and . . . well, I didn't feel well. The very rough future we face is becoming all too real and present.

And so, a fictional exercise in a (somewhat?) hopeful vision of the future is what I can use right now.

That said, I'm very curious to see what the trade offs of Steubenville are. Obviously, they don't have the metanet, but I'd be surprised if you took us through this full narrative, JMG, without throwing some trade offs at your readership that hit closer to home than just loss of the internet--which, ironically, most of your commentariat is likely to cheer. As you've repeatedly noted, no decision is without its pros and its cons. Will the cons of Steubenville be a bit stickier than just loss of computer-based goodies and the personal automobile? I'll be surprised if not.

Lastly, let me provide a commendation to "If they couldn’t even afford the infrastructure for the metanet, how the plut could they afford to rebuild their housing stock?" The sly commentary there is absolutely delicious.

mary said...

In the early Eightys I was at a meeting of far thinking people considering the end of the world as we know it. What came out of our imagining was a stunning indictment of the society we live in. Everyone wanted a close-knit community, shared resources, no cars, wood heat, chickens and gardens.
So---if we all understand that this is the kind of life that we want for ourselves and our children, why aren't we concentrating our time and effort into building the "community" where we are?
I feel strongly that the people who end up as neighbours share some deep connection which few people have investigated. They are the community we all want, right here and right now, ready made, for better or for worse.
JMG's fiction can help us identify what we want but imagining it in a future after wars and currency collapse and breakdowns just makes us feel that we cannot accomplish it today, where we are. We feel helpless because the catastrophe, the charismatic situation, has not "jump-started" the process.
I think that that is wrong. We do not need a war and breakdown to start on the path to what many (most) seem to want.
Share your produce with your neighbours! Get to know them! Break down the invisible walls that keep us apart. Very likely these "walls" are a construct of Madison Avenue convincing us that each home needs a lawnmower and bread machine. They sell more that way!
It will seem embarrassing at first but you will be surprised at the common thread that brought each person into the building or onto the street that you live on. It will startle many people to have their isolation broken into; and it will take time but it is worthwhile.

gwyn edwards said...

I Love this JMG!
I lapped up "Twilight's Last Gleaming" as well, although it seems like this one is set in a slightly later timeline, and more akin to thew universe of the "World Made by Hand" series by James Kunstler (which I enjoyed, notwithstanding some of his depictions of women and gay people).
I note that elsewhere you've mentioned fiction stuff isn't as financially lucrative for you. Not sure if you would consider doing a crowdfunding campaign for a novel in the vein of this story, but if so I (and many others) would back that thing in a heartbeat!

Ceworthe said...

John Roth, anyone who has grown up on a farm knows what a various plants look like at all stages- emerging from the soil, growing, mature, ready to be reaped, and the stubble. Even from a moving car or train. Second nature

Joel Caris said...

As for The Great Crash 1929, I will second your announcement. I read it earlier this year on your recommendation, and I was duly impressed at how well it duplicated current times. It's pretty spot on to the current unfolding disaster (however long it takes before it finally hits no-question crunch time.) I literally laughed aloud a few times while reading quotes in the book that were almost word for word quotes I would hear on NPR about the financial news of the day.

And so, repeat after me everyone: The fundamentals are sound!

Max Osman said...

What exactly is the difference between the two Nations? is it like a mindset or just economics?

Ahavah said...

@Chris Barlow - hoping to try for a Bluegrass area meetup here in Lex this fall... Last call had no responses but ADR readers are multiplying daily, so maybe this time a few people will be interested.

Dau Branchazel said...


I've actually just been listening to an audiobook version of Stephen King's 'The Running Man'. I don't know whether it because it's so fresh in my mind that the tone of this writing seems eerily similar. I don't think Carr is quite like Richards (or if you will take this as a compliment, I for one really appreciate King's work), but the sense of a future where so many people can't see what's wrong with the picture, and how it stems from a present where people can't see what's wrong with the picture is coming through strong.

I do like how blinded by his veepad, Carr is. Maybe they have a food shortage indeed.

That said, here is a link to my entry for the short story competition. I posted at it at the end of the comments section of your last post, but I just wanted to make sure it made it. It is set in south western Australia, roughly 2,000 years after present, though the characters wouldn't be able to give an exact figure. What they know about the past is based on what they have been telling themselves over the millennia. What they have needed to remember, and what they have needed to forget.


Zack Lehtinen said...

Great start, JMG. I like where this seems to be heading, and I like that you're utilizing fiction in the context of the Report to highlight and exemplify points you're communicating. I've been looking forward to reading (at least) one of your novels soon, and appreciate the Space Bats invitations, and the published collections that result.

I would have contributed to the most recent, but didn't come up with a clear image of 1,000 years hence-- though I engaged in some great research on the early and high Middle Ages to gain some more tangible sense of Dark Ages... My sense is that 1,000 years in the future would likely be something on the other side of a Dark Age and some type of Renaissance, but was curious to have a more tangible sense of the progression.

Anyone else writing fiction in the realm(s) of what JMG tends to enlighten us all about-- samples of the New Story Charles Eisenstein describes of The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible-- I invite you to check out an imprint I've established, published my own first novel World of Wounds which Archdruid readers might appreciate-- I'm looking for fellow-writers on these sorts of topics to work together with, collaboratively support. Check out:

Any fellow admirers of the Archdruid Report would be welcome into New Myths Press, if the writing is a fit for what we are seeking.

Looking forward to the continuation of this story from you, JMG!

aiastelamonides said...


An intriguing beginning.

Broadly thematically relevant: Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire mostly known for hardcore libertarianism (and Tolkien-based company names!), recently said in an interview, "I do not think we live in a scientific and technological age, as a society. I think most people do not like science and technology. They’re scared of it. All you have to do is watch science-fiction movies — they all show technology that doesn’t work, or they’re dystopian. I watched 'Gravity' last year, and it’s like you’re so glad to be back on a muddy island. You never want to go into outer space."

I myself am fond of muddy islands, but I grew up in a muddy place, so I suppose I'm biased.

Mister Roboto said...

I hope Wisconsin and Illinois are part of this Lakeland Republic! (Though I'm guessing Chicago and Milwaukee have rather fewer people living in them at this point.)

Cherokee Organics said...


Very nicely written and I'm looking forward to the rest of the story. By the way, I really enjoyed the mention of the chip smell from the locomotive. A nice and very subtle touch. Incidentally, the country trains here are very swish and travel at pace that is faster than a car, but on one of the branch lines travelling to the town Swan Hill (a lovely name for a town on a big inland river), they still use those blunt nosed diesel electric engines in front of a few passenger cars and sometimes a mail car. I used to like catching that service into the big smoke from here, because there is a first class car and perhaps that is a bit of a misnomer - given the age of the car, but the seats were big and plush and comfy - and there are toilets.

Now the funny thing is I had to stop using that service, because you have to book a paper ticket or otherwise the conductor has a bit of a hissy fit. Now ordinarily, that would be an easy thing to do, but the local station is no longer manned and has been replaced by an el-flasho automated ticket system which requires people to have a smart card which isn't quite so smart because you can't buy them at the station which is not manned.

Apparently, tourists are highly confused by the entire ticketing system. Who'd have thunk it?



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Living with consequences. Where I discuss what it means to live in a small community where social faux pas can be recalled many decades after they actually occurred and you have to worry about intangible things such as your reputation. Some of the fruit trees are producing blossoms now as spring approaches. I'm experimenting with hugelkultur again putting into practice the things that I've learned. I've turned a few eucalyptus saplings into a very nice looking fence. And more metal work art. Plus lots of house construction stuff and cool photos. Enjoy!

Joe Roberts said...

Great reading. I like how Lakeland is pre-1920 America, right down to the immigration policy. (It amuses me when white Americans whose ancestors got here before 1922 say, "My ancestors emigrated legally," as if there were any real legal barriers for Europeans emigrating beyond having enough money for the passage and no communicable diseases.)

It seems unlikely that Lakeland will be able to keep up its utopian splendor, though -- not once word gets out about how great it is. I look forward to the next installment!

Noreen Roche said...

Delightful read, looking forward to next week's post

John Michael Greer said...

Samwich, glad to see someone caught that. In point of fact, quite a few of Mr. Carr's assumptions about efficiency, productivity, and the like are going to come in for a bruising -- but a clueless narrator is a great asset in this sort of fiction. As for Canada, we'll see -- I'm just beginning my exploration of this fictive world.

Pygmycory, me too. It's definitely been a good week to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch the carnage.

Christophe, but of course! Competent Utopian fiction has to be plausible or it doesn't work -- the reader has to be able to think, "Well, why don't we do things that very sensible way?" or it gets dull very quickly. I recall a Somtow Sucharitkul story from some years ago in which there was a Utopian society -- and the reason it was utopian was that all the people were computer-controlled corpses, going through the motions they were programmed to go through. A brilliant bit of satire!

Degringolade, thank you in advance!

Tom, but if you go west-southwest to Steubenville, you cross the Ohio River there, because it veers southwards. Rail corridors very rarely follow straight lines; they go from population center to population center via the most level available route, which entails some vagaries. You might try following the trip as we go on a road map -- I've got an old highway atlas, the same one I used to map out Trey's journey in Star's Reach, and will be using that extensively as the story proceeds.

Escape, that's classic JKG! He's right, too -- professional economists hate him because he didn't deck out his theories in quantitative drag.

HalFiore, the only difference between the Pittsburgh station now and the one in the story -- which is set in 2065, by the way -- is that last time I was at the Pittsburgh station, the escalator still worked. Fortunately not all train stations are like that, and in the Lakeland Republic, none of them are.

Joel, not only will it be a novel, I've already got the publisher lined up. I'm glad a hopeful future helps! That's one of the great benefits of this sort of narrative -- it's one thing for me to post abstract discussions of the Retro Future, and quite another to turn it into a story and make it concrete in the reader's imagination.

Mary, how many of those people who all agreed on what they wanted were willing to chuck the comforts of their middle class lifestyles in order to build that future? That's where the rubber meets the road, and having seen way too many of those discussions myself, I've learned that talk is cheap, and everyone's ready to sit back and cheer while somebody else gives them the future they say they want. One of the reasons I place my future visions after wars and crises is that the wars and crises are pretty clearly on their way; the other reason is that I honestly think it's going to take something on that scale to jolt the comfortable off their sofas and make them come to grips with the fact that if they want a better future they're going to have to make it themselves.

Gwyn, I'm pleased to say that my fiction is doing a good deal better than it had in the past -- I fielded my first-ever advance on a novel recently, and the novels of mine that are in print are picking up some attention and enthusiasm. Thus Retrotopia will become a novel, and I already have a publisher lined up for it. I'll be sure to post here once it's available for advance sale. In the meantime, enjoy the story!

Joel, excellent! That fine example of classic verbiage wins you tonight's gold star.

Max, please reread the first paragraph of the post...

Dan Stoian said...

Great story John. You should be spot on with the french fries smell from the engine - quite a few people I know are doing it already with their cars where I live. They're not so much into the Lakelandic lifestyle yet but I guess that comes down from more than expensive gas. And I have to tell you, even though you must already know it, that you do touch some people's hearts with this story.

John Michael Greer said...

Dau, thank you! That's high praise. I did get your story; please put in a comment marked "Not for posting" with your email address, so I can contact you if your story is selected for the anthology, and you're in.

Zack, glad to hear about the new imprint! I'm not a great fan of that phrase of Eisenstein -- to my mind, it rather reeks of a sense of entitlement that may not be helpful at a time when coming to terms with the hard limits of the planet is the most pressing need we've got -- but anything that opens up visions of the future that aren't either (a) the status quo or (b) one step further the way the status quo has been going is a good thing.

Aias, how marvelous -- Thiel is actually starting to get a clue. Now maybe he'll notice that people outside of his class of overpaid parasites have very good reasons to dislike and distrust science and technology, starting with the fact that science and technology are so consistently used to benefit said class of overpaid parasites at everyone else's expense...

Mister R., they are indeed. Chicago's an independent and fabulously corrupt city-state, but the rest of Illinois is part of the Lakeland Republic, along with all of Wisconsin and Michigan. (Minnesota belongs to the next republic west.)

Cherokee, that's classic -- put in a helpful new technological interface that proceeds to get in the way of using the technology. I bet if the railroad ever notices that ridership is off, they'll try to pin the reason anywhere and everywhere but the technology.

Joe, as you'll see, it's rather more complex than that -- the family that's immigrating obviously got paperwork in advance, for example. As for immigration, the reasons why there hasn't been a flood across the border will become clearer as we proceed.

Noreen, thank you!

Dan, good. I was wondering how many people caught the biodiesel in the locomotive. As for touching hearts, that's always the goal of fiction -- but utopian fiction also seeks to stir the brain into action as well. We'll see how well this one does!

Brian said...

Reading your piece this week makes me think that it will be interesting when greater numbers of Americans start visiting Cuba, now that they are more able. Actually going there confounds a lot of ideas about what is 'economically possible', which is what you are doing with this piece of fiction. For those able to suspend judgment about the rightness or wrongness of the country's political system it is interesting to see what can be accomplished with very limited means, especially in comparison to some its neighbours.

As with good travel, good fiction lets us try on a new way of looking at the world.

Christopher E Johnson said...

Great concept story, Mr. Greer, one that I can relate to personally on two very different levels.

Your Lakeland Republic is a lot like my "Lakes Federation" concept. This is something I came up with during my studies in politically idealistic sustainability, while interacting with the working class at the job that paid my bills, at a public university in Upstate New York around 10 years ago. The only difference is that the "Lakes Federation" is further east of your "Lakeland Republic." It's capital is Syracuse and it prospers between your story's setting on the west, it's allies in Canada and the Mountains Federation (Northern New England) to the north and east, the drowning and poisoned lands of the Donald Trump-Larry Hogan-Chris Christie Empire (which conquered Southern New England, New York City, Southern Pennsylvania, and Virginia as a result of the dystopian, suburban reactionary, anti-railroad events currently happening in our own 2015 time-frame) to the southeast, and the forest border guard posts along the Route 6 corridor in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania.

