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It was one of those perfect southern California afternoons, the sun peeking through a thick grove of trees, the air just a touch autumnal. I was eating lunch with the novelist TC Boyle in the backyard of his Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Montecito, the posh enclave of Santa Barbara in California where he has lived for more than two decades, raising three children with his wife of 42 years. His black puli, Ilka, played happily on the deck. "It's quite clear to me that our species is on the way out," Boyle said casually, as if the scene had grown just a little too suburban. It is the novelist's job, after all, to jostle us out of our comforts, while being entertaining - that is, to make discomfort pleasurable. Boyle has proved remarkably capable in this regard through his 26 works of fiction, which combine the zany humour of early Woody Allen with An Inconvenient Truth's concern for our collective fate. Boyle's latest novel, The Terranauts: A Novel, is set in the desert of Arizona - which, with global warming on the rise, much of California is starting to resemble. It is the story of a Biosphere 2-like experiment to prepare for the colonisation of space, giving humanity the chance to ruin another planet with Starbucks-laden strip malls. There had been encouraging news on the day I met Boyle about SpaceX, the Mars mission overseen by Tesla founder Elon Musk. "Elon Musk is a great, great, great visionary," Boyle told me. "However, I think he's mistaken. I don't think it's possible to recreate an ecosystem." Besides, Boyle mused, the class politics of space colonies are sure to be brutal to those who can't afford a ticket to get up and out. "Who's gonna be left behind to die in their own shit?" The sunny tranquillity of southern California seemed like the wrong setting for fantasies of the apocalypse. Then again, no place may be more aware of its precariousness than this state blessed by so much bounty and fraught with so much danger. In the north, wildfires were burning. Earlier that day, I had driven past Lake Cachuma, which Boyle pointed out was at only about 10 percent capacity because of California's years-long drought. And there was going to be an earthquake. Probably a tsunami too, with the occasional mudslide and windstorm to keep things interesting. "It looks pretty damn grim to me," Boyle said as we popped cubes of salty cheese into our mouths and sipped our carbonated water. "Maybe we better get some colonies going real fast." If you saw Boyle buying milk at the Montecito Village Grocery, you might think he's a former Megadeth roadie. With his red goatee and ear piercings, his rings and ever-present beret, he looks like someone who's done some real living and will tell you all about it, if you're willing to spend 40 minutes on the Santa Barbara wharf while he bums cigarettes from tourists. Boyle is the typical Californian in that he came from elsewhere, born in 1948 in Peekskill, New York, a working-class town in the Hudson Valley. His father drove a school bus; his mother was a secretary. "I come from a long line of Irish alcoholics - both my parents, my grandfather," Boyle told me after I pointed out that many of his characters indulge in alcohol, though few seem to be aware that they are slipping into addiction. "I'm writing about it because I'm whistling in the dark."
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