Is the writing pen mightier than the super glue
I stood in the middle of an Extinction Rebellion protest today as they played dead in the street and
caused a mile long tailback of buses, cars and vans. Despite the obvious disruption to everyday life, I
marvelled at their dedication, courage and commitment. It got me thinking, if you want to change
the world, is there a better way than writing novels?
If you don’t know anything about Extinction Rebellion, first, where have you been, but second, they
are an activist group set up about a year ago in the UK to demand science-appropriate actions to the
climate emergency. That the world has sat on its hands for thirty years while spewing out as much
CO2 again as it had spewed the century before has not gone unnoticed.
But it has, largely, gone without a response from those that matter. Like Nero, leaders of nations
have fiddled while Rome has burned, and Extinction Rebellion, or XR as they have become known,
think it’s time we the people took matters into our own hands and forced the issue.
Which brings me back to novels. Novels have indeed changed the world. In a very literal sense, the
production of novels is an industry ranging from tree felling, to sales and marketing, to retail, digital
user experiences and not least, creativity of individuals. The world would be a very different place if
the media format of the novel had never come to pass. Millions of people would be doing entirely
But as an influence, novels have changed the world, too, but I think this is harder to quantify. Many
credit Uncle Tom’s Cabin as being the beginning of the end of slavery in the States. Others say that
1984 has acted not only as a warning of the evils of surveillance, but as a brake, too.
The horrors of war depicted in books like All Quiet On The Western Front, and Catch 22 have been
cited as influential to pacifist and anti-war movements, and Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover was
certainly responsible for bringing the censorship of the elite into sharp focus.
Yet maybe you could argue that these novels were merely mirrors to the context at the time. They
followed the zeitgeist rather than set the trend. One cannot deny the authors were visionary, but
perhaps they saw only what was already there. Novelists are supreme observers.
I hope that my own novels are cautionary tales. XYZ, the latest, is a satirical story about the
dominating and subversive effects of digital technology on society, and The Donated takes a strike at
the unthinking commercialisation of scientific knowledge. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean
Yet I cannot claim the moral high ground or courage of those risking arrest and public ire today. The
bodies in the street and the palms super-glued to windows expressed an urgency that no novel can
match, regardless of its pedigree.
But it remains to be seen what historians will make of the current crisis and what movement, novel,
political group or individual will be seen as the critical influence. I only hope it is an influence that
does not come too late, and for that, my money is on XR.