#232  Writing The Deluge: Dark nights, Apocalypse and Hope with author Stephen Markley

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Author Stephen Markley opens the doors to The Deluge, his ground-breaking, world-changing Climate/MetaCrisis thriller- 900 pages that absolutely squarely rips into the current system in all its deficiencies – and offers a route through to a future that might work.

This week’s guest is someone who has mapped out a possible future in a depth and detail that leaves me awestruck. Stephen Markley’s first published novel Ohio, was described as a wild, angry, and devastating masterpiece of a book. Stephen King called it this generation’s Grapes of Wrath and there is no doubt that it’s a beautifully written, lyrical, devastating debut.

But it turns out Ohio was the book he wrote in the midst of writing the novel we’re going to talk about today. The Deluge is nine hundred pages of astonishing depth and breadth that takes as its topic the meta-crisis. It’s an excoriating evisceration of neoliberalism and the thousands of small acts of mendacity or cowardice or sheer self-absorption that have got us to the edge of the cliff. It’s an examination of just how close we are, and a portrayal of how utterly catastrophic will be the impacts if we step over. It’s a deeply political book, but at heart it’s also incredibly humane, with a cast of characters that spreads across contemporary American life in ways that I have rarely, if ever, encountered. I read the book and connected with Stephen because Rupert Read, who was with us last week, called me up and said ‘This is a glorious Thrutopian novel, you have to read it.’ And there were times when I completely did not believe him. But he’s right. it’s big. It requires huge dedication. But it’s well, well worth the investment in terms of the doors it opens – and the many ways it shows us how we might fail before we finally succeed.

In Conversation

Manda: Hey people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is still time to create a future that we’d be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your host and fellow traveller on this journey into possibility. And this week’s guest is someone who has mapped out the possible futures in a depth and detail that leaves me awestruck. Stephen Markley’s first published novel, Ohio, has been described as a wild, angry and devastating masterpiece of a book. Stephen King called it this generation’s Grapes of Wrath, and there’s no doubt that it’s a beautifully written, lyrical and, yes, devastating debut. But it turns out Ohio was the book that Steven wrote while he was in the middle of writing the novel that we are going to talk about today. The Deluge is 900 pages of astonishing depth and breadth that takes as its topic the meta crisis, the climate crisis, the poly crisis, whatever it is that we’re living through just now, that so few people dare to take on. The Deluge is an excoriating evisceration of neoliberalism and the thousands of small acts of mendacity or cowardice or sheer self-absorption that have got us to the edge of the cliff where we are now.

Manda: It’s an examination of just how close we are to the edge and a profoundly moving exploration of how utterly catastrophic it will be if we step over that edge. It’s a deeply political book; clearly there are many pages of policy ideas. But at its heart, it’s also incredibly humane, with a cast of characters that spreads across contemporary American life in ways that I have rarely, if ever, encountered. I read the book and connected with Stephen because Rupert Read, who was with us last week, called me up and said, this is a glorious Thrutopian novel, you have to read it. And there were times on the way through when I totally did not believe him. But he’s right. It’s big and it requires huge dedication, and it is well worth the investment in terms of the doors that it opens and the many ways it shows us how we might fail, but then that we might succeed. It’s heartfelt. It’s beautiful. The language is truly astonishing. And there are people in here that will last with you for the rest of your life. So people of the podcast, please do welcome Stephen Markley, author of The Deluge.

Manda: Stephen, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. How are you and where are you and what is the morning for you and the evening for us?

Stephen: I’m good. I’m in Los Angeles and yeah, I’m working on a book today and yeah, everything is great.

Manda: Okay. And so now, of course, I want to ask what you’re working on just now, but we’ll get to that towards the end. Because certainly, I know when I’m writing, the book that you wrote and the book that you’re talking about is the book that you finished writing two years ago, and you want to talk about the one you’re writing now. But we’re going to talk about the one you wrote over a ten year period with an award winning, amazing, brilliant book which came in the middle. So talk to us a little bit, because just from a writing perspective, I’m really curious about how you started The Deluge, and then you put it down and wrote Ohio, which Stephen King said was The Grapes of Wrath of its generation. So it wasn’t a small minor work. And then you picked up The Deluge again. And it’s 900 pages, which I gather you edited down from 1200. So just give us a little overview of how that happened.

