Livyers World is a young-adult science fiction novel with a fascinating premise. It’s set in a future Newfoundland — or rather, two future Newfoundlands. The young protagonist Viddy is drawn into what he first thinks is an interactive computer program, but it quickly begins to seem more like a parallel world to his own, an alternate path the future might have taken.
We don’t learn much directly about Viddy’s world, since the entire story takes place in the “program.” But from his memories, and what he tells others, we discover that Viddy is growing up in a highly technologically advanced society, one in which many of our present environmental problems have been solved, human knowledge and population have continued to increase, and things we only dream of today are possible.
The world in which Viddy meets his new friend, Saan, exists in the same geographic location — St. John’s, Newfoundland — in the same year, but in Saan’s world history has taken a very different path. In Saan’s history, the Y2K bug (remember that?) actually happened. The entire worldwide infrastructure of computers and technology collapsed; society fell into chaos; vast amounts of knowledge were lost. Those who survived in Newfoundland built a new world for themselves by relearning the survival techniques and traditions of the Labrador Innu. Cut off from the rest of the world, they live a life that seems primitive and harsh to Viddy, and it is in this world that he must learn to survive.
If you suggest the rather narrow category of “futuristic young-adult sci-fi set in Newfoundland” the title that inevitably leaps to my mind is Janet McNaughton’s beautifully written The Secret Under My Skin — probably because it’s the only other novel I can think of in that category. While McNaughton’s book takes the familiar line of imagining a dystopian future, McGrath’s novel is more nuanced in that neither of the futuristic worlds she imagines is a dystopia — nor is either one a utopia. Both Viddy’s world and Saan’s world are places where a young person can live, learn and plan a future for himself; both worlds have their strengths, and both have their drawbacks as well. It’s easy for a sci-fi author to take the route of imagining the future as either a disaster or a paradise. But I’m always intrigued by portrayals of the future that suggest that while it will be vastly different from the world we inhabit today, it will also be similar — a world with problems but also with pleasures. For me, this was the pleasure of Livyers World — the vision of two entirely different possibilities for the future, held together by the recognition that whatever path the future takes, human beings (and perhaps especially Newfoundlanders) will remain the adaptable survivors they have always been.