Meet James Tam, a serious thinker and writer based in Hong Kong, where he was born and raised before moving to Canada in the 1970s (and then back again to Hong Kong in the 1980s). He is the author of a new novel titled "Man's Last Song" and it's well worth reading. Married with two daughters, Tam was gracious enough to sit for an email interview the other day between our home office in southern Taiwan and his home office in Hong Kong.
When asked to describe his novel and its themes, Tam said: "The theme of my novel is that after decades of infertility, the human race is winding down.It sounds dystopian but ironically, the characters in the story, remnants of the human race,are also benefiting from the disappearance of humanity in some respects.Why this theme? I think over-population is one of the biggest issues affecting human well-being, if not survival, yet the denial is mind-boggling. So looking back from a sparsely populated future gives us an interesting perspective that I hope might enjoy the clarity of “hindsight”. Most people who write are driven by the same inexplicable but irrepressible urge to do so. Iʼm no exception.''
Tam said that while he does not like to be pigeonholed by literary genre, noting that in his opinion ''most books are multi-genre in my view.''"But if I have to choose one genre for 'Man's Last Song,' I think Cli Fi is actually an interesting new label, and probably the most fitting one for my book.''
Born in Hong Kong. Tam lived and studied in Canada in the 1970s and returned to Hong Kong in the mid-1980s to work as an environmental engineer. He started his own environmental engineering practice and a software company as well.Tam hopes his novel will serve as a wake up call for readers.
"As I indicated in an earlier answer above, the fact that weʼre stupidly creating a lot of unnecessary challenges for ourselves does not mean itʼd be the end of humanity," he said. "The end-time scenario in 'Manʼs Last Song' is just fictional, a possible scenario. Meanwhile,life under any circumstances can still be quite good sometimes, if we live it one day at atime. Having a longer term view of “what might happen if we donʼt smarten up” does not_mean we have to live in despair today. Taking realistic precaution is often mistaken as being 'gloomy'. That escapist attitude is in fact what gets us into deeper trouble right now. In short, if we continue the way we are, I think the chance of humans having to suffer an_extremely tough phase in the near future is quite high. But then in most of our speciesʼ history, life is tough for the absolute majority.'
Asked about his ideas or beliefs in things supernatural, Tam, ever the realist, replied: "I donʼt believe in a human-like God or Creator who pokes his nose into our silly affairs. But I like to put humans in cosmic perspective. We are but one of numerous organisms on a mediocre planet no more impressive than a grain of sand amongst all the beaches on Earth. I know some people find this sense of insignificance disturbing; but I find it calming instead. In any case, like it or not, itʼs the reality.""Nearly all our mundane worries are grossly out of proportion if we put them against the big picture of this cosmic dance," Tam continued. "The characters in 'Manʼs Last Song', having nothing better to do in their circumstances, have actually spent some time discussing this existential issue.''
When asked if he had heard of the cli fi term, for climate fiction, before, Tam said: "Yes, Iʼve heard the term Cli Fi before. A reader told me about it, and said my novel definitely belongs to that new genre. I think itʼs a very good genre, much more than a PR term. It helps to put the critical issue of climate change in peopleʼs mind."Asked how his novel might be received in Hong Kong and China in its Chinese language edition, Tam said:
"Living in severe resource and environmental pressures everyday, the Chinese are actually more sensitive and realistic about environmental issues than, say, someone living in Australia who only sees the danger conceptually. Thatʼs why China as a developing country tackles environmental issues relatively more seriously than many others. But then, the Chinese sense of pragmatic acceptance also comes into play. Everyone in the world is talking about protecting the environment while damaging it thoughtlessly, creating little if any benefit to himself and society. How can that dumb situation be stopped or reversed before it gets really unpleasant? Who should make the first move and be at a relative 'disadvantage' in the short-term? Thatʼs the big question mark."