Saturday, March 31, 2012

Putting Alaska in center of new sci fi book: mission accomplished

When I scoured the internet over the past 5 years looking for a sci fi
writer to write
a novel I had in mind about climate change and climate refugees in the
future, I stipulated one main item in all my help-wanted ads and
online author searches: the book had to take place in Alaska.
A year ago, I found Jim Laughter in Mounds, Oklahoma, and he agreed to
write the novel. Only his name
appears on the cover of "Polar City Red" -- published on Earth Day
2012 -- and the entire plot, the cast of
characters and the theme is his and his alone. Jim wrote the book, all
24 chapters. If all goes well, he'll write
two more books in the series to create a trilogy, and again, they'll
be his books, his plot, his characters, his time frame.

I served as a kind of book producer/book packager on "Polar City Red"
-- with all book royalties going to the author alone -- and
all I contributed to the package was the location (Alaska!) and the
suggested title, which Jim graciously agreed to keep. I lived
in Alaska for 12 years in the latter part of the 20th century, and my
days in Juneau, Nome and Fort Yukon made a big impact on me.
When I started working on my Polar Cities Project in 2006, I always
had Alaska in mind. With "Polar City Red" out now in paperback
and in ebook editions, survival in a future Alaska remains the focus
of the ''cli fi'' novel.

And this just in: Jim has already had some nibbles from
Hollywood producers looking to take an option on his book for a movie
deal. Think: "The Day After [The Day After Tomorrow]" and ''Mad''
Max'' meets "The Road."

I asked Jim Laughter, a grandfather of four who just turned 59, a few
questions about his book and this is what he told me:

"Up until 2011 when I was first approached about writing a family
drama about climate chaos and set in a future time period in Alaska,
global warming was a term I’d only heard about in passing or on nature
documentaries. Politicians and Greenpeace environmentalists rattled on
about stuff that I didn’t understand. But now that I’ve had a chance
to dig into the cause and effect of global warming, I’ve grown to
realize that this old world is in trouble and we’re to blame.

"I spent hour after hour on the internet reading everything I could
find about global warming and the effects it is having on the polar
caps and Greenland ice sheets. I didn’t realize that only a three or
four degree increase in air temperatures can serve to melt ice that’s
been frozen for millions of years. Of course, I didn’t know carbon
dioxide from carbonated water when I started, but it didn’t take long
for me to realize that fossil fuel emissions are the culprit behind
the whole mess.

"But even though I learn quite a bit about global warming, I’m not a
scientist. I’m a storyteller. So I had to figure out a way to create a
good story around a serious problem. I knew I needed characters that I
could wrap the seriousness of global warming around without boring
readers with a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo that neither of us would
understand. I think I got pretty close with "Polar City Red".

"My technical writing in the US Air Force had very little to do with
weapons, operations, or hardware. I was a supply and training NCO for
20 years. I dealt with people on a one-on-one basis, working in
customer service, training, etc. I didn’t carry a weapon even though I
was a weapons sergeant for a while. Then again, I was also a security
sergeant for a while in charge of top secret material. But if you know
what you’re looking for, that kind of information isn’t hard to find.
As for the science, I figured if I did good research and stuck to the
facts, I’m a good enough storyteller that I figured I could weave a
good story around it. But as we say in writing, if you don’t know what
you’re talking about, talk about it anyway. There’s always a critic
out there somewhere that will eventually contact you and tell you what
you did wrong.

''My grandchildren are very important to me. Every parent wants their
children to have it better than they had it. As a child, I knew I
would have opportunities that my parents never had. We were small town
people living in a big world. But that was in the 50s and 60s. The air
was clean and the streets were safe. Neither of those things apply
now. I want my grandchildren to grow up in a world where they can be
happy and prosper, a world where conservation isn’t a cliché, and a
world where business and politicians watch out for the future of the
planet instead of the next balance sheet or election result.

''I wish I had a crystal ball that I could look in to and see the
future. I’d like to know if fifty years from now we’d have a habitable
planet or not. I’m a student of history, so I know that people who
fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it. I turned
59-years old this month, so by the time global warming overtakes this
planets, I will have already shuffled off into eternity and my ashes
will be helping young things grow. But for the people alive at the end
of this century, I believe they will face a hostile world that has
turned its back on humanity and is looking for a fresh start. It may
take 100,000 years for the Earth to regain its balance, but it’s been
around for 4 billion years and has learned patience. I only wish we
could learn to respect her wishes and treat her with the dignity she

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