The End of the World is Surprisingly Warm—A Review of The Icelandic Accord
by Late Mitchell Warren
The dystopian novel is a familiar concept that has only become ridiculously recreated in our contemporary society, as painstakingly drawn as miniature ships, as if George Orwell’s 1984 was an instruction manual, or The Walking Dead’s apocalyptic society implosion was a testament as to the resilience of the human spirit.
The biggest joke of them all is that, of course, most human beings are dreadfully unprepared for society collapse and any fanciful wish of our self-gratifying, shaky lip narcissist culture prevailing over certain disaster is cinematic fantasy, about as realistic a scenario as Fifty Shades of Grey is a clinical study of human sexuality.
As one begins The Icelandic Accord, Karla Fetrow’s futuristic political thriller, he is left with the strong impression that this bizarro world, unlike what is seen in most sci-fi genre pieces, is an achievable future—more like a map of where world economy is heading in another hundred years.
The world hasn’t been hit by a meteor, a new ice age hasn’t brought the human race to extinction and no great Anti-Christ has risen. No zombies have been sighted and we aren’t taking vacations to the moon. However, world resources are dangerously scarce and politicians are continuing to fight, conspire, and most importantly, exchange rhetoric over what ought to be done about impending financial disaster.
In this bleak future, greed has been overtaken by a much more volatile quality of humanity—desperation. Each world power is clinging to what it has, while still making ambitious strides for world domination. In a post-apocalypse era, following a much-touted “Purge” disaster, during which much of modern convenience was burned away, the playing field has been leveled. What were once smaller-economy countries are now able to bargain with super powers, each one having access to superior technology and even some natural miracles that this now “domed” and protected society so thirstily craves.
The greatest element of the time, as one might guess, is water and the Northern Alliance made up of Iceland, Greenland and Alaska, has reservoirs that are the envy of the world, particularly among competitive world dominators like Russia, Mexico, and newly fractured countries like the North and South United States, and combined superpowers like Indo-China.
But the most interesting wild card of the world scene is The Barrens, a group of outliers that the entire world fears because they dare to live outside the protective domes of civilized society, presumably mutated from toxic levels of radiation from yesteryear. Times are getting hard, people are dying from thirst in a water-rationed world, and the time for pretty political speeches is running out. The world is on the brink of an “ice war” a pre-World War 4 catastrophe that promises to wipe out civilization slowly and cruelly, spared even the quickness of a nuclear meltdown. With covert alliances formed, and all sorts of unreasonable demands already being made, learning that there is government-backed assassin in the ranks may well be the last act of war needed to set the world ablaze.
The Ten People You Meet in Dystopia
Such a labyrinthine plot would drop and dissolve in hypotheticals without a strong set of characters and conflict to keep things moving along. Each world power is represented by an archetype of its society; what might appear to be stereotypes at first, until the reader comes to understand the very culture that creates these strong and familiar personalities in the first place.
The tough talking cowboy Troyal Barker, representing the Southern “Confederate” United States, a Republican-esque fracture of the lower forty-eight, seems like J.R. Ewing crossed with George W. Bush, and a man who espouses the spirit of Libertarianism without ever degenerating into caricature. Troyal is not merely the good old boy oil baron you might expect coming out of Texas—he’s the shrewd opportunist with a southerner’s charm, and certainly the worst nightmare of the liberal left.
Speaking of which, they are well represented by President Stanford, of the “East America”, the perennial bureaucrat doing a thankless job and answering to one too many investors, lobbyists and companies to afford an opinion of his own.
President Novograd of Russia and Ting of Indo-China are also wonderful enigmas, each one suspicious of western culture even while projecting great power in diplomacy as well as in military strength—carrying “big sticks” indeed, to the suddenly ill-equipped North American continent.
However, the most interesting characters in Fetrow’s literary Game of Risk are not the characters engaging in espionage or battling each other with political diatribes at the congressional assembly. Rather, they are the characters closest to home.
The Oyagek brothers, Tobias and Nathan, are Alaska’s leaders, and well represent the outrage and anti-corporate spirit of indigenous peoples, not just of literal Alaska but also Native North Americans of the past. Much of the conflict stems from them, as their following bravely and perhaps recklessly fights against a world that has little empathy for their suffering or antiquated lifestyles.
The mysterious Barrens leader, a mysterious Latina heroine / villainess named La Arana is more than just a proud leader and more than a subversive rebel and threat to the civilized world. She embodies a new breed of woman—an alpha female and military genius, a sort of “Chela Guevara” of the underground, not merely an escapist fantasy but perhaps also a macroevolution of modern feminism. There is also a polar opposite of La Arana in Queen Caridad, a rival to La Arana and another calculating alpha female that is just smart and strong enough to conquer an ailing world.