It is great and comforting to read about your vision for a sustainable, agrarian, future republic in the Midwest, though. When I traveled by bicycle across America in 2013, I actually crossed the Ohio at Steubenville after touring the old C&O canal and railroad trails to Pittsburgh and beyond. Upon entering Ohio, I had to deal with contaminated water from gas fracking but I also met some of the realest, most helpful people of the tour since my crossing of New England and Upstate New York. Steubenville had an economically abandoned downtown, but it's historical landmarks were well preserved and the elders working at the library were not afraid to ask me who I was and where I was coming from, before welcoming me to use the WiFi there. This friendly hospitality, which is not afraid to work with the land and ask real questions, continued until I approached Cairo in southernmost Illinois, even though agrarian monocultures increased as I rode down the river.

Can't wait to see your conclusion to this story. And more detail on what ever happened to the Trump-Hogan-Christie Empire. My angry at life, but otherwise smart, reactionary Republican friend back in Baltimore needs to see the wisdom before she drowns and chokes on her own carbon dioxide based disdain for the real world.

steve pearson said...

Great story, JMG. I look forward to the whole tale.
Trains to Ohio made me a bit nostalgic for our annual Thanksgiving trip to visit the old aunties in Conneaut,OH in the 40s & early 50s when I was, probably, 5-12. We would leave NY in the evening and have a sleeper room. I remember the meals being brought to the room covered with metal lids over the plates. I would have a top bunk, and remember waking up at each station we stopped at and opening the window a bit to watch the people get on and off the train in the frosty air. In the morning we would be at our destination.The aunties had a huge old house with attic and basement and a secret stairway and I would play with the neighbor kids. Lovely things, trains.
On a more current note, we are having huge, unprecedented summer rains now here in Hawaii, complete with a 500,000 gallon sewer spill and the beaches closed in Honolulu and Waikiki. The winter is traditionally the wet season: interesting times.
cheers, Steve

Chloe said...

Trains! It must take a long time to cover any distance in the USA (and the same with driving) which, of course, is only evidence that - as a country - it's too big for its own good. It's another area where you're going to be in a worse position than us across the pond once the downslope kicks in; I don't think anywhere in Europe gutted its rail system to the same extent (trains, particularly local lines, and other forms of public transport did lose out in the competition against cars but there was much less of the kind of wilful vandalism from the motor industry that plagued the States) though our government has developed an unfortunate fascination with high-speed rail.

As for the use of technology to confuse tourists - I was in London recently and learned that the only ways to ride a bus are now Oystercard or pre-paid ticket. It was impossible to simply step on the bus and pay in cash. This would have been merely silly and pointless if they'd put a ticket machine at every bus stop; since they hadn't bothered to do that, it graduated from silly to "logistical nightmare". We took the Tube.

Interesting that Mr. Carr seems to have taken all his opinions on how to run a farm from business school even though he grew up in farm country himself… Aw, do we have to wait a week for the next instalment?

Spanish fly said...

'updates on the wars in California and the Balkans, bad news about the hemorrhagic-fever epidemic in Latin America, and worse news from Antarctica'

New normality, that is to normal any more. Balkans are always secure bet for wars...oh California, it's not a good place to live if you have a lot of illegal immigration, gangs of L.A. and severe droughts...Antarctica: I suppose that in this fiction there may be some climate change negationist somewhere stammering some crap about it.

'Watching the farms and towns move past, I thought about the contrast with the landscape on the other side of the border, and winced, then stopped and reminded myself that the farms and towns had to be subsidized. Small towns weren’t any more economically viable than small farms, after all. '

What a narrow-minded point of view. If there are no agrobusiness, farms are subsidized European-style...Of course, this man has studied in a business school, very typical.
By the way, in this story timeline, ¿there is still an EU at least as bureaucratic "elephant graveyard"?

Regards from the wellfare state cemetery.

Denys said...

Love this! I already had been making popcorn to read about the market hysteria and thought pieces on $2/gallon gas. Now I can truly settle in and make more popcorn.

Our first local Skill Share meet-up is this Saturday morning - so excited to begin the journey of creating community to re-learn the skills our great grandparents knew! I'm a little scared to be leading this effort. Praying to get more people on board leading and organizing.

Oh, and back to your post several weeks back asking how people became fixated on the idea of man as machine.....did you figure out a source? I've been reading CS Lewis' The Discarded Image and he writes about medieval man's need to fit everything into the "Model of the Universe", and making sure everything had its place. Might be a thread in the people as machines thinking.

Spanish fly said...

'An east wind blew smoke from the endless number of wildfires here into the North Oregon Coast. From the window, in the morning, it simply looked like fairly typical summer fog. But a step outside brought home that it was heavy smoke, the day was hot, and the wind was as well'

It's an awful view. This summer we had some bad fires in my country, one of them was 40 km away from my "farm". Nonetheless, I could see a lot of artificial fog (smoke).
I have read that American and Russian fires have been hundred times worse than spanish ones (I can't even imagine them, because here worst wildfires usually burn a few square km (not dozens or hundreds...).

Ben Iscatus said...

That's a plutting plausible plot, JMG!

M said...

JMG wrote, re the posted link to Gail Tverberg and her latest post on Our Finite World about impending global financial collapse: Ian, Gail and I have both been shouting this particular message in the wilderness of iPhone screens for years now. Glad to see it getting a bit more purchase -- granted, a world-class stock market crash in China doesn't hurt. Which reminds me...

While Gail is predicting financial collapse, she is also confident that a full-scale rapid collapse of industrial civilization will follow very, very rapidly.

I hope your viewpoint still conflicts with this scenario. Certainly the wonderful opening to your fictional piece here would suggest so.

While Gail makes a lot of sense on how growth economies fail, her conclusions from there encourage extreme despair! It does not take much reading between the lines in her answers in the comment section of the post referred to to believe she is rather firmly in the Near Term Extinction camp. Yikes. (One of her ideas is that governments will not be able to hold together because they will not be able to pay workers. Without this, efforts at emergency rations, etc., etc., will be non-existent. Presumably without the usual industrial food being produced, mass starvation and conflict almost instantaneously.)

I have a local blog that promotes local in farming, encourages bicycling, questions city planning that involves 1 million dollar parking lots and new 10 million dollar highway garages and 500 plus new residential "units." I also take an active role in trying to make these changes in the physical world, and attend city council and planning board meetings. But I feel talking about this stuff will quickly become moot, as nobody will have the money to follow through on all these Business As Usual projects. Do you have any recommendations as to what I can blog about that will be useful at this late stage, other than that we will all be dead in a few years? Thanks!

CSAFarmer said...

Congratulations Mr. Greer, I'm experiencing nostalgia for a place I've never been! Perahps because the tone of your story reminds me of growing up in rural Newfoundland in the 60's and 70's.

There's a joke about flying in to St.John's airport, just before landing the pilot comes on and says 'Ladies and gentlemen, we will be landing shortly in St. John's, please remember to set your watches back 50 years'!

Newfoundland pre-Hibernia oil was not a rich place, but homes were well-kept (aided no doubt by multi-generational living arrangements), community could be counted on, people were competent to make their own entertainment, and seemed mostly happy and content with their lot. Small gardens at many homes fed a LOT of people.

Oh, and the kids were generally well-behaved (except maybe for the time, age 8, I drove my uncle's Wileys Jeep through a fence), because they were hand-reared (in several senses of the phrase) and had a productive and functional place in the family.

Sadly, the narrow-gauge Newfie Bullet was seeing it's last days around that time as well. I too prefer trains over all other means of transport; I remember fondly (if occasionally dimly) the bar car on a number of trips between Toronto and Montreal when I was dating my wife-to-be.

I'm very much looking forward to learning more about the Lakeland Republic, perhaps I will emigrate; I'm an organic farmer so you could say I already have my 'Green' Card.

Last thought, I followed your advice from a previous post and obtained 'The Great Crash 1929'. Let me hasten to add my recommendation to all the readers here. JKG has a wit to match JMG; he apprently majored in Economics with a minor in Sarcasm; highly educational and entertaining.

Phil Harris said...

Yes, a very ‘good telling’ on your part. I think I also would break down in tears and need patting on the back if I could up and make that journey right here and now! And I do not live in what I presume is still the United States!

War damage and all that … reminds me of childhood, but much more recently of smoke-damaged broken farm houses stranded in mine-fields after the recent Balkan wars. Border posts? Yes, a lot of our work concerned rebuilt Border Posts. There are very dark clouds again across those uneasy places– and civil war once more at flash-points in Europe where a way of looking at the world – quintessentially the American way – could be better adjusted to reality. (Dmitry Orlov is not impartial, but he keeps us up-to-date). I hope these chickens do not come home to roost.

Diesel Electric example: British InterCity 125; build date1975–82 still in front-line service some 20 years after ‘privatisation’. Full overhead electrification of the network does not look as though it will ever be completed. Yes, they can be very robust locomotives, even if occasionally, as last night, one old set needed to be replaced for some repair.

Some legacies will be more useful than others. Wishing you all well down the line.
Phil H

Sven Eriksen said...

Seems we're in for a smooth ride. I take pleasure in knowing that your new confederates seem to have achieved success employing General Grant's tactics of pinch, hold and have a second force punching through enemy territory and hit them hard from behind. It's indeed essential to keep in mind that the other side can actually learn, especially in warfare. I look forward to the remainder of the journey.

peakfuture said...

Ectopia, check! (Andy Brown, first past the post on that)

The Great Crash of 1929, check! (On my shelf as well - and about 60+ years old)

Caught the biodiesel reference, check!

Archdruid Bingo, the newest retro game :-).

On the clueless narrator's cashless society - I'm a big fan of using cash for purchases; it helps you realize that yes, you are spending money. And you don't have to worry about electronic networks being up and connected. Along with bicycles, using libraries, it is another tiny way of getting used to our different future.

Max Brooks' book (not the movie!) _World War Z_, along with Whitley Strieber's _Warday_ are other books that have narrators who travel and describe "mixed tech" worlds and how the various complicated bits of modern society can go awry. One point made by both books (admittedly, they are works of fiction) is that many folks, in spite of the hardships, find their lives are far more meaningful in doing 'hands on' work, and being in lower tech worlds.

Greatly looking forward to what you do with this, and seeing what neat tricks you have up your wizardly sleeves.

Tidlösa said...

President Barfield? Did he save the appearences? ;-)

Tidlösa said...

I expected Retrotopia to be a matter-of-factly and somewhat dull series of blog posts about how to collapse all the way back to the 1950´s.

This look more interesting!

The I-pod stuff had me confused first, but I think I got the hang of it by the time Carr got surprised by the abundant agriculture, since he "knew from college" that such things aren´t possible without monoculture...

Twilight said...

Yay! I have long believed that good fiction is the best vehicle by far to transport these ideas to larger audiences. While I prefer the written word, regardless of the media form a popular story is capable of planting the seed of ideas that grow and root into the public consciousness. There's really no other method that can compare except for major shared experiences/events, which are usually disasters and end up being largely fiction too by the time they are spun and predigested for us. You never know how such ideas can fester in the background, being passed around and reused in other works, eventually to pop back out and be incorporated into a new understanding (religious sensibility?).

We think in stories and will remember the experiences we've had while immersed in one.

donalfagan said...

The Greyhound station is more famous thanks to Paul Simon, but Daniel Burnham's "Pittsburg" train station was a major part of one of our senior projects. Even then, they had hung a dreary 2x4 acoustical ceiling below the skylights. Later, we were supposed to design a convention hotel on a site near the station. I think Doubletree is there now, but I haven't been back in a while. Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh seems to be hanging on due to biotech money.

Pam in Virginia said...

Mr. Greer:

VERY long time follower.

Thank you so much for this. I wanted to cry, because of the hope of it, but I smiled instead!


RPC said...

Well, I don't need to imagine the Pittsburgh station; I was just there a month ago! The escalator was working though.
A couple of nits: the track west of the Pittsburgh Amtrak station immediately swings north and crosses the Allegheny River, so one gets only a glimpse of downtown. Those tracks also don't head for Steubenville; to do that, historically, you'd have to board at the P&LE station on the south side of town, now a mall. That's not to say the tracks haven't been rerouted, but you're fighting geography.
Also, if the tracks go back clear to the Atlantic, it might be a nice touch in the final version if the train is fueled with petro-diesel until it crosses into the Lakeland Republic. Or...since you've got streetcars darting about, the train could get an electric locomotive at the border.
(OMG, I'm turning into one of those cranky old engineers who critique the technology in science fiction stories!)

Leo Knight said...

Very interesting. I sometimes have to ride the bus through Baltimore, and see things reminiscent of your journey out of Pittsburgh: abandoned buildings with mulberry trees or tree of heaven growing out of them, homeless tent camps, deserted shopping centers.

The refugee family gave me chills. This February, when we lost our home, we spent ten days in a hotel. I saw quite a few families like that, right down to the plaatic bags.

Regarding the looming crisis, I recently encountered "REO to rental securitization." After the last crash, banks had quite a lot of foreclosed properties. They sold them to speculators, who rather than sell them in turn (few buyers) turned them into rental units. They then created financial instruments, similar to mortgages, based on the rents, which they then bundled and sold as securities, just like the CDOs at the center of the last crisis. What could possibly go wrong. Things are different this time!

latheChuck said...

Just a reflexive comment on "Potemkin villages": while the accepted interpretation of the phrase (as described in the Wikipedia article) is a false construction intended to deceive visitors as to the prosperity of a region, I think there's another aspect to consider. In the case of North and South Korea, the Potemkin villages on the north side of the border may be equally important in deceiving the laborers who built them. Having had a hand in constructing a "Potemkin village" visible from the south, one might have a unique degree of skepticism about any appearance of southern prosperity that happens to leak across the border. "We know how this game is played. They can't deceive US with their propaganda! Their lies are no better than ours."

DaShui said...

I saw u on another populist right website:

Bruce E said...

Haha -- as if I didn't already pine away week to week in anticipation of your next post, now (1) you've gone back to narrative fiction to amplify suspense, and (2) the first step in the trip to Retrotopia features the ominous "no signal" image and the satisfaction of my suspense is wholly dependent on not losing my own signal!

A school that doesn't look like a medium security prison is a beautiful image, and its beauty is shocking to me with respect to how low my aesthetic bar is set nowadays.

August Johnson said...

