Days Like This dystopian YA novel by Alison Stewart – climate change themes

A fair few readers of my YA novel have contacted me with questions about the kind of world that produced the dystopia that is Days Like This. Some readers are doing school projects; some just want to know.

Briefly, the novel, an original draft of which I wrote about a decade before it was published in 2011, sprang from my concern about our leaders’ lack of response to man-made global warming. Hardline business propaganda seemed then (and continues today) to discourage investment in renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal power. To this day, we continue to rely on fossil fuels, even denying clear evidence of global warming (See Abbott government’s chief business adviser Maurice Newman building a bizarre recent case for something he calls “global cooling”.)

This is despite overhwleming international scientific evidence of global warming coninuing apace during the past 18 years, the accelerated warming of the Arctic and Antarctic, ice sheet disintegration, sea level rise, ocean acidification and coral reef destruction.

So, for those interested, here is a “sense of the world” from which Days Like This evolved. It’s a bit long, so skip that parts that don’t interest you. As I was editing the book, I tried to cover all aspects to get the logic clear in my mind. This was my editor at Penguin’s idea and a good one too.

Days Like This – Sense of the world
What does the world of the book look like physically (does it resemble the Sydney of today at all?) as well as geographically (what are its boundaries)? When and how did this dystopian state come about? Was it the result of a gradual decline? Or was there one cataclysmic event? Does the world remain unstable? What are the hierarchies within the world? Who is in charge? How did they come to power? How do they enforce this power? What is their vision for an ideal world? How do they control the people in the world? Do they govern Sydney or all of Australia? How are food and resources grown and distributed? Why are children and adults affected differently by the water? How does the ‘draining’ of teenagers work? What are the benefits of it for the ruling body? A lot of this information may not end up in the book, but this gives a clear idea of the way world works.

In terms of the geographical/physical/political/hierarchical mapping, Days Like This is set in Sydney, in the first half of the 21st century, though I don’t think there’s a need to be too specific. From around the turn of the century, global warming (known in the book as “the warming”) began accelerating at a high rate world-wide. There has been a dramatic melting of ice caps, with concurrent surges in sea levels. Some low-lying countries have been inundated; some have had their sea boundaries reduced, while entire cities have disappeared.

In parts of Europe and America, and where people and countries exist in close quarters, people have become warlike in defence of their arable land, resources and water. Walls and other fortifications frequently have been used to keep out the increasing numbers of refugees. Days Like This draws on some rather chilling scenarios presented by environmentalists like Clive Hamilton and Tim Flannery:

“Sometime in the next 30 years we face significant destabilisation. Rapidly rising sea levels, maybe up to six metres. And hundreds of millions of refugees because there are whole cities going under. People will bunker down and see enemies everywhere. That tribalism, that breakdown of law and order, is to me the greatest threat.”
Environmentalist Tim Flannery interviewed in The Sydney Morning Herald, April 2007

“Australia and the United States are likely to build defensive fortresses around their countries to protect their resources from desperate outsiders and aggressive states created by rapid and unpredictable climate change. Humanity would revert to the norm of constant battles for diminishing resource. Once again, warfare would define human life.”
From Clive Hamilton’s Scorcher, The Dirty Politics of Climate Change. (Black Inc. Agenda 2007)

“Oil is running out; the climate is changing at a potentially catastrophic rate; wars over scarce resources are brewing; finally, most shocking of all, we don’t seem to be having enough ideas about how to fix any of these things.
Almost daily, new evidence is emerging that progress can no longer be taken for granted; that a new Dark Age is lying in wait for ourselves and our children . . . growth may be coming to an end. Since our entire financial order from interest rates, pension funds, insurance, to stock markets is predicated on growth, the social and economic consequences may be cataclysmic.”
Waiting for the Lights to Go Out by Bryan Appleyard (Sunday Times October 16, 2005)

Southern Australia, being more remote, has not experienced the same refugee numbers as more densely populated northern countries but dramatic change has still had dramatic outcomes.

Climate change has rendered the eastern seaboard increasingly arid. Sydney can no longer sustain its large population. Within a short period, there is not enough water, not enough land, especially with rising sea levels, either for habitation or food production. The increased temperatures also mean large-scale food production is unviable, not least because of water shortage – for the most part, food production must happen inside greenhouse facilities. Electricity consumption soars to meet human needs.

