Cooke’s well-developed prose drew us in from the beginning of the novel. The vivid descriptions of the nature and setting in which the characters live and battle for survival added richness to the plot and demonstrated the severity of the environment. While many people are familiar with sci-fi media, not many people are as aware of cli-fi, a genre trailblazed by Cooke through her awareness of the nature in which we live and its fragility in the face of human carelessness. The poor state of the fictional city created by Cooke demonstrates the great lengths to which humans disregard the natural state of earth in favor of a life deemed to be “better.” This sense of improvement in the quality of life proves itself to be inherently false, however, as pollution, long food lines, and children dying from the poor air conditions become the norm. Climate change to such an extreme extent is something many may scoff at and say that it is far in the future, but for people living in cities such as Beijing, China, poor air quality and its stipulations are commonplace.
A second theme we immediately noticed when developing this podcast and through our reading is the theme of motherhood, which as a presence as strong as climate change. The nuances of this motherhood create an interesting dynamic between Bea and Agnes. In the beginning of the novel when Agnes is about seven, her mother begins to have issues understanding her emotional needs and desires. The height of this misunderstanding eventually turns into pure hatred when Bea leaves the Community to return to the city after her mother has died to tend to her estate. Agnes regards her mother as being dead for the next few years while she is absent. Bea eventually returns, and the hatred Agnes feels for her mother eventually morphs into a type of misunderstood love. At the very end of the novel, when the mother and daughter separate, Agnes begins to understand the decisions of her mother and love her for who she truly is. This is especially true when she “adopts” Fern as her own daughter at the culmination of the plot.
The idea of existentialism is also at the core of this novel. The Community lives with an illusion of independence in the Wilderness, as they are beyond the bounds of confined society in the city, but, in reality, they are caged by the Rangers, who dictate where they go, what they do, how they behave, and other rules that restrict the attaining of any true freedom. While the Community is able to come to consensus on small decisions such as the rationing of food, where to camp, who is to lead, and a general code of conduct, these are minor things in the face of much greater restrictions upheld by the Rangers and the government in the city. The community is presented with just enough freedom to satiate them without them becoming dangerous in their freedom.
Our six minute podcast covers all these themes and more about The New Wilderness. You can listen to it here: https://soundcloud.com/user-165142944/a-pbl-take-cookes-the-new-wilderness.