Stephen: I started The Deluge and Ohio at roughly the same time. And that sort of took me to the University of Iowa and the Iowa Writers Workshop, where I was working on both novels simultaneously. And, you know, I put down The Deluge because Ohio, the 500 page multi-character novel was easier to finish than than The Deluge was. So that became my first major project. And so I was toggling between those two books for the better part of a decade. And as soon as Ohio came out, I was just right back into this near future world of the climate crisis. And I mean, it was a challenging decade, I’ll say that.

Manda: Yeah, that that would be the word that would fry my brain beyond all reckoning. Did you go to Ohio because people were not interested in the meta crisis, the poly crisis, because it wasn’t so obviously an issue in what would it be? 2010, when you were starting this? Or did you have tutors, staff at the Iowa Writers Workshop that were telling you that, I don’t know, climate fiction wasn’t going to sell? Why did you head off to something that felt much more a coming of age novel,  almost Ohio?

Stephen: I mean, Ohio is itself is definitely more than just coming of age. It’s about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Great Recession, the opiate crisis. So it’s got serious things on its mind, but it was also just the easier book to finish. When I set aside The Deluge, I had, you know, already 500 pages of it. So it was already this massive epic tome. And I just sort of saw how big it was going to get and Ohio was the one I could sort of wrap my mind around more quickly, and I thought get it to the world more quickly as well. So it became just the project that I was capable of finishing. But in terms of like, the world not being ready for a piece of climate fiction, I was already as deep into this, what you call the poly crisis as I am now, back in 2010, back in 2009, 2008, 2007, when I was first dreaming this up. And that was one of the remarkable, difficult, terrifying things about writing The Deluge was watching all of this stuff in my imagination come to life during the process of creating the novel.

Manda: Right. Because we’ll get to that later on. There’s a lot of very prescient stuff that even since you wrote it has begun to happen. But back in 2008, what did you do before? Were you a scientist? Have you got multiple degrees in other specialities before you became a writer? Because you’re opening chapter is basically the physics of methane clathrates, which is first an incredibly brave thing to do as what is essentially a thriller, but opening with what’s a pretty detailed tutorial on the physics of methane sublimation. How did you how did you step into writing being your creative venture?

Stephen: Yeah, well before I was a writer, I was a scientist, a diplomat, a polymath of all time. No, I was not. I was none of those things. I’m sorry, that was a joke!

Manda: Just for a moment there until you got to diplomat, I believed you.

Stephen: No I was just some guy from Ohio. But, you know, it’s one of those things where I always had an intense intellectual curiosity about what I think is fair to say, the biggest crisis humanity has ever stumbled into. And as a young person who wanted to be a writer, it was just so compelling to want to take that crisis and narrativize it, to give it an epic shape and scope, to maybe bring it to a reader in a way that that non-fiction cannot. In a way that documentary cannot. In a way that journalism cannot. To make people feel the emotional stakes of what this moment in history actually entails.

Manda: Right. And yes, this is why we write fiction, because you can bring people into the characters, and anyone with an ounce of empathy is then beginning to live what they live. You have an extraordinarily big cast. I haven’t actually counted up how many different viewpoints it comes from, but it’s a very large number. And from a writing mechanics point of view, juggling all of those different plotlines must be exciting. Particularly I read somewhere or heard somewhere that you started off, when you got to the end of the first draft it was 1200 pages and you cut it to 900 pages. So either that’s some entire plot lines just gone, or it’s shaving all of them a little bit and then making sure that the critical bits are still there. From my interest in writing logistics, were there more characters to start off with and you just ditched some of them? Or did you shave some of them down?

Stephen: Yeah, it was both of those things. I mean, what happened in practice is major characters became very minor characters. And that was sort of the first step. So they’re still, like, banging around in the book, it’s just like they’re fully detailed backgrounds are gone. And what you discover, though, if you’re writing something this big and you hand it to an editor, my editor was such a fantastic person to have alongside, because he recognised how good the book could be when he got it. And his point was just that look, you have packed over a decade of research and thought into this, and now it’s time to find the thriller in it, to find the the barrelling freight train of a novel. And his point was always that the more gripping you make this, the more immediate it will be to the reader, and the more your point will get across. So that was the big task of editing. And in that process, you found the most important characters, the most important storylines, and you just sort of grabbed on and held on to them for dear life.