Days Like This is based on the premise that Peak Oil happens around 2015 even as global demand continues to soar. The oil price rises about 400 per cent in only three years. By 2018, the world begins to buckle under the weight of energy and commodity prices. Food and fuel prices jump, economies start nosediving, house prices collapse, stock markets crash. There are emergency summits, diplomatic initiatives, and urgent exploration efforts. Despite this, thousands of companies go bankrupt and millions become unemployed. Once-affluent cities have armies of beggars, crime rates escalate.

This scenario is based on reading people like Oxford University geologist Jeremy Leggett, author of The Empty Tank: Oil, Gas, Hot Air, and the Coming Financial Catastrophe, who wrote in a 2006 Macleans Magazine article: “Democracy will be on the run . . . economic hardship will bring out the worst in people. Fascists will rise, feeding on the anger of the newly poor and whipping up support. These new rulers will find the tools of repression – emergency laws, prison camps, a relaxed attitude toward torture – already in place, courtesy of the war on terror. And Big Oversight Number One – climate change – will be simultaneously making its presence felt with a vengeance. On the heels of their rapid financial ruin, people will now watch aghast as their food and water supplies dwindle in the face of a climate going awry. Prolonged droughts will spread, decimating harvests.”

And from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Paul Salopek in the Chicago Tribune of July 2006: “The consequences of Peak Oil would be unimaginable. Permanent fuel shortages would tip the world into a generations-long economic depression. Millions would lose their jobs as industry implodes. Farm tractors would be idled for lack of fuel, triggering massive famines. Energy wars would flare. And carless suburbanites would trudge to their nearest big box stores, not to buy Chinese made clothing transported cheaply across the globe, but to scavenge glass and copper wire from abandoned buildings.”

Peak Oil and subsequent decline is a critical factor in the Days Like This scenario though I don’t refer to it for fear of “info dumping”! And obviously there is a “suspend belief” element that must be employed for all speculative fiction.

But to provide some background info relevant to the book, the effects of a small drop in oil production are predicted to be devastating because petrochemicals are key components on not just petrol for cars but basically for everything else!

We know that in 2002, about 10 calories of fossil fuels were needed to produce one calorie of food eaten in the US – this assessment was based on the fact that every step of modern food production is fossil fuel and petrochemical powered – from oil-based agro-chemicals to commercial fertiliser derived from ammonia and natural gas to oil powered farming equipment and food transport vehicles to refrigeration for food storage.

We know that during the 1970s oil shocks, shortfalls in oil production caused the price of oil to nearly quadruple. The oil shocks that indirectly inform the Days Like This world are a new and permanent condition that, combined with warfare, extreme weather and other geopolitical factors, have the ability to cut total supply by half in seven years.

So in the world of my book, there is no more oil production, energy needs are met by the solar, wind, geothermal power but can only support a far smaller population, and the predicted catastrophic events have set the scene for the book’s dystopian society.

When Lily’s parents were young, climate change and oil shortages were the worrying issues as they are today, but had not yet accelerated. So, Sydney looked much the same as it does for us today, and still with democratically elected Federal and State governments.

However, with the abovementioned problems increasing exponentially, fear becomes a catalyst for undemocratic behaviour – the desire to protect what you have at the expense of others. The baby boomers, by virtue of numbers, still hold power. They begin to withdraw funding from programs deemed “unnecessary”.

Money is spent by necessity on maintaining the solar, wind and geothermal power infrastructure outside the city but as I said, these greener technologies can only support a vastly reduced population – those, in effect, who can pay.
As well, the technology to enable access to Sydney’s underground aquifers is developed and the water moon scenario is devised but again, only those affluent enough can afford to install the well points that are connected to the grid that draws up water regularly.

At this point, the Federal government steps down, unable to cope as do the State authorities. Nobody wants to take responsibility for a society that is rapidly descending into anarchy. In Sydney, a “caretaker” committee known as the Central Governing Committee takes control. It is made up of a faceless group of the wealthy and powerful (mostly) men – a bit I imagine like the committee of the rather elite golf club!

