On Writing Nature with Agency

by Sarah Blake, author of the adult dystopian novel Clean Air

Most of us are familiar with parts of nature being personified in our books and in the shows and movies we watch. My earliest memory of personification might be a face drawn on a cloud, cheeks puffed out, blowing a gust of wind through the sky. Or maybe it was what’s still one of my favorite instances—the grumpy trees that throw apples at Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Years later, I remember watching Blue’s Clues with my sister, and there was the sun wearing star-shaped sunglasses and singing about the planets. Then there was the Pixar short, Lava, with the volcanoes falling in love. I could go on and on.

The typical personification that I was used to was turned on its head when I started watching Studio Ghibli films. In a few different films, there are portrayals of kodama—spirits that inhabit trees. And, of course, there are the totoros, who seem to be connected to the trees, perhaps the protectors of the trees. They suggest an agency to the forest that’s unusual and unpredictable.  And though I registered the slight twist that had happened in my mind, in ways I could think about or write about nature, I still didn’t write about nature. Not yet.

I think I resisted letting the trees and the wind and the water talk in my own work because I thought of that personification as better fit for children’s literature and media. It’s where almost all of my examples came from. I wasn’t sure how to let nature talk without it being cheesy or moralistic. Why would a tree talk anyway? I couldn’t think of an answer.

In 2015, I paid some attention to The Paris Agreement. My son was young and only in pre-school part-time. I was busy taking walks, going to the Y, painting with watercolors, doing puzzles, building with blocks, workbooks of mazes, etc., etc., etc. I felt like I was living in another world, adjacent to the one where The Paris Agreement was happening. Politics had always seemed strange to me, but now they were a combination of absurd and distant.

The environmental promises in The Paris Agreement are, in some ways, weak. The main “goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” It’s not exactly ambitious. Or drastic. It’s good in that it’s a necessary step, but it didn’t create any new hope inside me when they made the Agreement. I brushed off the disappointment I felt. I was juggling it with all of the other disappointments about the outside world and how I had no control over. Gun violence, police brutality, suffering school systems. Every day there was a news article that broke my heart and made me feel like I couldn’t possibly protect my son.

Anything that felt out of focus about the world outside of my home, quickly sharpened the day that Trump pulled out of The Paris Agreement. It no longer felt far away. It felt immediate and terrifying. How other countries might follow us out of the Agreement. How the US is one of the countries that needs to be involved for any real impact on climate change since “[t]he U.S. has emitted more cumulative carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other country since the industrial era began in the mid-1800s.”

I started to imagine the trees talking. The water and the air. I wanted nature in a seat at the table. And not in a grand, mythical, beautiful, old, wise way. I wanted a real son-of-a-bitch tree to walk in, in a sharp suit, and $800 shoes, ready to negotiate the hell out of a deal. I wanted it to threaten sanctions and influence trade routes. I wanted business savvy. I wanted it to be cutthroat. Because I wanted revenge. Wrath. Imagining it now, I want it to bring up the time that boat got stuck in the Suez Canal and ask them to imagine that in every canal. Sometimes I just imagine a grizzly bear at the table who eats people when they said idiotic things.

We’re told, as consumers, to make the deniers hurt in their wallets. The one place they understand—that’s what I’ve heard. But I don’t think my wallet is affecting their wallet in a way that I find satisfying. So I started to dream up a world of trees that took action in my fiction. They’re vicious and unforgiving, and the world thrives after what they’ve done. Writing it was how I finally felt some satisfaction and relief.

They’re not the suit-wearing sharks I originally dreamt up, but I still think about those trees, too. That bear. The nature that could sit at that table, ask for what it really needs, and promise to hold them all accountable if they fail to follow through.

I needed all of it—my daydreaming and my fiction. And I loved embracing something like the personification of trees, something that seems so playful and childlike, and dragging it into adult fiction and letting it shape a whole world. I took my time with how human deaths would be the tragic but unavoidable collateral damage of the action the trees needed to take to set things right. To reclaim the world. I let the trees shrug it off.

My hope is that the trees would not be so cruel as we have been, but I needed to write something that was as violent as our current world feels. I needed the tit for tat. I wanted to feel like we were even and balanced, if only while I was sitting in my chair and writing my book, my head existing in my imagined world as my body existed in this one.

Sarah Blake is the author of CLEAN AIR, a cli-fi domestic thriller, NAAMAH, a novel reimagining the story of Noah’s ark, and poetry collections, MR. WEST, LET’S NOT LIVE ON EARTH, and the forthcoming IN SPRINGTIME. In 2013, she received a Literature Fellowship from the NEA. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The American Poetry Review, and The Kenyon Review. She lives outside of London, UK.

