Wild Authors: Morgan Nyberg

Morgan Nyberg grew up in farming country in southern British Columbia. After graduating from the University of British Columbia he worked as a laborer for a decade before finally settling into teaching. For most of the last 30 years he has lived abroad, teaching English as a Foreign Language in Ecuador, Portugal and the Sultanate of Oman.

His first book, The Crazy Horse Suite, a verse play, was performed on the stage in New York and was broadcast on CBC Radio. Soon after that a memoir won the CBC Literary Competition. His first venture into book-length fiction, a children’s novel, Galahad Schwartz and the Cockroach Army, won Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Award. Since then he has added a further children’s novel, Bad Day in Gladland; two literary novels for adults, El Dorado Shuffle and Mr. Millennium; and the post-apocalyptic Raincoast Sagacomprising The Fixer, Since Tomorrow, Birds of Passage and Medicine. He currently lives on Vancouver Island, Canada.

interviewed Morgan Nyberg three years ago. We talked then about his Raincoast Trilogy, and at that time I had read the first two novels in the series: Since Tomorrow and Birds of Passage. Since then, Morgan has added Medicine to the series and also bumped up the order as he wrote the novella The Fixer later. We recently chatted, and Morgan explained that The Fixer is an introduction or a prequel to the trilogy (parts 2, 3, and 4). The Fixer is also free on Amazon, and as Morgan notes about this series of books, they might allow the reader “to see the very plausible effects of climate change and our reckless economic policies, as well as the ever-present threat of international pandemic.” The saga takes place mostly around futuristic Vancouver and north of there, and is a multi-generational, post-apocalyptic novel.

I think what Frederick Brooke at Goodreads wrote is a great intro to the books, particularly volume 2, which leads into the saga:

I read this book slowly on purpose, revelling in the beautiful, spare descriptions, and was totally caught up in the story from the start. I could have been reading Faulkner or Hemingway, the writing was so powerful.

The time is two generations in the future; the place is Vancouver. But you wouldn’t recognize this blasted landscape as a city, let alone as that thriving metropolis in the Pacific Northwest. Gone entirely are modern essentials like computers, cars, telephones, airplanes and electricity. Buildings are abandoned. Roads are overgrown with weeds. The world as we know it has been destroyed by a series of calamities and plagues, leaving only a few hardy bands of survivors. They go around in the mud wearing sandals made from cut-out pieces of auto tires and subsist mainly on potatoes and whatever meat they can raise or hunt.

At the center of the story is Frost, a grandfather who is a leader and a fighter and a thinker. Frost and his group of refugees and survivors conduct a war of wills against the enemy, Langley, who wants to take away his farm for its good strategic location and solidly built stone farmhouse. It is a simple story, a struggle between good and evil.

The story presents a bleak, Ballardian sense of place on one hand, and the characters’ hopes and joys on the other. The story is chilling and well-crafted, the characters highly memorable and vivid, which makes the Raincoast Saga stand out from the glut of modern-day apocalyptic fiction. I was also attracted to the saga because it’s set in a city that I consider home. Hardly recognizable in the Raincoast Saga, Vancouver and the areas north exist in a wildly altered reality. This can be tough to wrap our heads around because it’s tough to see places we love crumble, with perhaps only the sky, water, and a hint of infrastructure remaining as artifacts. I recall a scene of a bridge over the Fraser River in Since Tomorrow, and it seemed familiar, but not. When writing about place, Morgan said:

Two factors influenced the way Vancouver is represented in Since Tomorrow. One is obviously a transformation caused by economic, technological and societal breakdown as well as a major earthquake. The other is the impossibility of presenting an up-to-date picture of a rapidly changing metropolitan area. So I simplified, altered, removed, exaggerated and generally bent the setting to the demands of my narrative. Nevertheless, I assumed that local readers would recognize that “Town” is a post-collapse version of Vancouver, so I added an introductory proviso that “Some features of Greater Vancouver have been altered, removed or exaggerated.”