It is easy then to make savage cuts to programs – most involve the powerless/voiceless – the less well off and young people. Welfare and utilities subsidies are withdrawn. Health, infrastructure and education funding is withdrawn and then abolished. Schools and universities begin closing. Homelessness increases. People are hungry, desperate, unemployed and angry. The first street attacks on older people begin as mostly young people, furious at their facilities being targeted, take it out on those they hold responsible.

People who can afford it cluster into defined “affluent” areas, which we know already as “security estates”. In Sydney, these security homes with their high walls and patrolled neighbourhoods are found around the harbour (yes, I have a map!!)

The rapid warming means the water levels have risen dramatically over a short period of perhaps 15-20 years. Flatter foreshore areas and their attending houses are inundated and abandoned and barricades built at a variety of levels to hold back the water. Iconic landmarks like the Opera House have had to be walled to prevent inundation (there’s money for this!) and (electricity hungry) pumps used to keep the containment levels between the barricades water-free.

Despite efforts to make themselves immune from the have-nots, the streets become increasingly dangerous for those seen to be privileged older people. Unemployed and homeless people (many of them young), those refuges who have managed to make it across or around Australia from the desperate countries further north, people from other eastern seaboard cities, throng the streets. Violence is endemic and mostly as I said, it is perpetrated on older people who are seen to hold the power. Children are generally left alone.
Eventually, the last school closes, which is the school to which Daniel went for two years and Lily for one.

Shortly after this, the walls are erected, when Lily is 5, Daniel 6 and Alice only about 1. The wall, which encloses a fairly narrow harbour front section, stretches from North Head, across Middle Harbour to Balmoral, along Clifton Gardens, Cremorne Point, North Sydney, Greenwich (poor old Lane Cove is in the water exclusion zone!) and then across the Harbour to Birchgrove, then to Barangaroo, behind Circular Quay and including the legal and financial sector, up along Macquarie Street including Parliament House, sharply back down to Potts Point, Darling Point, Double Bay, Rose Bay and then across to the cliffs at South Head. Vaucluse and Watson’s Bay are included.

The wall, which curves inwards and so seems more to keep people in than out, is built of a (slippery) material impossible to scale though there are materials devised for maintenance purposes to grip it. Kieran, Ingie et al have some of this which they use to good effect. There is one main entrance set into the wall behind Circular Quay for trucking in food supplies from the food facilities just outside the wall. There are no other ways to exit or enter the water allotment or walled areas other than over the wall, if you can.

Lily’s first house is in Greenwich on the north shore but they are rewarded with a much better house at Potts Point after they “donate” Alice as a breeder. It doesn’t hurt either that Pym has long-term family connections to Max and his family.
After the wall goes up, suburbs outside the perimeter are abandoned. There is absolute mayhem, total anarchy to which Kieran later refers, as his family is one of the unlucky ones.

The have-nots, however are still uncomfortably close, even with the wall, so the Central Governing Committee has a swathe of houses demolished, creating a substantial no-man’s land outside the walls, which can be more properly watched.

As to how food and resources are grown and distributed, the way of the world has changed in this respect as well. The closure of businesses both large and small has turned people onto the streets and dramatically reduced the numbers making up this new-look community – I imagine only about 5000-20,000 people remain from Sydney’s initial three or four million (though again I would prefer not to be specific in the book).

The point of this is that with smaller numbers, an old-style barter system can be reintroduced with the Central Governing Committee of course holding all the power. This means that the needs of the community are very specific and in return for fulfilling their explicit functions and as long as they meet a set or stringent criteria, people are rewarded generously with adequate means for survival:

