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'Blew my mind': How Waubgeshig Rice's post-apocalyptic storyline became a reality

Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction — but Waubgeshig Rice was not prepared for a fictitious storyline he wrote to become reality. When news broke that a Quebec couple travelled thousands of kilometres to the fly-in community of Old Crow, Yukon, in an apparent attempt to avoid COVID-19, many people on Twitter linked it to a major storyline in Rice’s post-apocalyptic novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow.

Quebec couple who fled to Yukon to avoid COVID-19 reminiscent of Moon of the Crusted Snow

Waubgeshig Rice is a novelist and host of the CBC Radio show Up North. (ECW Press)
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Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction — but Waubgeshig Rice was not prepared for a fictitious storyline he wrote to become reality.

When news broke that a Quebec couple travelled thousands of kilometres west to the fly-in community of Old Crow, Yukon, in an apparent attempt to avoid COVID-19, many people on Twitter linked it to a major plot point in Rice's post-apocalyptic novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow.

"It kind of blew my mind — very confusing," Rice said. 

"I wrote that plot point of Moon of the Crusted Snow just as a what if, not as a how-to guide." 

Moon of the Crusted Snow follows a northern Anishinaabe community, and what happens when the power suddenly goes out. With no cell or satellite service, the community is cut off — until a new character appears: a white man who travels up to the reserve from the South, seeking refuge.

Rice, a journalist and author from Wasauksing First Nation, said at first he wasn't sure this Justin Scott character would be believable, but a conversation with a man at a house party changed that.

"We were talking about if things go down … and he out of the blue says, 'Yeah. If it all went down, if things fell apart here in the city ... the first place I'm going is to the rez,'" Rice recalled. 

The man said it was a perfect place for him to hide out, and that people in nearby reserves know how to hunt and fish. 

"I kind of thought, 'This is very presumptuous ... to think that he can just go to a rez.' But that was the sort of validation I needed to write this Justin Scott character," Rice said.

Book sees resurgence amid pandemic

The book saw initial success and is now seeing a resurgence in interest since COVID-19. Rice has taken to social media to do live videos answering questions about the book.

"I'm not meaning to capitalize in any way off this pandemic. But I do want to recognize some of the parallels," he said.

"I felt like I really owed it to a lot of readers and a lot of people who are maybe interested in the story to revisit some of those discussions."

There are many places where the book diverged from real life, but the similarities — the panic buying, the confusion, the uncertainty — were too poignant not to discuss.

In those conversations, Rice talks about how now, more than ever, people from what he calls the dominant sector of society — or a privileged way of life — need to recognize that society is much closer to crisis than we initially thought.

But for those who live in poverty or those who don't have food or housing security, constant uncertainty isn't new. 

"[People] whose worlds have already ended and who are maybe on the brink of their personal worlds ending on a regular basis ... understand just how tenuous life really is," Rice said.

If anything, I think it provides some perspective, especially for people who are from the dominant core of society.- Waubgeshig Rice

"People from those backgrounds and those experiences may be more adept to deal with something like this, whereas people who are used to the comforts of modern technology and modern luxuries are having a bit of a harder time with it.

"So, if anything, I think it provides some perspective, especially for people who are from the dominant core of society."

Fiction can often give people a window into situations from other people's perspectives, Rice said. He hopes his book can offer the perspectives of the Anishinaabe community he wrote about. 

But sometimes truth is stranger than fiction — and in the Quebec couple's case, he's hopeful it's a one-time thing.

"Don't just hop in the car and drive to any rez, thinking that's your safe haven," he said.