🏰 AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Edward L. Rubin, author of The Heatstroke Line'

Thursday, March 9, 2017






Edward Rubin is University Professor of Law and Political Science at Vanderbilt University.  He specializes in administrative law, constitutional law and legal theory. He is the author of Soul, Self and Society:  The New Morality and the Modern State (Oxford, 2015); Beyond Camelot:  Rethinking Politics and Law for the Modern State (Princeton, 2005) and two books with Malcolm Feeley, Federalism:  Political Identity and Tragic Compromise (Michigan, 2011) and Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State:  How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons (Cambridge, 1998).  In addition, he is the author of two casebooks, The Regulatory State (with Lisa Bressman and Kevin Stack) (2nd ed., 2013); The Payments System (with Robert Cooter) (West, 1990), three edited volumes (one forthcoming) and The Heatstroke Line (Sunbury, 2015) a science fiction novel about the fate of the United States if climate change is not brought under control. Professor Rubin joined Vanderbilt Law School as Dean and the first John Wade–Kent Syverud Professor of Law in July 2005, serving a four-year term that ended in June 2009. Previously, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1998 to 2005, and at the Berkeley School of Law from 1982 to 1998, where he served as an associate dean. Professor Rubin has been chair of the Association of American Law Schools' sections on Administrative Law and Socioeconomics and of its Committee on the Curriculum. He has served as a consultant to the People's Republic of China on administrative law and to the Russian Federation on payments law. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton and his law degree from Yale.
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He has published four books, three edited volumes, two casebooks, and more than one hundred articles about various aspects of law and political theory. The Heatstroke Line is his first novel.

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About the Book:


Nothing has been done to prevent climate change, and the United States has spun into decline.   Storm surges have made coastal cities uninhabitable, blistering heat waves afflict the interior and, in
the South (below the Heatstroke Line), life is barely possible.  Under the stress of these events and an ensuing civil war, the nation has broken up into three smaller successor states and tens of tiny principalities.  When the flesh-eating bugs that inhabit the South show up in one of the successor states, Daniel Danten is assigned to venture below the Heatstroke Line and investigate the source of the invasion.  The bizarre and brutal people he encounters, and the disasters that they trigger, reveal the real horror climate change has inflicted on America.

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As a book bloggin’ and book luvin’ Princess, I’m always curious to find out how authors got the ideas for their books.  How did you come up with the idea for your book?


After hearing still another Republican leader claim that climate change is a hoax, I realized that these people allow themselves to be so shortsighted and irresponsible because they don't think this process will hurt the United States.  They believe -- despite everything that scientists are telling us -- that it will only affect places in the third world, places they don’t care about.   It occurred to me that a novel depicting how the U.S. might undergo a catastrophic decline if global warming isn't controlled might bring home the seriousness of the situation.  

As a life-long science fiction fan, I decided to set the novel in the future, a future where the Republican approach has led to environmental catastrophe, as it inevitably will if we allow it to continue.  But I also read a lot of serious literature and I wanted to write a book with real characters and realistic situations, not one of those sci-fi stories where stock figures sit around and explain the state of the world to each other. So I decided to concretize the general problem of global warming by imagining that it had led to the development of two-inch long flesh-eating insects.  This isn’t implausible, but the main point was to use these bugs as a reified symbol for all the catastrophic consequences that will result from uncontrolled climate change.  I was then able to create a main character who works as an entomologist and becomes involved in various efforts to control the bugs.



Can you tell us what your book is about?


The Heatstroke Line is a science fiction adventure story that envisions the future of the United States if we fail to take action to slow down global warming. When the action in the book begins, rising temperatures, extensive droughts and repeated storm surges on the coasts have produced so much economic and social disruption that the U.S. has broken up into small, warring principalities.  They are dominated by a more populous Canadian nation, one of the few beneficiaries of the uncontrolled global warming process.

While The Heatstroke Line belongs to the genre of post-apocalyptic science fiction, it is, as far as I know, the first such book to portray a negative future resulting from the actual threat that climate change creates, which is the increasing temperatures.  More significantly still, it differs from many other post-apocalyptic novels in that it doesn't use the envisioned disaster to clear away the modern world and tell an adventure story filled with journeys on foot, rival tribes and hand-to-hand combat. The characters are government officials, scientists and business people; the violence that punctuates the story is carried out with modern weapons or, in one case, a very contemporary torture chamber.  In other words, the book is set in a recognizably modern world.  The change is that our nation is in decline as a result of overwhelming stresses that global warming will produce if we fail to control it.