Manda: Okay, while weaving through it astonishing depth of scientific data. And as you said earlier, you were you were a scientist, you were a diplomat. But there’s a huge amount of political structure in here. And I gather that you were contacted after publication by somebody in the Beltway in Washington asking whether you had inside information. How did you go about gathering all the different viewpoints? Did you read a lot? Did you listen to a bunch of podcasts? Did you spend time on research ships? What did you do to begin to get to grips with the scale of what’s going on?

Stephen: I just mostly glanced at the Wikipedia page for climate change and then went from there. No I’m joking. I’m joking again!

Manda: Clearly! There’s lots more detail than is available there.

Stephen: Yeah, I spent so much time reading about every facet, not just about climate change, but about how policy is made in Washington DC, how the political process works, how the Legislative Council works. All that sort of research went in and maybe none of it’s in the book, or maybe it only pops up in one sentence, but eventually those layers of background allow you to create something that feels real, a simulacrum of our reality. And so you spend enough time doing that part and then you go and talk to people, mostly people who work in fields that they don’t get a lot of people asking questions about, because it is so boring. And if you just have an enormous interest in what they do, they tell you all kinds of awesome stories about policymaking and all the rest, and you sort of build it from there.

Manda: Okay. I would like to begin to narrow down into the novel itself without scattering spoilers for people. So the meat of the novel is political dynamism, its various movements. There are a few people who actually do not give a xxxx about the climate emergency at all, don’t really notice it’s happening until they’re actually right in the middle of the action. But broadly, there are various factions, some of which map onto Republicans, Democrats in the existing political system. You mentioned Trump, he’s there, he’s happened in the distant past by the time we mentioned him. But there are also big factions, one of which is essentially the fossil fuel industry and its minions. And against it are people who would be recognisable in the UK as a progression of Extinction Rebellion. Can you tell us how you evolved those and particularly when we get towards the end, I would really like to know about where we take them next. But let’s have a look at in the meat of the novel, ten years of writing, I would really be interested in your emotional arc through that, because it’s a real roller coaster of a novel. There’s moments of extraordinary hope and extraordinary despair, and I’m guessing writing it you were feeling that too. Take us through the politics and the emotional space around them.

Stephen: Yeah, I mean, that’s exactly right. I think anybody looking at this situation is going to at times feel enormous amounts of despair. And then go out and try to build those moments of hope. My only goal with the book was to look at it realistically, right. Something that I think, without denigrating anybody or any other authors or storytellers, I think it’s easy to make a story about the climate crisis that is woefully apolitical. That doesn’t look at the actual core of the problem. And I think that’s something I kept noticing, was the way in which people want to avoid the actual crux of the issue. So in this novel, I was committed to looking at the problem as straight as a spear to the eye. Like, what is going on? Why aren’t we fixing this? What is standing in our way? And what forces will arise in the future that will try to change things? What tactics will they use? How will they be the most effective? And when you start doing that thought experiment in 2010, you eerily come to the moment we’re living through right now, right? In which the basic core of the problem is that we need to change everything about the way our industrial society works, and we need to do it at speed and scale that is unprecedented in human history. The people standing in the way of that are making enormous amounts of money, from burning fossil fuels, burning down forests for agriculture, etc., etc., all that stuff we know about, right. So what political movements will arise to challenge those interests and what political movements will rise to protect those interests? And I think that’s sort of how I arrived at the various factions in the book, that’s a fierce blue fire, that’s six degrees, that’s the pastor. It’s all of those different elements of the book and sort of throwing them into the snow globe, shaking the snow globe and seeing what happens.

Manda: Brilliant. And what happens are that, let’s say the forces of progression are the people who understand that we need total systemic change, arise and arise in waves. And the existing political system demonstrates that the system exists to protect the system. The system does not exist in any way to reflect the will of any number of people; it exists to protect itself. And certainly, reading it I ended up at the point where I had to put it down and walk away to let my blood pressure come back down again, in ways that I often need to come away from the screen and walk away, because of exactly what is going on just now. And it seems to me you set the time scale. The kind of denouement is happening in 2040 and we’re in 2023. And actually we’re not that far off. A lot of the things that you were projecting from 2010, you were projecting on to 2040, as you said, they seem to be happening now. So given that that’s the case, it strikes me that towards the end of the novel, and again we’re going to avoid mentioning anything specific because we don’t want to have any spoilers. But there’s a turning point where certain political decisions are made, that felt to me as if they were almost on the flip of a coin. If the people who basically controlled the reins of power had decided to go in with, I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say the pastor is a failed actor who’s obviously decided that running a religion is a far better way of making yourself extremely large amounts of money. And he’s running the forces of reaction. If they had gone the other way, we were looking at Armageddon. Do you think that in reality it’s going to come down to 1 or 2 people making either a moral or an amoral decision? Or let’s say their morals will be based either on I want to support the people who make huge amounts of money, or I want to support life on the planet. Is that where we’re heading?