 There must be scientists who will manage the serum program/pituitary enhancing program. They also manage the program that produces the blocking agent that “breeders” must take to stop their pituitaries swelling (the chocolates that Alice is given every day). Science also produces the agent, known as “vitamins” that remaining children (Daniel and Lily) are fed. The scientists would also manage the four “Centres for Scientific Rejuvenation” (drainage facilities) that have been built within the walls – one at North Head, one near Greenwich, one at Barangaroo (east Darling Harbour) and one at South Head
 There must be medical people who manage the breeders
 There must be IT people who manage the computer technology
 Engineers and associated people who run the electricity generation and water generation technology
 Growers and processors who manage the food production facilities that exist just outside the walls (the ones that are raided by Christo/Rosemary’s community) and those working in a clothing manufacturing facility attached to the food production (synthetic materials fashioned from plastics of which there seems to be a boundless supply from which to scavenge but again, I don’t want to go there in too much detail because the word “preposterous” keeps insinuating itself)
 There are many people like Megan and Pym, Lily’s parents, who do very little as such but they earn their place within the walls by donating Daniel and Lily for serum and Alice for breeding. They also have connections like Max
 There are law enforcers who implement what the committee decrees
 If you can’t earn your keep under this barter system, either in one of the areas outlined or in the donation of your child; or if your children are deemed “genetically inferior” as Rosemary’s were, you are put out beyond the walls.
 So the committee alone decides who comes to this city and the circumstances under which they come, to paraphrase a certain former PM!

In this dysfunctional society with its warming-induced hardships, people must also deal with the fact that global warming has had geological, not just atmospheric (ie. storm and tornado) implications. As Kieran says at one point, things don’t happen in isolation. Polar ice melts change the earth’s crust (it bulges upwards) causing submarine landslides and tsunamis. There are glacial earthquakes, undersea volcanic eruptions. This explains the tsunamis.

Now to the serum project:
The serum project is a culmination of research that has been conducted since the 1990s: The new paradigm of treating ageing as a disease first started in 1991 by Dr. Daniel Rudman, an endocrinologist from the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Rudman’s landmark study about hormone replacement therapy in older men [the “men” part caught my fancy] was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Rudman stated, “We reversed 10-20 years of the aging process in older men. Fat diminished, muscle tissue and strength increased.”

The study showed that there was an increase in lean body mass, decreased body fat, increased vertebral bone density, increased exercise tolerance and endurance, improved healing and immunity, and a tremendous increase in overall well-being. This was all accomplished by the simple administration of human growth hormone (hGH). Thus Dr. Rudman’s study provided solid proof that hormonal decline itself is a major cause of ageing and that providing the elderly body with hGH, many symptoms and signs of the ageing process can be reversed.

This is what scientists attached to the Gerontology Research Centre of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Baltimore, Maryland reported in the 1990s:
“If a ‘fountain of youth’ is what you’re looking for, human growth hormone (hGH) is about as close as you’re going to get. Our patients treated with hGH have reported enhanced immune function, rapid wound healing, and decreased tremors and aches, as well as increased libido and well-being. hGH is so named because the body’s production of this hormone peaks during the intense growth spurt of adolescence. Natural production of hGH drops off gradually after the age of 20 and continues to decrease by about 14 percent each decade after. Human Growth Hormone (hGH) is secreted by the pituitary gland and is taken into the liver and converted into a protein called somatomedin-C or IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor one.) It is IGF-1 that is partially responsible for the growth hormone functions in the body. Growth hormone (somatomedin) contributes to ongoing tissue repair, healing, cell rejuvenation, bone strength, brain function, enzyme production, and the integrity of hair nails, and skin. Research indicates that daily supplementation of growth hormone may rejuvenate and reverse symptoms of the ageing process and restore a more youthful physiology and conditioning.”

(HGH produced naturally by the pituitary gland, is only available as a supplement by prescription under a doctor’s supervision. The claims for hGH are similar those for DHEA–that it will reduce signs of aging by increasing muscle, decreasing fat, and giving people a feeling of well-being and energy.

Growth hormone is a small protein molecule containing 191 amino acids in a single polypeptide chain. It is the most abundant hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. Its rate of production peaks during adolescence when accelerated growth occurs. Production rate decreases 14% every decade into old age. Generally, however, it remains in abundant supply waiting to be secreted into the body. For some cause yet to be identified, this all-important gland ceases to secrete the hormone, which tells the body to repair the cells.

By receiving decreased amounts of growth hormone over time the body begins to age. Daily secretion from the pituitary gland diminishes with age to the extent that a 60 year old man secretes 25% of the hGH secreted by a 20 year old man. Actually secretion decreases due to lack of instructions from the hypothalamus to growth hormone releasing hormones, which are, as their name implies, hormones which act to release. Adding to this already decreasing dimension is the fact that receptor sites for hGH also become desensitized after a certain age. This causes less growth hormone to be released.)

