REVIEW OF EUTERRA RISING: THE LAST UTOPIA
Reviewed by: Sig Laser for ALT Magazine, Winnipeg, Manitoba, December 2016.
“For decades before the Ruination it was feared that environmental collapse would ruin the economy. It was therefore ironic that it was an economic collapse that saved the environment. At the time, this was called a “market failure.” Today we recognize it as an ethical failure….” (The Book of Memory)
Dystopian scenarios and novels of the Mad Max variety are common in our time of pure capitalism and the dismantling of the social state. In this post Trump election period when dark times loom, Mark Burch provides us with that rarity, a utopian novel: “Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia”.
Euterra is his name for a society set some 300 years in the future which began its slow formation after an event he calls “The Ruination”, namely the collapse of modern life as we know it. There were earlier hints of turbulence but the Ruination can be dated to 2027, when the electrical grid and internet both collapsed. The essential interconnection between the two was abruptly brought to everyone’s attention. The Internet of course requires power, but equally, the complexity of modern power generation is impossible without the internet and computerization.
Euterra is physically set both on and in a huge geological formation, a Massif. Imagine an Australian Ayers Rock but many times larger and set in a temperate, perhaps Boreal location. Over approximately seven generations this edifice was hollowed out and carved into about fifty levels, providing shelter for a population of, perhaps, 10,000 Euterrans.
I first read “Euterra Rising” in manuscript during a trip to India, and having just seen the astounding Buddhist caves at Elora and Ajanta. Burch’s depiction of this complex cave habitus is completely persuasive. Over the time of its existence Euterra became a place of delicate artistry and sophisticated ecological adaptation befitting the mindful attention by Euterrans to the necessary mutual relation between humans and their environment.
But Euterra isn’t the only surviving fragment of human life. Some eleven hundred kilometres to the East is a holdover of the old pre-ruination civilization, a community known as Mainbranch, organised as an hierarchical tyranny with a small ruling oligarchy known as the Brotherhood (think Trump Cabinet?) and underlings known as Skrala, essentially slaves.
The Brotherhood resides in a menacing black cube known as HQ and Skrala live in repurposed parkades and underground ruins. Both Brotherhood and Skrala remain locked into a parasitic mindset of plundering old pre-ruination city sites for resources, primitive monoculture agriculture, and into their master/slave relationships. But the Skrala have a dream, the faintest glimmering or recollection of, Freedom, and therein lies the narrative drama.
Mark Burch is the former Director of the University of Winnipeg’s Sustainability Office and a long time teacher and practitioner of Voluntary Simplicity. The author of previous books, in this assured foray into fiction he finds another way of showing and sharing the opening to fuller individual lives and to more sustainable collective futures. The aphorisms with which he begins each chapter, from the Euterran Book of Practice and Book of Memory, are a delight and are pure Mark Burch.
As a self published novel, Euterra follows in the footsteps of 19th and early 20th century authors who were disinclined to wait for the attention of a commercial publisher and opted instead to connect directly with their audience. With a follow-up already in the hopper (“Euterra Genesis”) I’d bet that it won’t be long before “Euterra Rising” comes to the attention of a publisher and a much larger audience. You read it here first.
“Euterra Rising” is available at McNally Robinson Booksellers and Prairie Sky Books and more information can be found at www.markaburch.ca or on Facebook.
From this civilizational dead end to a future worth pursuing.
Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia
Reviewed by: Rodney Kueneman, PhD., 30 August 2016
I have always been fascinated with utopian writings and especially relish those that imagine altered social relationships rather than a sophisticated technological science fiction future. The problem with most utopias is that they have no past and imagine no real future. They suddenly appear and ensnare their human occupants in some variant of an alleged more perfect present than the one in which the reader resides.
We clearly find ourselves in a moment in history when we increasingly realize that we need a different story than the one imposed by rapacious consumer capitalist culture. We face climate chaos and will need to sequester the carbon in coal, oil and natural gas by leaving it in the ground undisturbed. This will require a transformation of our energy systems, manufacturing, and social arrangements that will be embedded in local rather than global networks. It makes clear that we will benefit from a careful winnowing of our current stock of knowledge and technologies to locate and preserve the useful wisdom compatible with a low energy future.
The unravelling and eventual demise of our current social and cultural practices is frightening to many of us. The emerging future looks more like a collapse than an opportunity to refashion our social relationships and to create a regenerative relationship with the rest of nature that is dedicated to healing the wounds and the tears humans have inflicted on the web of life. But what would this look like and how should we begin?
Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia is brimming with positive design elements that can serve as fruitful starting points for the kind of group discussions we will need if we are to transform ourselves and the way we live. This novel provides us with promising frameworks, practices and values that cover the use of common resources, the thoughtful use of human labour and imagination, alternative kin systems and governance practices, to mention a few. This tale offers a thoughtful, provocative and positive response to the coming crises driven by the need to curtail fossil fuel use while coping with the major upheavals resulting from climate chaos.