Joel Caris - I can still hear John McCain saying that in September, 2008 as stocks were in a downward slide!

McCain calls U.S. economy 'fundamentally sound' on same day Lehman Brothers declared bankrupt

Kevin Warner said...

This story seems very reminiscent of what it was like to go between East and West Germany back in the eighties. Can't wait for the next installment next week.

musingsfromthefringe said...

I very much agree with what many others already wrote in the comments regarding the Heartland Republic's choice to stop trying to preserve high-tech at the expense of everything else, as was done in the eastern region. But I think that only scratches the surface. What I see at play so far, at every level of the Heartland Republic, is a decision to abandon highly centralized operations in favor of decentralized ones. In doing so, the people of the Heartland Republic appear to have placed a cap on the ability of elites to loot for their own advantage and benefit.

It's almost as if this fictional future country was drawn up by E.F. Schumacher and Wendell Berry, at first glance. Keep things small, local (and beautiful) to the maximum extent possible, and the abundance can be widely shared across a broad base. Insist on bigger and more centralized, and the surplus is funneled upward as rapidly as possible -- while at the same time undercutting the very conditions that make the surplus possible, as the elites most benefiting are too far removed from those conditions to view them in any way other than an abstraction (hence the reference to what Carr learned in business school).

Already can't wait for the next installation, JMG!

jean-vivien said...

@ Dau Branchazel
Stephen King is not only very good at writing horror stories, but also at depicting rural or lower-class America. Even if John's and Stephen's respective writing styles are very different, I also thought that Retrotopia might do to science-fiction what Stephen King has done to the horror genre, give it more impact by focusing on lower-class and rural America.

Otherwise, the world depicted in this week's post looks a lot like current France or Belgium. Especially Belgium... The only difference being that nowadays's farms are still bigger, and most of the houses do not feature a subsistence garden. Also, the trains here are for dedicated uses, freight is carried by dedicated trains where all the cars look like iron dumpster bins for construction work.
Leaving Sirap for the countryside feels like Carr's journey. Except we do not have war-ravaged lots in our big cities, and no abandonned big farms. So yeah, it is quite different after all :-)

"Feeding directly into the visual cortex"... I find that a little implausible, in a war-torn city-state, that enough resources and instruction has remained to propel such refinements.

Tom Schmidt said...

Um, oops, JMG. I had always though Steubenville farther SW in Ohio.

Truthfully, I figured that climate change had shifted the course of the Ohio River, which flows through a river valley that's been there for generations. Now THAT would be a shocking change.

Nastarana said...

Dear Mr. Geer, I can't wait for the next installment. So far, your story is most enjoyable.

A few observations:

I really liked your illustrations of the costs of maintaining the high tech infrastructure (for the few, I take it) in the former Atlantic states.

I was a little surprised that the, only three to be sure, Atlanticists mentioned all have last names from the British Isles.

In today's world, the bad actors, unfortunately, do know how to read maps. So, I am wondering what has happened to the corporate types, the Kochs, Whirlpools. Monsantos, etc. who are at the present time doing everything they to establish satrapies in the upper Mississippi Valley, or so it seems to me. I am inclined to think one of those might be behind the Ferguson riots, rather than foreign agitators.

I hope your vision allows room for libraries, real ones, not the internet cafes at public expense that we have now.

Bike Trog said...

I read a library copy of The Great Crash. That saved money I spent on the last of the set of Harry Potter and the Half-Collapsed Bureaucracy.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

JMG: One of my personal anchors in the present storm is the Archabbey of Saint Vincent, just outside La Trobe, Pennsylvania. I have been an Oblate Novice there for too long. I am hoping to be able to proceed to full Oblation in the spring of 2016. (Oblates, as you may perhaps already be either dimly or vividly aware, are a kind of "Third Order" - laity living in the world, and yet supporting the spiritual and temporal mission of their particular selected monastery so far as their particular secular circumstances may permit.)

LaTrobe is on the present Amtrak line linking New York to Pittsburg. Awkwardly, this puts LaTrobe on the bad side of your 21st-century Iron Curtain.

Have you any suggestions regarding the fate of the Archabbey? Does it develop a countercultural witness, cultivating its present ample Pennsylvania fields in the spirit of your envisaged future Lakeland farmers, while occasionally quietly reminding people of the small-private-holdings ideas promulgated by 1890s Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum? Or does it compromise its ideals by embracing monoculture agribusiness? I take the fate of the Archabbey as a small, manageable, test case, to help advance the following more general line of investigation (a line too vast, I think, for you to address in its proper generality this week): Does the government on the eastern side of your unhappy Iron Curtain co-opt Catholicism, as Stalin's USSR co-opted the Orthodox Church (monasteries included)? Or do we instead have in that unhappy jurisdiction something more like the Catholic intellectual resistance of Soviet-dominated 1980s Poland?


Toomas (Tom) Karmo

Catholic member of Estonian disapora,
presently living approx 25 km N of Toronto business district,
hoping eventually to resettle in Estonia

www dot metascientia dot com

PS: I have also a less painful question: What happens in Lakeland to universities? Do they continue in some reduced state, like the railway (your combination goods-and-passenger short-train arrangement, with biodiesel traction, seems credible) or have they been driven under? I would like to think that in Lakeland there are private tutors preparing students for examinations set by external, prestigious, examining boards (say, run by Cambridge University or Hah-vud). I would further like to think that some of the old Lakeland universities have survived in skeleton form by retaining their hardcopy libraries and some lab space, now selling to students, at some moderate price, admission to these key facilities. The idea would be that if you are a student preparing for your "Cambridge University Physics-of-Radio Level Three Comprehensive" and your "Hah-vud Multivariate Real-Variables Tensor Analysis" exams, you would get your education at world standards, and yet at an affordable price. My envisaged students would additionally rejoice in the salutary administrative separation of teaching authority (their local Ohio tutor or "coach", with whom they would be in relations of friendly alliance) from their examining authority (the "Board", too geographically and administratively remote for any interpersonal power-games; you never even meet "Board" personnel, since the exam papers are sent from Cambridgeshire or Massachusetts to your local JP or county court).

PPS: How good are humanities in the K12 Lakeland schools? Can you conjecture what percentage of K12 Lakeland schools offer German, and also what percentage offer Latin, and also what percentage offer both German and Latin?

pygmycory said...

I did spot the biodiesel.

Congratulations on the book advance! That's great. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Twilight's Last Gleaming, by the way.

Sylvia Rissell said...

I noticed the biodiesel. Not sure how much used fryer oil it takes to run a locamotive, though. Im enjoying the story. Keep it going?

What sort of strange behavior will we see next? Public knitting? Public flogging? Vegeterianism?

(i am now imagining a man recovering from last nights drinking, in the stocks, wearing a strangely striped stocking cap. Nearby, there are two elderly ladies knitting mismatched mittens from itchy yarn...)

weedananda said...

What about my beloved sweet home Nuwinga? Amtrak recently reinstated The Vermonter from DC to St. Albans VT -- please accept an open invitation to visit the beautiful Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts (stops in Northampton). It would be a great honor to be your host any time you might be so inclined.

Bob Patterson said...

Your introduction reminds me of a AMTRAK trip from Dallas to Chicago in 1983. We had a sleeper, definitely from the 50's or 60's. Muted paint, but very well designed, with plenty of heat (it was winter) and a comfy couch. The train stations were dreary remnants of what they had been. The train was constantly stopping to either let a freight train pass or frozen switches. AMTRAK had the lowest priority. The snack bar was a joke, so good thing we brought some goodies. Soon the constant stops made a joke of the schedule. And approaching the cities, we saw the worst slums and industrial backwaters imaginable. But overall, the experience was pleasant, since we were on our own time.

Cathy McGuire said...

Great beginning! You are obviously drawing on your deep stock of knowledge about train travel, and it feels very real (and I haven't traveled by train - yet). I suspect the narrator will have many surprises ahead. I'll be interested to learn more about that smartphone thingie he has. I hope the story also finds readers who are not as conversant in low-tech and appropriate tech - so that they get a glimpse of what works!Sometimes it's really hard to picture how the system functions. I'm still working to get the "systems loop" working at my place - so the "garbage" become fertilizer and makes more food, and the scraps of things can be used for other things... "french fry" biodiesel I don't mind - it's the kind that smells of, well, "rotten eggs" that I can't stand! ;-)

Dammerung said...

Bar-field, or Barf-ield?

Cathy McGuire said...

@JMG: one of the things about my style of fiction writing is that I rarely have any idea what my characters are going to encounter in advance! Yes, that's how I write, and sometimes it's frustrating because you know there's a bit of info you want to encounter, but the character doesn't seem to want to encounter it (like world politics). ;-) And also, looking from a single POV means readers can only know what the narrator knows or is told... and boy, howdy, does that get tricky at times! I'm currently working on a present-day story using omniscient or at least multiple POVs and it's really hard - I keep wanting to "see" only through one pair of eyes.

James Gemmill said...

Hmmm...I'm somewhat expecting the Lakeland Republic does have it's version of the metanet. Here's hoping we'll be hearing about at least a few shortwave transceivers as the story progresses.

Revere T said...

JMG, I have an important question. What becomes of baseball in the future? Do the people of Lakeland still spend their long Midwest summer days at the ballpark? Do the denizens of dismal dystopian Pittsburgh still cheer their hearts by going down to the Allegheny to watch the Buccos play?

Brian Kaller said...

Thanks for this, JMG. I especially like the fact that both societies seem to have retained or revived technology from decades past. One thing that always bothered me about sci-fi futures was that all infrastructure looked the same – in Star Trek utopias everything was spanking new and clean, and in post-apocalyptic fiction nothing has been repaired or retrofitted since the apocalypse. In the real world, of course, my area contains five-, fifty- and 300-year-old structures, along with five-, twenty- and 60-year-old cars. I would assume even more variety in a world forced to reuse more.

Ironically, I would expect the older materials and buildings to last longer – I’ve written about the infrastructure here outside of Dublin, where the multi-story office buildings became derelict as soon as they opened, while the stone bridges have functioned for a few centuries.

I did wonder how a border through the middle of North America could be tightly sealed against immigration, when the USA has so much trouble patrolling the Mexican border – but perhaps your future states are no more successful.

I’ll be interested to learn more about the social controls and pressures that Lakeland uses in lieu of guards and technological dependency. That’s another problem with most speculative fiction – it too frequently creates utopian societies with improbably few controls, or falls back on police-state clichés. Most human societies, though, rely on family pressure, religion and shame to shape behaviour, and I’d like to see more writers explore that.

I’ll look forward to reading more.

Varun Bhaskar said...


I love the dark-light contrast already. I'm glad Wisconsin is in there, that seems about right. ;)

I'm going to try to inspire some folk to narrate a future for Wisconsin, this weekend. Wish me luck!

Here's my story!
Proof and Prophecies.



william fairchild said...


Thanks. I was sucked into a decrepit fiberglass seat eavesdropping on the other passengers and watching the scenery go by. Verisimilitude, the appearance of reality, you have a true knack for it.

It never ceases to amaze me how humans are story telling animals. The extended metaphor seems to me to be an integral way of how we make make sense of the world.

This appears to fit loosely into the Star's Reach deindustrial universe. From a purely artistic POV, why do you gravitate towards the first person perspective? I find it delightful, but so few authors use it today. Suzanne Collins stands out.

My daughter wrote a fan fic sometime back from the second person. It was really different (I.e.- you walk down a flight of stairs) but strangely compelling. I have encouraged her to continue to experiment.

As to the corrupt city state of Chicago and the rest of IL, I look forward to seeing what our intrepid explorer, reporter, diplomat, spy (golly, WHO is Mr Carr? :-) ) thinks of IL. Currently there is a huge disconnect between downstate and Chicago.

People do not understand each other, it is like two different countries. On a positive note, IL is taking rail seriously. Springfield is consolidating all rail traffic on the 10th St corridor, building a new depot (intermodal). Of course of new Gov has put his head where the sun doesn't shine, and picked a labor fight with Speaker Madigan, so we have got a classic impasse which could tank state funding for rail. Meanwhile, the airport in SPI continues to recruit and subsidize air carriers, and is spending money hand over fist on airport wifi, new jetways, fancy lounges with leather easy chairs, etc. They are flushing money down a rathole, IMO. Corruption ain't confined to Chicago, sadly. I will look forward to how the Madigan Cartel (or Rahm Emmanuel's decendants) make out in your corrupt city state, but perhaps that's too IL specific.


Laying over in Steubenville,


LewisLucanBooks said...

Salutations, JMG; et all - Yup. I noticed the homage to "Ecotopia". The author also wrote "Ecotopia Emerging" a few years later. The story of how Ecotopia came about. I was in the book biz, at the time, and remember it was the first time I had heard the word "prequel" used.

Well, the stock market plunge seems to be yesterdays news ... no screaming headlines, this morning. Due to a slight rally. I seem to remember that in 1929 there was a bit of up and down before the final plunge. I checked into Galbraith's book in our usually excellent regional library system. All copies seem to have been lost or strayed. No copies of "Small is Beautiful", either. Lew

Zach said...

Nicely begun, and very evocative. I also caught the "Ecotopia" reference. I will be particularly enjoying this as a lifelong Lakeland resident -- my ancestral family farm is just west of Toledo.

I laughed at your narrator's "real farms" comment.

I've been reading (well, listening to) Augustine's City of God, partly based off of an old discussion here. It's going to take a while to finish but so far, it's astonishing how much history rhymes. (For anyone else interested, the reader for the LibriVox audio version is quite good.)

Augustine's wisdom is timeless; it seems I might need to move JKG's The Great Crash, 1929 up my reading list as more timely.


dermot said...

I've been meaning to mention this for a while here, as this movie struck me as having a very Greerish view of the future. It starts out looking like 'Mad Max', but as the film begins to peek around the corner, you see something much more nuanced.

Under-rated. Many rube/reviewers think a story MUST be about character. Some people aren't qualified to read a story, never mind write one. Anyhow, I'd be interested in what you think.

'Young Ones' (2014).