Days Like This is based on this premise. But it is taken to another level where synthetic hGH (serum) has proved to be not as effective as the real thing. The real thing is the hGH that the scientists of this new world drain from the pituitaries of young people at peak production time, which is during the intense growth spurt of adolescence, between 17 and 20. So the water also contains a substance that stimulates the pituitary in adolescents, bringing them eventually to maximum yield hormonally, enlarging and ripening it – hence the headaches that Daniel and Lily (but not Alice, a breeder) experience.

My intention is that the serum project represents what might happen when a community breaks down, when individualism is taken to extremes, when the material is valued above the spiritual and when self-interest is the dominant ethos.

The committee has achieved what it set out to do – it has excluded the less well off, it has reduced the population to a level that the available resources sustain, it has excluded people from entering the city to claim these limited resources, it has repressed troublesome young people, it has taken control of the society’s wealth (which in its basic form is represented in terms of electricity, water resources and food) and more importantly, it has found a way to hold onto power. But there is one thing these ageing baby boomers desire – a means to prolong their lives, perhaps even eternal youth.

But equally as critical as the promise of eternal youth is the fact that serum may be used as an effective means of manipulation. That is, to stabilise an unstable situation. Once the committee has gained power, it knows it may be usurped at any time. How better to stabilise the remaining governable population than to:

 Deliver drugs to the population that are desirable beyond belief due to their promise of “eternal life”. They also depress the emotions of adults, removing their maternal/paternal feelings and introducing a craving for youth and a desperate fear of ageing. I think this is important. I don’t want the “fortunate” in this dystopian world to be happy-go-lucky and loving their lives. I want them to be on as equally a grim treadmill, in a way, as their children. They have no say in this choice made for them by the committee. They are as manipulated and controlled as their own children. It’s only the few members of the committee who have total power and freedom of choice. The reader might ask what is the motivation for the elite living so long or for doing this to their children – in fact, the motivation is entirely out of their control because it is chemically-induced by what is put into the water without their permission or knowledge. I try to make their relief palpable towards the end of the book when they no longer are in this stupor and when they are free of their drug-induced craving. Even though many die without the serum, they return briefly to the people they once were – people who value their children and their community.
 Another way to stabilise the remaining (elite) population within the walls is to insist that their children be used for proscribed purposes – draining for serum or breeding purposes. How better to control the children? And by happy coincidence, also control their parents. So my intention is that this horror is actually perpetrated by a very few – those Central Governing Committee members who are older and male I’m afraid (like Max – the only one we meet). It also gives them an awful way to take advantage sexually of young women though I have toned this down a little but it’s important because it is one of the most extreme forms of control/manipulation.
 Also, as in any society controlled by the few, information is censored. So what is seen on the screens is what the committee wants people to see. References to what is happening in the world, the violence and mayhem are removed as this information may be too destabilising. References to happy communities of past days are also removed, as are references to “striving” and spiritual rather than material wealth, unwelcome history is excised (the way the committee took power and the attending violence), and of course there no reference to the serum or what happened when the walls went up – mass destruction and genocide of those less fortunate.
 Another means of control is to make the acquisition of the serum something to be earned, thus rendering it more desirable. So if you cannot afford it, if you can’t offer children or a specific service, you are turned out. This reduces the numbers that need feeding, that need to draw on available water and electricity supplies and so on.
 And finally, when children are confined to their homes (around the time Daniel is 14, Lily 13 and Alice 9) this removes them from the streets altogether where there is the risk that they may meet others and foment unrest. The people Lily sees from her slice of bathroom window are those who have come back over the wall – but she doesn’t know that then.
 Ultimately, for the privileged elite, this is a society built on fear and craving – fear of falling foul of the committee, and being turned out; fear of what is beyond the walls, fear of growing old, fear of death.

There is the issue of why Megan and Pym still seem to love Alice, despite the drugs which depresses the parental urge. You could argue that they should feel the same towards Daniel and Lily. They can’t be allowed to feel that way however because they are giving up Daniel and Lily to death, while Alice will be returned to them eventually. Her breeding potential to create new humans for both breeding and drainage makes her double valuable and their insurance policy against their own deaths.

