Mount Rainier, in Washington State, is a rugged landscape of unparalleled beauty. Anyone would want to live under her skirt, enjoying lush nature without giving up any of the luxuries of modern life. Always, of course, that this ancient volcano does not decide to reactivate itself and cause the awakening of immense monsters bloodthirsty. Years after sweeping the world with the zombies from ‘World War Z‘, Max Brooks (son of the mythical Mel Brooks) returns to bookstores with a new story,’ Involution ‘(Reservoir Books), where human beings must face their own weaknesses to survive against a hostile enemy in a natural environment that It will show how useless technology is in extreme situations, and how little we need to become the animals we have never ceased to be.
-In ‘Involution’ he cites several investigations on the existence of bigfoot, sasquatch, yeti … do you believe in their existence?
-I will believe when I see physical evidence, proof. However, I do believe that it is possible, because North America, the part of the Pacific Northwest, is an environment that could perfectly support great ape species. They have spaces, the necessary food, protection, so from a scientific point of view it is possible that the species we call sasquatch exist. In the 1970s, it was believed that we were about to discover the Sasquatch, and according to the people who entered these territories, it was believed that they would appear at any moment. If you look at Google Earth at night, you still see a lot of darkness in that area, so it is still possible, although not likely.
-Technology makes the protagonists of ‘Involution’ weaker in the face of the dangers of nature.
-Yes, technology has made us weaker, but that does not mean that it is negative. We are now speaking thanks to her, by videoconference. The problem is to become dependents without an emergency plan. I love the idea of the driverless car, but if it gets hacked I hope it has a handbrake. I have to know how to drive a car even if technology does. We cannot be so dependent that we have nothing, we must have a plan b, and the problem with the residents of Greenloop is that they were dependent on technology and had no plan b, no skills or abilities.
The problem is not depending on technology, but we do not have an emergency plan “b”
-You are a history teacher at West Point. Has contact with the military led you to worry so much about having a plan b?
-The idea of having a plan b started when I was a child. My mother knew that there were many things that could go wrong. She grew up during the great depression and I also grew up with dyslexia, so school was very problematic for me, I always needed a plan b to survive. Later, when I started working with the military, I contacted other people at the government level, and they are always working on alternatives. The military does not depend on technology, they know that it can be hacked by terrorists, and they are always working on what to do when that magic of technology pops! disappear.
-The neighbors of this idyllic community in the middle of the forest have a childish, infantilized vision of nature.
-Many environmental movements start in the city, not in rural areas. And the people of the city put their sense of morality in a natural world with which they have no contact. The inhabitants of Greenloop are city people living in nature and trying to imagine what it is like. But to understand nature you must live in it, and remember that you are a guest, not the owner, because there are parts of the natural world that, as people, can seem terrible to us. We see nature as if it were a beautiful movie, but it is not like that. To preserve nature we must respect it, and that is one of the keys to the book: how do you respect nature by obeying its rules.
-The story is a critique of societies that are turning their backs on people’s primary needs for the benefit of pure comfort.
-Technology is committed to comfort and not to a better life. Fifty years ago the great minds of society worked to improve life: they talked about having a refrigerator to be able to preserve food. There was talk of vaccines to eliminate diseases, but around the year 2000 things went wrong, and we have started to watch television on the mobile phone. During the Iraq war, which was fought for oil, our scientists should have invented something to replace oil and prevent these horrible wars, but instead what did we have? Steve Jobs with his turtleneck saying “here is your office on your mobile.” How does this help the world? Before medicine tried to cure polio, now we have viagra. I am concerned, as in ‘Involution’, that technology, ideas, are all going to promote comfort instead of looking for a better world.
Technology seeks comfort, not improving the world “
– Luckily for the residents of Greenloop, there is Mostar, the woman who knows what to do.
