Monday, March 16, 2020

'The Ministry For Ignoring Climate Change' is a comic send-up and an instant cli-fi classic

'The Ministry For Ignoring Climate Change' is a comic send-up and an instant cli-fi classic

A PREVIEW OF DAVID MILLAR's new cli-fi novel now on sale worldwide


by Dan Bloom, staff writer, The Cli-Fi Report

There's a new cli-fi novel from Canada making the global rounds now, finding readers in dozens of countries, from Taiwan to Thailand, with of course a large readership in the author's native country -- Canada!

Meet David Millar, author and humorist, and the creative spark at ''Melting Tundra Publishing'' ( behind the new novel "The Ministry For Ignoring Climate Change." Some media pundits and literary critics think that cli-fi is a genre that is just full of depressing dystopian narratives, and of course that is not true at all. Cli-fi novels come in many colors, and some are utopian and hopeful while others face the issues of runaway global climate change with a bit of dystopiana flair.

There is also a large group of cli-fi novels that are comic satires and are meant to tickle your funny bone. That is the mission behind Millar's humorous cli-fi debut. As I was reading it the other day, after the author sent me a review copy, I felt that there was a nice echo in the political humor that was also seen (and heard) in the 1980s BBC TV series titled "Yes Minister."
When  I told David that I loved his novel and the way he used to humor to drive home his theme, and that many of the dialogues between the characters reminded me the BBC show, he replied: "Great to hear you are a 'Yes Minister' fan. I could never live up to its humour but of course I was definitely inspired by it. My characters of Eddington and Hawthorne are actually the names of the actors who played Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey in the original British comedy series.''
Millar was kind enough to allow me to post a free link to the first chapter of his novel here on this blog post, and if you want to read some funny stuff about climate issues and the political shenanigans going on behind the scenes in some countries, click on this link and have a go at it.
It starts of this way and doesn't stop for the next 300 pages of pure Canadian humor:
Chapter 1

‘Eddington? He’s what you might call pale green,’ said Paul Hawthorne quietly, wrinkling his nose and tipping his head slightly towards the man at the end of the room. His colleague Adam Winter looked puzzled.

‘Environmentally aware but a political realist. Take last month for example; he attended a rally for polar bears, and then voted to support a new oil pipeline the same afternoon.’

Winter blinked. ‘Polar bears? At a rally?’

Hawthorne stared at him. ‘Not at the rally, no,’ he hissed. ‘It was a rally in support of polar bears. To raise awareness of the shrinking sea ice they hunt on.’

‘Oh…’ It was Monday morning. He was feeling a bit slow.

The two men were standing at the back of a staff meeting convened to announce the appointment of the new Minister for Climate Change, the Honourable Nigel Eddington, a fortysomething MP getting his first cabinet position, and their new boss. Well, Hawthorne’s boss. Winter was further down the pecking order.

‘Anyway, he wants to meet with both of us right after this. Apparently he has some new ideas he wants to share.’

‘Hmm…’ frowned Winter, before smiling broadly and clapping enthusiastically and with complete insincerity as Eddington stepped up to speak.

Hawthorne might have his doubts but for now Eddington looked like a refreshing change from his predecessor, a man who appeared to regard climate change as more of a personal affront to his political career than a crisis for the rest of the planet. ‘MinCC’ was widely regarded as the kiss of death to any political career, unpopular with most of the electorate and near-impossible to show any results in less than several electoral cycles.

If Eddington was pale green, Winter was greener—he’d only been in the department six months. He wasn’t even Canadian. Lanky and in his early thirties, he was a self-confessed climate nerd. he had been working at the Department of Energy and Climate Change in London as part of a team coming up with ways to reduce carbon emissions, and this overseas posting was a significant opportunity for him. He had been seconded to the Canadians for two years on a UN initiative to share best practices on climate change policies.

Things had not been going well.

On the face of it his secondment made good sense. Canada had one of the worst records on the planet when it came to tackling climate change—fifty-first out of the world’s fifty-seven most carbon-emitting countries, whereas the UK ranked fourth, just a few places below saintly Sweden. So the idea was that he could give them some pointers on how it was done, assuming of course they wanted to listen.

The problem was, he was increasingly convinced that they didn’t. He had decided that the role of the Ministry was not to take action on climate change at all, but to provide a smoke-screen for inaction, to generate a steady stream of nice-sounding initiatives and press releases that gave the impression the government was doing something, whilst actually doing nothing at all. In other words, to ignore climate change rather than to fix it.

Hence his hope that the arrival of a new, younger, greener Minister could only be a Good Thing.

He would therefore have been disappointed if he had known that Eddington himself didn’t identify as an environmentalist at all, but more as a manager and a problem-solver. His primary motivation was not to help the planet but his career, and he cannily saw the recent upsurge in voter interest in the environment as a way of achieving that.