Stephen: Well, I don’t know if I’d characterise it quite like that. I think what the ending of the novel attempts to demonstrate is that all the work that has seemed futile by what you would call the forces of progression, the people who really want to do something about this and change the direction of this titanic ship we’re trying to turn around; that none of that effort is wasted, that none of it is futile. Because we’re building towards a moment when decisions will have to be made and that those decisions will hopefully reflect all of the passion and work that has gone into changing the course of that ship. However, the book also has to demonstrate the danger of what happens if we don’t execute that pivot. And I am constantly talking to people who are calling or would call me or would call us climate alarmists. Like, they would say that we’re attempting to scare people. I hear that as a critique from time to time.

Manda: Still? Even now?

Stephen: Yes, from people you would not expect it from who are very smart. And I’m constantly so alarmed by that, because I think if you fully grasp the issues at hand, there is not a way to be properly alarmed enough. Right? It’s that serious. So I think what the book attempts to do is to show the flip side of what happens if we do not take action quickly. And in that process you are scaring the reader. It is frightening, but to take to walk the reader up to the line and show them, just let them peek into the abyss, while also demonstrating that we still have time, that there are still so many decisions to make and there’s still so much vital work to be done.

Manda: Okay. I would like to unpack for a bit, then, the responses to the book. It’s a book that I imagine people on either side of the fence, the listeners to this podcast are going to embrace because it speaks our language. However, we have a Democratic president in the book who who gives orders that result in mass deaths. And we have a Republican who seems to get it and actually wants to make a difference. On your side of the pond you have an election coming up and I listened to somebody recently saying, Trump wins either way. He either wins wins or he says he’s won and he sparks a civil war. And either way, he gets what he wants. I am sincerely hoping that he falls asleep one too many times in a courtroom, and his entire run falls apart. But assuming that doesn’t happen, there’s two questions embedded in this I realise. First is what’s the response been across the political spectrum to reading your book? And then I would like to explore where you think politics might be about to go in the US, because that has ripple effects around the rest of the world. But let’s look at the response to your book. Is it mostly progressive ish people who read it and go, yeah, you’re right, totally. This is cool and we need to be building a fierce blue fire, and we need to learn from the book. Or are others reading it too?

Stephen: Well, someone put it to me this way. They said, unfortunately, the Venn diagram between people who care deeply about the climate and people who will read a 900 page book about the climate is a perfect circle. So you know, most of the reaction I’m getting from people is, in fact, those who already deeply care about the issue. But I think that’s okay, because one of the projects of the book is not to change anybody’s mind who is refusing to look at this, but to activate people who do know about this, but who might be complacent in what they think is possible and what they think they can do about it. To give them a broad, full spectrum view of the situation. Again,  bringing forth the emotional stakes of the issue at its core. As far as the future of politics. I am not a prognosticator anymore, I gave that up a long time ago. I recently wrote a piece for the New York Times and I do think it is beyond imperative that that Joe Biden wins this election. That’s not a full endorsement of every single policy he has, but he has proven that he’s serious about the climate crisis as an issue. And I think the alternative is also incredibly frightening. We lived through four years of the Trump presidency, and I think people have sort of hypnotised themselves about just how dangerous and out of control that was. So having said all that, democracy remains, in my opinion, the most important tool in arresting the climate crisis. And that is sort of the thrust of the novel as well; that without turning the force of our democratic institutions to the issue, by allowing the fossil fuel interests to continue to dominate our democracies and lead us to the brink, we’re abdicating our most important responsibility and the best tool for arresting the crisis.

Manda: I listened to a podcast just before we started. It was called The Best Regulation Money Can Buy. It was about the complete failure to regulate polyfluorinated alkylated substances, basically forever chemicals, of which there are 15,000 and currently eight are regulated. And those eight are reproduced with one molecule change and then they’re not regulated. And it does always seem to me that on both sides of the Atlantic, we have the best democracy money can buy. In fact, we don’t have a democracy. There was a paper, 2019, I think, that demonstrated how much the average American, their viewpoint had an impact on policy. And it was basically zero. The people who impact policy are the people who fund the democracy, and its industrial business. It’s not all the fossil fuel companies, but it is the people with the money. I listened to another podcast recently, and the question was, how many economists does the Department of Agriculture have? And the answer was a half. They have one guy, half time. But don’t worry, because the corn lobby has 150 economists. They have three floors on whatever building it is in the middle of Washington. And those 150 economists are feeding to the half time guy what he needs to tell the Department of Agriculture.

