How a billionaire’s plot to escape climate change fuels ‘Yours for the Taking’ – Press Enterprise

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If you had the chance to escape the ravages of climate change by permanently joining a community separated from the outside world, would you take it? You’d be safe from uncertainty, poverty, hard living and the high risk of death. But you’d leave behind everyone you know and love – while not knowing what you’re agreeing to be part of.

That’s the premise of “Yours for the Taking,” a dystopian science-fiction novel by Los Angeles-based author Gabrielle Korn out now from St. Martin’s Press. The novel begins with the idea for the so-called Inside Project: isolated communities meant to shelter the next generations of humans from extreme weather, air pollution and starvation. The mind and money behind North America’s Inside is billionaire businesswoman Jacqueline Millender; she intends to turn her ideas about who exactly deserves to be saved into reality. 

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The book mainly orbits around Jacqueline’s beleaguered assistant Shelby, the project’s medical director Olympia, and Inside resident Ava, who is selected from millions of applicants. Once the Inside is sealed shut, the residents are shocked to discover that men have been excluded from the community.

In “Yours for the Taking,” which explores queer themes, Korn examines a character whose stated goal is to save other women and discard oppressive societal structures. But does she?

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Q. You’ve worked as a journalist and editor. How did that influence the themes of this particular book?

I worked specifically within women’s media. A lot of what went into the book was my feeling of great disappointment that these spaces – that were supposed to be feminist and supportive of women – were super toxic and had the same problems that any workplace has. During the course of my time in media, I felt that the content itself really improved in terms of who had access to it and who was represented by it – but only to a point since we were beholden to traffic goals and advertiser wishes with no nuance. It’s like, you can only really do so much.

Q. What research or background reading did you do? 

When I started thinking about this book, I tried to imagine a near future where we have not stopped climate change and have not achieved equality. I started to think about questions like, what would different kinds of relationships look like with these stakes? How would queer people in particular be affected?

A lot of the research I did was reading the United Nations Climate Change reports. I didn’t want to make a wrong estimation. So I looked at what a worst-case scenario might be, and then researched from there, with the assumption that nothing has been done to curb the use of fossil fuels. 

In terms of books that influenced me, science fiction is my favorite genre. There were a lot of books that I reread while I was working that have been my favorites for a long time: “Never Let Me Go,” by Kazuo Ishiguro, “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, “Parable of the Sower,” by Octavia Butler, “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid and “The Power” by Naomi Alderman. At the beginning of “Yours” is a quote from a book of poetry by Judy Grahn, called “The Work of a Common Woman,” which I always return to.

Q. Can you talk a little about Jacqueline Millender and her character development? 

Out of everybody, Jacqueline is probably the most pulled from real life. There’s just a certain kind of person who strives to accumulate more power, and I have encountered this person in various iterations for my whole career. 

Something infuriating to think about is the power that the wealthy have to stop climate change, and what they’re doing with it instead. To me, it feels like if they were planning on sticking around when bad scenarios happen, they would do something to stop them. And instead, I think they just assume that they are exempt because, in 30 to 50 years, they can go live underground in their bunker, or go live in space. 

Q. I thought it was interesting that, as a doctor, Olympia has gone through the white coat ceremony where you take the Hippocratic oath to “First, do no harm,” but she has yet to actually practice medicine. Can you talk about her ethics?

Olympia is someone whose intentions are so good but gets really screwed over by her circumstances. She’s kind of backed into this corner when she takes the job with Jacqueline, but she understands the problems with it – it’s very clear to her why Jacqueline’s thinking is so problematic – but she thinks that she can change it from within. Slowly but surely, she compromises her own belief system until all of a sudden she realizes that she’s been complicit. 

That is something that can happen to anybody. I think it can especially happen to anybody who takes a job based on a so-called activist mission that hides the real capitalist goal — because we all exist under capitalism. I just feel like so many people can relate to taking a job that promises one thing, thinking, “I can be the one to fix it.” And then a bunch of years go by, and you’ve realized that you actually haven’t changed anything. 

Q. Is Ava your idea of the “typical” person who might participate in something like this and not rock the boat?

Yes and no. In a lot of ways, she’s an everyday person, but she’s also Jacqueline’s ideal candidate. As such, she actually has a lot in common with Jacqueline. She’s White, she grew up with privilege, and she’s well-educated. 

I wanted her to feel like a real person, but one thing that’s real is if a system is working for you it’s very hard to see the problems with it. And that’s what her story is.

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