Students and faculty at a rural Ohio college unite against an underhanded industrial mining scheme on protected land—unaware that a larger catastrophe looms.
In this novel, Gilligan University is an enclave of multicultural, progressive thought in Appalachian southern Ohio (those cognizant of the region will recognize a disguised Ohio University). Katja Nickleby was a globe-trotting academic whose posthumously published manuscript Over the Cliff became a 21st-century Silent Spring of climate change. By 2014, her protégé (and former lover), Stefan Friemanis, is a professor at Gilligan, smitten with a female student despite the taboos of such an affair. Meanwhile, another student discovers a dirty scheme by uncouth energy tycoon Jasper Morse to secure mining rights to a small but cherished old-growth forest deeded to the college—despite Gilligan’s vow to embrace “sustainability,” not fossil fuels. DIY investigations by Stefan’s undergraduate friends find vast, Koch brothers-like fortunes hidden offshore by Morse, tentacles of corruption reaching from a Gilligan administrator to the Ohio governor and a Mafia-like cabal of Cleveland Greek Cypriots (Buckeye State shoutouts, even absurdist ones like that, abound). As events escalate to “monkey wrenching” sabotage and campus riots, the tale unfolds not only via Stefan’s journals, but also through the eyes of Hannah McGibbon, an erstwhile student now looking back from the 2030s—the drastically changed era forecast by Katja (remember her?). Bernard (Hope and Hard Times, 2010) wields a wise and skillful voice in this intricate eco-fiction, even as the narrative goes through more metamorphoses (international thriller, college-town dramedy, dystopian/sci-fi prophecy) than the volatile weather in the wounded world he invokes. Even with one climax on a literal dark and stormy night, the author’s erudite but never dry scholarly voice smooths the rough patches, including a finale/epilogue that’s like another book altogether (one of those many post-apocalypse cautionary yarns at that). Helpful essay inserts, footnotes, endnotes, and even charts and graphs present Bernard’s inconvenient truths.
A passionately cautionary eco-tainment tale that cross-pollinates an impressive garden of genres.