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Solutions Spotlight

In this issue’s extract from a book featuring a climate solution, Christopher Vick shares an extract fromthe YA novel The Last Whale. In this section, Abi’s advanced AI computer is telling Abi what will happen if the whales disappear from the ocean:

‘If humans do not cease damaging the ocean, whales will vanish from the earth and the great extinction will be unavoidable.’

 ‘Go on,’ Abi had said.  ‘Tell me, Moonlight. Tell me what will happen if whales disappear from the face of the earth.’

 ‘Whales distribute nutrients and circulate them in surface waters.  This provides food for phytoplankton. The blooms of phytoplankton will disappear. Or become so tiny they make negligible contribution to the absorption of carbon or production of oxygen’.

  Abi’s mouth is sandpaper dry. ‘And then?’ 

 ‘Global warming will accelerate exponentially, oxygen will thin rapidly. Would you like me to show you?’

Whale and Dolphin Conservation looks at ways to end captivity, stop whaling, prevent deaths in fishing gear, and protect the seas and rivers of the world.


How speculative fiction thinks about social change by Andrew Dana Hudson

This essay was originally published in Imaginary Papers, January 2019.

Today the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative released Everything Change, Volume II, a short story anthology collecting the finalists of their 2018 Climate Fiction Contest. I had the honor of having my story “Sunshine State,” cowritten with Adam Flynn, included in the first Everything Change collection. These texts crack open the ominous cloudbank of our coming planetary storm, so that we may feel, just a bit ahead of schedule, the driving rain on our face or the sun, hot through the greenhouse air.

But what is climate fiction? Many stories set in the future are classified as science fiction, or sci-fi. Doesn’t that make climate fiction, or cli-fi, just a form of sci-fi? And since climate change is definitely going to be in our future one way or another, shouldn’t all science fiction also be climate fiction? Genre distinctions like this are always contested. For example, sci-fi can be “hard” or “soft” in its approach to physics and realism and can be bucketed into subgenres, such as space opera or various -punk movements.

How do we untangle these categories, while also making room for contributions to the growing body of climate fiction that don’t come out of the traditional quarters of science fiction? The past few years have seen a boomlet of literary takes on climate change, most recently Amazon’s Warmer, a collection featuring contributions from literary luminaries like Jane Smiley and Lauren Groff.

I propose that science fiction has embedded in it a particular theory of social change. In most science fiction, social change is driven by advancements in science and technology. It’s fiction about science. The average sci-fi story imagines brilliant discoveries, inventions, or technological transformations — say, the virtual reality world of Ready Player Oneand plays out the ramifications on other spheres of society.

This is where climate fiction becomes a useful term, because it lets us pick up a different theory: that the biggest driver of social change in the coming century or more will be climate change.

Yorktown space station from Star Trek Beyond
Cover art of New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Consider the pictures above. The first is Yorktown space station from the movie Star Trek Beyond, and the second is Lower Manhattan from the cover of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel New York 2140. In their own way, each of these images is an aesthetically compelling vision of the future, but one is sci-fi and one is cli-fi.

In Star Trek most people eat from replicators and travel via starship or transporter. The architecture of Yorktown is made possible by artificial gravity. Those inventions do much to define the social structures and material conditions of people living in the Star Trek universe. Even some of the most dramatic events in Star Trek lore are sparked by technological discovery, such as first contact with aliens taking place only after humans successfully invent faster-than-light travel.

In contrast, very little in the second picture requires us to invent anything new. Rather, the canals in New York’s avenues and the boats docked at the entrances of familiar skyscrapers suggest that the big difference in New York between now and 2140 will be substantial sea level rise — 50-foot-higher seas turn the city into a “SuperVenice,” submerging the boroughs and Manhattan up to 46th Street. That’s what cli-fi thinks will determine where and how people live, along with a litany of concomitant issues: flood rot, mandatory evacuation orders, the price of water, crop failures, asthma rates, and whether it’s too hot to go outside.

The climate fiction theory of social change highlights how much our lives will be reshaped by climate change. In periods of relative global stability, a new gadget or media format might seem transformative. In times of planetary upheaval we are forced to remember that we are fragile, living beings on a turbulent, living world.