Manda: This isn’t just about fossil fuels. This is about the entire system. And I live in a world which says our democracy is so broken that we can’t rely on the existing system to be able to pivot in time. And reading your book, I get the feeling that there’s a part of you that believes that, but you’re really trying very hard, and one of the reasons the novel is so epic is that it has to have the scope and the scale and the size to show how broken democracy is, how the dysfunction actually happens, how individual people’s inability to take a wider view and just self-protection most of the time, is what creates the sand in the democratic system that just glues it completely up. Given where we are in the actual physical biophysical crisis, and that it’s not all about the carbon, do you genuinely think that our existing political structure, let’s assume the fates smile on us and Biden does get in next time around. Is he going to be able to do anything in time?

Stephen: Well, a couple of points to that. The first I would say is that this tendency to say, oh, the system is broken, let’s throw up our hands. Why bother? Is a part of why…

Manda: That’s not quite what I said. We need to change it doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and say, why bother? It means it needs change very badly and map out how that change could happen.

Stephen: Absolutely. But I think that line of thinking leads to a why bother mentality. In that if you’re not out working to change your democracy, what are you doing? What is the action one is taking? Like where is the actual thrust? If what we have to change is the actors behind the scenes of the financing of our elections and all the rest, if that is part of the crux of the problem, then one must go out and change that crux, I guess. And certainly it’s frustrating, you know, it takes a long time to execute changes of this magnitude. And again, we don’t have necessarily the time. But we have the institutions we have. And again, one of the projects of the book was not to build into it a deus ex machina of the perfect ecosocialist political movement to come along and bring about utopia. Obviously I don’t think utopia is on the table. I think what we’re looking at is trying to get through one of the most difficult challenges in the history of humanity, in the most just, fair and equitable way possible. And looking at say, the Paris climate accords, a non-binding agreement that basically promises to do absolutely nothing, we still need something like the Paris Climate accord because it’s the institution we have available. And I truly believe that pushing on the institutions we have available is going to be the way that we execute a larger change in our political consciousness, both in Western democracies and around the world.

Manda: How? Let me expand a little on that question. I agree with you utopias are not an option, partly because for me, a utopia is a kind of jump cut. We abandon the present moment and we arrive at a point where the ecosocialist revolution has happened, and we don’t look at the little gap in between where it actually happened and then we can’t get there. So here’s a thesis which you can take apart. The current system is predicated on scarcity, separation and powerlessness. It’s predicated on see, take, want, extract. It’s predicated on a separation between humanity and the rest of the web of life, and on hierarchical systems that push value to the top. And the people who have the power and the value at the top are intrinsically disinclined to give a shit about anything or anybody below them. Hence, we have a completely extractive economy that is predicated on growth and which is going to destroy the entire ecosphere quite fast. Even if we switched off the carbon tomorrow, if we continue the levels of random other pollution, then I have papers that suggest oceanic death by 2045, which will be kind of exciting. Not.

Manda: So it’s not just about the carbon, it’s about the entire capital system. And I see no inclination in any of our political structures to address any of that. There are people who are thinking nice thoughts about maybe reducing carbon a little bit, maybe increasing sequestration a little bit, you know, maybe increasing the generation of power that isn’t fossil fuel based a little bit, without necessarily looking at where the actual material flows come from. And none of it is going to change the system. I would dearly like there to be a way through with the existing politics. That would make life much easier, because otherwise I am spending my life trying to think how we can change the system. And you are one of the brightest people I’ve met and you’ve written an enormously detailed book. How do we get through? Because what I read in the book was essentially it came down to a few people making the right decision when the crunch came and they didn’t have to.

