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Environmental Degradation and Corporatism

The American juggernaut Everything noble, patriotic, and progressive is crushed beneath the remorseless tread of that mammoth monster of corruption, cruelty, and fraud, the vampire rings of capital / / Matt Morgan
Morgan, Matthew Somerville, 1839-1890, artist, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The American juggernaut Everything noble, patriotic, and progressive is crushed beneath the remorseless tread of that mammoth monster of corruption, cruelty, and fraud, the vampire rings of capital / / Matt Morgan

I was incredibly excited when I learned that we would be reading a futurist novel for this section of the HPPR book club. From Afrofuturist Octavia Butler’s novel to Anishinaabe artist Lisa Jackson’s virtual reality art experience Biidaban: First Light, I’ve always appreciated speculative fiction artists’ abilities to synthesize the present and envision a multitude of complex futures where changes in human and environmental relations speak to those things that make us human.

On the other side of that coin, the future can be used as a rhetorical space of bad faith for authors and philosophers to inspire their readers with fear and righteous indignation. For the sake of the listeners, I hope this is the last time I have to mention Ayn Rand in these segments, but her Objectivist SF writings spring to mind when thinking about the genre’s potentiality for catastrophe in the hands of the cynical and unimaginative. Looking at you Alan Greenspan.

Written as a response to Atlas Shrugged, Nicholas Soutter’s The Water Thief locates itself within that temporal locus of the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, a historical moment we all got to live out the practical applications of the experiment of Objectivism. While never subtle, and often at the expense of full characterization, realistic dialogue, or plot development, the anger and passion at which Soutter argues against his neoliberal phantoms is admirable, in the way the person who sits on college campuses with posters that beg passing students to debate and “change my mind” are admirable. To engage with debates that have been so twisted and warped by neoliberal illogic sounds (and even reads) exhausting.

While there is not much discussion of water in The Water Thief, the overall philosophical resonances of Soutter’s novel do speak to larger concerns of environmental degradation and corporatism that have presented themselves in various ways across our novels in this spring edition of the HPPR book club. While the climactic reveal of the novel, where an anonymous suit tells Charles, “Capitalism is war,” felt a bit like a reveal that the crooked amusement park owner was actually the monster the entire time, Soutter refuses to resolve his book so neatly, and speaks to the dire, perhaps impossible, situation we find ourselves in when we attempt to imagine a future otherwise.

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Spring Read 2024: Water, Water Neverwhere 2024 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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