Andrew Dana Hudson is a speculative fiction writer, sustainability researcher, editor and futurist. He is the author of Our Shared Storm: A Novel of Five Climate Futures, published 2022 by Fordham University Press. He has also published over twenty short stories, which have appeared in Slate Future Tense, Lightspeed Magazine, Vice Terraform, MIT Technology Review, Grist, and many more. Find his stories on his website www.andrewdanahudson.com and follow his work via his newsletter solarshades.club.

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Solutions Spotlight

In this extract from a book featuring a climate solution, Anne Morddel shares an extract fromthe picture book The Big Field: A Child’s Year Under the Southern Crosswhich illustrates a grandmother’s reforesting efforts on a farm at the edge of the South American Atlantic Rainforest. It’s set in February, which is the peak of summer in the Atlantic Rainforest:

Early, early every day, “Before the heat
knocks me flat,” Granny takes her trug and
crosses the big field to the forest, where she
gathers all sorts of seeds.

I stay home and climb trees. The kapok is
the tallest, with pink flowers. But the kapok
trunk has sharp spikes, so you can’t climb
that! I climb the umbrella tree, where
Granny and I built a bench on a branch.

On the ground below me, the leaf-cutter ants
carry away bits of plants. Granny says it’s their
job to tidy the whole forest.

High in my tree, I can see her come back from
the forest with her trug full of seeds. When the
sun goes down and it is cooler, we scatter the
seeds all around the big field she always
forgets to pough.

The organisation Iracambi is a community of people around the world whose vision is to see the beautiful Brazilian Atlantic Forest restored, with prosperous communities living in a flourishing landscape.

Climate Fiction podcast

Climate Vision 2050 transports us 30 years into the future to show how the world radically reduced carbon emissions and saved itself from climate catastrophe. This show offers a creative approach to talking about climate, getting into technical solutions without losing the beauty of engaging, immersive narrative.

In the first three episodes, we are transported to the future and hear what it would be like:

The storytelling truly paints a picture of a bright and promising future, but this work of imagination is not fantasy. The stories told and the progress described in the show are achievable within the next 30 years. This is a show of hope and possibility where you get to learn about actual solutions that could make meaningful and sustainable progress against an existential threat.

The Art and Craft of Climate Fiction by Claire Datnow

Eco-fiction and climate fiction include environmental and nature themes, which can be written in a wide variety of styles and span all genres including mystery, romance, thriller, coming-of-age, dystopian, utopian, magical realism, and realist fiction. This sub-genre can be as diverse as our natural world. It is multicultural, global—and may include animals too. Environmental fiction explicitly explores humanity’s impact on the natural world.  

How do you frame the climate crisis as a satisfying mystery for readers without sugar coating the dire truth?  An ecological mystery is a scientific investigation and a mystery combined into an exciting adventure story. In an eco-mystery the role of villain is played by an ecological problem that is harming a species. The characters are affected by the problem, and like good detectives they must carry out an investigation that will identify the causes of the problem, and then help to solve it. The characters are the emotional engine of the stories. They include victims who are hurt. Villains who are responsible for the hurt. And heroes that bring promise of reprieve for the victims—an inspire readers to take action. 

To solve the problem the characters must gather scientific data, theories, facts, policies, and possible solutions related to the issue. Environmental fiction depends on researching the scientific information crucial to solving the mystery. Research includes reading relevant books, scientific papers, interviews with wildlife biologists, specialists in fields related to the topic, and field trips. Although the time spent on research is extensive it is a rewarding an intriguing part of the process, modeled by the characters in the story.

It is critical to balance the nonfiction science elements with an entertaining plot. Writers must avoid hitting the pause button by dumping large blocks of information that halts the flow of the narrative. Compelling environmental fiction weaves scientific, economic, environmental facts and issues beyond statistics, charts, and political ideologies into storytelling by entering the experience the characters’ feelings and the struggles they must overcome. Powerful storytelling techniques are the keys to touching readers’ hearts, igniting their imagination, and inspiring them to build a bridge to tomorrow. This is an example excerpted from my novelThe Adventures of The Sizzling Six: Monarch Mysteries. Mrs. Mariposa describes what happened to the butterflies overwintering in Mexico, after a big snowstorm:

“Tomas only found out what happened to the monarch butterflies after the snow melted enough to make it possible to take tourists up to the sanctuary. As he guided them up the steep path, Tomas got a very bad feeling. There were no butterflies to be seen along the way. When they were almost at the sanctuary, the wind shifted a strange smell toward them. It was sickly sweet, like rotten pumpkins mixed with stale food.”

“That’s disgusting,” Crystal McCall whispers to her sidekick, Wanda.

