My thanks go out to publicist Helen Richardson PR, for saving me a place on this lovely Blog Tour schedule.
The world may be on a precipice but Sol, fresh from Tucson-desert rehab, finally has an answer to the question that has dogged her since childhood.
And not a moment too soon. With aviation grinding to a halt in the face of global climate meltdown, this is the last chance to connect with her absentee father, a US marine stationed in Okinawa.
To mend their broken past Sol and her lovelorn friend Kit must journey across poisoned oceans to the furthest reaches of the Japanese archipelago, a place where sea, sky and earth converge at the forefront of an encroaching environmental and geopolitical catastrophe; a place battered by the relentless tides of history, haunted by the ghosts of its past, where the real and the virtual, the dreamed and the lived, are ever harder to define.
In Dreamtime Venetia Welby paints a terrifying and captivating vision of our near future and takes us on a vertiginous odyssey into the unknown.
VENETIA WELBY – (photo copyright Chris Dawes)
Venetia studied Classics at Oxford and lived in China for a period as a tutor and journalist. She then moved to London to do a master’s in literature at King’s and she still lives there now, with her husband, son and cat.
Venetia continues to tutor abroad when she can and has recently made several trips to the former Ryukyu Kingdom, tropical Pacific islands colonised by Japan, to research her second novel, Dreamtime.
Her debut novel Mother of Darkness was published by Quartet in 2017 and her essays and short fiction have appeared in The Spectator, The London Magazine, Review 31 and anthologies Garden Among Fires and Trauma, among others.
Visit Venetia at her website
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“I was inspired by my travels as a westerner through a little understood area of Japan: Okinawa. One small island of the former Ryukyu Kingdom, it is currently host to 33 US military bases. I wanted to explore a possible future based on past and present colonial crimes there and the ecological catastrophe that threatens all tropical islands”
ARIZONA, USA. September 2035
‘So, where is he then, your dad?’ Carter’s hand is creeping towards her bony hip. Very illicit. ‘Won’t he come to your Family Week?’
Sol does not answer. She thinks about how Carter sold his house to pay for this – if that were true. Would it be worth it? This sober life?
Carter lights another cigarette, squinting. It’s still standard to chain-smoke through rehab, just as it is to treat deeply personal questions like they’re in any way acceptable. Smoking real tobacco in retro papers is something of a statement these days: we who have lived on the front line of life do not vape.
‘Meds!’ a voice yells out from the squat white complex that houses both Detox Unit and Pharmacy. Sol watches the inmates swarm to the call. One by one they swoop in to pick up their fun-size plastic pot of drugs.
Once upon a time I was like you, she thinks – but now her sad little pill pot contains only probiotics. Detox is complete and there’s no going back to the downers they gave her in the first month. She takes a drag of Carter’s cigarette instead.
“Sol, if we don’t address the past, it will be moved to constantly address us”
“People have largely stopped acknowledging the quiet death sentence upon them. They have come to accept inertia and stasis in the face of climatic catastrophe and the invading seas”
“Money is truth and her biological father loved his daughter enough to send it. He is out there somewhere. Out here. She is finally in the right place to find him. And don’t fathers need their little girls to complete them too? The strength of her own need makes it inconceivable that it could only go one way. No, it is an elastic band that binds them, can stretch across continents and oceans. Rubber is made for stretching. It won’t break”
“If you thought about the long term consequence of every action you’d never do anything at all, would you? Terrified into inertia”
“The world in your device is separate from the real world, yes, but it’s entwined on various levels – and it’s still there even when you’re not interacting with it. The spirit world is the same: it’s always there, discrete but involved”
“Older generations always want to tell their war stories, don’t they? It’s a symptom of their trauma, the compulsive need to convey it. They tell Kit it’s to prevent such things happening again, but there’s more to it than that. Committing it to narrative form is an attempt to contain it”
“Everyone knows sadness, Kit. It’s how you deal with it that counts”
“It’s standard policy for climate change refugees, y’know. People fleeing floods aren’t eligible for asylum. It’s not the same as leavings somewhere compromised by conflict”
“We are not monsters. What do we have left if not humanity?”
“A vertiginous odyssey into the unknown”
I think I can sum up my own personal take on the essence of this book in the single definitive sentence below. But to break down the story into its individual elements, components and mechanics, and to analyse the characters, their emotions, connections and actions, is going to be a much more difficult challenge. Oh! and please don’t be fooled by that gorgeous cover art, there is nothing comfortable or beautiful or serene about this storyline, apart from the writing!
“An outstanding, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, future-world work; of fantasy, cultural and literary climate fiction”
Is this small cross-section of humanity indicative of what the remains of society in the rest of the world will be like, if climate emergency becomes climate reality?
