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Altar to an Erupting Sun reader discussion guide for reading groups, classrooms, and book clubs

1. The story starts with Rae committing a horrific murder suicide of a fossil fuel corporation executive.  What was your response to this? 

2. What stories and images stand out in your memory from this book?  What connected with you and your life experience most personally?


3. A lot of speculative future fiction portrays very dystopian images of future societies, including wasteland visions like Mad Max, Bladerunner or zombie takeovers. Altar has none of these elements, including no technological saviors.  Instead, people return to living much like rural people a century earlier.  What do you think of this vision?  What’s realistic or unrealistic about it?


4. One reviewer described Altar as a book about “formation” and “discipleship” -which in religious communities means how we are “formed” to be ethical, conscientious and moral beings.  Did you have “formation” experiences, either in formal religious institutions or other ways? 


5. How did Rae’s relatively short time in Mexico and Central America affect her?  What were the insights or experiences she gained from her six months traveling?


6. Rae Kelliher was formed by many influences –people, books, experiences. At the end of the novel, Reggie attempts to explain Rae’s life experience and what led to her final act.  Based on this, why do you think Rae did what she did?  Were their particular influences that you think tipped her?


7. Rae is shaped in part by books and her reading of history.  Are there books that have had a major impact on you over the course of your lifetime?


8. Altar mixes in fictional story telling with some real life people and historical events, such as Sam Lovejoy toppling a weather tower and Brian Willson being run over by a train.  Are there social movements depicted in this story that you have been part of?  Is there history here that you’re curious to know more about?


9. Rae is part of a successful campaign to stop the construction of nuclear power plants and draw attention to the School of the America’s role in training torturers.  Years later, she is part of an effort to block construction of a gas pipeline in Boston.  What lessons do you take away from these campaigns and movements?  What made them succeed and fail?


10. What do you notice about the role of altars in this novel?  Have you ever created an altar? How does Rae’s experience with altars give her strength and perspective?


11. Rae, Alix and others from the Hidden River farm create a business to help people approach death and dying in different ways.  A number of people model different ways of dying, including rejected medical intervention and having parties to celebrate their lives before they die. Did this make you think about your own death and ways you might want to plan ahead?


12. The main character Rae says we are all responsible for climate change –but that a small number of powerful individuals are VERY responsible.  In her action, she wants to draw attention to the “oil-garchs,” the leaders of fossil fuel companies that knew about the harms but used their wealth and power to block the science


13. Altar to an Erupting Sun provides glimpses of changes that happen in the next seven years.  These include a movement to rural areas, climate disruption, food shortages, local economy experiences, cyber attacks, a growing polarization between states and regions.  Do any of these stick out in your memory?  Were there any that seemed realistic or likely?


14. Rae and Reggie make an informed decision to move from the city to a small town in Vermont, saying “the future is rural." This runs counter to a century of trends in the U.S.  How do you feel about the resilience and vulnerability of where you currently live? What are the positive aspects of where you live facing a climate disrupted future and what are the potential challenges?


15. In her memorial talk about Rae, Alix condemns Rae’s action.  But she then challenges people who criticize Rae to undertake bold action to save Mother Earth [Quote].  What do you feel would be a bold and meaningful action for you?

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