QUOTE: Set in a near future when water has become the most precious and dwindling resource on the planet, one that dictates everything from the macro of political policy to the detailed micro of interpersonal family and romantic relationships. The land has withered into something wretched. The dust has settled on a lonely, barren planet. The hardened survivors of the loss of Earth's precious resources scrape and struggle. Ernest Holm Michael Shannon lives on this harsh frontier with his children, Jerome Kodi Smit-McPhee and Mary Elle Fanning. He defends his farm from bandits, works the supply routes, and hopes to rejuvenate the soil. But Mary's boyfriend, Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult), has grander designs. He wants Ernest's land for himself, and will go to any length to get it. From writer/director Jake Paltrow comes a futuristic western, told in three chapters, which inventively layers Greek tragedy over an ethereal narrative that's steeped deeply in the values of the American West.

Moshe Braner said...

Yes, interesting new posting by Gail Tverberg. But I think the Archdruid would quibble with her assumption that a financial collapse would cause an immediate collapse of the fuel and electricity grids, food production, and so forth, without governments finding other ways to keep some essential things going. The interesting questions are how will the web of debts be unwound, in other words, how will the assumed property rights of the 1% be usurped. If that happens with intense-enough conflict, the collateral damage may be as bad as having the grid fail.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Sorry, careless writing on my part this morning, in a posting to this blog: please note that "Pittsburg" is correctly "Pittsburgh", and that "LaTrobe" (a sizeable Pennsylvania town on the Pittsburgh-New York Amtrak line) is correctly "Latrobe".


Tom = Toomas Karmo

Unknown said...

I give thanks for your fiction, having read stars reach in serial form on the blog and reading twilights last gleaming in the spring, I just received fires of Shalsa in the mail the other day and have been gripped by it though also a little chilled given where drone tech is going (north Dakotas new law allowing tasers and sound weapons on drones as an example). I look forward to next weeks installment of retrotopia and your new novel. I'm usually not one to comment, but I just wanted to express gratitude for your work. I've followed your blog for the last 7 years while I've gone through my own transition and have appreciated the grounding insight this blog has provided. Thank you.


Clay Dennis said...


I too picked up the Callenbach vibe right off.
While we are guessing as to the future narration of the story I will throw in my speculation as to where you are going. I think that the lack of the Vweb and cell phones in the Lakeland republic is more of a Chicken and Egg thing. Instead of the more obvious guess that not wasting resources on digital devices and allowed this more successfull retro-republic to thrive instead I think the story will be that the absence of these things allowed the political concensus required to pursue a different and more appropriate future. In other words, perhaps the civil war more effectively destroyed the internet, cell phone network, and television infrastructure in the Lakeland Republic region so that the Orwellian flow of distractions not longer kept the population entranced and they were able to develop the political consensus ( nod to your last post) to have a real revolution. They were then able to put the members of the rentier and political classes to the sword ( or guillotine, keeping with the retro theme) and develop a consensus as to the way forward in a future of limited energy and resources. They then wisely choose not to bring back these distractions even though they may have been prosperous enough, both because they waste valuable resources better used elseware and because of the danger to the culture.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Also on the matter of my careless writing in my posting to the blog comments this morning: JMG's train is not all that short, even though I myself carelessly wrote "short". JMG specifies that his string of boxcars is long, even though it pulls just three passenger carriages. But we may perhaps conjecture that his train is not a 150-carriage monster, since that would more naturally call for two locos, and JMG's depressing-yet-observant Mr Carr notices just one.

recalling that on our local trackage double locos are used often or always on goods trains,
with a SINGLE locomotive pulling, rather, a string of 10 double-decker carriages
in our suburban regional passenger system,

(living approx 20 track miles N of Toronto Union Station)

Patricia Mathews said...

Oh I caught it immediately ... the smell gave it away ... but then, I not only own and often reread STAR'S REACH, I also have a fair collection of post toasties of one sort or another (EARTH, BONE DANCE, the BORDERTOWN series of the 1980s-1990s, Stirling's Emberverse series, etc) and fully expect to see biofuel in use where it doesn't cut into the food supply. Aye, there's the rub, as corn consumers have been noting for quite some time.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Good heavens, there is a good touch in this narrative: the depressing Mr Carr (oh what a name - like "Madame Salmonella Mercedes", or "Miss Pernicia Jaguar", or "Herr V.W. F&uumlaut;hrer") is NOT on the current Amtrak line from Pittsburgh to Toledo! His train runs, rather, at a rather reasonable speed on a line lying well south of the current one. So we may suspect that Lakeland has developed some track which is at present underused or derelict, or even that Lakeland has laid down fresh track. Elucidations from author?


Myriad said...

"Mr. Carr." Cute. :)

I like where this is going. But only because I know you'll steer well clear of deindustrial SF pitfall #3: "perennial problems solved via spontaneous fundamental changes to human nature." (It's a pitfall in other SF subgenres too, of course.) In other words, while I look forward to more details of life in Retrotopia/Lakeland, what will really make it interesting is examination of the social systems and tradeoffs that make it possible. Somewhere, a number of pipers are being paid.

For instance, I suspect (in order to make various quantities balance) that the immigrant family might be voluntarily entering into some kind of indenture. Which wouldn't preclude their new living conditions being far better than their former ones. (Per the negation of pitfall #3, abuse would be a possibility they must weigh for either situation.)

I also anticipate something like 1920's-era medicine and life expectancy. Basic medical and surgical care (augmented with post-1920s knowledge but relatively little post-1920s technology), usually delivered by house call (required because most patients don't have cars). The doctor would be one of the people who use the cars Carr saw in Steubenville (though it would have to be one that could negotiate unpaved farm roads, and perhaps double as an ambulance.) If there is an MRI machine in Toledo, it will be used in those cases where it really makes a difference in the outcome (instead of e.g. ruling out unlikely alternative diagnoses to protect the doctor from law suits). Given the regional differences, we might need some good reasons why ill well-off individuals don't decide to go back east for liver transplants or whatever, draining wealth.

I seem to be falling into a bad (or, maybe, just weird) habit of trying to write your story for you, so I'll stop there.

peacegarden said...

I’m loving the trip so far! Loved the french fry reference! Our Mr. Carr…hmm…interesting name...may be having a bigger adventure ahead of him than he has planned. So glad you will be publishing this as a novel.

As always, thank you for what you do…pulling the rug out from under our pretenses and blind spots, while keeping us entertained.
“Instead of seeing the rug being pulled from under us, we can learn to dance on the shifting carpet.”
~Thomas Crum~
That is my quest; to follow the flow of incoming sensations and ideas, having the fluidity to dance gracefully back and or forth, responding, not reacting. Not always carried out, but a lovely goal, nonetheless!

Will be putting something in that tip jar.



SLClaire said...

I have to admit I enjoy watching our narrator flop around like the fish out of water that he currently is. I'm also looking forward to following along with you as you lay out how Lakeland came to be the way it is as the story begins and how it works.

I am also a bit homesick for Michigan, where I was born and raised, as I read along. I live just three miles to the west of your future Lakeland Republic but even now the Mississippi River feels like a much bigger barrier than it is at St. Louis. It will likely get bigger as time goes on.

Kate said...

JMG! So glad to see that you are telling us a story. We are all so hard-wired to follow stories. It will be hard to wait for each installment. After learning the many basics behind the coming transition from your several years of posts, it is so helpful to see it visualized in a fictional form. I hope you enjoy writing it as much as we will enjoy reading it, and Lakeland Republic manages to do it right.

Steve in Colorado said...

Hi JMG and thanks for the beginning of what should prove a great storyline.

One minor nit, the reference to the diesel running on fryer oil is a nice touch. Several posters here seem to think that was meant to refer to biodiesel. Having made my own BD and taught classes in how to make it for many years now, I should point out that BD when burnt does not smell like french fries (or fried fish or any other fried food). The BD process does a very good job of cleaning any remaining food stuffs from the fuel. BD has a subtle but distinct odor, but it is unique and unlike any fried food. Now if they were just filtering the used fryer oil and burning that directly in the train's engines, then the exhaust would likely smell of fried something.

In all likelihood, in the circumstances of the story, those folks would probably not be converting their used oil to BD. That takes too much in the way of concentrated inputs. Rather they would filter and burn the used cooking oil directly. Much cheaper and easier to do.

Rightas Rain said...

Thank you JMG
I found the Druid report about 2 months ago and haven't missed a week since. For me the go ahead and collapse now theory really hit home about a year ago. My wife and I have escaped into the mountains of Central America. Down sized, homestead style living very close to the land. Our fear of the collapse started a few years ago, not sure why but your fiction is spot on as far as my own feelings are concerned. I am not one that usually comments in these matters but your comment section seems full of very intelligent people. On top of the current total system failure that is bearing down on us much like the locomotive in the first paragraph of "Retrotopia: I am very worried about my friends in the states that can't see the forest for the trees so to speak. Best wishes for the future.
Robert Linton

oneotaBill said...

I am delighted with this beginning! I love the idea that some people would consider the net not worth reconstructing, perhaps even a liability! And I certainly love the idea of diversified (organic?) farms! And default on unplayable debt, as done by Argentina and Iceland, can be a very good idea, though Greece seems not to realize it. What fun! (I suppose I might try to be serious, but I am really enjoying this.)

RCW - said...

I've never bought into the theory that reading fiction is a waste of time. Au contraire, I love feasting on a juicy piece of fiction, as reading obliterates any screen (big or little) adaptation, and in the process, keeps away cerebrum atrophy.

I've grown weary, like butter that has been scraped over too much bread, of the more is better illusion that Madison Avenue markets. I wonder if the all of the grass will be greener on the other side?

jeffinwa said...

Thank you, JMG, for the story time; for me at least it really does make ideas come alive and accessible. I appreciate your fiction style very much and will savor each bite.

Re The Great Crash of 1929; I'm only half way through but the sense of inverted deja-vu is weird. Our future being written once again.

I was struck by the familiar name of Goldman, Sachs as being prominent players back then or now or still; darned if they didn't come up with collateral default swaps this time around as their current offering to help bring on 2008's baby crash and since they were not allowed to unwind then they're still waiting like a time bomb (of course among other treats). Will we call this next crash The New and Improved Crash of 2015? Rumor has it to watch out for Oct. of this year. (nothing new there;))

peakfuture said...

Regarding Warday - it was a far bit darker of course. I think many fewer folks would want to live in that world of course, but the description of the high tech/low tech differential was well done. It was a long time since I read it, so I hope I didn't paint it as a place that you'd aspire to (and certainly not via an even small nuclear war).

RPC - Hey, nitpicking is a time-honored tradition. That's how Larry Niven's Ringworld got tweaked, as I recall, when people complained it was unstable, and needed attitude jets. If this becomes a book, JMG could incorporate your quibble, and perhaps even name check you as one of the train engineers :-).

Sylvia - According to CSX, "Trains can move a ton of freight over 480 miles on a single gallon of fuel." Poking around some, and looking at some of the math people have done, this seems like a legit number.

Looking forward to the coming weeks!

Ben said...

Any chance Carr will make it west of the Mississippi? I'm living in Oklahoma these days (more by my wife's choice than mine), and I have mostly negative feelings about the future of the state. The people can be resilient and are mostly already poor, so that goes in the plus column. OTOH, the preachers and oil industry flacks are working overtime to turn this state into a Saudi-style petro-theocracy, so that's a big negative, On top of that, climate change promises to turn the western half of the state into a desert, but here in the eastern half, we may get enough rain blowing up from the gulf to maintain at least a pastoral/arid agriculture culture. Pretty sure when push comes to shove, I'm dragging the family back north east. I have friends in Ohio....
Looking forward to the upcoming installments!

Sarah Chenkin said...

Dear Archdruid-san;
Your fiction filled me with joy since yesterday I was milking the cow, feeding the pigs and sheep, and training the young steers to be oxen. Today I was moving the manure to the field for fertilization with our draft horse, all on an 18 century living history museum. It is possible to live the life you describe even today. I thought I must be crazy to try to do it, here in the Philadelphia suburbs, but maybe not!

Ozark Chinquapin said...

Very interesting beginning to the story. I'm interested in hearing more about this Lakeland Republic. I'm assuming it's not actually quite utopia, there must have been plenty of trafe-offs required to get there, but they managed to get themselves into a much better position than most other places.

Carmiac said...

In this post, and several others, you've made some vague but very ominous references to the future of the West. I'm very curious about your thoughts on what is going to happen out here, as myself, my family and my friends all live scattered somewhere between New Mexico and California.

Martin B said...

Where there's paradise, there has to be a snake... All will be revealed, no doubt.

I was interested to see they hadn't reverted to coal-fired steam locomotives. I used to travel cross-country between parents on the steam-driven Orange Express back in the 1960s. If you haven't traveled on a steam train, you won't appreciate just how dirty and smelly they are. There's a continuous tinkling sound as little grit particles fall out of the smoke plume and strike the window panes. And the sparks set the stubble on the farmers' fields alight. (At least, that's what they allege as they pocket their compensation checks.)

One unusual feature of the Orange Express was they used to hitch a condenser car to the locomotive when crossing the arid Karroo. About half the length of a passenger carriage, it was a mass of pipes that condensed the waste steam back to water. An early example of conservation but used only in the Karroo where water was scarce.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Very happy to be reading this; nice that it's set in the Midwest.

You said to Mr. R: Chicago's an independent and fabulously corrupt city-state, but the rest of Illinois is part of the Lakeland Republic, along with all of Wisconsin and Michigan.

Ha! One would assume as much; a new iteration of the trading/communication/transportation nexus Chicago's always been since the first humans followed the melting ice sheets north and the lake was formed. And as such, a dicey, dodgy, not terribly rule-bound place where all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures come to trade all sorts of things and anything could happen. The old city states of Italy come to mind, Venice, perhaps.

If I could write fiction, I'd write a story about that.

Various projects will be preventing me from extensive comments for awhile. In October I'll be taking the Empire Builder from Chicago to St. Paul (and back again). Will be thinking about your alternative future as I go, I'm sure.

Fabian said...

Great story thus far. If such a place existed in America today, I would be among the first to apply for an immigration permit.

I love traveling by train. It's much more civilized than driving to one's destination or flying in one of those glorified cattle cars run by the airlines. Stephen King rather aptly described economy class on a modern jetliner as "livestock class" in one of his novels.

