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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Life, the Earth and the Universe


I didn’t get as much done on The Fool’s Illusion as I wanted to even over the Memorial Day weekend. My parents were in town for my two cousins’ college graduation and I had a friend’s National Towel Day party to attend. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a fan celebration day for Douglas Adams’ sci fi satire series of novels, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the third novel of the trilogy, Life the Universe and Everything, there are scenes that involve a towel which is one of the major symbols of this hilarious (mock) space epic. I actually started reading the third installment just for the party (I’ve read the first two already). As funny as it is, it all centres around the destruction of the Earth (by aliens) and the rest of the universe. But the great thing about this series is that it dares to laugh in the face of death, even death of the entire universe.


With so much crap destroying our world--crap such as war, crime, social injustice including famine, and pollution--and it’s apparent increase as the years fly by, with so much bleakness and the sense of doom conveyed by media, one of the things I truly believe will save us more than anything is a sense of humour. And that includes humour even in the face of grinning Death. That’s why satire such as Adams’ and other sci fi fantasy writers’ such as Kurt Vonnegut’s, or dark humour in movies such as Vincent Price’s The Comedy of Terrors, Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strange Love are so great. They laugh at the bleakness of life and of the world around us.


Yet, we can’t just take things lying down (in this case, lying down laughing). As a society, we must respond to issues that impact us in order to resolve them. I thought that because we are on the subject of fear of our planet’s destruction, I would post my article that talks about how science fiction handles the concerns we have for humanity’s safety. Originally, this article was going to be for my sci fi column at Examiner.com, but as I implied earlier, life get’s in the way, as they say, and so I didn’t get a chance to post it on time for it to be considered news.


The article discusses particularly how sci fi can get us to think about how we can prevent future destruction of our planet, destruction caused by problems such as pollution and global warming. And so the authors who are centred on in this article are Kim Stanley Robinson and Tobias Buckell, probably two of the best environmental oriented authors today. The first I’m proud to say resides in my home area of Sacramento, Davis to be exact. And so even though life may “get in the way” of any one of us, death of our planet doesn’t have to. Please feel free to comment on the article in the box below.


Photo Credit: Amazon
Kim Stanley Robinson: Back to the Prehistoric Past for a Greener Future
by Steven Rose, Jr.

UC Davis’s Whole Earth Festival on Mother’s Day Weekend was full of fun activities that emphasized the search for and educating of solutions for an environmentally sustainable future. One of the events there was Davis author Kim Stanley Robinson (most known for his Mars Trilogy) and Ohio author Tobias Buckell’s panel on climate change on Saturday of the festival.  Robinson and Buckell discussed science fiction’s suggestions of environmental utopic futures.
Buckell, a Caribbean born sci fi author, has been writing and publishing as early as 2006, some of his works being novels The Apocalypse Ocean and Arctic Rising, and his short story collection Mitigated Futures. Unfortunately, by the time I was able to make it through the vast quad of festival tents and booths to Young Hall where the panel was held, Buckell was already reading from one of his books and so I didn’t catch the title.
After Buckell’s reading, Robinson read an excerpt from his novel, Shaman, set in a prehistoric ice age. But this is no pulp-/Hollywood-/ One Million Years B.C.-inspired novel. Robinson takes his science fiction seriously; he writes hard science fiction. Strangely, however, Shaman does not seem to be his typical hard sci fi. In fact, with references to tribal magicians and mystic journeys one would think it’s closer to fantasy. But, after the reading, Robinson used the tribe from his this alternate (pre-) history novel as a model for how modern day humans are capable of planning ahead to save themselves from future ecological disaster such as an arctic meltdown. He explained how we can collectively come to solutions to prevent the disastrous effects of global warming.
During the two authors’ dialog on the subject of climate change and science fiction, one phrase Robinson kept bringing up was “utopian societies”. He referred to the primeval tribal society of Shaman as a model for a more communal future society that can plan ahead to prevent, or at least reduce, ecological disaster such as a global meltdown of the ice caps. Robinson explained how such a society could work in a high tech age: by utilizing clean energy technology and reforming capitalism to make it more socially just (though not necessarily communist). Through this idea, Robinson explained the economic implications and necessary reform for an environmentally responsible society.
Buckell added to the idea of a sustainable utopian society a, what he said is, too often overlooked fact: a city is a form of technology. He said the problem with the concept of the city today is that most people think of a city as “an accident of trade”. As an example of a holistic society Buckell talked about an innovative and creative community in the Virgin Islands. Emphasizing this community’s art, he compared the community to a town in Ohio that is more utilitarian by capital means and prevents the innovation that can bring sustainability and clean technology. In relation to this, he said that the problem with modern day capitalism is that money does not circulate back into the society and so doesn’t benefit the people as a whole, two of those benefits being clean energy and technology to create a healthier environment. He used Walmart as a microscopic example of today’s capitalism.
Both authors discussed how the best type of science fiction is that which makes readers think about the consequences of future technology. This topic started when Buckell and Robinson said they felt there were more sci fi writers as early as 1930s and as late as the ‘70s who wrote stories about the impact of the atom and nuclear bombs than there are sci fi writers today writing about the impact of climate change and global warming.
Much more than your Hollywood-inspired space opera and sci fi-horror reading, Robinson and Buckell’s stories generally depict more realistic futures and plausible scientific phenomena, commenting on the technology of today’s societies. Science fiction should be used to help people think and offer ideas about how to build better futures that work for all society rather than just certain elitist groups. In the case of Robinson and Buckell’s work, it does this by offering or suggesting solutions to environmental problems.
Robinson and Buckell’s presentation on climate change and science fiction was definitely fit for UCD’s Whole Earth Festival. After all, how much science fiction deals with future technology and the planets it effects including our own? If more science fiction like Robinson and Buckell’s asked socially significant questions, such as the impact of technology on the environment, as did the Golden Age sci fi writers did with the atom bomb, it would be more subject for environmental events such as the Whole Earth Festival. Page-turner sci fi about wars in space or in distant futures can only contribute so much to the development of a more socially just and sustainable society. (But don’t get me wrong--we all need a break from thinking at least once in our lives.)




For those of you that will be in the Sacramento area on Sunday the second of the month, I will be at Sac-Con and so will my updated Fool’s Illusion bookmarks which will be free while supplies last. And you must be sick of hearing about my upcoming book but seeing no book in view. I don’t blame you. But again, life gets in the way, but it doesn’t have to be in the way forever. I have completed the book’s introduction and am nearly finished with the front cover. I will be sending the manuscript off to Amazon’s CreateSpace by the end of the upcoming week. So please tune in next weekend for more details on how you can purchase the book and perhaps even receive a free copy.


Until next time . . .
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