By Stan Kahn.
WingSpan Publishing, Livermore, CA. 2007. 978-1-59594-099-5. 341p. $18.00
Take some Edward Bellamy, mix it with some Ernest Callenbach, toss in some 1960s hippie era ideals and values, and sprinkle with a pinch of Orwell, Plato and other philosophers. You thus have the basic ingredients of Stan Kahn’s Y3K, a novel that looks back from 2999 to the height of the communal movement in the United States, particularly in Oregon. Like many earlier writings that have “looked back” from a new order to a time of social, economic, or political struggle, Y3K provides a view from the cusp of the next millennium of the ecological mayhem—Entropy Gaia—that took place in the early twenty-first century and the resulting evolution of a new world that embraces an environmental consciousness found in many of the communal groups of the late twentieth century. The realization of this need for change is presented early in the novel:
The incredible changes and wrenching hardships of the early 21st century made believers of the greater part of humanity. They cried “uncle,” they prayed to their various gods, they asked for and found redemption and promised, if granted survival, to treat Mother Earth a lot better from then on. (20)
The novel is primarily a statement of these ecological concerns and the thread of a plot centers on the controversy of harvesting old growth timber (i.e., trees that had grown in the past thousand years). Max, the hero and narrator of the story (much like William Weston in Callenbach’s Ecotopia), spearheads the activists—the tree-huggers of 2999, and returns to his communal roots in the Pacific Northwest to lead the opposition to this proposed centuries-old policy on logging of these forests.
Max, who is 143 as the average life span has increased to over 150 years, is a member of a group called the Exclaimers who reside on a former land claim in Southern Oregon. Through the telling of Max’s story, and his personal thoughts, Kahn not only critiques environmental issues but also reflects on communal life as it is exists in 2999 and how it is grounded in the communal lifestyle of the late twentieth century.
Kahn expresses this early in the story:
The experience of a few thousand mainstream-challenged, alternate-culture folks has over the centuries been adopted by millions. From a few “freaks,” as they self-mockingly termed themselves, began a movement that has grown very slowly but steadily until today more than 100 million people live in communal families. They span the globe and partake in a wide variety of interests, causes and social services. (20)
Communal living is at the center of the utopia in Kahn’s late 30th century world. Max reflects on this as he returns to the roots of his own communal past:
Once you overcome the little difficulties of living together, extended family life is incomparable, magic. To us anyway, it’s clearly the only way to live and undoubtedly the way of the future. No amount of wealth or power or influence could possibly equal the health and spirituality of communal living. (64)
Throughout the novel Kahn projects the lifestyle of the 1960s and 1970s communes and intentional communities, based largely on counterculture values including sex, drugs, and rock and roll (he even incorporates a quote from the Rolling Stones). One of the communal families of 2999 is called the Mystic Arts Family, a small twist from the Family of Mystic Arts that became an icon of the hippie-era communes by being featured on the cover of Life magazine in July 1969. But it is, as he writes, “the awe and wonder of being together” that is “the forte of the communal movement” (264). He captures this repeatedly through presenting several aspects of communal life.
Kahn writes from experience as he lived on the land in Southern Oregon as a part of a communal group that itself was based on an earlier land claim. The Sunnyridge commune was founded in 1968 by a group that had come together at New Paltz State College in New York and purchased a land claim in Oregon. Kahn joined the group later so he personally is an “Exclaimer” and his reflections, couched in those of Max, are based on these experiences. He also became involved in environmental issues and ran for office on the Pacific Green Party in the 1990s. He presently resides in Cambodia and offers his views on a wide range of topics on his website at http://www.tripeast.com/ and some “rants” on his blog at http://stansrant.blogspot.com/.
Y3K is not a great work of fiction—few utopian works are. Rather like Bellamy and, to some degree, Callenbach, the novel is heavy on philosophizing and less on plot as such. Max (i.e., Kahn), like his predecessors (Julian West, William Weston and others in the genre), is repetitious in the points presented but the value of this work, like others before it, is the reflection on society at the time it was written. Kahn captures many of the concerns of the early 21st century while presenting a story of the 30th, and the timelines he presents for the Entropy Gaia experience match well those of scientists and others involved in examination of the ecological crisis confronting this planet. For readers of Communal Societies, there is also value in the reflections on communal lifestyles throughout the novel.
Although the expectation that most of those who survive the ecological crisis will revert to wearing denims and plaid flannel shirts—the “age-old costume of the Northwest forests”—is a utopian dream, the examination of communal lifestyles in general and some thinly-veiled references to specific communal experiences in the Pacific Northwest makes this work a useful part of the communal literature. If nothing else, it captures the sense that the long strange trip of the counterculture has a ways to go.
James J. Kopp
Lewis & Clark College