Guest Post by Joseph D’Lacey – Environmentalism: Inspiration or Moral Message?

Today’s guest post is by Joseph D’Lacey in preparation for the release of his new book, “The Book of the Crowman,” which will be released by Angry Robot on February 25, 2014.  “The Book of the Crowman” is the second book in the “Black Dawn” duology which began with “Black Feathers.”

Since writing MEAT, a post-apocalyptic novel inspired by the realities of factory farming and slaughter, I’ve been known as an ‘Eco-Horror’ author. Now, on the heels of the Black Dawn series, descriptions like Eco-Fantasy and Eco-Punk have also cropped up.

Most recently this quote – “While there is no doubt that Joseph D’Lacey is a preacher, he at least couches his message in an entertaining framework.” – left me worried that readers will begin to see me a campaigner rather than a story-teller.

It’s true that MEAT caused some people to look a little differently at the subjects it dealt with. Critics of the novel called it a vegan manifesto; as though my intent, rather than to tell a thrilling tale, was to evangelise. Though I didn’t set out to make people rethink their dietary habits, rethink they did. MEAT created a lot of vegetarians.

I’ve begun to wonder now more than ever: is it appropriate for a novelist to ‘speak’ to the world through fiction about the challenges we all face or should we leave responsibility for ourselves and the planet in the hands of our saintly politicians and the benevolent corporations who gently stroke their wires?

I asked the author and North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books, Mike Underwood, a similar question at World FantasyCon 2013. He said he has no qualms about bringing political messages into his work. He saw no reason why authors shouldn’t campaign for change through fiction.

I remain undecided.

It’s a personal thing, but it feels wrong to me to force an agenda into a book. My primary concern is that the message will ruin the story – as with Orson Scott Card’s evangelical fiction, for example, which I can’t bear. I’ve always believed that story comes first; that story is everything.

And yet, what if the theme genuinely affects us all? Might it then be a good thing to proselytise within the weft of your tale? Huxley did it. Orwell did it. So did Kafka. The books they wrote were incredibly accomplished and are now literary classics; tales which have caused generations of readers to challenge ‘accepted’ modes of thought. Many more SF writers have satirised societal ‘norms’ since then and I expect they always will. Fiction allows us room, without censorship, to question and expand our worldview.

To a degree, the issue of whether one is evangelising or not relates to whom the author addresses when writing. I rarely, if ever, imagine a reader at the other end of my work. I write for myself. It’s a process of discovery rather than intent – hauling up material from the subconscious and examining it on the page.

The themes in MEAT, Garbage Man and the Black Dawn series all burn on environmentally and ecologically thematic fuel but, in each case they are explorations of ‘the territory of possibility’; my attempt to burrow through the shell of what I think I know, down into a place where I can discover something more valuable. My writing is a treasure hunt rather than a pre-planned mission statement.

I don’t see myself as a campaigning environmentalist or a writer of political fiction. For me, what powers the novels that some people see as sermonising is the beautiful, ongoing mystery of our relationship with the land and with nature.

In ‘Western’ culture, we’ve almost totally lost touch with our earthy roots. Being human, being conscious, is the most astonishing privilege and honour. Our bodies are made from the elements that occur naturally on this planet. We are, literally, of the earth and sky. But because we’re currently so delighted with the charms of technology, we have – temporarily, I hope – forgotten nearly everything about our relationship with nature and how mutually beneficial that relationship can be.

I don’t set myself apart in this; I’m as ‘severed’ as anyone else. But my fiction allows me to explore and re-grow my natural connections. It allows me to ask ever deeper questions about human purpose and potential. Our position in the matrix of the natural world is a rich seam of inspiration for me, one which I mine through fiction. I want to write about that. A lot.

I believe the human race talks to itself through story. In myth, folk tale and oral lore, we have together investigated where we came from and where we’re heading, the consequences of our actions and what it means to live, love, win, lose and die. I see myself as part of that storytelling tradition – perhaps every writer naturally is, no matter how they see themselves.

Can I change the world through writing about it? Should I even try or does fiction exist for entertainment only? Truly, I have no idea. But if my stories are exciting, enthralling and horrifying enough to touch people in the way that writing them touched me, I consider the purpose of my work – spinning a good yarn – to have been fulfilled.

About the Author

Joseph D'LaceyJoseph D’Lacey is best known for his shocking eco-horror novel Meat. The book has been widely translated and prompted Stephen King to say “Joseph D’Lacey rocks!”.

His other published works to-date include Garbage Man, Snake Eyes and The Kill Crew. He was named the winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer in 2009.

When not realising his fantasies on paper, he dabbles with Yoga and continues a quest for the ultimate vegetarian burger recipe.

He lives in Northamptonshire with his wife and daughter.

(description from publisher’s website)

About the Book

17154807It is the Black Dawn, a time of environmental apocalypse, the earth wracked and dying.

It is the Bright Day, a time long generations hence, when a peace has descended across the world.

The search for the shadowy figure known only as the Crowman continues, as the Green Men prepare to rise up against the forces of the Ward.

The world has been condemned. Only Gordon Black and The Crowman can redeem it.

(description from Goodreads)

Comments make me happy! Please feel free to leave a reply.

6 comments

  1. I think the “acceptability” of the message, for lack of a better way to describe it, lies solely in the author’s ability to craft a story that is strong enough, entertaining enough, that the reader doesn’t feel like they are getting preached to. I think fiction can shed light, directly or indirectly, on meaningful issues. Story is a powerful medium. I think the conundrum lies in whether or not the author has a good story to tell, or just a message they want to get across.

    I think Paolo Bacigalupi is a good example of an author who really wants to say something with his fiction, particularly his young adult fiction. I personally feel he succeeds because when I read his YA fiction I get lost in the world he has created. Sure, the message is there, but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the fiction.

    But I agree that it is a fine line, easily crossed, and there are always those who will read messages into fiction whether they are there or not and will judge that fiction negatively because of that. I don’t think an author should be overly concerned with those outliers.

    If an author is passionate about something and that passion works its way seamlessly into the fiction, more power to the author. That fiction will, in my opinion, have an extra something that makes it stand out. And if that message induces positive change in people while also entertaining I think that is a worthy accomplishment.

    1. And sometimes I enjoy books despite feeling preached at. Sheri Tepper is a good example of that. I love her writing, and even though she’s not at all subtle about her messages, her books are always a treat. 🙂

      It is the mark of a good writer to be able to make audiences think about major issues while at the same time telling a story that’s unputdownable.

      1. I do too, and that is why Paolo Bacigalupi sprang to mind the moment I started reading this as I don’t think he is in any way being subtle about what he is passionate about in his young adult books, but I don’t feel I’m losing out on good story for the sake of a message, if that makes sense.

  2. Joe,

    Glad to have provided some food for thought.

    I’d agree that it’s dangerous to write explicitly to a political or social agenda. But I refuse to shy away from the tools of satire, social commentary, and the like. I couldn’t be a comedic writer without satire.

    My goal is to be inspired and fueled by my beliefs about social justice and mutual interdependence, and to then find a story where those ideas are manifest naturally within the context of the story. To design a narrative that expresses those ideas, perhaps even articulates a specific opinion, but does so without being a naked polemic or piece of agit-prop.

    Though sometimes blatant agit-prop can be fun. But I wouldn’t expect to change anyone’s mind with such a work.

    Best,
    Mike