Friday, March 25, 2011

Can a peak oil novel change the conversation?

The following piece appeared on 321energy by invitation from the owners of that site.

Those who are aware that world oil production is nearing or has perhaps passed its all-time peak will no doubt find the following scenario familiar: You're at a party or other event talking with a group of people you've only just met and you mention peak oil. All you get are blank stares. Absolutely no one knows what you are talking about.

To those who stay on top of the oil news, it's hard to believe that most people, even most supposedly educated and informed people, have no clue about the trajectory of the world's most important commodity. With all the websites, blogs, articles, videos, documentaries, and books devoted to the topic of peak oil, somehow it seems inconceivable that the peak oil idea has gotten so little purchase on the public mind.

So, we say to ourselves that we must redouble our efforts to try to get the word out. But it occurred to me back in 2007 that we might not be getting the word out in all the right ways. I realized then that much of what the public learns it learns through entertainment and the arts, and that these were neglected avenues for peak oil activists. And so, I resolved to write a peak oil-themed novel. That novel finally came to fruition last year with the title Prelude.

My aim was as follows: Write an engaging thriller that would appeal to readers because it is a good thriller, not because it is a book about peak oil. Story first, message second! I imagined that the book's initial path of distribution, however, would be through those who are peak oil aware. They would read the book and decide (I hoped) that it was an excellent tool for spreading awareness about peak oil--a book that anyone who liked to read novels would find compelling.

So far things are going according to plan. Many people have said they enjoyed Prelude, even those who already know a lot about peak oil. And, more important, they have recommended it, given it or lent it to friends, family members and colleagues. My own experience is that people who have read the book and who had no prior familiarity with the peak oil issue say essentially, "I had no idea!" These newly aware readers seem anxious to tell others what they have learned.

A few other novels that mention peak oil have been published since I conceived of Prelude. I count this all to the good. Peak oil themes have also found their way into art, cartoons, stand-up comedy, theater, songs and even poetry. This is an excellent start, and I expect mentions of peak oil in the arts and entertainment to continue to increase as the reality of our situation unfolds.

My own approach was to set the story of Prelude in contemporary society. I believed that readers would more readily identify with a world familiar to them than one set in the distant future or transfigured by an imaginary crisis. I wanted to create a story that would allow people to reinterpret the news they are getting about energy within the context of peak oil and set them on the road to further inquiry. Only time will tell if I have succeeded.

I am, however, encouraged by the gracious people at 321energy, especially Bob Moriarty and Jim Nrg. They feel so strongly that Prelude can and should succeed that they invited me to write this piece. On top of that they offered to feature the book on this site, an extraordinary gesture for a site devoted mostly to investment information. But I think both men understand how much better off the world would be if everyone understood peak oil, and families, communities, businesses and governments began to prepare for its consequences.

If you end up reading Prelude and find it compelling, I hope you will pass it on or recommend it. There have been cases in the past where a novel has broadly informed and dramatically galvanized public opinion. Uncle Tom's Cabin, the novel about slavery published in 1852, revolutionized Americans' thinking on the topic. It turned out to be the second bestselling book of the 19th century, right behind the Bible. Two generations later Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, which followed the life of a worker in a Chicago meatpacking plant. Appearing in early 1906, it so enraged the public about unsanitary conditions in such plants that it led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act by the end of that year.

Could Prelude result in something as dramatic as all that? Well, it's already changing the conversation for some people. And, with the help of the good folks at 321energy and the book's expanding readership, who knows?

To learn more about Prelude, visit

1 comment:

Deborah said...

I teach high school so checked the exert for reading level...


Method used: Flesch-Kincaid (English).

Flesch-Kincaid Grade level: 13.
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score: 46.

I was hoping the reading level would be lower.