Science Fiction to Science Reality: The Post Apocalypse Edition

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Last year I read a lot of newly published books on Climate Change and Psychology. This takes patience on many levels, not least of all due to the fact that I have mild dyslexia. While I may not read as fast as most people, in some ways it feels like a secret superpower because I retain the majority of what I read and can expand upon it endlessly.

By the time this past holiday season rolled I was burnt out on real life doom and gloom and petty manipulations. I needed a return to a familiar space, Science Fiction, but more specifically, Octavia Butler’s familiar writing. I consider Octavia Butler “light reading” much to the amusement of my spouse. Her writing style is crisp and clean. She has the ability to say a lot in so few words and I feel her presence in her words. I get her. I get where she is coming from. I discovered her writing much too late though. If I had found her sooner, I could have potentially met her in person, she only lived 20 minutes away from where I live now.

She’s one of the few dead people allowed to life rent free in my brain. She sits at the kitchen table writing and thinking while William Morris paces back and forth on an ornate blue and cream rug practicing his speeches in the adjoining living room. High up in the corner of a bookcase Ryunosuke Akutagawa curls up like a cat watching everything below and taking notes. My brain is a proper Craftsman-style house. Writers, artists, thinkers, historians, and long-dead family and friends pass through for a visit now and then. Occasionally, the random stranger wanders through too.  Only Ryunosuke is amused.

It’s always a party when Kurt Vonnegut shows up. Pat Frank and George R. Stewart prefer coffee on the veranda, but I’m getting carried away.

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Where were we?

Oh yes, what can we learn from fiction and in particular Science Fiction. Well, who isn’t familiar with Gene Roddenberry? George Lucas? Or Stephen Spielberg? Can you seriously say their scripts, movies and show have had no influence on the art of science? That they do not act as muses for scientists and engineers? Many of us are still waiting for hyperdrives and holodecks! Do you want to make a Computer Engineer swoon? Discuss The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein or the short stories of Isaac Asimov.

When considering the offerings of Robert Heinlein one has to chew through the sexism. I’m not going to excuse it on the faulty argument that he was “a man of his era.” He wrote The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in 1966 and there were plenty of men “of his era” that were not so blatantly sexist. Still, putting that aside we have a framework offered to us on how to build a resistance movement with minimal causalities and disruptions. By working in “cells” what is similar to creating “partitions” in a computer to keep data corruption and bugs from causing a full-scale shutdown. Redundancy in technical writing is bad, but redundancy in organized systems is good. What else works with cells, bugs and partitions? Trees! Let’s say a branch gets broken and damaged in a windstorm. If the tree cannot adequately thicken the cells in that area to help heal it over, it effectively self-amputates or “partitions” the branch from the rest of the body to prevent the spread of infection by cutting off supplies to the affected area. By reserving its strength, the tree lives another season and regrows the start of a new branch the next Spring.

I once read an article in an Architectural e-zine where an Architect proposed that perhaps the best way to “save” a building in a major earthquake might be by designing rooms(cells) of it to fail. (Presumably, this would help dissipate the force of energy produced by the earthquake upon the total surface area of the structure.) I appreciate the “out of the box” thinking, but how big is this man’s house? How many people have “spare rooms” to let collapse in the event of a major earthquake? I think if you have a bunch of unused rooms in your house it’s too big, and you should consider downsizing.

Octavia Butler imagined our current climate crisis in a book published in 1998 called Parable of the Sower and the sequel Parable of the Talents. Her story takes place in the early 2020’s and fortunately our here-and-now is not as terrifying as the one she wrote about, but some of the themes are eerily similar. We’re all aware of how politics impact our lives. What I focus on though is how individuals and communities shape the impact they have on the world around them. We have within the psyche of the American mind this image of “Rugged Individualism.” It’s represented in the notion “survivalist man” who can do everything and brave all challenges alone. I used to work very hard towards the idealism of the survivalist (wo)man but reading Science Fiction helped me understand that no person can be an island unto themselves for very long. In the end, it doesn’t matter how much of an introvert or anti-social being you thought you were. By the end of any lengthy stay alone in the mountains or in your head you’ll find yourself ready to make friends with anything not trying to eat you.

Science Fiction at its root is a cautionary tale of the successes and failures of individuals and groups. A forest and it’s trees. Sometimes the people are represented as alien races or other types of lifeforms, but it is in our human nature to find commonalities in order to relate to things no matter how alien it may appear on the surface. Octavia Butler worked hard to push this boundary to see where our tolerances might lie. Read her short stories Blood Child, Amnesty or the book Lilith’s Brood (Xenogenesis 1-3). Whenever I think my writing or ideas are getting “too weird” Octavia Butler challenges me to make it weirder.

Pat Frank wrote Alas, Babylon in 1959 and gave us an alternative history novel before all the cool kids started doing it. He showed us what living in Florida might have been like had the cold war been a hot one. Like Octavia Butler his writing is crisp and clean. A lot said in so few words. The imagery from some of the scenes in this book still put a smile on my face. I love this book so much that in the twenty years I have been with my spouse only once have I ever threatened him with a tomato, no sorry, ultimatum. “Read this book or divorce me.” He read the book in an afternoon. I made brownies and coffee. Crisis averted.