Morgan writes with such detail and mood that I recognized hints of home in the fractured landscape and became saddened by Vancouver in a futuristic state of collapse. I caught a glimpse of such disaster when the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup playoffs game in game seven in 2011. At that time I worked near Gastown, a historic area in Vancouver, which is near the stadium. I had hopped on the skytrain to head home before the game, at Chinatown, and saw hundreds of fans gathering for the game that night. I watched the news in horror later, as crowds, upset by the loss to the Boston Bruins, stormed the streets surrounding the stadium, rioting, looting, and breaking shop windows. They pushed and pulled; a few were injured. In one scene a couple good Samaritans tried to help a guy who was being beaten.

The riot was unexpected and consisted of what we think of as “regular” people mostly. The fine line crossed in one’s ability to be peaceful and completely destructive frightened me more than anything else. I was saddened by the collapse and the broken frames of familiar places where I worked, ate, and played. Morgan’s saga gives the area a much bigger shake-up. In the Raincoast books, the Fraser River serves as that fine line in a way, between peace and destruction. Morgan explained, about his novels:

The Fraser River (nameless in the story) has become a barrier between the relative civilization and benevolent atmosphere of Frost’s farm at the south end of Frost’s Bridge (today’s Oak Street Bridge) and the horrors of Town just north of the river. Through a kind of nostalgia for the “Good Times” the young men of the story have been given the names of old streets and districts: Granville, Oak, Pender, Steveston, etc. The young women have been given names from nature: Fire, Snow, Willow, etc. Birds of Passageis set mainly north of Town in the coastal mountains of British Columbia. Medicine plunges deep into the darkness and endless dangers of Town.

In this case, the collapse was brought on by something much larger than a lost hockey game – our destructive acts that have led to mass global warming. When I asked Morgan about writing fiction about climate change, he replied:

I imagined climate change to be one of the causes of the collapse inasmuch as climate change feeds a self-destructive economic process based on greed that, combined with a global pandemic, finally brings everything down. In my mind the major causes of the collapse are overpopulation, the rampant depletion of natural resources and the destruction of ecosystems, and the production of waste, e.g. CO2, beyond what the planet can safely carry. The more marked effects of climate change, e.g. the disappearance of fish from the river, happen after the collapse. When I wrote Since Tomorrow I did not know that post-apocalyptic was a literary genre. I was simply writing a story set in a world that seemed to be a plausible projection of today’s trends, i.e. what is waiting for us at the end of the primrose path. It scared the hell out of me and still does.

In our previous interview, I asked Morgan:

Having read a lot of novels wherein something has caused a collapse in economic systems (and ecological ones), I’ve seen all sorts of aftermaths play out. In some cases there is a dystopian sort of central governance. In others, characters are on their own and trying to adapt and survive and work together to do so. Your novel seems credible and likely: community/familial groups form and do what they can. There are a couple main leaders in Since Tomorrow: one is good and focused on survival and helping others. The other is akin to an evil overlord drug type taking advantage of others.

I don’t think we could argue against good vs. evil being a major element of any future society since it is and has been a major theme in past and present societies. But I think that in many futuristic ideologies there is almost a romantic notion that by then we will have learned from past mistakes and all work together to create some sort of more utopian society. Your book definitely seems more realistic and almost brutally raw. Can you comment on how you decided to form this post-collapse continuance of good vs. evil?

And his reply was:

Beyond what Frost and a few others are attempting to do as individuals, there is no possibility of larger social action. Everything we think of as civilized is gone. There is no government, no education, no medicine, no law, no modern technology. People live by subsistence agriculture, by bartering and by scavenging. In such a future, in every possible future, as has been the case in every epoch of the past, both good and evil will thrive. There is no reason for what started in the Garden of Eden to change simply because circumstances change.

And it is this story of the human condition that plays on, and will continue to do so, throughout the future, as long as we survive as a species. Like other authors in this series, Morgan Nyberg deals with climate change and storytelling well, presenting readers with a story that will not leave their minds any time soon – one which makes us think about our path to the future as we deal with collapse brought on by “self-destructive economic process based on greed.” Morgan is working on a fifth book currently, and I’ll be in touch about that as it comes into being.

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Dragonfly.eco.

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Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change (Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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