When my parents lived in the Seattle area (I live in a small town in Southwest Washington State), I usually took the train to visit them and they would pick me up at the King Street Station in downtown Seattle. I loved not only the leisurely and civilized pace of rail travel but the spectacular scenery along the way. The King Street Station is a gorgeous example of early 20th century American civic architecture. My mother, who grew up in the same area where I now live, remembers traveling with her siblings by train to visit her grandparents, who also lived in Seattle.

Doctor Westchester said...


Considering the current state of the world this set of posts may be very timely.

Please don’t choke when I say this, but the Lakeland Republic does seem to be a Transition Town wet dream. I’m looking forward to seeing its upsides, as well as its downsides and some of the compromises that are part of it. I am also looking forward to seeing as much as possible of the path for it to get where it is shown in the story. I know that crisis, war and many lives lost will be part of it. Alas, that last part does seem to be in front of us in any case.

Rain said...

Here is my entry for the short story competition. Please confirm that you have received it.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Martin B - up around the Four Corners area there are two narrow-gauge steam train lines for tourists: the Chama-Silverton one (?) and the Durango-Silverton one, which cut through the campground where my daughters were staying at the mother-and-daughters reunion this July. I rode the Durango-Silverton once, many, many years ago. I do remember it as being a bit smoky and gritty. This time I didn't notice any sparks or much dirt. But then. I'm not sure how they're powered. I do know the people at the campground loved watching them pass, and waved at the passengers, who waved back.

I rode the Durango-Silverton once, many, many years ago. I do remember it as being a bit smoky and gritty.

I also remember a train trip from New Haven to Indianapolis in 1948? 1949? We had the seat that turned into one bunk and the upper bunk that opened up above it, and the train's iconic picture of a kitty sleeping on one of their pillows, one ear showing. And yes, they had a dining car. Alas, we also hit a snowstorm and were stuck for hours. I'm afraid I was an utterly rotten traveler. (Poor Mom. Me, my sister, and my little brother - and these were in what would now be considered very luxurious surroundings indeed!)

Patricia Mathews said...

Ah. I spotted the key event in Lakeland's history. "They had been shut out of the world's credit markets since their default." Meaning they were no longer on the business end of the wealth pump, and were also cut off from the incessant marketing of this and that which plagues us today: like Cuba, and somewhat like Iceland, they had to rebuild themselves, and going back to the traditional economy was the most obvious way to do it.

One wonders whether, like the Ecotopians, they had engineered this? Or gambled on the default and won? Or simply made do afterwards?

Shane Wilson said...

So I take it Ontario still sits on the other side of a national border, and is not a part of the Lakeland Republic? I must admit, I'd be disappointed if the new nation didn't include both sides of the Great Lakes, it seems to make more sense not to divide the Great Lakes between nations. I was thinking that KY would be a part of the new CSA (the old saw about KY joining the South after the Civil War) I can't imagine KY making that "mistake" again.
Regarding veepads, I'm now liberated from my dumbphone, and I destroyed it in as spectacular fashion as you did your last TV. The touchscreen on my cheaply made, out of waranty but still under contract phone gave out, and in frustration that it stopped working, couldn't be fixed or replaced reasonably until Oct., I twisted it in two, and crushed the remains. I regretted getting it when I did, and wanted to "regress" to a flip, but, now, will definitely never have another dumbphone or touchscreen device again. As I looked at the crumpled remains of my dumbphone, I felt liberated, and I recalled the fate of your last TV, and smiled.

John Michael Greer said...

Brian, that will indeed be interesting to see.

Christopher, one of the benefits of setting a story in the fairly near future is that I get to have fun with the existing political blocs, "Trump-Hogan-Christie" (a bit of an odd juxtaposition from my point of view) and others. Stay tuned.

Steve, I'd heard about Hawai'i's strange weather! Par for the course these days.

Chloe, I'll have some rude things to say about high-speed rail in an upcoming post -- also about technological barriers.

Spanish Fly, I think all the climate change denialists were torn to pieces by mobs during the famines of 2028-30, when it finally sank in that (a) they were simply spouting corporate propaganda and (b) their doing so played a large role in the stalemate that let the climate spin completely out of control. By 2065, the date of this story, it's brutally clear that anthropogenic climate change is a reality, and coastal cities are being evacuated ahead of the rising seas.

Denys, I'm still brooding about that, and doing as much reading as a fairly heavy writing schedule will permit.

Ben, thank you!

M, that's where Gail and I part company; for some reason it never seems to have occurred to her to look up what's happened every other time there's been a massive credit collapse anywhere, and so she hasn't noticed that governments have plenty of options that will stop a fast crash in its tracks, and have done so over and over and over again. As for your blog, keep on blogging about land use and bicycling. Once the next round of crises is over, those same issues are going to come back, and the more groundwork you can lay in advance, the better.

CSAFarmer, the sense of nostalgia is quite deliberate. Most people in North America had higher standards of living and, by most measures, better lives fifty years ago than they do today, and I want to talk about why that is and what changed.

Phil, no, it's not the United States. In this future, the US is long gone, and what used to be the US is divided into a dozen or so independent nations, some of which (California in particular) are well down the slope into failed-state status. The mid-Atlantic states are one such republic, sandwiched in between the Republic of New England, the Lakeland Republic, and the Confederate States of America.

Sven, a habit I picked up from Machiavelli a long time ago is, when traveling, to look at the landscape and try to figure out how a military engagement on that terrain would play out. The crossings of the Ohio always struck me as the likely site of big battles in the future.

Peakfuture, I know "Ectopia" was a typo, but it's a fascinating one. The place that one is always outside of?

Howard Skillington said...

This week’s post resonates for me both forward and back. I grew up on a family farm that still provided many of our family’s needs directly, though without the diversity of farms of my grandfather’s era. With agribusiness bearing down upon our way of life, my father had been obliged to concentrate his efforts upon much larger-sized fields of just a couple of crops that still had a viable regional market. Within a few more years we would be among the last such small farms to concede defeat to industrial agriculture.

And this morning I returned to the Twenty-First Century with the restoration of Internet service that was knocked out eight days ago by an errant lightning bolt. For all of my reminders to myself and others that we will see the end of the Internet someday I must admit that I have felt an enormous loss – not least for having to wait until today to read last week’s Archdruid Report.

Just one question regarding today’s post. Will we ever find out the meaning of “plut?” (shortened from the damnable plutocrats, perhaps)

John Michael Greer said...

Tidlösa, funny! No, I just pulled out a random name.

Twilight, exactly. Most of the posts I've written that have really hit a nerve, as measured by page views, rebloggings, etc., have either been narratives or have discussed a narrative.

Donalfagan, that was certainly my impression. It won't really recover until the US gets out of its current imperial tribute economy and internal trade matters again.

Pam, thank you.

RPC, the rail network got shredded in the Second Civil War; the route Carr's train is taking is only a few years old, so it doesn't follow the current route (which I know fairly well). There's no train service east of Pittsburgh, as the mid-Atlantic states have spent the last fifteen years trying to get foreign aid to put in a Chinese-made high speed train from Buffalo to Baltimore, rather than using local labor and resources to do something less trendy and more useful.

Leo, these days, if you take a bus trip across the poorer parts of the US, you'll see people like that, complete with plastic bag luggage.

LatheChuck, of course -- but remember that we're getting all of this from the viewpoint of a narrator who has probably never thought about what the phrase actually means.

DaShui, thanks for the heads up. As noted last week, I have a lot of readers on the rightward end of the political landscape -- possibly as many as I have on the leftward end. As an old-fashioned Burkean conservative, I have no problem with this.

Bruce, good! I was hoping for that reaction from the throwaway line about the school.

Kevin, good. Keep that comparison in mind as we proceed.

Musings, very good. There's more to it than that, but Schumacher in particular is an important influence on this project.

Tom, it's an easy mistake to make. That's one of the reasons I'm obsessive about plotting out character movements on a map!

Nastarana, the fate of the parasitic rich was not pretty; I'll get to that. As for libraries, you bet -- big, comfortable, attractive brick buildings full of actual paper books, with actual librarians to take care of them. I adore libraries; any utopia I create is going to have plenty of them.

John Michael Greer said...

Trog, I'd much rather own a copy of Galbraith!

Toomas, good question. I'll have to assess the probabilities as the situation east of the border becomes clearer to me. As for universities and schools generally, stay tuned!

Pygmycory, thank you.

Sylvia, funny. I don't anticipate public flogging, but knitting is quite another matter.

Weedananda, thank you. As for the Republic of New England and the Maritimes, to give it its formal name, it's an independent nation, struggling to deal with rising sea levels as well as the other difficulties besetting the nations of the former United States, but doing a better job than most.

Bob, west of the Mississippi, Amtrak's bottom priority and you can tell. East of the Big Muddy, it's a different matter -- and the snack bars and dining cars are actually not half bad.

Cathy, thank you. I don't expect to have much more to say about the veepad, as the focus of the story is what the Lakeland Republic does instead of another round of brittle and shoddily made high tech gimmicks.

Dammerung, funny!

Cathy, single POV is to my mind a very powerful tool for making a narrative work; there are some stories that can't be told that way -- Twilight's Last Gleaming is one of mine that had to be done as a kaleidoscope of different points of view -- but I honestly prefer it, when it will work at all.

James, stay tuned!

Revere, not a question I'd thought of, as I'm not a fan. Still, that's a good point -- and since every utopian fiction surfs on the implied contrast between things as they are and things as they could be, sports should get a look in.

Brian, no argument there -- too much utopian literature falls into the modern bad habit of thinking that human nature is a function of political, economic, and social systems, and if you change the system you can make human beings act like angels. Au contraire, a good alternative-society story has to explain what motivates people to act differently.

Varun, luck! I've got your story, so you're in the contest.

William, to my mind, first person POV is all but essential when you really want to work the contrast between what the reader thinks when he or she sees something, and what your point of view character thinks when he or she sees the same thing. Third person, even if it's a tight single character POV, just doesn't have the same impact. Of course there are times when a writer doesn't want to foreground that contrast -- when, for example, it's a more useful effect to gently draw the reader into seeing things in a different way -- but a story that draws a hard contrast between the present and an imagined future is very often best done as a first person narrative from a narrator who's at least a little clueless. Trey sunna Gwen in Star's Reach was a great deal of fun to write, precisely because his unthinking responses to the world around him were so different from those most readers would have!

william fairchild said...

@Patricia Mathews-

I rode the Silver Plume/Georgetown Loop narrow guage when I was a kid, my they are fun! The steam locomotive had been converted to burn oil rather than coal. I suspect the same happened with the Silverton lines.

My mother in law remembers coal locomotives starting prairie fires in WY due to the cinders flying from the stack.

John Michael Greer said...

Lew, there was also a lot of up and down after the 1929 crash. One of the things that can really sneak up on people is that huge changes don't necessarily happen all at once, apart from ordinary background noise.

Zach, you can read Galbraith's book from cover to cover in an evening, if you don't laugh yourself into hiccups too often!

Dermot, interesting. I haven't seen it, and to be honest, I probably won't -- I don't do much visual media at ll -- but it's intriguing to see that sort of idea getting more into circulation.

Moshe, I would indeed quibble with that; more precisely, I'd roll my eyes and point out that it's not exactly realistic to expect that the people who have most to lose in a total collapse, and who also have access to resources that have proved more than adequate to stop such collapses in their tracks in the past, will sit on their hands and say "Whatever shall we do?" in plaintive voices while the world crashes into ruin around them.

Unknown Evan, you're welcome and thank you. Drones are going to be featured in Retrotopia as well, and I don't think it's giving anything away to mention that they're going to come out very much the worse for wear!

Clay, not quite. Stay tuned!

Toomas, I think it was about forty boxcars, but Carr wasn't counting so I could be wrong.

Patricia, "post toasties" -- that's a keeper. Thank you.

Toomas, excellent! Yes, exactly. All the current rail infrastructure was trashed in the Second Civil War, where it hadn't simply fallen to bits beforehand. The tracks on which the train to Toledo is rolling were laid recently -- in the case of the Pittsburgh-to-Steubenville section, in the three years before the story opens.

Myriad, also excellent. As I noted above in my response to Brian Kaller, I have no time for the kind of bad fiction in which everyone acts like angels because they live under the right political, economic, or social system. I can promise you that the Lakeland Republic contains just as many greedy, stupid, selfish, arrogant, and power-hungry people as any other human society, and it's anything but perfect; on the other hand, certain changes have been made that head off some of the abuses and stupidities of our present society. Stay tuned!

Gail, thank you, and thank you!

SLClaire, oh, Carr has no clue just how completely out of his element he is! It's always fun to take a clueless character on a wild ride...

Kate, thank you. I hope you enjoy the rest of the story.

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, thanks for the correction. It's filtered vegetable oil, of course, not the blend that gets called "biodiesel" these days. A great many different vegetable oils get used to run Lakeland Republic locomotives, and not all of them are used to fry food first -- it just so happens that this train took on fuel in Toledo and a good chunk of the fuel was used frying oil.

Rain, I hope that choice works out well for you.

oneotaBill, I certainly hope that you're enjoying it! One of the other benefits of narrative, of course, is that it's more fun to read.

RCW, excellent! The Baggins quote gets you tonight's gold star.

Jeffinwa, why, yes, the recurrence of that particular company in the same sort of financial chicanery after an eighty year interval had caught my eye, too. ;-)

Nathaniel Ott said...

JMG, very impressive! This looks like it will shape to be an interesting fictional (or perhaps not so fictional) world. I hope you show the ups and downsides of each new nation and not just showing them as iether "good" or "evil" Utopias or Distopias respectively. But having read your writing and knowing how complex the the different cultures can be, I highly doubt you will.

I see you already answered some of the questions I had in the comments, like what year this is set in(2065). Assuming I'm still alive in that time(will be 77 if I make it that far), it will be interesting to look back on this and compare! Sincerely hope you continue to elaborate on this story and make it into a novel. Two quick questions however: about how many different new nations and the like are you imagining have formed from the former U.S and has the same thing or something similar happened elsewhere worldwide?

Nathaniel Ott said...

Commenting on the whole thing about science and technology that propped earlier in the comments... I tend to agree that many people are afraid of science and technology and as JMG has said, for good reasons. Usually.

