Named one of the most anticipated books of the year by Our Culture Magazine, The Millions, and Polygon, The Last Catastrophe is a dazzling speculative story collection by Allegra Hyde, the author of Eleutheria. These stunning stories explore how humanity grapples with climate change. Tackling complex themes of how tech and “global weirding” affect our society, this revelatory collection gives us plenty of food for thought, making it the perfect choice for book clubs.
To accompany your book club meeting, Hyde has created an annotated discussion guide and playlist. She has selected a question and song inspired by each story in the collection, which is sure to spark lively debates and create an immersive musical backdrop for your group. Enjoy!
- “Mobilization” [“Road to Nowhere” – Talking Heads]
The first story in The Last Catastrophe ends with the line: “We are ready.” What do you think the collective speaker is ready for?
- “Disruptions” [“Animals Strike Curious Poses” – Prince]
A series of headlines from NationalGeographic.com serve as an epigraph for “Disruptions.” All these headlines describe examples of global weirding—a term for the ways climate change is making our weather systems, ecological systems, migration patterns, and other aspects of our natural world weirder than normal. Have you witnessed or heard about other examples of global weirding?
- “The Tough Part” [“Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” – TLC]
For the characters in “The Tough Part,” there are many tough parts, most notably the challenge of trying to save the planet’s remaining moose from extinction. When no safe haven for the moose can be found, the challenge becomes existential: the characters must live with their own sense of futility. For many of us living through the Anthropocene, this is a common feeling. Do you think it’s the toughest part?
- “Zoo Suicides” [“If I Could Turn Back Time” – Cher]
Zoos come up several times in this story collection, both directly and metaphorically. What role do you think zoos play in our society? Should they exist?
- “Afterglow” [“Tainted Love” – Soft Cell]
“Afterglow” is a story that explores how an objectively toxic presence (e.g. pollution) can also be a source of beauty (e.g. sunsets). How have you seen this paradox play out in other ways in our real world?
- “Chevalier” [“Dancing Queen” – ABBA]
At the end of “Chevalier,” Eddy tells Camilla that when she went to New York City, everyone stared at her unicorn horn—unlike in the small town of Chevalier, where no one really cared. Do you think she’s telling the truth? What does the horn signify to the two women, if anything?
- “The Future is a Click Away” [“Karma Police” – Radiohead]
A logical progression for targeted marketing—at least according to “The Future is a Click Away”—is a world in which an all-powerful Algorithm mails consumers what they need before the consumer even knows they need it. Does this story seem prescient, or still unlikely?
- “Endangered” [“The Sweet Escape” – Gwen Stefani]
“Endangered” imagines a reality in which artists are treated like endangered animals—meaning they are caged for their own protection and preservation. Do you think artists are endangered in our real world? Are there other professions or practices we might likewise see as facing possible extinction?
- “Loving Homes for Lost & Broken Men” [“Can’t Help Falling in Love” – Elvis]
In “Loving Homes for Lost & Broken Men,” there is a foster care system for wayward husbands. For all of its absurdity, did anything about this fictional scenario ring true?
- “Cougar” [“Maneater” – Nelly Furtado]
Around the world, animal habitats are being encroached upon by human activity. One consequence of such encroachment is that apex predators—cougars, polar bears, sharks—are more likely to appear in human spaces. What’s the best way to respond? Is there a case to be made for living with danger?
- “Frights” [“It’s the End of the World as We Know It” – REM]
Though there is still an opportunity for human beings to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, it is also too late to stop many of the changes already in motion on our planet. We’re losing species to extinction, we’re losing coastlines to sea level rise, and we’re losing aspects of our way of life, along with so much else. Part of coping with this disaster means bearing witness to this loss, rather than continually turning away. What’s something on this planet that you don’t want to lose?
- “Democracy in America” [“American Woman” – Lenny Kravitz]
“Democracy in America” imagines a near-future America full of speculative technological and political possibilities, but the story remains rooted in our contemporary realities, as well as in Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous 19th-century study, Democracy in America. In the past, present, and future, do you think the notion that in America “if you work hard enough, paradise can be yours” holds true?
- “Adjustments” [“Ice Ice Baby” – Vanilla Ice]
What kinds of adjustments do you see yourself making as climate change adjusts our world?
- “Colonel Merryweather’s Intergalactic Finishing School for Young Ladies of Grace & Good Nature” [“Space Oddity” – David Bowie]
In this penultimate story, the character of Karoline has the opportunity to choose whether to go along with her community’s plan for her—to marry Young Captain Jamison and head out into space to find a new home planet—or to resist these expectations, and perhaps even return to Earth. If you were in her position, what would you do?
- “The Eaters” [“Zombie” – The Cranberries]
At the end of “The Eaters,” the character of Marmalade steps out of the safety of a survivalist compound and into a swarm of hungry plant-eating zombies. She feels this is the right thing to do, despite the potential risks. What do you think happens next?