Before moving into politics he’d been a management consultant and was hoping that he could bring some out-of-the-box thinking to the challenges of climate change and reducing CO2 emissions, then use that to demonstrate his skills for bigger jobs—defence, foreign affairs, maybe even finance. Nigel Eddington was ambitious and full of ideas. His critics felt he should sometimes focus more on the quality rather than just quantity.

Hawthorne was the most senior civil servant in the department—the Ministerial Permanent Secretary, in effect the Minister’s deputy. He was the one who could get things done—the one with the finely-tuned political antennae, someone who knew the right moment to pitch an idea to his Minister to get it accepted, or to discretely introduce doubts that would sink an undesirable one.

When he had first arrived Hawthorne had spent several weeks briefing Winter on the department’s activities, a process which had left Adam with a grudging respect for Hawthorne’s skills. What he still couldn’t decide was whether the lack of real results was down to the hard line taken by the prairie provinces, as Hawthorne claimed, or to skillful foot-dragging by Hawthorne himself.

Overall Winter feared it was going to be an uphill struggle to actually achieve anything. He hoped that the new Minister would prove him wrong.



I asked David a few questions via email and this is some of what he told me:
"I'm quite flattered by your belief that Netflix or TV might be interested in this, although I can imagine it might work quite well, now you mention it. However I have no contacts in that world at all, and no clue where to start. I had tried sending an earlier version of the book to literary agents in the UK with zero success (but they take very few new authors), and frankly I think it would be almost impossible to get the attention of film agents unless it had first proven a success as a book. So if you have any contacts in that world I'm definitely open to introductions and suggestions!"
I replied: "I do have some contacts in that world and I will ask around."


My first question was:
1. Your humor writing and dialogues are superb. Where does your humor DNA come from? Any anecdotes?

DAVID MILLAR: ''I don't have any comedians in my family tree but being English I was brought up on a national diet of dry humor. 'Yes Minster' and 'Fawlty Towers' were particular favorites. So when I decided to write a story that explored the reasons governments are clearly so reluctant to take the action needed to combat climate change, the techniques of obfuscation, delay and diversion made famous by 'Yes Minister' was an obvious plot choice.''

2. Your novel would make a great comic tv series for Netflix or hulu etc. A la BBC series YES MINISTER. Any nibbles yet? Do you have an agent reaching out to them yet?
DAVID: "I agree the story might make good TV but I don't have an agent. I think it will need to succeed as a novel first before one would be interested."

3. Has anyone at BBC heard that Eddington and Hawthorne are surnames paying respect to to the UK actors who played jim hacker and sir Humphries in YES MINISTER?
DAVID: No. I don't think they'd mind though!  I'd hoped that people would recognize the style of 'Yes Minster', so using those two names was intended as a subtle signal to the reader that they were right.

4. What kind of publicity and PR are you doing for the book.? In Canada? And outside Canada in UK and Australia and USA? Any interest yet in translations to French or German etc?
DAVID: Generating any kind of awareness for an unknown author either self-published or with a small publisher is notoriously difficult. I've read that less than one per cent of new authors ever succeed in attracting an agent. Picking a title with the words 'climate change' in it was one deliberate choice to improve my chances of readers finding the book. Otherwise my publicity so far has just been through social media, which is by its nature pretty international, although I have focused on the UK and on Canada, where the story is set and I am based. My last book, a travelogue about Dubai, ended up as the #1 seller on Amazon about Dubai for two years, but it took a year to get there, so I suspect it will take a while to build awareness of 'The Ministry'  And no, there has been no interest in translations yet, I think it needs to succeed in English first.

5. Any personal statement you want to add, re what motivated, inspired you to write the book? Who are your favorite humorists worldwide? Samuel Marchbanks? Kurt Vonnegut? Ian Mcewan? Margaret Atwood?
DAVID: I believe climate change is going to be the dominant issue that societies face for the rest of my life and I think more needs to be done if we are to avoid its worst effects. I happen to understand the science quite well because I studied atmospheric chemistry and polar climate for my PhD (a long time ago), and I think the process of cutting carbon emissions is not as straightforward as most people realize. The response by all governments has also been slow and bureaucratic and we are clearly not going to meet the reduction targets that countries have signed up to. So I wanted to write about the contradictions and pitfalls that clearly exist yet which don't get talked about much -- but to do so in an accessible way that people will actually read it also has to be done with humor. Hence my attempt to write a satire with a bureaucratic government department which ends up in conflict with a community which is actually doing something constructive. 
...As for favorite humorists, I don't really have any favorite authors. It might sound strange but I actually prefer reading biographies -- although right now I am reading the diary of Michael Palin, one of the members of Monty Python, another great British comedy series.

1 comment:

Eliza Mood, novel 'O Man of Clay,' Stairwell Books, 2020 said...

Yes, I thought with its fast pace, cast of characters in all hues of green and none at all plus the ingenious twists and turns of plot, it would lend itself to film and 'Whiskey Galore' for the climate crisis rather than WW2 sprang to mind.