“It’s a long story” – that’s how Neil Young’s description of the science fiction novel he has been working on for around five years now ends. Since 2016, the American singer-songwriter has been carving out chunks of time between touring and recording to write a book that tells the story of a power company employee who gets caught exposing the corruption at his workplace in the vein of whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Karen Silkwood.
Young opened up about the plot when he was interviewed about his involvement with the Netflix show Paradox: “He discovers the solar company he works for is a hoax,” the musician explained. “And they’re not really using solar. They’re using this shit—the guy who’s doing this has come up with a way to make bad fuel, the bad energy, this really ugly terrible stuff, and he’s figured out a way to genetically create these animals that shit that gives the energy to make the [fuel]. So he’s created this new species. But the species escapes. So it’s a fuckin’ mess.” That premise is so gloriously on brand. Neil Young has decried numerous aspects of the modern world in the last ten years or so, including the devastating impact of the internet and humanity’s taste for self-destruction in general.
The novel, currently going under the name Canary, will be the third publication authored by Neil Young but his first venture into the world of science fiction, following his two memoirs, Waging Heavy Peace, and Special Deluxe. A few years ago, Young said that he had submitted the manuscript to publishers in New York and that an agent was on board for the project, but since then no updates have been provided. If the book does in fact end up being published, Neil Young will be added to the increasingly long list of musicians who have side-stepped into writing fiction, joining Nick Cave – who published his first novel And the Ass Saw the Angel in 1989 – and Leonard Cohen, who actually started out as a novelist and published The Favorite Game in 1963.
As you would expect, Morrissey has also released a work of fiction. What’s more, the plot description sounds even more insane than that of Canary. Published in 2015, List of the Lost features the bewildering blurb: “Beware the novelist… intimate and indiscreet… pompous, prophetic airs…here is the fact of fiction…an American tale where, naturally, evil conquers good, and none live happily ever after, for the complicated pangs of the empty experiences of flesh-and-blood human figures are the reason why nothing can ever be enough. To read a book is to let a root sink down. List of the Lost is the reality of what is true battling against what is permitted to be true.” As an English graduate with experience in the art of pretence, to me, those words sound like the ramblings of someone bullshitting their way out of trouble.
Hopefully, Neil Young’s Canary will be a little less “pompous” than List of the Lost, but it certainly seems like it’s going to contain all of the curmudgeonly grumblings that have characterised Young’s interviews over the last ten years or so. But unless Canary is actually published, we may never know. Let’s just hope that Young is out there right now, tucked away in the corner of some dimly lit room desperately editing his dystopian vision as we speak.