Fantasy Novelist Ponders Pollution, Overpopulation 

Earth's refugees populate a man-made planet in Patrick Carman's Atherton: Rivers of Fire.

A relentless onslaught of huge, elongated, articulated creatures resembling giant centipedes aims to devour every living thing on the three-tiered satellite that serves as a refuge for survivors of an Earth rendered unlivable due to pollution and overpopulation in Patrick Carman's new fantasy novel, Atherton: Rivers of Fire, which he will discuss at Dark Carnival (3086 Claremont Ave., Berkeley) on Wednesday, May 7. This second book in Carman's Atherton trilogy finds a brave young orphan striving with his friends against the monstrous horde to find the key to their wedding-cake-shaped interstellar outpost's survival.

Carman ran an advertising agency for nine years before he began feeling restless. Realizing how much he enjoyed telling stories to his two young daughters, he started writing what became 2005's The Dark Hills Divide, the first in his Land of Elyon series. He works fast: His ouevre now totals eight books, including New York Times bestsellers, and the laurels have poured in. This increased visibility has helped the Washington State-based author engage in projects aimed at improving not a future fantasy planet, but this one. In collaboration with the Seattle nonprofit Agros, Carman has bought thousands of Spanish-language books to create 25 libraries in Mexico and Central America. Deep concerns about literacy, education, and the environment spur him to visit schools constantly, talking with kids about the real effects of pollution and about the power of imagination. For this, he draws upon his own experiences: "Atherton came into being at a time when I was on a hundred-day journey away from home," muses the self-described "social butterfly" who finds solitude necessary for writing, but uncomfortable to endure. "It is where I escaped to when I found myself alone. The places in Atherton became my home away from home — the characters, my friends. For me, Atherton became a real place, an escape from the road into a world gone wild." He'd been reading Frankenstein on that journey, pondering environmental havoc every time he filled his RV's gas tank. "Atherton is a made world, forged by the mind of a madman," Carman explains.

Although its residents experienced Earth, "every inhabitant of Atherton has undergone a kind of memory retraining, leaving them under the assumption that Atherton is the only world that's ever been, the only place they've ever known." Will we forget too? 3 p.m.


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