The suggested solutions are not based on technological fixes. They are sociologically and anthropologically informed and make helpful suggestions about how to build local, mindful communities of care where each of us can find a way to promote our collective good while harnessing personal energy and imagination in ways that are life affirming. If ever a book warranted a reading group or a book club, this is it. We could gather with our friends to discuss this fount of positive possibilities and begin to become the kind of community that can craft such an emergent, inspiring future. Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia is such a rich, inspiring, and fertile gift.
Review of Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia
Reviewed by: Maria Kruszewski, writer, 31 October 2016
What if you were given a superpower that would allow you to design a new world? What would your blueprint look like? What would you keep from our present way of life? What would be unnecessary? What would you add?
There’s so much dysfunction in our present society (especially the US election news these days!) that it sometimes looks like the dystopian novels my young adults read. From the disintegration of families to the breakdown of the environment, the polarization in politics to the rampant over-consumption of our earth’s resources — the hectic and harried pace of our daily existence as we know it has dragged us further and further from being soulful people who value life in all its forms. You’d think we could come up with a better plan, no?
Lucky for us, Mark A. Burch has written his own alternate society in his new novel, Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia, which is being released this week. It’s a fascinating story of the beginning of something better than life as we presently know it, a new kind of existence where people pull together, where everyone has enough, where humans cooperate with nature, and where beauty is appreciated and cultivated daily. I was fortunate to read early drafts of the story, and my initial response to Mark was, “Where is this place? I’ll be there in a heartbeat!”
Of course, Mark’s view of a simpler world is one that has resonated with me ever since I attended a 2006 workshop he gave on Voluntary Simplicity and Personal Wellness, ten years ago this month. He was kind enough then to stay in touch because his workshop filled me with many questions, and thanks to the emails that flew back and forth between us, a deep friendship formed. Mark’s desire for a world less focused on the material and more in tune with the values of simplicity and sufficiency will always ring true for people who give serious consideration to life’s purpose.
Besides being a wise man in the areas of simplicity and sustainability, Mark is also an excellent writer, having been published many times. It’s not easy to pen a good novel that teaches without being overly preachy, but there’s an abundance of fresh ideas and suspense in Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia to carry the reader through to the story’s end. Chapters begin with wisdom sayings that seem to come from sages beyond our time. The establishment of Euterra is juxtaposed with its later existence and the arrival of an “outsider” whose appearance threatens the community’s existence, making for a real page turner. And the bonus is that there’s another book in the works, if readers want more!
I would love to see this book become a best-seller, simply because it carries the seeds for many long-overdue conversations about the kind of world we really want to inhabit. We’re used to the status quo, to feeling like we have no choice but to go with the flow, but it’s past time that we begin to envision and build a better future than the one that’s coming down the pipe whether we want it or not. Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia is available via Kindle or in hard copy, with the possibility that Euterra book clubs could be the launch pad for a better world (book club resources are available on Mark’s website). For more information, see http://markaburch.ca/, or visit Euterra on Facebook and meet Nota Dorne, one of the book’s characters.
Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia
Reviewed by: James Frey, Consultant
I enjoyed reading Euterra Rising by Mark A. Burch from page one. It is stands well on two distinct legs. On the first, it is a thoroughly engaging read in terms of plot, story telling and literary merit. On the second, it provides the reader with a surprisingly developed blueprint for living. A manifesto in narrative form.
On reflection, I imagine that the story evolved this way: It began with the blueprint for living, based on the author’s experiences and imperatives (voluntary simplicity; mindfulness; the interconnectedness of all things; the perversion and “insanity” of our current system, and so on), and asked himself what a society might look like that lived for an extended period according to that blueprint. To amplify the difference between the two ways of life, he chose to mirror it with our mainstream way of life. In this sense, Euterra is the incarnation of Practice, whereas Mainbranch is the incarnation of anti-practice. It is the epitome of what we do in our current system. That the skrala at Mainbranch represent the disaffected, but nevertheless complacent 99% of our modern age is evident from the author’s description of them:
“In his time with them, Bede gathered that there was a semblance of resistance to Brotherhood control. It lacked effective leadership, which had been a hope that some held for Jaeger. Its adherents were also fractious and disorganized and thus unable to mount an effective opposition to the Brotherhood. They may even have been a minority of skrala within a majority of others who, if not actively supporting Brotherhood rule, nevertheless tolerated it in the expectation that anything different could be worse, or nothing different even existed. Perhaps most important, they harboured a great diversity of grievances but no unifying vision for any new order that might replace the Brotherhood. Since their misery was not quite complete and the Brotherhood offered just enough incentives calibrated to quell any rumblings of discontent, a precarious equilibrium was maintained. Threatening the Brotherhood hegemony might be any dream of a charismatic individual—a dream others could share—that offered an alternative to business as usual.”
In contrast to that, “right Practice” clearly represents a life lived with self, others and our environment comprising a harmonious whole. Interestingly, the author chose to gradually provide the reader with clues that this holism results in what some would deem to be “supernatural” or even “sci-fi.” However, within the context of the book (or better said, within the context of the worldview), it is not “supernatural,” but rather a fulfilment of the natural–something experienced on a higher plane of engagement with reality.