There is also the issue of Daniel being able to last so long in the drainage facility. I like the symmetry of the year between the time of Daniel’s disappearance and Lily’s impending 17th birthday. When floaters disappear from Lily’s vision as she hangs in the draining place, they are in fact being removed for “resting” in order for their pituitaries to revitalise. They are then drained again, and then rested and so on to draw out their lifespan. It seems to Lily as she hangs there that their decline is rapid; in fact it is not as rapid as she imagines.

Of course, with the making of a new society and the formation of the serum project, there has been trial and error. Initially, the committee goes so far in its genocide that there are no longer enough people to sustain even the reduced community. This is when the breeder program is developed so that there will always be new life to tap in one form or the other (breeding or draining)

And the serum program has its problems. At first, serum is drawn from all adolescents but some of this is found to be unviable resulting in some horrifying outcomes – deformities, unrestrained ageing, and painful death. Genetic testing must identify those suitable for draining. And scientists have not yet overcome the problem of halting the ageing process once someone stops taking the serum.

The cave world: I imagine this cave to be located in the Berowra Valley which is near Hornsby about 28km from the city – about six or seven hours’ walk or less if you’re running as Kieran and those who go back inside the walls do .

If you followed the Great North Walk, or drove along the Sydney to Newcastle Freeway, you would come upon it. There are many sandstone ridges and gullies and volcanic action where cave systems might have been developed. The topography is quite rocky and therefore suitable for concealment. It was once a heavily timbered area but not as much with the warming – but there are still stands of eucalypt, swamp oak casuarina and other more hardy plants that have adapted. This area is near the Hawkesbury River and Berowra Creek, but water flows are much reduced if present at all. However these water sources would explain the presence of the underground water which the cave dwellers tap.

Christo is the one who discovered the cave system and he is its unofficial leader. The cave group grew from a rag-tag band of people who were put outside the walls and who scratched out a bare living. They had various other living places outside the walls, less secure, before Christo happened on the cave while hunting. It is a perfect place for a long-term community to set up.

Christo, an engineer, oversaw the development of the system into a proper living space with water and air movement technology. Others with farming knowledge, work on the revolutionary “land enrichment” philosophy that so enthrals Luca. (This incidentally is based on the theory developed by Mudgee farmer, Peter Andrews, who backed it up with astonishing results on ABC TV’s Australian Story. The program showed how he’d rehabilitated his once saline-riddled farm into a lush, productive property in the middle of a drought. The transformation was made all the more remarkable by the contrast to neighbouring properties, which were nothing more than dry, dusty paddocks).

The cave people scratch a living by raiding the food facilities – an exhausting process involving tracking back to the city. They also take what they can from the abandoned houses that litter Greater Sydney. They plant and harvest to the best of their ability but they are constrained by the need to stay undiscovered and but it is a poor existence materially.

It is however rich in its sense of community. Though it is not spelled out, there is a democratic system of governance. Thus, as in any democracy, you find opposing views, which are tolerated. Some people would prefer not to make sorties back to the city to try and rescue those hanging in the drainage facilities. Some would prefer not to try and disrupt the conduits that bring electric and geothermal power from hotter areas outside Sydney to the enclave.

But whatever their differences, this community is united in its rejection of the created world within the walls.

Themes:

The rise of the individual, the collapse of community: People’s inability to sacrifice in order to cut their reliance on fossil fuels and their refusal to take seriously the threat of global warming lead to dramatically diminished resources and a savagely selfish world. In Days Like This, this savage individuality finds form in the pursuit of power at the expense of community and is taken to extremes in the manipulation of people to serve the desires of a few.

Class warfare; young versus old: With money comes power. Age brings power. The retention of power must be at the expense of someone; in this case, young people and the poor. Power and material things are considered critical to happiness. They cannot however provide youth/eternal life.
Materialism: Our society tells us that only things will make us happy. This belief leads people to sacrifice family and community.