Science has become synonymously with technology. Unfortunately technology has become synonymous with harmful or only benefitting to the rich. Wihich again is often true. Though I don't think of necessarily has to be.

As far as people being afraid of science in and of itself though: I actually think embracing science, real science, is largely a good thing. N people being more accepting to scientific fact would be a would even help with people who deny the harmful effects of high tech, even though some of them claim to fully embrace science. N I must admit I would like if more people were more forward, progressive if you wish to call it that, thinking. Please note however that by "progressive" in this sense: I mean more open-minded sociologically, not necessarily more complex technologically. The two do not always combine despite what a lot of people think.


John Michael Greer said...

Ben, no, his trip is purely to the Lakeland Republic. I'm honestly not sure what the former state of Oklahoma looks like in this fictive 2065.

Sarah, it sounds as though you're a cutting edge early adopter of the exciting new technologies everyone will be enjoying in 2065... ;-)

Ozark, one of the things that often gets forgotten about that word "utopia" is that it simply means a place that doesn't exist. Good utopian fiction always aims for plausibility.

Carmiac, as I see it, the southwest is toast. Current patterns in climate change will make most of it uninhabitable -- the water shortages you're seeing now are just the cutting edge of the new normal -- and the collapse of the US economy means among other things that the funds currently going to prop up an unsustainable region won't be there indefinitely. I expect to see Las Vegas and Phoenix abandoned to the sands within my lifetime, and California turn into a world-class basket case if not a Somalia-style failed state. Yes, things really are that bad.

Martin, diesel-electric locomotives are vastly more efficient as well as cleaner. One of the things you'll want to watch for is technological bricolage -- the interweaving of technologies of very different dates of origin. We already do a lot of that, but the Lakeland Republic does it in some very unexpected (to us) ways.

Adrian, I don't know Chicago well enough to do a novel set there in 2065, in its fabulously corrupt city-state era -- but I'd love to read such a novel.

Fabian, whereabouts in southwest Washington? My dad's family is from Aberdeen and we had relatives scattered over quite a bit of that part of the state; it's been a while, but I used to know it fairly well.

Doctor W., I'll be interested to see if you still think that when you've seen more of the Lakeland Republic!

Rain, got it. Please put in a comment marked "not for posting" with your email address, so I have a way to contact you if your story is chosen for the anthology.

Patricia, excellent! Glad to see that somebody caught that. It's going to be discussed at length later on.

Shane, I don't often hand out two gold stars in a night, but the wanton and entirely deserved destruction of a dumbphone deserves one. If that helpful spirit will simply catch on... ;-)

Howard, it's a legacy of the Second Civil War, when federal forces used plutonium-jacketed artillery shells as a terror weapon. (People were hanged as war criminals for that after Washington DC fell.) Soldiers' slang for those was "pluts;" to get plutted was to get hit by one, and then by extension to get clobbered in any particularly messy way; from there, "plut" became an all-purpose obscenity. You'll also hear "keech" used as a slang term for excrement, but that's because UN peacekeeping troops guarded the borders for a while during and after Partition, and the border between the former states of Pennsylvania and Ohio had a large contingent of peacekeepers from army of the Scottish Republic.

Nathaniel, the former US in this fictive 2065 is around a dozen independent nations. The same thing happened in a few other places -- for example, as you may have gathered from my comment immediately above, Scotland is an independent republic in 2065 -- but not generally; there are countries that have broken apart and countries that have merged through conquest or other means, as usual.

MawKernewek said...

Are you familiar with The Guardians by John Christopher. At one point I studied it at school and was reminded of it by your post this week.

The theme is a vision of England in the 2050s where the country is divided, but the fault-line is urban vs. rural, the latter of which has gone back culturally to something like the 19th century. As I remember the technological regression is not quite as pervasive as it first appeared. Most people in the rural area ride horses rather than cars but do use some electrical gadgets.

I wonder if the form of corporatist capitalism existing now is becoming more like the Communism that existed in Eastern Europe before the end of the Iron Curtain. Communism (as practised) would be the endpoint of corporatist capitalism once all the various conglomerates coalesce by takeover/merger into a single monopoly. Perhaps that doesn't even need to happen, once the point of oligopoly is reached the conglomerates share interests and act as a unified bloc. The limited areas of the economy under control of small and medium sized businesses are 'tolerated' a bit like the unofficial marketplaces that existed in many Communist countries.
Including now in North Korea where I heard an anecdote from someone who visited there that there was this market which didn't exist according to the government, although some of the shoppers there were wearing the red badge with portraits of the first two members of the Kim dynasty, denoting them as Party members. The PRISM program by GCHQ, NSA and the rest of the alphabet soup is something the Stasi could only dream of.

Cherokee Organics said...


Hehe! It is a good one isn't it and I forgot to mention that the smart cards have an expiry date. I asked the train conductor, what happens if I board the train with a expired smart card and he said he didn't know. What an amazing system. No wonder tourists are confused.

One day people will be cheaper to employ than ticket vending machines (that is the technical description). Til then...

I finished the final chapter of the Shaman story this afternoon which just scraped in before the Spacebats story deadline: Shaman part 5

I hope everyone enjoys the story.



Marlow Charles said...

Hooked so far! Funny how ones mind races trying to predict and associate.
(I have always loved books that use unreliable narrators. Very involving)

Greatly looking forward to where Mr Carr's journey takes me.

Thank you.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

"Ozark, one of the things that often gets forgotten about that word "utopia" is that it simply means a place that doesn't exist."

That sent me back to my Webster's Collegiate. The first listed meaning is an imaginary and indefinitely remote place. The second (more recent) meaning is a place of ideal perfection, especially in laws, government and social conditions. I thought the U in Utopia was from eu, which means good in Greek, but according to the dictionary, it's from ou, which means not. Utopia = noplace. I could not find any other English word beginning with u or ou that is derived from this prefix; that seems odd.

Martin B said...

Regarding the future splittage of the US: partition is not always a solution to political differences.

The world's newest state, South Sudan, seems to have progressed to the world's newest basket case rather quickly.

Phil Harris said...

Thanks for your reply:
JMG wrote: "Phil, no, it's not the United States. In this future, the US is long gone, and what used to be the US is divided into a dozen or so independent nations ..."

I'm sorry that my original comment was written obscurely. I actually understood well-enough in your very effective story that the USA was long gone. Rather, I was trying to make a semi-joking enquiry as to whether the USA at the time of writing (i.e. now) was still a functioning whole? I presume the Federation is not already beginning fission - not yet at the stage where States or even smaller localities are increasingly fending for themselves? Thus for example, import / export imbalances are still being balanced federally within the currency union? Do you on the other hand already see preliminary - perhaps unconscious - positioning in government or even military circles for a future break-up?

Phil H
PS Your possible future post-USA looks alarmingly a bit like Europe - Europe both now and in the past. However, the Balkans, Galicia and Crimea et al for example, occupied for centuries a problematic position wedged between three very large Imperial structures. Your future entities do not look as though they had gone through the stage of relatively stable if contesting dynastic Empires e.g. Austro-Hungarian; Imperial Russia; Ottoman. Which could be a hopeful sign?

donalfagan said...

I also rode the Durango-Silverton train, in 1998, I think. We were behind a coal-fired steam engine, and there was lots of white smoke, and the cabins had no windows, but I don't remember it being that sooty. Maybe they use anthracite. Long before the fine singer of Poetry Man, the Lackawanna railroad invented a passenger named Phoebe Snow, who dressed in white to show how much cleaner their anthracite coal burned than the competitor's soft bituminous.

Yeah, much of biodiesel is 5% bio/95% fossil.

One of my coworkers says his wife no longer feels safe in Baltimore. They are exploring other areas. It's funny. My wife watches Zoo, a tv show where wild animals are out to kill humans. Of course it is the opposite that is actually true. We are exterminating animals. Likewise in Baltimore it is not that black people are out to kill whitey. Blacks kill each other, or get killed by police, and white people feel afraid.

Spanish fly said...

'Spanish Fly, I think all the climate change denialists were torn to pieces by mobs during the famines of 2028-30, when it finally sank in that (a) they were simply spouting corporate propaganda and (b) their doing so played a large role in the stalemate that let the climate spin completely out of control. By 2065, the date of this story, it's brutally clear that anthropogenic climate change is a reality, and coastal cities are being evacuated ahead of the rising seas.'

Oh, what a bloody end for these pseudo-scientists. Should I have some pity for them?

Ing said...

Thank you, JMG, for weaving another tale and guiding our course, it's a delight to travel with such a thoughtful and interesting crowd. I'm looking forward to the journey, outer and inner.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

This story affected my dreams last night: I was on a train, looking at a copy of Tom Brown Jr.'s "City and Suburban Survival" book, talking to a fellow passenger about how the Chinese stock collapse precipitated the second great depression.

I too like the resonances with Callenbach and look forward to the next installment.

I'm glad that Ohio is in the Lakeland Republic. My highschool creative writing teacher, and a well known "Appalachian school" poet, Richard Hague, was from Steubenville. He has some great personal essays about that town, and how the industry there changed the landscape.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

A delightful read!

It reminds me of the days not long ago when I was going back and forth between Romania and Moldova. And it was quite often that I took the train. And by "train", I mean Soviet-era dinosaurs with wooden seats.

A small, young and vulnerable country born out of the collapse of a fomer superpower. That's Moldova in a nutshell, and for me, your depiction of this post-US future has deja-vu written al over it.

However, the most important force that pushed the USSR to disintegration was ethnic nationalism, fueled by economic decline. I don't know what could push the USA in a similar direction. Then again, I don't live there, so maybe it's not as homogenous as it may seem to an outsider.

Greg David said...

I like where this story is going. Thanks for writing it.

The story is reminicent of an essay by Gene Logsden I read in the Draft Horse Journal, about a 10,000 acre farm, comparing two methods of operation. One method was standard industrial ag, employed 2 or 3 people, used massive equipment, brought in off-farm inputs from everywhere, collected subsidies, used questionalble pesticides, mono-cropped, had serious erosion problems and fed into a system of ag where standardization, specialization and consolidation of control ruled.

The other method Logsden discribed was to divide the 10,000 acre farm up into 100 100 acre parcels and farm with draft animals. This method employed 100 families, and like most pre-fifties farms was diverse, profitable (without subsidies) and ran on farm and community produced inputs. The 100 acre farms, because they acrually supported the family needs, grew a wide range of crops, orchards, forests, gardens, fence-rows, pastures, ponds, poultry, pigs, cows, sheep, dogs, kids and any other life form the family thought worthy.

This second diverse method of farming created a whole range of local supporting businesses around the 100 family farms, including farriers, millers, bakers, butchers, groceries, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and indeed everything a small town needs to operate and thrive. The land was better cared for and provided for many of the community needs. It was a holistic system of community agriculture that developed interdependencies between people, the land, plants and animals. It created wealth that was shared within the community, with extra wealth for export.

I think I'd take my team and family and move there if I could find the place. Maybe I should be looking somewhere in the Lakeland Republic?

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG -

"Fabulously corrupt city-state." Oh, do I have a historical model for you! Complete with people with nicknames that are pure gangsta - from "Lucky" (who ruled the place for a while with a massive protection racket going until he retired to live with an old drag queen) to "Prettyboy" who ran the city mobs along with his flapper sister who was probably the brains in her family, to "Kid Butcher", whose military record earned him the name, to "Hairy", who walked off with the fattest collection of loot from his northern neighbors (after a 5-year campaign) and bought his way into the highest office.... and his great-nephew who bought the entire state, being far richer than the official government by a factor of at least 10.

P.S. I find my dumbphone far too useful to get rid of it, especially when my landline is down, which is every time we have a storm.

Eric S. said...

One thing that I found myself wondering, reading the initial description of Lakeland is how such a place would manage to avoid being either sucked dry by an imperial wealth pump, or outright conquered. Not all of the nations that are currently exporting of mass produced industrialized cash crops didn't choose to adopt those practices themselves, after all. With what seems to be a nation that is still clinging to a great deal of technological and military power bordering it, and an ascendant Chinese hegemony that is taking over the role in global economics and politics that the US is currently declining out of, how does the Lakeland Republic manage to avoid the fate of similar republics in the world right now? What's to stop China, or the East Coast states from using guns, bomb threats, and forced treaties to force them to grow and export industrial hemp or corn monocultures at slave wages? I'll also be curious to see what their system of government is like, especially since the one nation I can think of off the top of my head that has managed a large scale transition in agricultural methods and technology managed to garner the political will to do so by being a dictatorship.

Dustin Hamman said...

@Aron Blue, Nice song. Thanks for sharing. I enjoy songs that tell a good story. (...My little girl and I danced to it the second time through.)
@JMG, Thank you so much as well. Can't wait to continue the journey next week.

daelach said...

Poor Mr. Carr.. guess he'll have his stomach aching from the organic food he isn't used to. Next shock, where are the nanoscanners?! In his country, they are for everyone. Everyone who can pay the insurance, that is. Which excludes the poor because for them, the insurance premium is too high to be affordable to them. That's because they don't eat the healthy food (which they cannot afford anyway), something the the nanoscanner mercilessly would reveal. Next shock, the doctor comes up with some herbs instead of the genetically designed Whatevericin. Middle ages or what? But the biggest shock to poor Mr. Carr: it actually works. (:

william fairchild said...


If this is 2065 in a "Star's Reach" universe, I would curious to see what the proto-forms of Circle and the Priestesses look like. I imagined them to be derivatives of the Red Hats (which my mother laughed aloud at. She is a Red Hat. 'We just exist to have fun", she says, although I think she undersells herself. I could very well see her as a wise matriarch.) and various Wiccan Covens. With the Priestesses there were shades of the Mists of Avalon there. It is really fun to read how you take elements of current society and extrapolate them in weird directions.

I would also be curious to see the fate of the family with the garbage bags. The "urban poor" line had overtones of classism and our current migration crisis here in the US and Europe. Is there illegal migration into Lakeland?

As I am an airline guy (for my day job) I would be curious to see the contrast between the streetcar system and rail system and what happened to the airports.

Being stuck in Steubenville for a week

"But I've got to get to Toledo NOW!. I have business!"


HalFiore said...