“Tomas wondered where the awful smell could be coming from,” Mrs. M says. When he looked more closely, he couldn’t believe his eyes. What he thought were fallen leaves, turned out to be millions of monarchs. They were all dead their delicate wings covered in ice.”

A gasp runs through the classroom. “Millions!” someone exclaims. 

 . . .  “Is there anything the scientists can do to help the monarchs? Is there anything we can do to help?” Jose swallows so hard I can see his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. I like that he cares so much he wants to do something.  . . .

I’m practically squirming in my seat and blurt out, “There is something we can do!”

Generally, bookstores and libraries do not provide a section labeled environmental fiction/climate fiction, often shelving these books under traditional genre labels, which creates a challenge for marketers. Marketing environmental fiction involves similar steps to marketing any book, including finding agents, publishers, building a web site, posting on social media, book launches, and school visits.

It is also helpful to join groups that promote environmental fiction including Dragonfly.eco, The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE), Ashland Creek Press, Writers Rebel, and the Climate Fiction Writers League.

Claire Datnow was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, which ignited my love for the natural world and for diverse cultures. Her published books for middle schoolers include: The Adventures of the Sizzling Six, Eco mystery series, including Monarch Mysteries published by Star Bright Books, long listed by Green Earth Books. She has just completed The Gray Whale’s Lament, the second book in a climate change trilogy, and the follow up to Red Flag Warning: An Eco Adventure, which received an Green Earth Honor Book Award.

Hope is planting seeds for trees under which you will never sit

I’m the creative manager of Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors, the climate fiction short story contest out of Grist Magazine.Every year we ask fiction writers across the globe toenvision a green, clean and just future. The tales they tell help expand our ability to imagine a better planet. This year on October 4, we published twelve stories. And just under 600 people from 85 countries submitted stories. I love all the stories because they elevate diverse voices and bring new perspectives to the increasingly vital genre of climate fiction. 

Today in collaboration with the Climate Fiction Writers League we have a discussion between Gina McGuire, the second place winner for By the Skin of Your Teeth and Susan Kaye Quinn, the third place winner for Seven Sisters.Read the previous conversation between finalists Nadine Tomlinson and Akhim Alexis here.

I hope you enjoy their conversation as much as I did, read their stories, and all of the others.

– Tory Stephens – Creative Manager – Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors

Gina McGuire: Susan, I love this idea of hope and holding onto hope, even in the darkest of times and futures. I think this is especially important within climate fiction. Can you tell me a little bit about how hope feeds into your writing craft, into how you build your characters and their circumstances? How do you hang onto hope as a climate fiction author?

Susan Kaye Quinn: Hey Gina! I’m so excited to chat with you!

Hope is a critically central part of my climate fiction. When people are stressed or overwhelmed, as seems unavoidable these days but especially as the climate crisis worsens, the part of the brain that’s capable of imagination literally shuts down. In part, this is survival: something is wrong, we can’t afford to think of the future, we need to fix what’s right in front of us. But this short-circuits our ability to lift our eyes to the horizon and see the long-term problems that need solving. Ironically, the more dire those long-term problems, the more our brains shut down the part needed to imagine solutions. I feel this myself, as a writer, and I have to deliberately carve out a hopeful mental space in order to create. For readers, I believe a hopeful story—one that shows some solutions already enacted while characters grapple with ongoing problems—is a key part of lifting the short-circuit, enabling the imaginative parts of their brains again. My hope (!) is that this empowers them to escape the doom-cycle and take action.

Hope is such a slippery word, meaning so many different things. Sometimes people conflate it with optimism. “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well,” Czech dissident, writer and statesman Václav Havel said, “but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.” Hope is planting seeds for trees under which you will never sit.

For me, hope isn’t really a mindset I try to hang onto—I have a deep belief that hope is a tool I can choose to wield. It’s a choice to do something when I may never know if it will make a difference… I only know it might. Actions like that are incredibly powerful to witness, even if only in a story. (“Only”… as if stories aren’t our most powerful means of communication.)

If I tell you that lead was eliminated from gasoline largely because a small group of mothers in the UK read studies about the terrible effects of lead on their children, then organized and convinced their local government to ban leaded gasoline… and that eventually cascaded a series of events that resulted in near world-wide bans… you now have an image of the power of local activism. In my stories, I try to draw future pictures like that, portraying a world where some successes have already been gained, even as there’s more to be done. If I can shine a light on future successes for readers, that (hopefully!) will help them imagine even more future solutions. 

