Illustration by J N Kirchner
June 20, 2013
A book set in "Utopia" might be boring. But write about a "dystopia" -- a tragic place where everything has gone wrong -- and you've got challenge, conflict, the opportunity for heroism and a message to send your readers. J N Kirchner has written a work of dystopia, and it is all the more powerful for being so familiar. "The Seventh Traveler" does not feature the massively contending forces and finality that we find in George Orwell's classic "1984", but Kirchner has written about a world where control is out of control and survival is a matter of staying out of the way of mad people and accidents. Our world is going to hell and for people in central New York, our local area seems to be the spot where it all begins to come apart.
"The Seventh Traveler" is the story of Jakob Stone, from "a rundown and depleted manufacturing town in New York State", who has deposited a memoir in a hiding place in the hope that future generations can know what went wrong and begin to build it all back. Jakob was born in the year 2020 and was 22 when the Pacific "Ring of Fire" volcanoes exploded, polluting the planet. "The Seventh Traveler" is set in the near future and its crises ring familiar. The winter of 2042-43 was so cold along Cayuga Lake that it froze over completely, and the fires that might bring some warmth burned out of control, nearly burning down the entire city of Ithaca. Jakob has survived to help the slow process of rebuilding. But the world doesn't improve. As the story unfolds the characters must put up with an earthquake, the intrusion of a megalomanic Chinese billionaire who wants his personal Forbidden City in the Fimger Lakes, a meltdown of the world communications system and the continuing deterioration of everyday life.
I stopped to ask an older man who was boating on the lake, '"Why is everyone so upset?"
He looked at me blankly before speaking in a voice tense with emotion. "You haven't heard? There's a new organization in town, 'The Cayuga Lake Regulatory Commission." They claim to have taken ownership, or as they define it, "stewardship" of the lake from the state. They now control all water rights and claim people with lakefront property will have to pay them fees for having a dock in the water. There will be a charge for each boat, canoe or kayak used, and cottage owners will need to post a swimming license on their shoreline. We have until June 1st to comply, otherwise fines will be levied.
Life has become brutish, selfish and painful; while millions suffer others profit richly. In many cases, the evils depicted in "The Seventh Traveler" are a continuation of today's unsolved social, economic and environmental problems. The only ones who seem to have risen above the destruction are the Travelers, rootless men and women who wander among scenes of destruction with vague messages of decency and hope, "bound to a philosophy of non-materialism and nonviolence."
Joseph N. Kirchner took eight years to write "The Seventh Traveler". He lives in Johnson City and has worked as a stonemason (Jakob Stone's occupation), carpenter, artist (see above), horticulturist, musician and is also an environmental advocate and a poet, his perceptions and song lyrics published under the title "Mind Spill".
He joins WSKG's Bill Jaker to tell about his writing and the state of our world that led to "The Seventh Traveler". To join in the conversation call during the live 1:00 PM broadcast to 888/359-9754 or post a comment to OffThePage@WSKG.ORG.
J N Kirchner