THE BOOK: Orphans of Canland
PUBLISHED IN: 2022
THE AUTHOR: Daniel Vitale
THE PUBLISHER: Strij Publishing
SUMMARY: The political and ecological horrors of a post-apocalyptic California form the backdrop for an engaging story of family, independence, and defying our own limitations. Tristan, the neurodivergent and eternally optimistic young protagonist, must confront the shocking truths about his own family’s involvement in a striking global crisis in Daniel Vitale’s debut novel Orphans of Canland (Strïj Publishing, November 15, 2022).
At the end of the twenty-first century, in the wake of complete environmental collapse, society has been reconfigured by the eco-totalitarian organization WORLD. Twelve-year-old Tristan lives in the environmental-restoration community Canland with his mother and older brother, while his high-ranking father’s two-year-long departure on a classified WORLD research assignment has strained their family’s sense of duty to one another. Tristan’s rare and life-defining medical condition makes him unable to feel physical pain, leaving him in constant danger.
Amidst heatwaves, food shortages, and a refugee crisis, Tristan relies on the people closest to him to understand the boundaries of this new, dystopian reality. But as Tristan begins to think for himself, he discovers the worst secrets his family keeps – truths that would suggest his own entanglement with the horrors enacted by Canland and WORLD. If he chooses to face this reality, then he’ll have to decide whether to save himself, his family, or the orphans of Canland.
Author Daniel Vitale’s compelling work of speculative fiction poses practical and philosophical questions which we may soon have to answer in the face of the climate crisis, through the heartbreakingly earnest voice of a neurodivergent child, a narrator fit for the near-future. Daniel “wants readers to understand that the issues the characters face in the book are issues we are already facing today,” and Orphans of Canland will be a hauntingly resonant read for anyone concerned with what it means to belong on Earth.
THE BACK STORY: –Orphans of Canland happened very slowly, and then all at once. Writing is funny like that. I’d written a few novels before this one, all of which failed in the editing stages, but I look at them as practice novels. Then the two main characters—the eternally optimistic (and borderline unfeeling) Tristan, and his frustrated, overworked, and overprotective mother, Helena—came to me in a flash.
I was in Vancouver when I first wrote the passages that became this book. I was driving through the Pacific Northwest, and I’d gone hiking in Oregon and Washington, in some of the most beautiful land on the planet. I became aware that, living in Los Angeles, my life was severely lacking the restorative effects of nature. I wondered what it would be like to put these two characters in a place where they were trying to make nature thrive, but where the damage was already done.
The book took three years to write, from the first ideas to the final edits. The research never stopped, and the whole process took about ten drafts, many of which were spent investigating the rules and philosophies of this imagined world. I kept asking myself: how would the collective trauma and despair of an environmental collapse affect something so simple as a mother teaching her child what’s right and wrong?
WHY THIS TITLE?: First thing you should know is, I’m bad at titles. I didn’t come up with Orphans of Canland until at least halfway through the writing process when, in Part Two of the book, Tristan starts spending more and more time with, well, the orphans of Canland. It’s a book about (among other things) displaced people, a diaspora, wanderers, and searchers—people without anywhere to go. And it’s Tristan’s journey to find who he is. I won’t spoil anything, but at one point he wonders what’s going to happen to the love he has to give. It seemed like a question that the orphans in the story would ask: to whom am I meant to give my love? These characters were the human heart of the book.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Hopefully lots of reasons, and hopefully because it’s good! But I’d say, if you’re at all concerned about climate change and its effects on people and society—which we may not often think about, concerned as we (rightfully) are about polar bears and the rainforest—then the book will challenge you to think more about that. It’s also about the ways in which ostensibly benevolent powers can wield technology to influence the way people think, behave, and even evolve.
But it’s not just cli-fi, or sci-fi. It’s a book about love, family, siblinghood, friendship, and defying our limitations. It’s timely, with its environmentalist messages and warnings, but it’s timeless, too, with the way the book explores what makes life worth living. Tristan is an engaging and lovable protagonist, but he doesn’t see the world for what it is. The people who seem to be helping Canland are sometimes also beholden to more sinister influences. I’m really happy I found Tristan—or that he found me—so that I could learn about this complicated world through him.
“A complicated, rich, and challenging work . . . An impressive debut that goes beneath surface issues of climate-apocalypse fiction.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A richly imagined and deeply felt novel that steers unafraid into the Big Questions.” — Ben Loory, author of Tales of Falling and Flying
“Orphans of Canland is an elegant, poetic, sprawling dreamscape. Vitale has artfully constructed a whole other world, and the inner worlds of the characters are equally vast. Touching, frightening, painfully human.” —-Elvia Wilk, author of Oval
AUTHOR PROFILE: DANIEL VITALE is a Jewish-American writer and a graduate of Amherst College. Originally from New York, he now lives in Los Angeles, where he spent his first year working in TV before writing fiction; he has also written screenplays, poetry, and songs. Former goalie of his college hockey team, Daniel now owns a hockey goalie coaching business and works with players of all ages and skill levels. His experience coaching children with autism has been particularly influential in the writing of his first novel Orphans of Canland, as has his interest in the relationship between climate change and the development of the American west. He is currently working on his second novel.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: “You can’t tackle everything there is to say about climate change in one novel, and if you could, then it’s unlikely anyone would want to read that novel. I think it’s a tendency of young authors to want their work to matter, and I’m no exception here. But I was going to have to finish it at some point, whether the book said anything important or not. I arrived at the end just by giving Tristan a bit of control over what was going to happen. I think it’s important for me to listen to my characters—they have their own voices. And, by telling a story about a kid trying to figure himself out, maybe a reader will identify with him. And maybe they’ll find they have a great deal of compassion. And maybe they’ll even connect a bit more with our natural world. None of that is up to me—so I’m excited to find out what readers love about the book. In that respect, the book is no longer mine. Good luck, Orphans of Canland! And thank you, Darrell, for welcoming the book to Snowflakes in a Blizzard!”
LOCAL OUTLETS: Vroman’s Bookstore https://www.vromansbookstore.com/search/site/Orphans%20of%20Canland
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: https://www.amazon.com/Orphans-Canland-Daniel-Vitale/dp/B0B993MYH8
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Connect with Vitale at danielvitale.com.