Can you tell us a little about the main characters of your book?


The main character, Daniel Danten, is an entomologist who is sent on a mission to the American South (below “the Heatstroke Line”) to combat an infestation of two-inch long flesh eating insects that have evolved and flourished in the torrid climate.  Once there, he is captured and forced to work in a laboratory that is supposedly dedicated to eradicating these insects. His captors, part of the small number of people who are clinging to life below the Heatstroke Line, turn out to be maniacal, obsessive American patriots.  Dan, a decent and extremely sincere person, is both bewildered and outraged at their behavior.  He goes back and forth between cooperation and resistance, willing to help eradicate the biter bugs but desperate to escape and get back to his family.

The second major character is an enigmatic young woman who Dan meets while he is a captive, and with whom he has a confusing and ambiguous relationship.  As it turns out, she has written a novel of her own (part of which appears in the book), filled with standard tropes of post-apocalyptic science fiction.  I use the contrast between her teenage fantasies and the world of the novel itself to underscore the reality of the dangers that the novel depicts.  The main character himself recognizes the contrast; in fact, this difference reveals the mystery of his capture to him and motivates the action that brings the novel to its close.  


If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would that be?


Write about something that you care about and that matters to you.  There is certainly a lot of pleasure for the writer -- and hopefully the reader -- in imagination and invention, but real commitment to the subject infuses the work with an essential intensity.  Don't hesitate to take risks.  Moving out of your comfort zone often means that you are moving more deeply into yourself, and that is where the real commitment to the work resides.


What would you say is one of your interesting writing quirks?


I do all my writing late at night, after midnight.  I find that I not only benefit from the absence of noise and distraction, but from the absence of daylight.  It allows me to immerse myself in the world I'm creating.  When I look up from my computer and instinctively look out the window, I don't see the sky or the trees around my house.  I see my reflection in the window  -- in other words, myself.  And that, of course, is the real source of the characters and action in my book. 


Do you hear from your readers?  What do they say?


Knowing that I wrote the book to make a point -- and also knowing that I'm an academic during the day -- people were surprised to find it entertaining.  They didn’t expect as much action, or as much violence.  Several people found the torture scene hard to read.  They all enjoyed the novel within the novel, and were struck by the way I was able to change styles and reflect the way that a precocious and introspective teenage girl might write.


What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author?


It came from my daughter, who is a very talented writer.  She’s a great kid and never gave me any trouble in my role as her parent, but she doesn't cut me any slack as a writer.  She alerted me to a number of assumptions I was making about gender, sexual orientation and social class.  I tried to defend myself by insisting that the novel took place in a future where things had moved backwards rather than forwards.  But she didn't buy it, and I wound up making a number of changes based on what she said.


What has been the best accomplishment?


Frankly, I'm not sure.  I would like to persuade some of the people who have allowed themselves to believe that climate change is a hoax to change their minds.  I think the Republican leadership would modify their irresponsible position if there was more opposition to it from their various constituencies.  As far as I can tell, though, the people who have read my book so far agree with me, and all the scientific data, about the seriousness of the problem, so I don’t know whether I’ve made any converts.


Do you Google yourself?


I try not to, but I do. 


How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?


I’m writing a second science fiction book for the same publisher.  It will also fall into the cli-fi category, but it doesn't deal with the current situation as directly.  The story takes place on a distant planet that has been colonized from Earth.  It is governed as a democracy, but the two main parties are focused on a long-standing dispute about cultural issues, and oblivious to an oncoming public health disaster.   The main character runs a French restaurant in the planet's main city, and his sister happens to have become the dictator of a smaller, neighboring planet that is threatening an invasion. 


Do you have anything specific that you would like to say to your readers?


I hope you find the book enjoyable and the two main characters engaging.  I wrote it to be entertaining, as any novel should be.  But I also hope it motivates you to think seriously about climate change, and about what we need to do to prevent it from ruining the lives of our grandchildren.  It is a difficult issue to deal with because the truly serious results will occur in the future, not in our lifetimes, but our lifetimes may be the last times when we can take action that will prevent disaster.

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