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Yukon author’s novel offers gritty take on future climate fights

Keith Halliday’s Moonshadows is set in a fictional, but grounded, future Whitehorse

It is a few years in the future, but the conflicts remain recognizable: Arguments over measures to limit fossil fuel consumption, immigration and pandemics deepen fractures in Yukon society — tensions escalate with explosive results.

It is this near future version of Whitehorse the characters in Keith Halliday’s recently-released novel Moonshadows find themselves in. Some aspects of the setting will be very familiar to locals, from the name of Grey Mountain biking trails to the deep potholes in the Airport Chalet parking lot. In many other ways it differs as problems have accelerated: A recent wildfire scorched more than just the fringes of the city and drownings of Indigenous women in the Yukon river have raised suspicion but limited action by police.

The book is rooted in the fictional future Yukon but it obliquely references a worldwide crisis, mentioning climate-induced famine in northern India and a surge of illegal migration that includes people smuggled over the Alaska border near Beaver Creek.

Waging the conflict in Halliday’s near-future Whitehorse are the “Freedos,” a more hardline version of the freedom convoy and anti-government movements that emerged in the early years of the 2020s and the “Yukon Climate Collective” an environmental group who have seen waning interest amid unpopular government fuel rationing but who need to keep the donations coming in.

“The world I was setting up in a couple of years in the Yukon, was inspired a little bit by the, you know, the social conflict during the pandemic, where we had the pro and the anti-vaccine movements, and I was trying to figure out a way to sort of portray a world where that has, you know, gotten worse by a factor of 10,” Halliday said.

He said the carbon rationing portrayed in the book that was instituted following a series of natural disasters is a wedge issue that most readers should be able to easily see as immediately divisive.

Moonshadows has been billed as a “Yukon-noir climate thriller.” It has a protagonist who suits the genre. Winter Slade is a grizzled longtime reporter for the fictional Yukon Sun. Through the book’s plot he prowls through stakeouts, battles addiction and aloofly tumbles into the arms of a beautiful woman, all factors that might play into the writing of the greyscale detective films of yesteryear. Halliday says the decision to write Slade as a local reporter rather than a member of law enforcement was made for more than one reason.

“A journalist is really well placed to move around in different circles and find out what’s really going on and see things from different perspectives. So it’s a great literary device. And then the second thing was, you know, as a columnist for the News, I think local newspapers are really, really important. And I sort of wanted to, you know, remind the reader of how much passion and effort goes into covering the local news,” Halliday said.

Halliday, who is also a published children’s book author, Yukon history podcaster and News columnist, took about a year to bring Moonshadows to the page. He said the idea for the book came to him when he was in the Pioneer Bar in Anchorage and overheard a discussion about novels set there. He had also just observed the grit of some parts of Alaska’s largest city.

“I think like Anchorage, Whitehorse sort of operates at two levels. You know, there’s the tourism, advertising level, of beautiful mountains and smiling people in hiking clothes. And then, you know, if you’re downtown at night, or along the waterfront, you know, it’s a very different darker sort of city that we live in.”

To supplement his leading gumshoe reporter with a troubled past, Halliday has drafted a large cast of characters. Most are directly embroiled in the fight over climate measures and almost all have clear views on it.

“As I was working on the characters I didn’t want any of them to be too, you know, two dimensional, or being, quote, bad guys,” the author said.

“These characters live in our community. There’s people that we all know that think like them or kind of like them, today. So I really wanted the characters to stand up and be their own people and not have them be caricatures,”

Some characters come off sanctimonious in their pursuit of environmental and social justice, some obsess over slights to their sense of freedom and others are outright racist. Halliday took pains to carefully and realistically render all of their inner lives.

“I think it helps having grown up in the Yukon and just knowing a lot of people from different backgrounds with different points of view, because I tried my best to really get inside the head of the different characters who have you know, very different perspectives on what’s going on in the story.”

He thinks growing up in Whitehorse offered him more access to the lives of a greater variety of people whereas someone in a bigger city might be more cloistered in their own social strata.

Halliday says his primary audience is Yukoners and that they will benefit the most from the local colour in Moonshadows’ pages. He still wanted to leave the book accessible to an Outside audience but said he rendered the setting in a way that they will be able to piece together information to get a sense of the Yukon way of life.

As the book’s plot thickens its central conflict seems sure to descend into violence. Despite the realism Halliday portrays, he doesn’t think out-of-control escalation is a forgone conclusion for the real Yukon of 2024.

“I think, to avoid that future, you need both sides to be more empathetic about the other side, you know, to understand from the green point of view that the adjustment to new kinds of energy and new costs for families is really, you know, jarring and difficult to manage,” he said.

“And then you also need the people on the, you know, what is the freedom convoy movement in the book, we need them to sort of understand the science and that this is actually a major global problem that needs to get solved and can’t be put off too much farther into the future, without some of these really disastrous effects that are portrayed in the book.”

Halliday sees this focus on empathy as one possible call to action readers might take away from the book.

Moonshadows is already available via online retailers and it will also be in local stores. Halliday will hold a book signing at Mac’s Fireweed in downtown Whitehorse from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 17.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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