Finally, let’s close this post with an honorable mention, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart published in 1949. Yes, I know all the books and authors I’m mentioning here are old and dead, but that’s part of the beauty of it. To survive the future, you have to understand the past! A serious disruption in our ability to maintain our resources can put us back by ages. Fictional stories give our minds a playground to explore different theories and ideas of how to solve problems. Some of those solutions are found by going back to the basics and other solutions require us to unhinge our brains like a snake’s jaw and consume ideas we once thought too big to swallow.

There’s a scene in Earth Abides that made me laugh out loud and that is a very rare feat for any book! (I also dare you to make me cry too, while reading David Brin’s The Postman I was mad that I wasn’t more upset about a particular death.) What’s interesting about Earth Abides though is that there is an interracial relationship and a character with Down’s syndrome. It’s the only fictional novel where I can distinctly remember a character with a developmental disability and again, this book was published in 1949!

Whether it’s a Science Fiction, Romance or any other genre the one thing I can’t abide is when an author takes over two pages to describe a computer console or a room. I’m looking at you George RR Martin.


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Links:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-a-virus-exposed-the-myth-of-rugged-individualism/ (March 2022 Issue)

A24 Is Adapting Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower | Tor.com (July 26, 2021)

Book Review: Regeneration: Ending the climate crisis in one generation

I picked up this book after reading a review of it, although I would say the review was more about the Author’s body of work more than the book itself. I’m currently in a phase of looking for books and websites that are action-oriented when it comes to climate change and global warming. I know what the problems are. Nearly all of us have some grasp about the issues because it now makes the news on a daily basis. Global Warming and Climate Change have finally become mainstream issues happening now instead something to contemplate in the distant future.

Here are three quick pictures I took of the first three pages. (My apologies for the poor quality on the latter two.) For more and better quality images see the Amazon link below and use the “Look Inside” feature.

From the cover I expected a standard book written by one author, but upon opening the book I find a attribution page similar to what I would normally see as a Certified Technical Writer. This book is essentially a report compiled by subject matter experts for the public as the end user. Traditionally, “white papers” as they’re called, are used as manuals for specific topics or items in government and business. Most white papers are written by science and technology-related businesses to market and educate other businesses and/or government agencies how to use their service or product. For my certification program I wrote a white paper on how to install a living roof system as my final project.

The second page is the table of contents page. I don’t judge a book by its cover, I judge a book by its index and table of contents (TOC) page. This book has no index, so the TOC has to do the work for both. Overall, I give this book an 8/10. In a list at the end of the book they mention the “Azolla Fern” as an important place for carbon sequestering. When I went back to find it in the TOC I didn’t see it, so I went online to understand that it’s an aquatic plant that can cover the surface of ponds, lakes and slow moving rivers. Going back, I now see the plant listed under “Oceans.” After reading the way the topic is covered in the book, “Wilding” or “Food” would have been a better place for it.

What really caught my eye about the contents page is seeing “Poverty Industry” under the Industry heading. I’ve never thought of poverty as an industry. I would have expected to see it under the People heading. After reading the section my first thought is, “How to talk about greed without using the word greed.” If we boil the subject down to its primal essence, aren’t we really talking about greed?

Pro:

Layout – Each topic gets a gorgeous picture representing the topic and about two pages of text on average. Its like a modern, limited encyclopedia of climate issues. This makes it easy to pick up and browse the topics that interest you the most.

Con:

Title – The title implies action items we can do to make a difference in one generation. I was expecting a “how-to” book that tells the reader what they can do to start combating climate change issues now. This is not the heart of the book though. The action section of the book is seven pages and relies heavily on encouraging the reader to visit the website. The website is beautiful and worth a visit.

Ironically, the final paragraph entitled “One more thing” within the Action + Connection Chapter starts with: “It’s not your job to save the planet.” Followed a few sentences later with: “We cannot do this [end the climate crisis} if we believe or assume others will do it for us.”

So we were off the hook, only to be put back on the hook all in the span of a paragraph.

I’m making it my job to help save the planet. I think it should be part of everyone’s job as a human being to do better. I know we’re capable of taking on complex challenges when we work together and put in the effort. I also know I’m not alone in this growing concern and frustration. This blog and so many others are rising up to give a voice to our climate change anxieties and seeking out solutions. We know in our hearts things have to change.

Book Website: Welcome to Regeneration | Project Regeneration

https://www.amazon.com/Regeneration-Ending-Climate-Crisis-Generation/dp/0143136976/ref=sr_1_1?crid=15LGNP2HB0X67&dchild=1&keywords=regeneration+paul+hawken&qid=1633134952&sprefix=Regenerati%2Caps%2C279&sr=8-


If you’ve read the book, what did you think about it?

While my reading list is currently backlogged, I’m always open to recommendations. Is there a book you think I should read?


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