It’s an all-star literary cast for sure, but even with all that testosterone and estrogen in the air, the heart and soul of The Icelandic Accord is Klaus Vandeweerd, a lowly Congressman of Iceland with limited charisma, hardly any friends worth trusting, and a world of angry, thirsty dogs eyeing him like dinner they should have had yesterday.
Very much a three-dimensional character, Klaus Vandeweerd is at first glance a tragic hero, a Willy Loman-goes-into-politics type that seems to be the underdog of the story, but who’s suddenly thrust into a position of reluctant world negotiator—helping all these other loose canons through a spiraling crisis, all the while trying to solve a mystery and escape assassination himself. Klaus Vandeweerd won’t be jumping from skyscrapers or firing a bazooka any time soon—but he is very much the idealized politician people dream of electing.
What every Bernie Sanders – Donald Trump pundit wants, thinking that all it would take to save a country is a reasonable man, not owned by anyone, and with a strong sense of moral and ethical responsibility to fall back on, to save a classroom of panicking children from themselves. Klaus Vandeweerd is the elusive “honest politician”, and perhaps a great iconic figure of modern pathos and social tragedy – a lonely man that simply cannot afford the time to find a woman and settle down, not when the world constantly demands his attention.
But the most interesting angle of Klaus Vandeweerd’s face is his ambiguous heterosexuality—a feminized man coming from the most feminist country in the world, always enamored of strong women he meets, but one who seems too emotionally vacant to express himself, or even to long for a romantic happily ever after the way other men do. Klaus is indeed “The Iceman”, keeping his emotions, desires and his strategies a well guarded secret, buried under layers of warming clothes. His strange interactions with powerful women in the story were among the highlights of the book, not to mention his awkward dealings with the inquisitive reporter Beverly Strom.
In literary fiction, a great protagonist shouldn’t merely advance the plot but captivate the reader—as much by what he doesn’t reveal and doesn’t say, as what he does. Writing engrossing dialog and deep introspection without “telling” too much about the character’s mystery is indeed one of the great challenges of literary writing, and Fetrow succeeds in creating not just a great point of view but also a very real character that surely must exist one black hole over, inside another universe.
Even as Klaus represents the politician we yearn for but can never seem to get, Klaus chases after our simple happiness as products of a natural and still thriving world, desperate for just a glimpse of what we all take for granted. He is the ideal mirror reflection of the reader. When we look into the looking glass, we see our future staring back at us, and it’s never the fantasy we think we deserve.
Technique and Prose
What’s most fascinating about The Icelandic Accord is that despite its bleak dystopian setting, it is a book that is warm with emotion, heartfelt about its optimism, and stubbornly committed to the idea of pursuing, and finally finding, a sense of justice. Fetrow’s writing (observed in short stories on Subversify as well as her first novel Street Artists) has always thrived on vivid internal expression, delicious international character and geographical studies, and a laid back rural tone with cutting observations of human nature, reminiscent of Mark Twain.
In her newest book, she takes very dramatic risks in terms of political correctness, especially as she breaks down the future of western and eastern civilization in a fairly realistic assessment of resources and trade positioning, give or take one or two centuries.
Some readers may take issue with her perceptions of other countries and why some countries are clearly “victorious” over others in terms of world influence. However, the fact that so many of the major players are women (even Indo-China’s own President Ting) instead of men speaks to the whimsical audacity of the author; like Emily Bronte, she doesn’t “report” on the world that we see, but creates a new world that she sees as politically relevant to us, in five levels deep of superfluous imagination, using a few mad colors of crayons, ink and charcoal, lending gritty and surprising details we never fathomed.
That said, The Icelandic Accord is by no means an easy read. Like Michener channeling Tolstoy, she revels in the political details and covers entire chapters devoted to fictional histories and gonzo congressional hearings about Texas and the Confederate States invading Alaska, and the like. It’s brilliantly subversive, uncompromising in its surreal world-building, and it’s bound to be a book that ruffles feathers due to its political implications, not to mention a strong female presence that borders on Dianic Wicca, worship of the goddess.
It’s also the sort of thing that kids are probably going to avoid, opting for “easier reading” that caters to their short-attention spans. The publishing world simply doesn’t make books like this anymore, adventures in text; the type of book you have to research, you have to meditate on, and you really have to “warm up” your imagination before you proceed to the regiment of Fetrow’s acrobatic sentences.
It very well may be a book that ought to be accompanied by a “guide to understanding…” just so readers aren’t left scratching their heads by free-falling into an exciting new world without parachute of some sort.
The Icelandic Accord is the end of the dystopian novel because the bleak future has already arrived. And it’s refreshing as a cold glass of water to know that humanity may still be capable of solving the world’s problems through intellect and heart instead of more CGI explosions—assuming, very wishfully, that we are as sharp as Klaus Vandeweerd.