Stephen: Okay. Well, that’s an enormous question. Let me break off just a little chunk of it. Right. I do think that the bill that passed in the US in 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act, was an enormous step in the direction of creating the seed of a sustainable world within it. What that bill tried to do is, first of all, look at the most immediate problem of pollution and extraction in front of us, which is the climate crisis, which is our fossil fuel based economy. Did it do everything that we need to do to be turning the ship that fast? No. But it proved that by the slimmest of congressional margins, the US could pass something big, right? That was planting the seeds not just of a renewable energy economy, but looking at the future of making that renewable energy economy sustainable, with things like recycling battery materials so we’re not endlessly mining the earth for every single piece of metal we have to pull out of the ground, right? So having spoken to a lot of the people who were the architects of that bill, I’m incredibly encouraged that there are so many intelligent people thinking through where we need to eventually get. Now the place we need to eventually get does seem far as hell away, but so does every major mass movement when it’s in its embryonic stage.

Stephen: And again, I don’t know what you might call it, in toppling a statue this big it’s not going to do us any good to chip away at the head of the statue. We have to look at the base. We have to look at where does the energy of our planet come from? What are we doing with it? And how do we start affecting changes that will bring about the kind of paradigm we want to see? And the most immediate problem to me is of carbon. Like when people talk about, well, what about consumption? What about this? What about that? What about forever chemicals? It’s like yes, yes and yes, I agree with all of those things. But solving the carbon problem will create a roadmap to solving those other issues as well. Like, that is the immediate thing that is right in front of our faces, that if we don’t get right is going to have such enormous repercussions for the planet, we’re not going to be able to recover from it.

Manda: Okay. What is the endpoint? So the people that you’re talking to, the people for whom the IRA was the kind of thin end of a wedge, which is exactly what all the Republicans that I ever listened to were afraid of, that it was the thin end of a wedge. And it is the thin end of a wedge, I think we can say that quite explicitly. Can you paint for us where they would see it going? What the end point is that they are aiming for.

Stephen: In terms of what?

Manda: Whatever they’re aiming for. Because I’m aiming for total systemic change.

Stephen: Who is they?

Manda: Well, the policy makers who set up the IRA. You said that they have a vision of a place they eventually need to get to, and that the IRA was the first step on that progression.

Stephen: Well, I mean, I think it’s what you know, sorry I’m blanking on the Economist’s name, but the she wrote a book called Doughnut Economics talking about the goal of the 21st century.

Manda: Kate Raworth.

Stephen: To bring humanity into a safe and just space. I think that’s an enormous set of yadda yadda I’m doing about that phrase, but the point of our world should be to bring humanity into a safe and just space. And that also means bringing our ecosystems and the rest of our fellow species into that safe and just space, right? Now that is a change of such staggering proportions that it’s not going to happen with the snap of fingers. But I like to think about, basically until, the mid 1970s, the only thing humanity had been doing as it spread across the planet was exterminating everything in its path. You know, species, ecosystem and otherwise. And I was reading about this book about the Endangered Species Act and how that came to be, and just what a revolutionary concept that was when people first began brandishing it about. That humanity was not just here to use up every single animal and plant it could. That there were animals and plants with intrinsic value that deserve to have life and deserve to have space. So that kind of revolution in human thinking is relatively new in our long history.

Stephen: And there’s of course, the book that I stole the name for a fierce blue fire from, A Fierce Green Fire, who talks about the environmental movement being this brand new idea in the human  concept of the world. Like, this is so new, we barely know what to do with it. And as soon as we get this new idea, we’re immediately confronted with an existential crisis of what we’re doing to our environment. Right. I mean, it feels like we are so far away from where we need to be. But a revolution of this magnitude is going to happen in bits and pieces and frustrating steps, and two steps forward, one step back. And then hopefully the good tipping points will start to occur and we’ll see this fall of dominoes that will show the way forward in the next issues we will encounter.

Manda: Okay. Brilliant. So we’re heading towards the end of the time. I have a couple more questions because that was perfect and lovely and I can see avenues for that. And there are things I would disagree with, but we don’t have time to go into those. I’m really interested in the Venn diagram that is a 100% perfect circle of the people who get the climate crisis, and the people who are prepared to read a 900 page book, total mapping one onto the other. One of the things that the Chicago school knew, Hayek and the others, the progenitors of neoliberalism, was that when there is a crisis, the ideas that are around will be the ideas that are implemented. And your book is a how concatenation of ideas lying around. And some of them are very forward thinking. You predicted the Russian Ukraine war, only you had it ten years after it happened. You predicted AI writing novels for people and it’s happening now. But at the point when your book was published, it hadn’t happened yet. Are there people running with some of your ideas that were not running with them before that you know of? Are there people who’ve read your book and got in touch with you and gone, hey, I’m reading this and now I am setting up a local group based on a fierce blue fire. Is that happening to your knowledge, or do you think they just wouldn’t tell you?

