“We didn’t start the fire.” It was Billy Joel that said this, but in all honesty, it could be the youth of today screaming out in frustration, tired of cleaning up after their ancestors’ environmental messes. Yet, they continue to do just that. Young activists like Greta Thunberg and Jerome Foster II take on this heavy burden left to them by generations past, who won’t so much as glance in their direction — let alone listen.
Arthur Jeon’s climate thriller Snowflake centers on Ben Wallace, one of many Gen Z kids that has inherited a planet in the throes of climate chaos. The world needs to make several radical changes if humanity has any hope of surviving the environmental destruction it has caused. And when his younger sister suffers a near-fatal asthma attack as a direct result of a wildfire, Ben’s anger reaches its boiling point. He has to take action. But how?
Sure, he’s just one guy, just one insignificant “snowflake” as his school’s resident bully would say. But here’s the thing people forget about snowflakes: “alone they are weak, but when they stick together, they can become a powerful avalanche.” Ben is nothing if not determined to shake the rest of the world awake, and if that means a swift, unignorable shock to their systems, then so be it.
THE PLOT TO SAVE MOTHER EARTH
Ben Wallace is going to kill the President of the United States.
What other choice does he have? The president, whom Ben refers to as Cretin, is “drunk-driving the planet,” denying the reality of climate change and lying to the public while sitting comfortably in Big Oil’s pocket. “If you’re in a car with a drunk, you grab the wheel. You don’t ask permission, you stop him.” But Ben has reservations about killing, even if it’s for a good reason, even if it’s Cretin. And even if he does kill Cretin, will that have any impact on stopping this planetary crisis?
Cretin may be a steward of lies, but he’s only part of the problem. It takes hardly any effort to distract the entire world with lies and controversy when they’re all too eager to remain entertained and blissfully ignorant, sometimes willfully so, as the world burns around them. It’s an age where “velocity crushes veracity … when BS speeds around the world before Truth gets out of bed.” Ben doesn’t know if he can compete with that, but he knows that he has to try.
Between his photographic memory and his OCD, Ben can’t let go of the idea that killing Creatin will open the eyes of a world sleepwalking towards extinction. And time is running out. Earth’s temperature is rising, the air and water become more polluted with each passing day and people are dying.
Ben knows what he has to do. And he has a plan.
SOUNDING THE FIRE ALARM
Written as Ben’s journal, Snowflake toggles between his anxiety related to climate change and the anxiety he faces as a young person in America, capturing the conflict between an individual and his position within the global community. Ending each entry with an authentic news headline, environmental fact or philosophical quote, Jeon cements that while this story may be fiction, the crisis Ben laments is not. And his “manifesto” is an indictment of not only our current political leadership but of the complacency on the part of everyone else.
He writes, “humanity’s back is against the wall, choked by an indifferent power that will slaughter us without noticing who’s rich or poor, white or brown, sinner or saint. The climate doesn’t care if you’re socialist or capitalist. Or if you ‘believe’ in it. Or if you are just trying to live your life ignoring it … We’re not its master.”
Ben didn’t “start the fire,” and although his plans to smother its flames seem extreme, it’s clear that Ben and the generation of activists for whom he becomes shorthand have merely cranked up the volume on a siren that previous generations had placed on mute.
Rife with tension and gut-punching gallows humor, Snowflake succeeds in its portrayal of climate change as a crisis not of the distant future but of the here and now.
Want to know more? Check out our interview with the author here.