Most of the wilderness fiction I’ve read is historical. Last of the Mohicans, Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe, assorted American transcendentalists, – books whose authors who had the advantage of writing about places and environments that were largely unknown, unpredictable and clearly dangerous. While people still go off on adventures, exploring less known places, mobile phones and GPS make that a very different game. The places untouched by humans are far scarcer than they were two hundred years ago. And yet we have this collective attraction to the unknown, the untouched. For the greater part, fiction has replaced the wilderness with fantasy worlds, and the science fiction bid to seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly split infinitives where no one has split them before.
Anthony Nanson’s “Deep Time” is a real stand out as a piece of modern wilderness writing. It is a speculative novel, but at the same time so rooted in observation and detail, that it is able to create a sense of adventure and mystery right on the edge of human experience. Where fantasy and science fiction can tend towards the escapist, Deep Time brings us back to ourselves, to the land, to the idea of wilderness as something precious that we ought to preserve. It also, by cunning means, encourages us to look at our own time and place with fresh eyes, seeing connections and possibilities we might otherwise have missed. It delivers all of this, and more, in a fast placed action adventure plot that does not let up for some 700 pages.
I’ve head genre fiction defined as ‘everything happens and no one thinks about it’ versus literature as ‘very little happens and everyone thinks about it a great deal.’ It frequently bothers me that modern publishing often defines ‘literary’ as something dull, worthy, tediously real and lacking in pace. Very little happens. Everyone thinks about it a lot. At the same time, more creative plots and unreal settings fall into the low brow pop culture bracket, and are not to be taken seriously. Shakespeare could write about faeries, Dickens could write about ghosts and be taken seriously, but they probably wouldn’t get away with it these days.
I know that it is possible to have books with pace, action, adventure and speculative elements that are also powerful literary pieces. The quality of writing, the kind of depth that can be woven into a plot, the way in which speculation can reflect the world back more meaningfully than representation can. The unfamiliar requires us to think, to test assumptions and the boundaries of our own reality, and you just can’t achieve that by giving people the wholly familiar. Anthony Nanson has entirely proved my point, creating an entirely modern novel, with great literary depth and the kind of narrative that would readily adapt into a summer blockbuster movie. We can have books that are exciting and profound. We can have meaning and enjoyment on the same pages. We can still have wilderness, it hasn’t all gone, and we can protect what remains and recognise what we’ve got.
Deep Time is not suitable for younger readers (I’d suggest 14 and up) and I heartily recommend it as a fantastic read.
More about Anthony here – http://www.anthonynanson.co.uk/
More about Deep Time here – http://www.anthonynanson.co.uk/Deep_Time.html