Stephen: I mean, nothing that specific. I get emails more along the lines of ‘This has made me think about what I want to do with my life’, mostly from younger people. I mean, it’s incredibly encouraging, right? And I like that phrase a lot that, the ideas that are lying around. I think my book is just sort of a way of planting in people’s heads the ideas that are lying around, about how to execute such a massive change. And yeah, the book is more than just about the climate crisis. It is a very, very acute critique of neoliberalism and where it’s led us, where those systems have taken us, and that the solutions to the climate crisis are not just we need to stop burning carbon, it is that we need a more just and equitable world. And furthermore, and this is just my own little thing, like how utterly miserable consumption and neoliberalism has actually made us.

Stephen: I have all these left wing friends who spend all their time on Neoliberalism’s mouthpiece, Instagram and Twitter and all the rest of this stuff, all this sort of surveillance capitalism. And that’s the way they view they’re helping, when they’re sort of praying at the feet of the neoliberal gods of our current paradigm. So it’s just alarming to me the way in which that ideology has suffused even the way we communicate with each other, even the way we talk to each other now. And that’s a huge part of the book, a critique of that system. So obviously I think executing this change will require not just the confrontation of the fossil fuel powers, but Silicon Valley, and all the rest of the people who are sort of mining our place on this planet for profit, right? And that’s my very long winded way of wrapping up that question.

Manda: No, it’s good. It’s really good. And I listen to Your Undivided Attention podcast with Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin the other day, and they had somebody on explicitly talking about how we could reconfigure new social media platforms that would be designed not to harvest everybody’s attention and raise capitalism, but actually bring people together. So I think the ideas are out there for sure. Two more questions, and if you haven’t got time for both of them, I’m going to ask you both and you can pick which one.

Stephen: No. Go ahead.

Manda: Okay. So the first one is in the end A Fierce Blue Fire is absolutely committed to non-violence, but it is a violent act that opens the door to change that is possible. And I find that I’m having conversations increasingly with people on and off the podcast. I believe that violence is part of the old paradigm. If we’re going to move to an equitable and just social system, which for me involves an entire value system and a shift in human consciousness, violence is not a part of that. If we resort to violence, we are the old paradigm, and we need the new paradigm that makes the old paradigm obsolete. However, we are where we are. And in your book, violence tips us over. With Kim Stanley Robinson, it was the same. There was a violent wing that made the people who had previously looked extreme look quite moderate, and then they were able to do what they needed to do. Do you think that that violent wing is going to become necessary, or do you think we will get through without it?

Stephen: I don’t think it’s necessary. And I think in fact, it might be entirely counterproductive. I think the book spells that out in some ways, which is when you look at how progress is achieved and the tactics that matter, tactics are so important and that the wrong ones can not only not solve the issue you’re after, but like set it back for decades. And if we set this movement back for decades we’re all screwed.

Manda: We haven’t got decades.Yes, yes, yes.

Stephen: So that is that is certainly a point of the book. Now towards that specific moment you’re talking about, I think what’s important to note is that first of all, it’s accidental. It’s not an intentional act that creates the possibility for change. The people committing the act are trying to do something entirely different. I’m trying to do all this without spoilers. But more importantly, I am also writing as what I sort of have thought of as, like a future history, a historian of the future. I, Stephen Markley, don’t get to decide what mechanisms are going to create this situation. I’m looking at history and sort of always looking at how these movements have developed. In the radical flank that has arisen in so many of them, to me it was like that radical flank that has been so ever present in social movements throughout history, sometimes deeply totally destroying those movements inadvertently, has to find its place in the novel. And so just giving it its fair shake as the book progressed was important and not, and this goes to every character in every piece of the book, not forcing my own beliefs on what will work or what is right onto the characters, but allowing them to organically grow and change and all the rest.

Manda: Okay, brilliant. So many questions I’d like to ask, but we’re running out of time. So here is one that seems to me quite relevant. 100% of people who read this book get the climate crisis. Presumably by the time they finished it, they are slightly more aware of exactly how critical it is than they were before. You’re published by one of the world’s major publishers, you’re working with people in Hollywood. It strikes me in both cases that they are integral parts of the machine that is barrelling us towards the edge of the cliff. If they really got it, they would be changing their business model right now. Are they showing any sign of doing that, or is this just something that they’re putting out to show willing?

