Some years back, I stumbled across Gwyneth Jones’s Bold as Love, an amazing novel that begins with the break-up of the UK and ends up replacing the royal family with rockstars while merging science fiction with fantasy.
I quickly became obsessed with the book and its world. I recall begging Gwyneth (whom I know slightly) to bring me a copy of the second book in the series, Castles Made of Sand, when she came to WisCon. I paid hardback prices to get a mass market paperback of the third book, Midnight Lamp, from AmazonUK, and bought the fourth and fifth – Band of Gypsies and Rainbow Bridge – that way as well.
I read these books and re-read them. Despite the fact that the world of these books is a dystopia – complete with ongoing climate change and governmental collapses – I wanted to live in them, which is always the mark of great books for me. It fascinates me that Jones was able to use the Camelot story so effectively – Ax, Fiorinda, and Sage, the triumvirate that ends up replacing the royal family, are Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot – while still incorporating the modern world.
As I followed the news about Brexit, I kept coming back to Bold as Love. Although the books are about the dissolution of the UK, not the EU, into its component parts, the similarities are obvious: There is major conflict with Islamic groups within in England (resolved in a brilliant way by Ax) and there are immigration pressures. And that’s just in the first book.
It’s funny. When I read Bold as Love, I was inclined to feel that dissolution of the UK was a good thing. Maybe I was inclined that way because while some of my ancestors were likely English, others were definitely Scottish, and the ones I know the most about were Irish from County Cork.
But Brexit, and what it may mean for the European Union, makes me sad. Roger Cohen’s op-ed in the NY Times summarized my feelings very well, even though I am not connected to Europe in the way that he is. I just always thought the idea of a unified Europe was a great one.
I’ve even incorporated it into my fiction; it may not be obvious, but it’s not an accident that the Solar System Union in The Weave has its headquarters in Brussels. It seemed to me that a unified Europe might well be a leading light in a future world. It’s classic in science fiction to put China in that role – as Jones eventually does in the Bold as Love series – but it seemed to me that a post-colonial Europe that had stopped having internal wars affecting the entire world might have learned from its mistakes.
Of course, the EU has plenty of flaws. The austerity programs in response to the Great Recession have caused incalculable harm in many nations. The Euro seemed like a great idea, but the reality seems to be that Germany (mostly) makes the decisions that would otherwise be made by each country’s equivalent of the US Federal Reserve. That leaves some countries in very bad shape for reasons that have little to do with their own decisions.
But the idea that one could pass through all those countries without needing visas, that one could live in different places, work in different places – all that seemed so positive to me. I have trouble with international borders, especially since I’ve read enough history to know just how arbitrary they are. I love the idea that people can go anywhere they’d like to go.
Of course, the current political climate in the United States suggests that we could fracture along similar lines. I often put such fractures in my own dystopic fiction.
I suspect that those who feel like they’re losing due to EU policies will also lose in a world in which the UK – or whatever’s left of it – decides to go it alone. (The Scots might decide to pull out of the UK if Brexit goes forward, and while it might be a pipe dream, it sure seems like a good time to consider reuniting Northern Ireland with Ireland.) Overpopulation, climate change, and radical technological changes will still leave far too many people out in the cold. Lack of cooperation among countries doesn’t solve that.
By the way, you still have to get the Bold as Love books from the UK, though fortunately they are now available as ebooks, which makes that process much easier (and cheaper). US publishers considered the stories “too English” for US audiences, even though the book titles all come from Jimi Hendrix’s work and the main characters are rockstars.
Given the amount of press Brexit is getting in the US, perhaps one of the US publishers will have a change of heart. These books make for useful reading in a fracturing age.