The million dollar question therefore is: Is this book ultimately, a work of fantastical fiction, a reasoned reality, or maybe a little of both? I know what I think!
Author Venetia Welby, really doesn’t pull any punches and I would ideally like to have had the scheduling capacity to read this book for a second time, in order to fully comprehend and appreciate all the intricate nuances of the language and narrative, and to digest and dissect the enormity of the actions and potential consequences of our world sleepwalking into a climate disaster, with the effects it would undoubtedly have on not only the developed world, but also the hidden pockets and corners of the planet, where human life, dignity and sanitation, are already considered to be expendable commodities, a situation which would only be made worse after a severe climatic incident, but one which we so often forget – or choose to ignore!
If, like myself, you also consider yourself to fit loosely into the category of an ‘armchair traveller’, I can guarantee that nothing will have prepared you for this gut-wrenching, horribly vivid and probably intensely accurate window, onto the new ‘normality’ of life, for a small section of the privileged new world order, versus that of just one forgotten race of people and the terrible injustices and personal conditions they are forced to endure as the pawns in a game of chess they have no chance of winning. What would have been a pleasant sojourn into the Tuscon area of Arizona and the Ryukyuan Islands off the Japanese coast, turn into a nightmare of epic proportions, which is strangely lyrical when pen is put to paper, but totally destructive in the vivid images those words conjure up. Perhaps the only sort of ‘armchair travel’ in the future, will be the virtually imagined kind that Kit and Sol are familiar with – the ‘what might have been’ version, and that may not be such a bad thing.
Man’s inhumanity to man, is vividly brought to life and seemingly has no boundaries in this small snapshot, where there only seem to be two kinds of people; those who have little or nothing, and those who take it from them. In the ‘civilized’ world, you have a ‘good’ life if you can manage to stay addicted to something – anything, so that the pain and anguish washes over you and keeps you in a state of gentle stupor. Drugs, alcohol, tobacco and even sex, anything to dull the day to day life in a climate where your coastline has disappeared under water and what is left is arid and searingly hot.
For those Ryukyuan people who live at the edge of the dumping ground for the civilised world, life after climate catastrophe, is not quite so accommodating. Not only are the outlying islands rapidly disappearing underwater with each new storm system, but the water is now so poisonous and the sea creatures so toxic and deadly, that a way of life living off the land, is now also virtually extinct. Regular epidemics of fatal illness are a fact of life, with military security ensuring that ‘sick climate migrants’ are quarantined, never to be seen again. In both oneiric worlds, shape-shifters are growing in number, as the animals begin to reclaim that which was once originally theirs, only this time they might be so dominant and strong that wresting back power from them might never be a feasible option.
It is essentially the journey of two young people, who meld these two diverse, yet all too similar societies together. After a lifetime of living in care and being abused, Sol is on a mission to discover her true roots and reconnect with a father who she has built up in her mind to be someone of almost superhuman proportions, who is just waiting for the opportunity to be reunited with his long-lost daughter. Kit has always adored and loved Sol, has her best interests at heart within his limited capabilities, and would move heaven and earth to protect her, despite being constantly rebutted by a Sol who can never really leave her past behind her.
This uniquely multi-layered, multi-genre storyline, is wonderfully textured, brutally and frighteningly intense, deep and rich in atmosphere, ever evolving and written by an author who has complete confidence in the visual imagery of her words to lift the narrative and dialogue from the pages and make it come sickeningly to life.
Venetia has created a multi-faceted cast of characters, who are totally unrelatable, who have little synergy between them, are not easy to connect with, and who spend all their waking hours desperately searching for that elusive sense of belonging and inclusion. Devoid of all heart and humour, they are emotionally starved, damaged and complex, deep but with no real depth of feeling. Raw and vulnerable, yet totally unreliable and manipulative. As a reader who was ‘listening’ to their voices, I felt no real connection to them, or between them. Living for the day, the next fix, the next shoulder to cry on, the next person to lean on. It was difficult to see how the human race was ever going to survive, if this was a genuine sample of the quality of the remaining life on earth.
Futuristic this story may have been intended, however the potential this entire scenario has to play out within Venetia’s ambitious timeline of 2035, and all things being equal, that’s within my own lifetime, is a really scary thought!
What makes reading such a joyfully wonderful experience, is that with every story, each reader is taken on a unique and individual journey towards a common outcome. A small handful of books are so difficult to define without that journey having been made, and this is one such story, so I recommend that you read this one for yourself and see where your journey leads you!
A complimentary PDF of this book for review purposes, was made available by publicist Helen Richardson PR.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!