Monday, March 27, 2017

{Character Interview} Daniel Danten of 'The Heatstroke Line'

We’re thrilled to be talking to Daniel Danten from Edward L. Rubin, The Heatstroke Line.  It is a pleasure to have him with us today at Pimp That Character!

Thank you for your interview, Dr. Danten.  How old are you and what do you do for a living?

I’m thirty-nine years old, and I’m a research entomologist on the faculty of Mountain America University, one of the few universities left in our country, or anywhere in the former United States, after the climate change and the Second Civil War.

What would I love the most about you?

I genuinely care about people and I want to help them.  The thing I like most about being an entomologist is that I’m able to help the farmers who are suffering from insect infestations.  This has become a much more serious problem, even apart from the biter bugs, since the climate has gotten so much hotter.  So farmers really appreciate my work, and that makes me feel good.  One of the things I hated most about being held captive below the Heatstroke Line is that I didn’t know what was going on, and whether the things I was being forced to do, or had to do in order to survive, were helping or hurting other people.  And I couldn’t figure out a way to help Deborah, even though she was of such great help to me. 

What would I hate the most about you?

I guess I have to admit that I’m pedantic.  When anyone asks me something about my work – anything about insects, really – I want to tell them everything I know about the subject, and so I tend to run on until someone stops me.  I’m not usually inattentive to other people’s feelings.  I think the reason I do this is that I’m trying to convince myself that I’m really interested in what I do. I never realized this; it was Deborah who pointed out to me that I was still upset about the fact that I had to give up my real aspiration, which was to become an astronomer, and study something practical, like combatting insect infestations.  So my over-enthusiasm about my work may be a way for me to suppress my regrets.

What is the trait you most not like about yourself?

I don’t have very good judgment.  I didn’t realize this until recently, when I made some important decisions that turned out very wrong.  The worst one was thinking that I could go below the Heatstroke Line and do something about the biter bug problem.   That’s what lead to my capture -- and to Stuart’s horrible death. It made me realize how important it is to think ahead and avoid giving in to the needs of the moment.  The decisions that we make at any given time have consequences for the future, and sometimes those consequences can’t be reversed, no matter how much we regret them.

What is your greatest fear?

I’m terribly afraid for my family – everyone is so vulnerable these days.  My wife, Garenika, has seemed so fragile for the last few years, although she turned out to be much stronger than I expected when she had to be.  I’m also afraid for our society, and for all the larger things I care about. I see us losing all the admirable and gracious aspects of our culture – one by one – under the stress of climate change.   Our coastal cities are gone, our country has broken apart, most of it is no longer under democratic government, none of it is producing any art or culture, and people seem to be getting more ignorant and mean.  Things are better in Canada, where I live now, and where I’ve managed to find a relatively safe place for my family. But who knows how long that’s going to last.

Who is your best friend?

My best friend is dead.  His name was Stuart McPherson, and he was my colleague at the University.  A leading expert on American history.  He was killed – hideously tortured to death – by the people below the Heatstroke Line.  Those people are   -- were – all crazy, but the woman who killed Stuart  -- I call her the leopard woman because she was wearing a leopard print dress when she did it.  I never did find out her name.  Anyway, she was not only crazy but a vicious sadist.  I’ve wound up with a good position here at the University of South Baffin Island  -- I was lucky, in the long run – but I miss Stuart.

Do you have children?

I have three children, Joshua, Senly and Michael.  Actually, that’s not true, but I still think that way.  Michael died while I was being held captive.    He’s one of the many people who got sick as a result of the climate change.  I could see he was declining rapidly and I had a sense, when I was in captivity, that he was going to die.  Even so, it was devastating when I got back home and my wife told me he was dead.  My great regret is that I feel that I ignored him while he was alive.  That was partially because of my work, but also because he was quiet, and my other two kids have more forceful personalities.  Joshua, who’s seventeen now, is a wonderful student and a serious, mature human being –- he impresses everyone.  I used to think that he was pretty close to a perfect child, but after my own horrific experiences, I worry that he’s trying too hard and lacks a real center.  Senly is fourteen and just as smart as Josh, but she’s hooked on Phantasie and filled with cynicism – she has no ambition.   Ever since I brought Joanna home, though, she’s mellowed out a bit.  She’s great with Joanna; I don’t know how we would have managed the situation without her.  Joanna’s the daughter of the family I was placed with when I was below the Heatstroke Line.  I brought her with me when I escaped because her own family was gone.  She’s thirteen now.  So, as  I think about it, I guess I really do have three children after all.