Stephen: Well I think the individuals, particularly at Simon Schuster, who were part of the team that got the book out into the world, the people who in my weird little Hollywood life, have read the book and who are tasked with the responsibility of getting it out in the world, they have all to a person told me how much it’s affected them. And what a sort of impact it’s had on them. Now, the thing is, all of these companies are controlled by these multinational conglomerates with 29 layers of human beings going up a scaffold. And one of the problems that bedevils Hollywood is one that bedevils so much of our world, it’s that its concentration of power. You know, we’re down to three and a half companies that control everything we see on television and film. And this is part of the issue that I think is something we need to address. Why are we allowing this concentration of economic power in the hands of just a few insanely big corporations that only have an interest in sort of spewing out more, you know, distracting garbage. Also, these are all my business daddies, and they should really make The Deluge into a feature length show or film. So I think they’re great and you know, I support all their endeavours. That’s also a joke, right.

Manda: Very last question. Are you allowed to tell us a tiny bit about what you’re working on now? Because the new novel is always…are we going deeper into climate chaos or metacrisis?

Stephen: I’m taking a break from my super dark novels to write a book of short stories that is hopefully going to be a little more bouncy, a little more enjoyable, a little more fun. And then after that, I’m going to write the darkest novel I’ve ever written.

Manda: Wow.

Stephen: Yeah, I won’t say much more than that, but, yeah I’m just sort of putting that off for a few years while I get my brain, you know.

Manda: Give your heart a break.

Stephen: Yeah, exactly.

Manda: I have to say, I didn’t find The Deluge dark. There were points where I had to walk away. But it’s such an extraordinary human novel. There are moments of real tenderness, and there are love stories flowing through it that are hugely inspiring and empowering, I thought.

Stephen: Yeah, I know. Terrific.

Manda: And character developments. Ash’s character development is just so gorgeous.

Stephen: I hope so, yeah.

Manda: So it wasn’t totally dark.

Stephen: No, no. But somebody was making this point to me that when you successfully write characters that you fall in love with, it makes everything else so much darker.

Manda: That’s true. Did you fall in love with Ash?

Stephen: Well, I’m always in love with all my characters.

Manda: Yeah. That’s true. You can’t write well if you don’t. Brilliant. That I think; ‘I’m always in love with all my characters’ that is a perfect note to end on. Unless there was anything else that you wanted to say to people listening?

Stephen: No, I think I think I’ve yammered on long enough.

Manda: That’s grand. Thank you so much for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast. It was a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you.

Stephen: Thank you for having me.

Manda: And that’s it for another week. With huge thanks to Stephen for taking time out of writing. It’s kind of part of the job when you’re a novelist, but it’s always hard to tear yourself away from the story that you’re in at the moment to talk about the one that you were in a couple of years ago. And this is such a story. There are moments when it is devastatingly disappointing, and other moments when my heart genuinely soared with hope. And if it offers some kind of a template for a future, then there can be no better reason to read it. But actually I would recommend it for the quality of the writing, for the depth of the characterisation, for the sharp eye on the way America is at the moment. And even if you don’t live in the US, the shadow it casts goes right around the world and we do need to understand what motivates people there. And that’s one of the great strengths of this novel. It has fully rounded characters from right across the political spectrum. There’s nobody who feels like a cardboard cut-out. And the humanity with which each one is treated, wherever they are, whatever their belief system, however they step forward, is beautiful and a real writing lesson. So we normally end up with some kind of call to action, and this week’s is really obvious. Get The Deluge and go read it. And then maybe we can talk about the ways we could take it forward before we get to the edge of total climate breakdown. That would be kind of good. #

Manda: So I put a link in the show notes which you will find at Go to the podcast page, click on the podcast for this week and there you will find all the links you could possibly want. We will be back next week with another conversation. In the meantime, huge thanks to Caro C for the music at the head and foot. To Alan Lowell’s of Airtight studios for the production. To Anne Thomas for the transcripts. And to Faith Tilleray for all of the work behind the scenes that keeps us moving forward and for all the conversations that keep my brain moving. And as ever, an enormous thanks to you for listening. If you know of anybody else who’s in that Venn diagram of people who totally get where we are at the moment and are prepared to read a 900 page beautiful literary novel, then please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.

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