I got a chill when you placed me in the CSA. Not the New CSA, mind you, and it shows you pay attention. The new leaders will simply declare the 200-year interregnum as an occupation. If I'm still around - and Twilight's Last Gleam suggests the South might be the first section to go, so I just might be - I will probably be an early victim.

Donald Hargraves said...

A couple thoughts:

1) One word: Amish. I wouldn't be surprised if the Lakeland Republic was a theocracy along the Anabaptist line of beliefs - either legally or through necessity as the people learning how to homestead (and getting the beliefs as well).

2) Can't help but wonder where Northwest Indiana fits in - whether it's part of Chicago, Lakeland or deserted (Gary WAS a planned city, platted out in the early 1900s).

Donald Hargraves said...

BTW, as for the double meaning of the word "utopia" (perfect place/no place):

Everyone knows that "erehwon" is backwards for "nowhere." However, it's also backwards for "now here." (No, I didn't make it up. I'm not THAT creative.)

Tony f. whelKs said...


I'm enjoying the trip into Lakeland Rep. so far, and almost wondering how to get those immigration papers... alas, looks like I'll have to live to 102 to get onto Carr's train. Not that I mind if I do, of course - beats the alternative, as they say... I am most intrigued as to Carr's mission, though. I usually get up bright and early on a Thursday morning to enjoy breakfast with added ADR. With a pressing narrative I can see myself sitting up late on Wednesday night feverishly hitting 'refresh'.

Finally can you confirm you've noted my entry for the latest competition, posted on last week's comments?

--... ...--

Nathaniel Ott said...

@JMG thanks for the quick (fictional) history lesson! Yea, it makes sense that some places depending on there economic, political etc clamite would split while others would merge or go on an epic quest for conquest in a scramble to become the next global imperial super power in the wake of the U.S power void. That being said as a previous poster said it makes me wonder how The New North American Nations of the former U.S have managed to not be conquered or turned into a client state? Of course, at least from what I've been told there is a period after an imperial split up that the political climate is, relatively, stable...... until it isn't.

Nathaniel Ott said...

@Ursachi, the U.S is not even close to as homogeneous as Hollywood and the mainstream media would have people, especially foreigners, believe. A quick Google search on its demographics will tell that the U.S is actually very diverse. Also its not nearly as "united" either, on multiple lines.

There is currently a flux in U.S demographics. There are multiple changes but the most notable is the large influx of Hispanic individuals from Mexico and Latin America and a huge increase, at least in some places, of multiracial individual mostly from a growing acceptance, again in some places, of interracial marriages and couplings. Many people are also relocating to other parts of the U.S right now for multiple reasons including to be in areas that more conform to their personal sociopolitical beliefs.

However al this being said: the fact is that while the U.S is very diverse, it is still VERY much segregated, its just not legally enforced anymore. There are areas and even neighborhoods within many U.S cities where you literally will almost never see a person of another race, despite the overall diversity of the larger area. Many places are still even divided on ethnic lines(such as Italian, German, etc) but this is far less common than it was even 50 years ago. Chicago, IL for example is actually EXTREMELY diverse, however its also extremely segregated, often ranking among the most segregated cities in the U.S. On the other cities like Sacramento CA are also very diverse but also very racially integrated. Unfortunately however, while an extreme example, Chicago is quite typical of most major U.S cities in terms of segregation.

The country is also still Very much divided on issues of religion, politics, general world viewpoint as well as race/ethnicity and levels and feelings on integration. It doesn't suprise me at all that JMG chose to make the former country into a dozen or more new one, and really, it would have felt pretty unrealistic otherwise. Again you can do your own research if you're really interested, it shouldn't take long, this is just to give you an idea. Hope I've helped you out!


Doctor Westchester said...


I did say that the Lakeland Republic does seem to be a Transition Town wet dream, not a Transition Town reality. If it turns out that the various towns and villages in the Republic accomplished what they have by each carefully carrying out a Retrotopia Descent Plan that was created by the inhabitants through following a twelve step process, then I will be, shall we say, very disappointed...

HalFiore said...

I have just done something I almost never do, went back and read the whole post from the beginning. Questions arise, and though you said all would be revealed, I can't resist.

First, I note that the Atlantic -Republic?- still has elections. And a press, with op-ed articles. Mainstream -corporate?- opinion seems to be against the new Montrose admin, but Mr. Carr snorts at them... or at her? He seems to be associated with government in some way: he says "We’d talked about doing something of the same kind back in Philadelphia more than once, just for government use..." Also, he's been invited to Toledo by someone, and even the border guard knew he was coming. Finally, he mentions reading briefing papers. Ordinary people get their information from some branch of the mass media, and don't usually refer to it as "briefing."

So, he's either a government functionary, possibly representing the new admin, or a businessman on a trade mission. Neither fits well with his cluelessness. Maybe an academic? I sense intrigue.

HalFiore said...

Also, the Lakeland people, though having made some good choices, are not, as you say, necessarily saints. In fact, having made the better choices, and suffered the necessary but no doubt hardening consequences, they would be in a better position at this point to crank up the old wealth pump, and naturally, their first glance would be to their nearest neighbors.

An empire is born? I'm still looking for a unive4rsal state, but maybe the reason I haven't seen one is it's still a half-century in the future.

Dau Branchazel said...

@ Jean Vivien, Agreed. Although, Stephen King is far more than a horror writer. This is the man behind Shawshank Redemption. He's a secrets man. And he see's quite clearly how people might perceive their revelation, and their responses to them. The parallel I see happening here, between The Running Man and Retrotopia, so far, is the portrayal of "Extended America". The extension of the present day shmozzle into the not so distant future. While Running Man takes the standard extrapolation of the centralised power increasing and becoming more technologically colosseum-like, JMG is going down a more realistic path to my mind and showing a fractured land. (Though when the Running Man was written I could see why King's version of the future might have seemed more real)

The other similarity in their writings in this case is the showing of something potentially begign and quaint, as a place that may actually be filled with deep labrynthine secrets and unspoken or even unrecognised horrors.

I suspect there's more to Steubenville than just a permaculturalist's wet dream. I suspect that apart from Carr's destiny of paradigm shifting, we might see some kind of Cuba like society emerging in this story. One where, yes there is a green revolution of sorts, but perhaps enclosed in walls that allow nothing more. Perhaps.

Nathaniel Ott said...

Also the U.S is absolutely HUGE geographically compared to almost every other nation on Earth. There are multiple different climates just in one individual region of the country, there are several to a dozen or so sepperate regions, depending on what map you use. So really the country could split into several, a dozen or even more separate nations and many of them would still be about as big(and about or more populous) than many other nations of the world. Again props to JMG for making it realistic and not just splitting it in two or something like a lot of people who don't realty think about it do.


Caryn said...

Yay! A story! Thanks so much, JGM. As someone upthread said, If it weren't bad enough waiting each week for a new essay, waiting for another story installment is going to be harsh!

Thank You, also to my fellow commenters / readers who have recommended further reading materials. I am jotting them down and heading to our library today to see which ones I can access without ordering from Amazon. Book stores here are a bit dire, but our public library, even in English language books is pretty extensive. I am hopeful.

RE: the uninhabitable Southwest; As you, (JGM) have said numerous times, history is a great guide. Any area that sustained life, pre-Columbus, (and now with Climate warming, adding appropriate temperature degrees, so minus those areas historically on the brink of being to hot and arid to sustain habitation) - those areas will again find a few inhabitants. Small pockets of CA, possibly even Phoenix, along the Salt River will again be plagued by us, ornery, grumpy humans. No doubt, my own options, either the Fragrant Harbour of Hong Kong, and / or our Hopeful collapse/retirement area of Western WY, have always sustained medium-sized populations of humans and most likely will again. Oddly in both places, local inhabitants have historically disliked their neighbors and will probably fight to keep themselves to themselves. We are cursed to live in 'interesting times'.

Starting fall planting today on my tiny terrace garden, (summers are far too hot, so this is planting season here) and expanding the soap-making to shampoos, laundry soaps, citrus kitchen/bathroom cleaners, essential oils extraction etc. It's surprisingly addictive and fun. Will have to plant some nice smelling flowers and herbs on the tiny terrace too. And back at work / school, training up the new crop of little-uns and loving it. :)

Can't wait till next week! Thanks again.

Kevin Warner said...

Hi. Here is a link for my entry into the short story competition. It is called 'Repentance'. Good, bad or indifferent, I hope that it may be a good read.

Nathaniel Ott said...

@ JMG, I am currently considering a move out to Washington State, probably in and/or around the Seattle metro area, for multiple reasons. Part of this is for academics(new university), partly cause I think I'd like it out there but mostly because I'd just like a change of scenery and pace.

Anyway since you used to live round there I'd like your opinion on the overall mood and such of the area, plus weather living/settling there is a good idea in terms of the long descent? Is kinda funny that I'm moving out to your old stomping grounds considering where I'm pretty sure you reside (north eastern MD i think) now is not far from where I currently am (south central PA.)


Hubertus Hauger said...

The Diesel locomotive wondered me. I was expecting an elecrical one. And much smaller than this. Like thy used them in the 1840´s. In particular because considering the high producting cost for one litre of oil. And the locomotive consumes plenty of oil, doesn´t it? Whilst electric power could be produced in abundance. Yet. I wasn´t considering the lost of infrastructure on a great scale in the turnmoil and in addition the complexity to produce and disperse electric power. Still I consider it to be an considerable alternative.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

Nathaniel, thank you!

I am familiar with how divided the American society is these days. And I read about the Civil War, so I understand how differences over key issues can actually split the country apart.

I just don't know about any secessionist movement or entity which would be likely to gain momentum in the future. And yes, I know about Texans loving their lone star flag as well as the popularity of the Confederate battle flag in the wider South.

Mind you, most people could not have imagined that the USSR could break apart either. However, within this USSR there was a Ukrainian Republic inhabited by a Ukrainian people speaking a Ukrainian language, a Georgian Republic inhabited by a Georgian people speaking a Georgian language, and so on. The basis for sovereignty was not only already there, but it was also very well defined in terms of nationhood.

patriciaormsby said...

JMG, I love the details of your writing and look forward to more! (I really ought to get down and order your books!) And Chicago as a fabulously corrupt independent city state! What a coincidence (that's what it is in my novel too, seen through a child's eyes)--How could that be?;-) I'm making progress on my novel.

Nathaniel Ott said...

Also classism based on multiple factors but especially economic status is still a big deal as well.

patriciaormsby said...

@Shane: Congratulations on your liberation! So you can twist allegedly "smart" phones to smithereens, eh? Ever since a student of mine received a $4000 monthly bill for hers over some misunderstanding allegedly on her part, I've been recommending sledge hammers for help in eliminating those pests. Nice to know heavy tools are not necessary! Anyway, if you're gonna chuck your pocket monster in the dumpster, you do probably want to disable it first. But what do I know? In my entire life I've used a cell phone once, for a call lasting less than a minute. That was about 20 years ago.

Yes, it can be done!

Patricia the Barbarian

Damo said...


Cutting it very close to the wire :p I hope you and others enjoy the exploits of Gibbon. I fully admit to being influenced by Jack Vance and the adventures of Cugel!


John Roth said...

In an amazing burst of synchronicity, I attended a panel at Bubonicon (the Albuquerque SF regional convention) last night on A Post-Scarcity World. Amazingly, they got a lot right, although, being SF authors, they went a lot heavier on technology and a lot lighter on necessary social changes.

@Ursachi Alexandru. There have been analyses of the natural divisions in the U.S. for some time, starting with "The Nine Nations of North America." The latest version (American Nations: The Eleven Rival Retional Cultures in North Amerca) seems to have missed Momononia for some reason. This is one of the things about JMG's story that I find a bit unrealistic, since it includes pieces of Dixie on the south, Rust Belt to the east with Breadbasket to the north and west. These have very different cultures.

FiftyNiner said...

@Ursachi Alexandru,
In your response to Nathaniel you show an amazing and deep understanding of American culture that I am sure comes from extensive reading. If only the people who end up running American foreign policy were as deeply read in the history of other cultures, I believe that our history of interactions with the rest of the world would have been much different over the last century.

You hit the nail on the head with your skepticism of general uprisings and secessionist sentiments in the US in the near future. I was born and live in Alabama, the first capital of the Confederate States of America. I have never believed for a moment that the overriding sentiments that drove the American Civil War was a nascent and irrepressible sense of "nationhood" in the Southern soul. I say this having learned just this year a bit of family history that had been told to me, but now has actually been confirmed: I was born in 1952. Three of my great-grand parents were still living and two of the three lived long enough for me to become acquainted with them and to remember them well. My paternal great-grandmother, who was born in 1845 and died in 1927, was 16 years old at the outbreak of the Civil War. She became in her very young life a noted nurse in the care of the wounded veterans in the State of Georgia. After the war she married and had a fairly large family. My grandfather was her youngest child--born in 1883, when she was 38 years old. He entered the US Navy as a young man and served with distinction in WWI. His two sons who survived to adulthood both served in WWII. His grandsons served in the US Army during the Vietnam era. So, my family are all proud Americans. We seek to be nothing else. We are not pleased by some of the actions taken by our government from time to time, but we remain loyal patriots and look forward to the time when our government will change for the better. I hope that time is near. I would very much like to be able to look out with pride to the rest of world and have the rest of the world look back and feel once again that the pride is justified. To me that is the essence of old fashioned patriotism. But either way, I have lived and will die and "American."

gwyn edwards said...


I found out about the short story competition a couple of days ago and have thrown together an ill advised effort of my own here:

It was a fun exercise in writing some fiction for the first time in 20 years, I would love to spend a bit more time on it (i.e. actually more than a first draft) but I'm beaten by the clock I think.

Nathaniel Ott said...

Hi Ursachi, glad I could help!

Your right about it not really being the same as the situation in the USSR, however, its still got some issues. While the whole Confederate Flag loving Southerners crap and the Texans calling for secession get a lot of press coverage but there are a lot of things that don't. I'd like to believe that my country is just as united on most things as I used to think we were but recently I've begun to doubt.

