People have been, quite reasonably, asking me why I chose Cortes Island as the setting for Second Childhood. And I’m always a bit nervous answering, because of the suspicion that I’m expected to deliver a fervent declaration that Cortes is the most wonderful and beautiful of the islands in Georgia Strait (aka the Inland Sea). It is certainly a lovely place, but that’s not why I chose it.
There are two reasons, really. The first is that I am passionate about the BC coast—its rich ecology, stunning scenery, and fascinating, quirky history. This is where my roots are, and I can always find more to learn and explore. So when I write about the future, I write about our future, right here.
The second reason is that I needed a setting for my novel that fulfilled various criteria, and Cortes came closest.
It’s important to realize that BC’s Gulf Islands are all unique and very different, in both physical and human terms. Microclimates abound on this coast. So do political and social microclimates.
I was looking for an island that was large enough and had a varied enough terrain to support a small permanent population, could withstand significant sea level rise, and was far enough from Vancouver that it wouldn’t be entirely ravaged by the first waves of refugees fleeing the city during the Great Collapse of the 2040’s. And it needed a core population with enough skills, vision and social cohesion to survive and rebuild.
I think of Cortes as a hybrid island. The southern, sandy end, enjoys the Mediterranean climate that makes the Gulf islands so popular, while the northern end is much cooler, wetter and steeper (and consequently less populated). This allows Cortes to have some agriculture and some forestry, and the warm, shallow waters at the south end support oyster farms. Although it’s only 100 km from Vancouver as the kayak paddles, Cortes is not as highly developed as many other islands since it takes a full day by car (and 3 ferry rides) to get there. Ferry service only reached the island in 1969 and electricity in 1970.
The population of Cortes is diverse. It’s one of the very few islands near Vancouver to have a Native population—the Klahoose Band at Squirrel Cove. The rest of the island’s residents include the descendents of coastal pioneers, artists, artisans, writers, urban refugees, crackpots, tourists, retirees, and well-heeled summer visitors. When a bunch of woowoo lefties or evolutionary thinkers (depending on your point of view) established an organic, spiritual ‘learning centre’ on the island, it became a magnet for the yoga set.
In Second Childhood, through the eyes of David and Simon, I tried to portray some of the beauty and magic of the coast. As a child, I spend a number of summers on Savary Island—an overgrown sand bar about ten kilometers south of Cortes which is one of the most favoured vacation spots on the coast. For a child from the suburbs, it was paradise, and each summer when I watched the island recede in the wake of the huffing, ancient water taxi, it almost broke my heart.
We couldn’t afford to own a piece of that paradise—we could only rent. But really, none of us owns this world. We are only here for a short span, and the most we can do is protect and cherish it for the future generations. All future generations, not just human.
Much of the action of “Dance of Knives” is set in a lesbian bar in 22nd century Vancouver. Before I could write that, I had to ask myself: Will there still be a gay subculture in the 22nd century?
I concluded yes. First, Vancouver has the religious and social baggage of many different cultures, and all that’s not just going to disappear. Also, it seems there are always people out there who feel they need to make rules for other people’s sexual behaviour. I’d love to think that will go away, but I don’t.
And cities draw people. Growing up in a small, isolated community is always going to be difficult if you’re gay–if only because the dating opportunities are dismal. In the future Cascadia of my books, where mobility is very limited, there are still people who are strongly motivated to head for the city, even if there’s no jobs or housing for them.
The KlonDyke was set up during a global economic depression by a group of lesbian refugees who took over an abandoned building. They opened a bar downstairs and living space above, and the venture became successful enough that they were able to build their lives around it. By the time of “Dance of Knives” (forty years later), the bar has grown into a large operation, and its profits have enabled ‘SisOpp’ to build a nearby residence for several dozen families.
It’s a story of resilience, particularly the resilience of people working together. The traditional SF trope is a lone hero with a gun, but in real life people succeed because they either have or build a network of support.
We can’t shoot our way out of the trouble this planet is in. The heroes of the 21st century will be people who can inspire other people to put their energy into working together for positive goals.