I originally wrote this post for Everyday Citizen http://www.everydaycitizen.com/2008/04/bob_balmanno_writer_and_activi.html
I’ve worked in the Sunnyvale Library since I graduated from high school in 1985, and over the years I’ve noticed that many of my coworkers are aspiring writers, musicians, and artists. One of those coworkers has been working especially hard at writing novels and organizing his coworkers into an effective union. Two years ago, Bob Balmanno published September Snow, a wonderful science fiction book that combines the qualities that I admire in Bob as a person: a strong sense of storytelling and a passionate social conscience.
September Snow takes place in the year 2051 A.D. The world has been devastated by a long war that wrecked havoc on the Earth’s ecosystem, and a new religion called Gaia is being used by a malovent government to manipulate its citizens. Our main character, Tom Novak, remembers a time before the society had transformed itself, a time when people could go outside without suffering solar radiation and poisoning and citizens could think for themselves and read what they want. Tom is one of the last people to have these memories, and the independence of thought that it gives him makes him a threat to the powers that be. He eventually discovers an insurgency of people intent on overthrowing the Gaia system, and he falls in love with their leader, September Snow.
September Snow works on 2 levels. On one level, it’s an exciting science fiction adventure, filled with grand heroics as Tom, September, and a small band of insurgents battle against overwhelming odds to defeat an overarching government. On another level, September Snow is a strong indictment of the path our environmental degradation is taking our society and our planet. It talks about the depletion of the ozone layer and the destruction of various ecosystems and it’s a very timely story. I enjoyed the book on both levels.
This book reflects the heavy strain of social conscience that can be found in all aspects of Bob Balmanno’s life. In reading the bio of the book, I found out that Bob was in the Peace Corps as a young man, herding cattle in Africa. Bob was instrumental in organizing part time workers in the city of Sunnyvale to form a union and be a part of SEIU. I was secretary for 3 years for our chapter in the late 1990s, and I grew to respect the passion of Bob,and the other leaders of the group to help workers with their grievances and work out equitable and fair solutions. I didn’t do much as secretary but take notes of the meetings, but I was able to observe Bob and the other 4 leaders of the union make sure that the members were informed of the issues so that they were knowledgeable enough to make up their minds before voting. When our group negotiated with the city for a contract, I noted the amicable and businesslike way in which the union and the city negotiated. It took away a stereotype that many people have told me about unions, that they had an unreasonable antagonism towards management and didn’t take into mind the bigger picture. I found the exact opposite was true. They were firm about fighting for the rights of their members, but practical about what they could achieve.
Bob typifies the intersection of literature and activism that I respect. It’s a tradition in American literature that goes back to such writers as Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Grace Paley, and John Steinbeck. Science fiction is a genre that has had notable examples of engaging in today’s social problems through the prism of a fictional future world. Robert Heinlein’s Strangers in a Strange Land and Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 450 are but two examples of science fiction as social commentary. Bob Balmanno’s book is a worthy addition to that tradition.