– Mostar is the warning of what can go wrong, you need a person who has that alarm light. I link it to the Balkan civil war because, as an American, the 90s were a time of peace and wealth, so peaceful that you could have a book like ‘Fight Club’ where you needed someone to get punched in face to feel alive. Americans are very isolationist, it seems that we are not interested in what happens in other parts of the world. And I wanted someone with a very different experience than those 90s were. To show that you think you live in a peaceful world, but that’s a bubble. There are other times when people have been killed by friends and neighbors. When we Americans look at Europe we think that you are peaceful and civilized, and that everything is fine, but no. Europeans at that time killed each other, and Mostar is that reminder that peace can be a fragile illusion.
-It is enough a few weeks of life away from the civilized world for the inhabitants of Greenloop to carry out an involution. Is it a sample of how little separates us from our ancestors?
-Things can get very ugly very quickly. In the Balkans, overnight, there were tanks in the streets, and snipers, and a genocide started suddenly. I live in Los Angeles, and I saw what happened with Rodney King, I saw colleagues rob stores and burn cars. These things don’t happen suddenly, they happen secretly, under the surface, and explode like a volcano. In ‘Involution’ I wanted to show that when things are hidden they can explode very quickly.
-In the civilized world, in Seattle, the chaos unleashed by the eruption of the Rainier volcano leads to social chaos. Is this the response of the first world when things fail?
-I try to be positive, and write about the mechanisms that keep us safe, but reminding people why we are alive. This machinery of governments, politics, science, how does it continue to function, how do we keep it solid. Because if this system does not remain solid such as bridges, education, communication, if we do not maintain this, everything will collapse. If I speak of collapse, it is to remember that we must maintain all the systems that allow us to be healthy and safe, and alive.
-In this sense, what have you thought when seeing the reaction of the West to the coronavirus?
-I was very disappointed, not in the US because I already imagined what would happen here. Even if we had a real president and not Donald Trump, I know there would be problems. The generation of the Second World War is dying, and those who have come after have so many things, money, television, that they are like spoiled children. But I am frustrated by Europeans, because you have the medical system that we Americans have always dreamed of. So I don’t know what your excuse is to explain why there have been so many deaths in Italy, Spain or the United Kingdom, what happens?
Europe has disappointed me with the coronavirus, the US is normal for a health issue to go wrong but … you? “
– Perhaps the problem in Europe is that the health system was going so well, that when it is necessary to make cuts, they are always made in it.
-You can be a victim of your own success. In health, as in national security, in the CIA, if you do your job well, no one knows what you are doing. People don’t go down the street saying “I’m very healthy”, so nobody finds out. The reason the US is behaving like this is because we have worked so well with vaccines that people no longer fear disease, do not even remember why they are healthy. They refuse to get vaccinated, and then the diseases come back.
-What the majority of the protagonists learn when facing danger, is to collaborate and develop capacities that they did not know they had. Is it possible to acquire these learnings without going through a similar trauma?
-This is a question that I ask myself, and also the army and the government, how can you teach the value of force and respect for a crisis without having to go through it? That is the great challenge for the human species, in any country or time. How do you remind children what it means to survive, because the problem, sadly, and that is human. People don’t understand how serious a crisis can be if they haven’t lived through it. If you tell someone to quit smoking, that person will not listen. But then he has cancer and he does quit smoking. Training trainers to understand emotions is important, because teachers must teach from training and not just the brain. It is not simply about giving a master class, you have to tell a good story to people, open your heart, excite them, enthuse them. And when you have his heart you will be activating the brain, you tell a story, you add real facts. If you talk about a crisis, tell it like this, it will be scary and at the same time you will be educating.
-In your previous novel, ‘World War Z’, you also face humanity against an unknown enemy who wants to kill him. What attracts you to this situation?
-I am very aware of our mortality, my childhood was shaped by that mortality, I lived many deaths around me to know how fragile life is. I have also seen how many things went wrong, not only on a personal level but in great magnitudes, as to understand the value of being prepared and being able to adapt to a crisis. You live your life and suddenly everything changes, and you must change too. But what I like the most about bigfoot, zombies or other creatures is that they allow the public to enjoy themselves without being too scared. If I were talking about a real plague instead of talking about zombies, maybe it would be excessive, if I talk about the Rainier without sasquatch, people are not too interested in it, it may be that it scares them, that it throws them back. Fiction is what protects us from that fear.