Gene Manipulation to extend life: Is it immoral to try and dramatically extend life? “We can make it socially despicable,” says bioethicist Daniel Callahan, a senior fellow at Harvard Medical School. “Just like nuclear testing, we can decide that we don’t want it.” Fellow ethicists use equally strong words about the selfishness of the endeavour. “It is evil to focus energy on trying to live longer than 80 years when many poor people now don’t live past 40,” says Audrey Chapman, director of science and human rights at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Others foresee a dangerous future where overpopulation leads to draconian rules about childbearing, and where only a favoured few are allowed to live a second century. Robert Pollack, director of science and religion studies at Columbia University, offers the reminder that one of Hitler’s favourite slogans was: “Politics is applied biology.”

Some say that to destroy death would be to destroy our own humanity. Not all agree. Says Rabbi Neil Gillman of the Jewish Theological Seminary: “God is life itself, and we are not only justified, but we are obligated to do everything we can to extend life.”

Without being too earnest, I would hope that Days Like This challenges readers to examine what they value. Is it a sense of historic and literal place, the natural environment and the dignity of the individual or is it a world that satisfies only materially?

This is not meant to be not a bleak novel but one of hope and redemption. Despite the confronting disintegration of a familiar world, I hope it tells us that there is room for a compassionate society that values decency and integrity and carries a profound belief in peoples’ essential humanity.

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About alisonstewartwriter

Alison is a writer, journalist and travel writer, born in South Africa, now living in Australia. She has had nine books published - two books for adults and seven for young people. Four of them have been translated into Italian, Danish, Dutch and Thai. Her latest project, Cold Stone Soup, an unpublished memoir about growing up under apartheid and migrating to Australia has won the FAW 2013 National Literary Awards (Jim Hamilton Award for a non-fiction manuscript). Cold Stone Soup was also runner-up in the 2010 Penguin/Varuna Scholarship. Her first book for adults, Born Into the Country (Justified Press 1988, South Africa) was shortlisted for the 1987 AA Mutual Life Vita Young Writers’ Award. Heinemann Australia published her next adult novel, Bitterbloom in 1991. Her YA novel, The Wishing Moon was shortlisted for the 1995 Australian Multicultural Children’s Award and was a 1995 Children’s Book Council Notable book. Her YA dystopia, Days Like This, published by Penguin Australia was a finalist in the inaugural 2010 Amazon/Penguin Breakthrough Novel Award in the YA category. Alison worked for years as a news and feature journalist. She is now a regular travel writer for The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age and online Fairfax Media publications.
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2 Responses to Days Like This dystopian YA novel by Alison Stewart – climate change themes

  1. Marcel Mena says:

    Hi Alison Stewart, I am doing a project about your amazing novel, and I justwanted to say how much I loved reading the book. I just have a couple of questions about Pym. Is Pym a control freak? What was Pyms intention for lily?

    Like

    • Hi Marcel,
      Apologies for not replying straight away – I have just arrived home from travelling.
      Thank you for telling me that you enjoyed the book; it’s always lovely to hear this!

      I hope your project is going well. To answer your questions (and there is a spoiler alert for anyone who doesn’t want to know what happens) yes, Pym is a total control freak but he wasn’t always like this, just as Megan was not always as ineffectual and vague as she becomes. Both to a certain extent are victims themselves of the totalitarian world they inhabit. Unlike some outside the Wall, they have not had the courage to stand up against the rules of the Committee and refuse the drugs that are keeping them young, but which have also removed their humanity and natural instincts towards their children.

      As in all totalitarian societies, they have been cowed and terrified by threats of what will happen to them if they do not follow the rules. (But as they embark on the regime of “youthening” serum combined with the drugs that flatten their emotions, they simply become focussed on getting more serum, much like an addict, only far worse as absolute self-interest is the dominant remaining emotion).

      In exchange for the youth-giving serum and for safety within the Wall, they must offer their children as sacrifices. Pym’s plan for Lily is the same as for Daniel – they are “donated” so that they can be “drained” to provide the raw material for the serum. To Pym, they have simply become objects of value. Alice’s function is different and equally sinister, as you will know having read the book.

      If you want to know more about the world of Days Like This, its themes etc, please look at this post: https://alisonstewartwriter.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/days-like-this-dystopian-ya-novel-by-alison-stewart-climate-change-themes/
      It might help. But if you have any more questions, please ask as I’m only too happy to answer.
      Best wishes,
      Alison

      Like

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