People may not be beating down the doors yet but they're talking about it... the fact that they're even talking about something that even a decade or two ago would have been considered completely insane is.... telling. While all humans seem to have a misguided desire to want everyone else to look, act and think just like themselves, I have to admit, we Americans have that bug pretty bad. Right now most of the people talking about changes in the U.S are still calling for just a change in the way government is run and or getting rid of the current regime.... unfortunately that's all they really agree. Just about every other idea about how the government or new government should be run is different from eachothers.

While a lot of people like to present a strong united front its just that a front. Even in places where people are considered to have largely the same opinions and culture like the south its still pretty divided. The south central, south eastern and south central U.S seem very similar but on closer inspection are completely different from eachother in terms of economic base, some(but notable) politics and just overall culture. N that's not even getting into the northern areas which might even be more different. I think embracing our differences make us better as a whole, unfortunately a lot of other people don't agree.

As far as the states go: you gotta realize that its not exactly the same as say the provinces in most other country. For one, for all the people going on about the power of the federal government the states actually have far more autonomy than most traditional provinces. Also most regions again tend to have their own separate customs, practices and culture but most notably their own social, political and religious beliefs.

Again also, you gotta realize that one shared aspect of our culture is the whole independence thing, for obvious historical reason. Its a little weird actually. We want other people to respect our own individuality and independence but somehow think they should again be just like us. Not necessarily in a malignant way, we actually think they would be better off, kind of like were helping them... and I'm not talking about other countries here, I mean our own people. Though I've noticed a lot of people are starting to think a "just go your own way" and split deal would be better.

We don't like to admit it but we've been weird this way since inception, and many people are starting to think we've been fundamentally different since inception, as well. I have to admit that its probably a small miracle that we got it together and made a whole nation in the first place. Look at a detailed historical look at the American Revolution, if you want, and you'll see that we really didn't agree on much other than wanting independence from Britain. With the Civil War if you look into the broad reasons and inner conflicts during it it wasn't nearly as simple as north vs south. Again, small miracle that we didn't totally split up then. Which is one half of the reason, the other being ending slavery, that Abraham Lincoln is still so revered.

I'll admit right now it doesn't seem like things are about to go totally crazy yet, but as you said these things never seem likely, until unfortunately they become inevitable.


Nathaniel Ott said...

Urasachi, Also again you have to take into account that the U.S is MASSIVE in terms of land area. If JMG's ideas on how things will shape up in the future are even close to correct its not difficult to see it splitting.

Its hard keeping a sense of national identity with a group of a few hundred million people spread out over several million square kilometers. It will be even harder when there's little to no long distance communication (such as phone lines/towers and internet.) Little to no long distance travel (such as planes, trains and especially cars.) And the industrial/military/economic complex base that was keeping this all together is failing thanks to a dwindling supply of reliable energy in the form of fossil fuels. Especially when those people are increasingly convinced that they don't like the federal government and that they have little to nothing in common with the people on the other side of these vast lands. And that they don't think combining there ideological differences make them better anymore,which is a shame. Considering all this, its not impossible for me to believe that the country would be split into multiple different pieces 50 some odd years from now.


Aron Blue said...

@Dustin Hamman Thanks so much! I love to tell a good story while I'm strumming a chord or two. And then you & yr daughter added the dancing part. That's about the most traditional entertainment experience I can think of LOL

Glenn said...

Nathaniel Ott said...
"@ JMG, I am currently considering a move out to Washington State, probably in and/or around the Seattle metro area, for multiple reasons. Part of this is for academics(new university), partly cause I think I'd like it out there but mostly because I'd just like a change of scenery and pace."

Our good host has not lived around here since 2000. I have lived in various places in W. Washington since 1984, with digressions to other parts of the world while in the Coast Guard. I have lived on Marrowstone Island continuously for the last 11 years. If you have any questions, please send E-Mail to


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Crow Hill said...

Thank you JMG. Enjoyed this first installment of Retrotopia. It also reminded me of Ecotopia which I read in the 1990 edition.

jean-vivien said...
“Otherwise, the world depicted in this week's post looks a lot like current France or Belgium.”

On this theme : Alain Giraud-Ruby, Terre: une histoire des sciences de la planète, 2015 says that the economic slowdown which has been going on for quite some time in Europe may be considered as either the onset of the state of collapse posited in the 2012 Club of Rome report or as a way to avoid it. Maybe the EU “in its great wisdom” is just, from a demographic and economic point of view, ahead of the rest of the world that is still trying to grow at a more or less frantic pace.

onething said...

I guess I'm pretty well out of the loop so far as current news. Don't have a TV or newspaper, and don't get down off the hill much, but it does seem I've heard some recent kerfuffle about the confederate flag. So we went to town and at the gas station I noted by the cash register 2 or 3 nicknacks with confederate flags on them, like a belts or a wallets or something. (American flags, I'm used to seeing.) So, driving off, right away, we saw a house with a huge confederate flag draped across the fence.
What's up with this?
My state went north in the civil war, although barely, with some counties actually going north and some south, as well as some families being divided internally. My own county was similarly divided even between its own north and south. One local family that has kept some knowledge of its history had at least one such family, with some brothers going north and some south, uncles going north and nephews going south. There is a woman who lives just up the road from me. She is 94 and is the youngest child of the youngest child (there were 14) of the woman who built the house she lives in just after the civil war. Her husband went north with one brother, two other brothers went south. The older sister of the 94-year-old wrote a memoir that made it into the local library. I went up the road to meet her after reading that memoir.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

The USA has had a common legal system for more than two hundred years, and the ninety percent of its population that is native born speaks one language. The other glue holding the territory together is economic. The Soviet Union planned regional interdependence into its economy. The US federal government supported and encouraged interstate commerce, but did not impose it. The results have been similar. Most economic activity sells to markets beyond the local region. As a result, a large portion of the population moves from state to state in search of economic opportunity, and many people don't live in the places where they were born, or where their ancestors lived. Geographical mobility undercuts regional attachments.

Most wars have economic motives. I don't think the Union is likely to break apart until one of two things happens. At present, the poorer states get more back from the federal government in the form of subsidies, tax sharing and federal employment than they pay in income and corporate taxes. As the US economy declines, income transfer via defense spending, social welfare programs, highway building, etc. is shrinking. I believe the only significant federal subsidy programs that have grown recently are medical. If a region begins to see the federal government as more of an obstacle to its prosperity than a help, support for breakaway movements will rise out of self interest. We've seen some agitation of this sort in the intermountain West, but it hasn't come to much yet.

If infrastructure decay and disasters reduce interstate commerce to the point where local economies are mostly decoupled from the national economy, people will start thinking of their region or state rather than the entire country as their homeland, just as they did before the Civil War.

Sooner or later, one of these trends will either require devolution of power to regional state compacts, or break apart the Union. I'd prefer the former, but the latter seems more likely. I'm writing here of popular uprisings. Nations can also be dismembered by outside forces.

MayHawk said...

@Nathanial Ott: Re moving to Puget Sound.

Hi Nathanial. Thought I would respond since I have grew up in Seattle and the surrounding area. I currently live on the Olympic Peninsula near Port Townsend.

The climate is in a period of change. We are now experiencing a real drought situation. Not as bad as CA.. yet. Last winter there was very little rain or snow in the mountains and only a few days of freezing weather. When I grew up summer temps were more moderate. A 90+ day was rare, now they are pretty common and even a triple digit temp is not rare. As I write this we are having a very strong windstorm which is at least a month early.

As for Seattle. I loved it when I was growing up and even as a young adult. It was friendly and easy to get around in. You couldn't pay me to live there now. Rents and house prices are out of sight. Traffic is a mad house. I've been told that the bus and light rail system are pretty good though.

On the positive there are some great places to live outside seattle. Where I live in Port Hadlock is one. Edmond's and Kingston, Snohomish valley, and others. Where I live has a plethora of small organic family farms with an abundance of vegetable, eggs, chickens, masses of fruit, some great little restaurants, farmers markets, small community oriented stores. Some of the other small towns around here have similar conditions.

Hope that helps


evileyesdavid said...


Here is a link to my entry into your short story competition. Hope I'm not too late:

A long time reader, I finally got an account that enables me to post too :-)

Jo said...

A plethora of literary treats this week. I have read all of the short story entries as they have appeared - such a fascinating diversity of ideas - and now Retrotopia as well.

Apart from the Atlantis story, this the only JMG fiction I have read (the local library only carries the JMG non-fiction canon), but now they are on my list of books to order. I will first attempt to acquire them via my local bookshop and see how I go. JMG I love that your literary style is so similar to the tone of your essays. You have a very coherent literary voice:) I am a bit of a fan of the Nevil Shute novel - and that style of detailed, precise observation delivered without authorial comment is what I am seeing in your work. I love it. There is so much scope for delicious mayhem ahead as we meet a new world through the eyes of poor Mr Carr, Everyman, from a world suspiciously like our own...

Now, I have seen in the comments that there are serialised versions of some of your other novels back in the archives somewhere. But you have no 'search' widget! Would you consider popping one on your site? It would be so useful for research purposes. Meanwhile, can anyone direct me to where in the archives I might find the Star's Reach and Twilight's Last Gleaming posts?

troy said...

Cutting it close again this year, but here is my entry for the story contest...

Let me know if I need to send you my email address, although you should still have it from last year.

Marcu said...

Dear Mr. Greer,

What are your thoughts and feelings concerning "fan-fiction" or derivative works based on the universes created in your stories assuming they are written for non-commercial purposes?

Also to Jo or anybody else who wants to be able to search the site. You can use the following trick in Google. Just type "site:" before your search term. This limits the search to the specified website.

Nathaniel Ott said...

@Mayhawk thanks for the advise! It kind of sucks about the climate flux bit I suppose that's happening all over. The only thing that concerns me most is of being on the coast. Also I'm not moving till at least around Christmas time and im debatong so I'm still looking around for a place. More likely than not I would move around the city, not in the city. I'd like to go in for school, work, fun etc but not to live.

@Glen thanks for the help!

FLwolverine said...

And another story scoots in under the deadline!

Jilly's Book

JMG, thank you for this opportunity and for the incentive to actually finish a story. Two in one year - a record!

Bill Blondeau said...

Hello JMG,

I am shockingly close to the expiration of the deadline. I hope that's not a problem.

My story entry for the next Space Bats is at

Nathaniel Ott said...

For the people talking about the secessionist/rebellious feelings and movements in the U.S. I'd like to say that I actually agree with you that the U.S does not have close to the atmosphere that the pre breakup USSR did. Im not saying that most people don't still move around the U.S freely for mostly economic reason. I'm not saying that some kind or kinds of revolutions/secession movements are going to happen tomorrow. I was merely comment and giving a general idea of my opinion on some of the attitudes on the subject in the U.S and where it may lead in the future. You'll notice that my posts are purposely broad and a little vague. I was just trying to give a general idea, on again, my opinion on the matter, and some facts.

As far as secession/revolution goes: Again, no where close to it now, but the seeds are starting to be planted. Again, most people still would not do it, but the fact that a lot would even entertain the idea kinda points to the possibility at some point in the future. If you look a few posts back, JMG thinks something like this might happen even sooner than I do. This however is set in 2065, 50 years from now, more than long enough for these feelings to grow. Mind you, I'm not jumping up and down happy, or happy at all about it. But history and time doest care what any of us want.

Again these are just my thoughts and feelings, not trying to proclaim that I have some all knowing knowledge or something like that. Anyway, thanks for the input, conversations like these are a great chance to learn and exchange ideas.


beneaththesurface said...

Here is my story "Water Ink" for the contest:

Nathaniel Ott said...

However, if it turns out that I am incapable of having a calm discussion on here without pissing someone off, then I'll just shut up and go back to lurking and enjoying JMG's posts and the conversations. Thanks for the posts JMG, good luck if you end up turning this one into a novel and either way keep up the good work!

Ursachi Alexandru said...

Fifty-Niner, very interesting in deed! Thank you for sharing that.

Ursachi Alexandru said...


I never said that I don't believe that the USA could split apart in the future. If anything, JMG's depiction of this post-US future reminded me of my experiences in a little corner of the former USSR. I don't think JMG's fictional Lakeland Republic is a post-US version of Moldova, however, since it seems to be a relatively stable and functional country.

I was just pointing out the obvious differences between the former USSR and the current USA. Of course that these differences by no means guarantee that your country is immune to the possibility of dissolution.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Jo and others--If you go through the archives of this blog all the way back to the beginning, there are a few other entries that are short fiction.

I haven't kept notes on the dates they appeared, but IIRC sometime in the earliest three years of posts is a sequence of three connected vignettes with the title "Winter Solstice (date)" or something similar, illustrating the stages of catabolic collapse. IIRC there is another post or two of fiction more recently, but I don't remember the details. They are all good reading and worth the search time.

jbucks said...

Galbraith Alert!

On yours and your readers' recommendation, I just started reading The Great Crash 1929 by James Galbraith, and wouldn't you know I've already found my first example of his warning in the introduction of the book:

"Always when markets are in trouble, the phrases are the same: 'The economic situation is fundamentally sound' or simply 'The fundamentals are good'. All who hear these words should know that something is wrong."

In an editorial in today's New York Times:

"Economic fundamentals today are no different than they were before the market took a walk on the wild side. Inflation is well below the Fed’s target of 2 percent. Unemployment is still higher than it was before the last recession and wages have shown no signs of rising. "

The implication being that all is well - and sound!

eor said...

As I awoke in the middle of the night by thunder -- no, not thunder, the roaring of fighter planes lifting off in the big round-the-clock military exercise currently staged in my area -- it struck me how apt the word plut is. Calling on the Ruler of the Underworld will never go out of style, it seems.

Matthew Griffiths said...


I look forward to the trip through Retrotopia.

Here is my entry for the After Oil 4 anthology: On Tareeoh


Matthew Griffiths

Cherokee Organics said...


Breaking marsupial news...

Today at about lunchtime, a Koala Bear turned up at my front door. Seriously. Nuff said really. I mean, the little fella totally stole our hearts and the show this week. Photos and story to follow in tomorrow nights blog.



Walter Bazzini said...

I'm always up for a good ride into the future, or someone's vision of it. Looking forward to the trip.

Brother Guthlac said...

" I’d never been on a train before,"

How did he get from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh?

Steubenville is habitable. This indicates that the demise of the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant did not poison the entire Ohio Valley. Love to know how that was managed.

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