[Andrew Forbes’s first book, the story collection What You Need, was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award and named a finalist for the Trillium Book Prize. Forbes lives in Peterborough, Ontario in Canada. His second story collection LANDS AND FORESTS is due out in May 2019.]
The stories in ''Lands and Forests,'' set primarily in Ontario, survey the emotional landscapes of people whose lives, though rooted deeply in the land and their small communities, are still rocked by the ripples of great cultural change. Whether they are escaping government-sanctioned flooding, obsessing over camera-equipped drones, violently mourning a lost brother, discovering a new passion in fencing, starting over in the desert, or standing in a lake watching a wildfire consume a whole town, these women and men must navigate the uncertain terrain of loss and renewal.
DAN BLOOM: Your new book of short stories is a collection of works which, while not taking place in the future, as many cli-fi novels or short stories usually do, was conceived, you told me in an email in January, as ''a love letter to the passing Holocene, and deals in part with humans' efforts to change the face of the Earth through projects like the construction of the St. Laurence Seaway, or the use of technology for wildfire suppression." So which stories in the book cover these themes?
ANDREW FORBES: The first story in the book, “Inundation Day,” concerns the construction and flooding of the St. Laurence Seaway in the 1950s, and the resulting loss of communities which were moved or consolidated in order to expand the river into a navigable modern shipping route accessing the Great Lakes.
It can be read as mourning for the loss of human habitat as a result of our own actions – a
practice run for climate change, I suppose. The last story gives the book its name, and sketches the life of Frank McDougall, who worked for the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests and who, at least partly as a result of having witnessed a tremendous wildfire early in his career, pioneered approaches to forest stewardship and fire suppression. It's no accident that my interest in wildfires heated up, so to speak, in the last few years, with their increasing frequency and intensity. I wanted to look at how we confront or adapt to them, which led me to the pretty fascinating figure of MacDougall.
QUESTION: You've been invited to give a lecture on cli-fi themes and trends at Trent University in Canada in March. What do you plan to talk about? Can you give us a pre-event preview?
ANDREW: I'm still in the process of gathering all my research materials and finalizing the text of the lecture, but broadly I'm interested in cli-fi as a burgeoning genre, its conventions developing right before our eyes.
What are the tropes which have arisen? What do these books tell us about our current frame of mind
regarding human driven ecological collapse? I suppose it might end up being a writing craft talk, at
least in part.
The topic is so vast that it'd be easy to start spinning my wheels, so I aim to zero in on
what these books do, whether warn or mourn, and how they do it. I'll compare them to earlier epochs of end-of-world texts; millenarianism, work produced during the Black Death, and so on.
I want to sample the breadth of the genre, too – from books that are more centred in the sci-fi world, like Sam J. Miller's ''Blackfish City,'' to those novelists considered more “literary,” like Margaret Atwood, or Chang-rae Lee's ''On Such a Full Sea.''
That includes short stories – because they're my favourite form – by “literary” writers like Lauren
Groff and Jim Shepard.
QUESTION: You are trying to use fiction to bring attention to the things current generations stand to lose in the coming decades, centuries. Which stories in the new book reflect this?
ANDREW FORBES: To greater or lesser degrees I'd say all of them, though certainly some more explicitly than others. All of the stories situate characters within natural environments which they (and I) love and do not wish to see altered or lost.
I can't help but feel a sense of impending loss when I'm out and about in the world, and I can't prevent those feelings from finding their way into the stories. Already, for example, in my lifetime I have seen changes in the way our winters unfold, so my characters are bound to notice such things, too.
I've watched wildfire seasons lengthen, so my characters see that, too.
QUESTION: The parameters of the cli-fi genre are not fixed in concrete, and writers will take the genre in many different directions in the 2020s and in the next 80 years as we approach the 22nd century. Where would you like to see the go?
ANDREW FORBES: I'd like to see it fade into obscurity and become an historical footnote, a series of works filled with off-the-mark predictions, owing to our having gotten our shit together and quit fossil fuels and having learned to live sustainably, putting survival and natural diversity ahead of profit motive and gross opulence.
LAST QUESTION: As you see things through you own writings and your extensive reading, what differences to you see, if any, in cli-fi stories or novels written in Canada or the USA or the UK or Australia?
ANDREW FORBES: That's an interesting question, and one I'm not sure I've considered. Now that you mention it, though, I suppose there are some unique vantages.
Very generally (or perhaps overly broadly): dry humour and reserve in a British book like Ian McEwan's ''Solar,'' the orgiastic depictions of violence in many
American books, like Cormac McCarthy's ''The Road'' (if you assume, as I do, that the levelling event in that book is climatic in nature).
I'd also go off on a tangent, if you gave me a chance, about how contemporary, usually American, zombie apocalypse horror films and shows evince an anxiety rooted in looming climate catastrophe the same way film noir expressed existential fear in the atomic age.
Here in Canada, meanwhile, Indigenous writers like Cherie Dimaline and Waubgeshig Rice are using the lens of climate change to examine the ways in which marginalized communities suffer disproportionately during times of crisis or scarcity.
''Lands and Forests''
The stories in Lands and Forests, set primarily in Ontario, survey the emotional landscapes of people whose lives, though rooted deeply in the land and their small communities, are still rocked by the ripples of great cultural change. Whether they are escaping government-sanctioned flooding, obsessing over camera-equipped drones, violently mourning a lost brother, discovering a new passion in fencing, starting over in the desert, or standing in a lake watching a wildfire consume a whole town, these women and men must navigate the uncertain terrain of loss and renewal.
–Grace O’Connell, author of Magnified World and Be Ready for the Lightning
“Full of quiet tension and a cast of fully-realized characters that feel like they could step off the page, Andrew Forbes’s Lands and Forests shows us what the short story was made to do: delight us, surprise us, and prompt us to more fully recognize ourselves.”
–Johanna Skibsrud, author of Tiger, Tiger, Quartet for the End of Time, and the Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning The Sentimentalists
“In this superbly stark, brooding collection, disillusioned men and women struggle along, the potential for grandeur in their futures long since faded. And yet there is still awe amid their resignation—for the beauty in the world, and sometimes for each other. With Lands and Forests, Andrew Forbes digs beneath stunning, wild landscapes to find all of the unhappiness buried there, unearthing life’s cruel disappointments and splaying them out on the dirt one by one. These are bleak, sharp, ruthless stories, and I loved them.”
–Jessica Westhead, author of Things Not to Do and And Also Sharks