Sunday 31 March 2013

BEACONS:stories for our not so distant future

                                  Review by Julie Bertagna

Basking in last spring's unexpected heatwave, we joked that global warming wasn’t so bad, after all. This year, a dramatic Arctic ice melt has exported a long, bitter cold that feels like Narnia’s endless winter, where Christmas never comes. And now Arran has plunged into a mini Ice age as the jet stream that gives the UK a relatively mild climate, and makes Arran’s island climate mild enough for palm trees to line Brodick Bay, has gone awol. An email from the wonderful children’s author Alison Prince describes a snowed-in community, with emergency generators breaking down if too many washing machines are switched on at once, a scenario uncannily like a scene from post-apocalyptic fiction. Even the bees are in trouble, thanks to us, and that means we’re in big trouble too.

Having written a popular YA ‘climate change’ trilogy, I’ve been struck by the reluctance of mainstream adult publishing to explore such an urgent, imaginatively rich theme. There seems to be a nervousness about how to tackle such a big idea, how adult readers would react. So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on BEACONS, an anthology of ‘for our not so distant future’ with stories from some of my very favourite authors - Joanne Harris, AL Kennedy, Alastair Gray, Janice Galloway, Lawrence Norfolk and many more talents.  

BEACONS is an unsettling read in these times - a kaleidoscope of visions, flights of fancy and warnings; poignant, tragic, bleakly comic. In every story, urgent undercurrents tug, dislocate or rudely shove us beyond the lie that our lives are immune from the vast global changes that are already happening. Many end with the feeling of standing on a precipice - and a sense of a powerful story’s unique ability to simultaneously fire the imagination and emotions, while sparking exciting new interconnections in the neural pathways of the brain.   

These are ‘real’ horror stories about the biggest issue of our age by some of our very best writers, and for that reason BEACONS deserves to be on the shelves of every bookshop, secondary school and public library in the land; to be read, reviewed and debated widely. Yet that seems unlikely. In the same week reports suggest schools in England will have to downgrade/ erase discussion of climate change in the curriculum (though thankfully not in Scotland), Beacons' editor Gregory Norminton tweeted that no one at the BBC will touch the anthology. Has climate change literally become too hot to handle, censored, too controversial for debate? 

A few years ago, I wrote a story called The Imagineers for a 2020 project, inspired by think-tank workshops where business executives and creatives met to brainstorm future challenges. Already, in 2013, my vision of Arctic Scotland, with icebergs in the Clyde, feels all too scarily real... but what stayed with me most of all was a sense that imagineering a brave new future needs all our talents, and that stories can help us to see where we are and envision a way forward. 

Carpe diem is the old saying: seize the day. But that’s only the first part. Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero is the full quote - seize the day, putting as little trust as possible in the ones to come. 

The future is unforeseen so do not leave it to chance, is what the ancient warning means. Seize the day and do everything in your power to make your future better. 

Grab a copy of BEACONS. Slip one to a young person. In the age of social media, censorship is a fence we can all slip under. Let’s all seize the debate about our future.

As always, we’d love to hear what you think... 

*You can read my 2020 story, THE IMAGINEERS, and others, here

*BEACONS is edited by Gregory Norminton (Twitter @GDRNorminton). Buy it in your local bookshop or on Amazon here.


  1. Climate change is something we all need to be concerned about - this last week's snow proves that! What surprises me though is that adult publishing isn't interested as it's a theme that's made its way onto the screen via films such as Day After Tomorrow. Maybe it's a more acceptable subject when disguised in a disaster movie?

  2. Odd, isn't it? Writers like Margaret Atwood have tackled it but publishing seems to treat it as 'genre' - either sci-fi or YA, as if it's scared to put it out there mainstream. But I think there's an appetite in readers. I've certainly found that so with YA readers.

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