When author Helen Stringer sat down to begin work on her latest novel, PARADIGM, she had no idea exactly how prescient it would turn out to be. But the latest research in areas such as climate change and antibiotic resistance has made the world of the novel less science fiction and much more science fact.
Stringer is the daughter of renowned material scientist, Dr. John Stringer, of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, California. His insights into current research around the world were critical in developing her vision of a future world where, as she puts it, “everything we have been warned about has happened.”
“Most science fiction begins with “what if,” she explains. “My starting point for PARADIGM was, what if nobody does anything. What if we all continue to pretend that the Earth will just sort itself out? What kind of world would our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s grandchildren be living in?”
The concept for this future world began with an acrid yellow sky, which didn’t take much of a leap of imagination given the effects of unfettered pollution in countries such as China. A natural consequence of this would be a night sky without stars and with only a slight glow to indicate the presence of the moon. Stringer imagines that over time, stories of stars would come to be seen as little more than fairy tales. Coupled with this is the increasing frequency of news stories of antibiotic resistant bugs. A history buff since childhood, Stringer was all too aware of what the world was like before the discovery of antibiotics. “The biggest killer of soldiers in the centuries before World War II was not guns or arrows or siege engines, but infection.” The loss of effective antibiotic treatments could potentially lead to a massive die-off, and with fewer people around to maintain the infrastructure even the most basic of technologies would begin to disappear.
“My father began sending me articles from all his scientific journals,” says Stringer. “Study after study about the impact that we are having on many aspects of our environment.” The most recent study in the journal, Nature, projects changes in global temperatures that would be “catastrophic rather than simply dangerous,” according to lead researcher, Steven Sherwood. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agrees that the results would not be limited to changes in weather patterns, but would also exacerbate problems that already exist, such as poverty, starvation, and war.
The world of Sam Cooper, the teenage hero of PARADIGM, is also one that features the use of private armies by both giant corporations and the state, as they struggle to keep a disaffected population in check. “I really thought I was making that one up,” says Stringer. “But it turns out there are already plans in place to counter any civil unrest caused by the effects of climate change.” She points out that as long ago as 2006, the US National Security Strategy issued warnings about “Environmental destruction, whether caused by human behavior or cataclysmic mega-disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunamis. Problems of this scope may overwhelm the capacity of local authorities to respond, and may even overtax national militaries, requiring a larger international response.”
Stringer emphasizes that PARADIGM is actually an adventure story: the tale of a teenager alone in a hostile world, who survives on his wits in post-collapse America, until a visit to the walled Century City results in a split-second decision that changes everything. On the run for his life, Sam must survive corporate shock troops, young marauders who grow no older than 18, designer drugs, and romance in a violent wasteland, all set to the guttural roar of his pavement pounding '68 Pontiac GTO.
“I enjoy telling stories that are fast-paced and entertaining,” says Stringer. “But I also want them to be thought provoking. I just didn’t realize that PARADIGM would be a little less scifi and a lot more science fact by the time it reached readers’ shelves!”