I enjoyed also Burch’s strategic incorporation of different facets of our human identity in the story. For example, we experience with Jaeger the unraveling and identification of new emotions.
“As he laid in the fading light, he realized he was experiencing a totally unfamiliar feeling, a feeling he didn’t even have a name for. Had he a different history, he might have called it well-being.”
Also well done were the excerpts at the beginning of each chapter. They served to enrich the story in three ways: (1) providing foreshadowing for each chapter; (2) giving the reader direct insights into Practice; and (3) lending a sense of historical and cultural richness to the world Burch created. Any one of these points would be sufficient reason to include them in the novel. Taken together, they’re essential.
In terms of storytelling, I think Burch also does a good job of keeping the plot moving, even as he weaves in some very complex concepts. (I should say that for anyone familiar with the ideas he discusses, they are not overly complex. I, as the only example I can speak of with any authority, didn’t feel lost even as Burch incorporated very esoteric concepts, such as “cusp.”)
Regarding the story universe, Burch does a good job of providing the reader with a sense that highly multifaceted events have occurred, without overloading them with information. In fact, Burch cleverly weaves ignorance of the past into his storyline (i.e., the Great Forgetting), reducing the need to explain away every aspect of the past. Also good is that Burch used a fairly simple catalyst (electrical grid failures) as a means for precipitating the Ruination (a great term in a long list of great terms, by the way). An overly complicated, or overly far-fetched, catalyst might leave readers thinking, “That would never happen.” We are left vulnerable.
The only negative critique I could provide is probably less of a critique of this novel, than a critique of utopian fiction in general. Even as someone who abhors the current, “Mainbranch” system that our society practices, it is difficult to imagine living in Euterra without experiencing some sense of alienation. Perhaps I am too independent. Or perhaps I am simply “deluded,” as the Euterrans would put it. I can’t imagine being able to move so rapidly through the feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, greed, lust, and envy that I experience. Even as one who strives to be free of these things, they are at least uninvited familiars in my life. I recognize that if I had grown up in an environment like Euterra, perhaps I would have learned another way so thoroughly that it would have become “first nature.” But in my experience, it is not. That being said, because of the value that I place on exemplifying “Christlikeness” in my life, that first nature may be closer than it would be otherwise.
Euterra Rising Creates A New World Order
Local author tackles overconsumption in new novel
Reviewed by: Tobi Nifesion, Arts & Culture Editor, The Manitoban, 9 November 2016.
News outlets and social media updates constantly expose us to the downsides of modern civilization and the effects it could have on Generation Z. From environmental degradations, polarizing – and sometimes outrageous – political views, terrorism, and sustainability issues, the fate of our society can easily be likened to those dystopian movies and novels from the 70s – cue Logan’s Run.
In the midst of these realities, our imaginations serve as a refuge of inspiration and relief. Fortunately, Canadian author and transformational educator Mark A. Burch’s imagination has birthed a latest fictional novel, titled Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia.
Set in the 23rd century, Euterra Rising presents a utopia that speculates on what the world could be like post-internet age. It is a story of the countercultural values that could well be the norm in a future society. Following the collapse of consumer culture and a so-called ‘Great Forgetting,’ a new world develops and is founded on the bedrocks of Euterran civilization.
Burch’s Euterran civilization is neither apocalyptic nor post-apocalyptic; instead, it represents a near-apocalyptic time where current world value systems don’t hold any weight. Euterra is an intriguing time where people and communities must string together to come to grasp with their new existence and in the process, come to terms with nature.
The novel is outlined like a timeline with chapters representing a certain period in the 23rd century. This provides a unique perspective of cultural changes over time. Through strong character developments, it explores possible ways humans would survive in a world sans surplus of common resources such as fossil fuels.
A plethora of refreshing ideas, plot twists, and suspense carries the reader along and through to the end of the book. The arrival of Euterra clashes with values of a former existence – the Brotherhood – and the collision of the two makes for a very strong plot.
A brilliantly written novel, Euterra Rising touches on themes of consumer culture, simplicity, and sustainability. These notions are neither easy to describe or fictionalize but, as a staunch advocate of better and stronger sustainability value systems, Burch does a good job of buttressing his views in one way or the other in this novel.
Burch, a retired director of University of Winnipeg’s Campus Sustainability Office and the former co-director of Simplicity Practice and Resource Centre, has previously published seven books on voluntary simplicity and sustainable livelihood. Euterra Rising expands on his ideals and vision for a world with lesser consumption rates.
Burch’s latest novel is compelling, intriguing, and capable of inspiring its readers’ imagination by providing a convenient escape from the realities of our trying and tiring society.
For more information, visit www.markaburch.ca
Republished with permission. The original review can be found at: http://www.themanitoban.com/2016/11/euterra-rising-creates-a-new-world-order/29736/