What is your favorite weather?

My favorite weather is late Autumn, when the last leaves are falling and the air is turning crisp.  It doesn’t happen in Mountain America any more, or anywhere in the former United States, but I read a lot of nineteenth century literature and I love the scenes that are set at that time of year.  I can’t say I feel truly at home in my new position here in Canada -- at the University of South Baffin Island -- but we do get a real fall here and that’s been a pleasure for me.  When I get a chance, I go hiking with the kids -- all three of them.  Senly and Joanna complain about the cold, but they’re getting used to it.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an astronomer.  Astronomers  - -in the U.S. and other places -- had discovered a number of Earth-like planets in the years before the country broke apart as a result of the climate crisis.  I think we were on the verge of making some amazing discoveries at that time. My dream –when I was a kid -- was to pick up that kind of research again and learn about the way other civilizations had managed, and maybe did a better job than we have.  It was a childhood fantasy of course.  The climate crisis and the Second Civil War had put an end to any research of that kind more than a century ago.  So I went into entomology, one of the few areas where we’re still doing research.  That’s because it has practical uses of course – there are so many insect infestations as a result of the warmer climate.

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?

I would say goodbye to my wife and children.  I would ask them to remember me for the things that I’m proudest of –- my commitment to them, and the good I tried to do for other people.  It’s terrible to lose someone without being able to say goodbye, to be able to look into their eyes and hear their voice that one last time.  That’s what happened with Michael, who died while I was being held captive below the Heatstroke Line, and also what happened with Stuart and Deborah.  I think those who are left never get over the loss of that final chance for some sort of closure. 

About the Author

Edward Rubin is University Professor of Law and Political Science at Vanderbilt University.  He specializes in administrative law, constitutional law and legal theory. He is the author of Soul, Self and Society:  The New Morality and the Modern State (Oxford, 2015); Beyond Camelot:  Rethinking Politics and Law for the Modern State (Princeton, 2005) and two books with Malcolm Feeley, Federalism:  Political Identity and Tragic Compromise (Michigan, 2011) and Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State:  How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons (Cambridge, 1998).  In addition, he is the author of two casebooks, The Regulatory State (with Lisa Bressman and Kevin Stack) (2nd ed., 2013); The Payments System (with Robert Cooter) (West, 1990), three edited volumes (one forthcoming) and The Heatstroke Line (Sunbury, 2015) a science fiction novel about the fate of the United States if climate change is not brought under control. Professor Rubin joined Vanderbilt Law School as Dean and the first John Wade–Kent Syverud Professor of Law in July 2005, serving a four-year term that ended in June 2009. Previously, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1998 to 2005, and at the Berkeley School of Law from 1982 to 1998, where he served as an associate dean. Professor Rubin has been chair of the Association of American Law Schools' sections on Administrative Law and Socioeconomics and of its Committee on the Curriculum. He has served as a consultant to the People's Republic of China on administrative law and to the Russian Federation on payments law. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton and his law degree from Yale.
He has published four books, three edited volumes, two casebooks, and more than one hundred articles about various aspects of law and political theory. The Heatstroke Line is his first novel.

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About the Book:

Nothing has been done to prevent climate change, and the United States has spun into decline.   Storm surges have made coastal cities uninhabitable, blistering heat waves afflict the interior and, in the South (below the Heatstroke Line), life is barely possible.  Under the stress of these events and an ensuing civil war, the nation has broken up into three smaller successor states and tens of tiny principalities.  When the flesh-eating bugs that inhabit the South show up in one of the successor states, Daniel Danten is assigned to venture below the Heatstroke Line and investigate the source of the invasion.  The bizarre and brutal people he encounters, and the disasters that they trigger, reveal the real horror climate change has inflicted on America. 


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