I loved your story, By the Skin of Your Teeth, which was so wonderfully anchored in the culture of Hawaiʻi and the traditional practices of kahu manō (shark guardianships). You are reaching to the past and bringing forward solutions, ways of living. How does connecting to Indigenous histories and practices inform the stories you tell? Especially when you’re speaking to readers who may not be familiar with those histories? What do you think is the power that traditional practices have, not just for informing actual future solutions, but in changing how readers think about the possibilities?

Gina: Thank you for those kind words about the story! I think what I love about exploring Indigenous histories, and in this case, the practices of my own ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) peoples, is that they provide connecting points between past and present, linkages that reside within our ancestors and thereby within us, just waiting to be called on. That are still contemporary. I share a quote from Nālani Wilson-Hokowhitu and Manulani Meyer, who write that our ancestors’ bones, buried in the land “establish our place to stand tall, our place from which to speak, protect, defend, and love.” I hope to share that sentiment with readers and encourage them to consider and call on their own ancestors, Indigenous or not, as sources of inspiration and love. I think, particularly in science fiction, the tendency is to look forward, to look for new technologies and other universes as answers to some of our most pressing problems. On the other hand, one of the lessons I’ve learned from my time within communities of diverse Indigenous friends and family is the importance of asking of and leaning on the ancestral realm. The flowers, the branches, can’t grow without the roots intact and I try to begin there in my writing.

As the roots— ancestral knowledge, spirit, and practices have the potential to lead the way within climate solutions. Indigenous worlds have continued to re-root, re-blossom despite truly apocalyptic happenings to ways of life, to homelands. The mana (spirit, energy) of these ancestors is what allows and will continue to allow us to be resilient in the dramatic changes that we are facing. I hope that when readers encounter stories that give attention to the practices and values of ancestors that it, maybe in some small way, will impact how readers think about their own roles and potentialities. What does a future that honors our ancestors look like? How would/does it change the way that we act, as individuals? How can culture shape our relationships to other living beings in care-based modalities?

To that end, when I’m editing a story and considering the extent to which I’m going to include Indigenous languages and practices (within all of my published works to this point, these have been ʻŌiwi), I give a lot of thought as to how this will be received by folks that might not be familiar with these ways of thinking and doing. How willing is the average reader to put in the necessary work to appreciate a different language? To consider the extra layers of meaning that might be held within the Indigenous world? What is my duty to protect cultural practices, like kahu manō, that are not, and at no point in history, were meant for everyone, while at the same time bringing these meanings and truths to a body of literature that has largely passed over the true stories of Indigenous and in particular, Pacific Island worlds?

You write so beautifully about ancestral presence and duty within your writing. I’m recalling the line in Seven Sisters, Just one harvest, she promised the ghosts…” SO juicy! Your work positions family as a central element and as a critical element in characters’ decisions and actions. Can you speak to this? Within Seven Sisters there’s a lot of back and forth on what is family, who can be family… where do you see the role of blood connections, of ancestral connections but also of extended families and our duties to those beyond our immediate communities within the space of climate solutions? Your work calls into light refugee communities— how do you view your writing as a home for advocacy and attention in this space?

Susan: I believe we’re in the midst of a massive cultural shift (in the US at least) in how we comprise families and familial connections, and a lot of this shift is flying under the radar of public awareness. The idea of “found family” has deep roots in fiction (as in queer communities and marginalized ones), but I look around and see it taking root in this largely unseen shift, manifesting in a number of ways. This has intrigued me and shows up in a lot of my stories. In my hopepunk climate fiction series, Nothing is Promised, there are four novels, each with a different main character, who explore four different manifestations of family—the first one includes a “cooperative” type community as seen in Seven Sisters, where members of the family choose one another, but then have the benefit (and duties of care) of legal recognition of that family structure. Marriage and children might exist inside that structure, but who you have sex with isn’t the backbone of the structure (as it is currently with our focus on granting legal family status to nuclear families).

Susan: So, what is this cultural shift? What is driving it? Where are we heading in the future? The answers to that speak to the excellent questions you’ve asked about the roles of blood connections, ancestral connections, extended families, immediate communities, and then refugees who come in from ostensibly very different cultural backgrounds. On the one hand, I think we grapple openly with these questions in cultural flashpoints like whether gay marriage should be legal (it should) and how many immigrants should be allowed into the country (a lot more than now, in my opinion). But the cultural shifts that (largely) fly under the radar include record numbers of young people moving back to live with their parents, extended “adolescence” as young people delay traditional markers of adulthood, people of all ages delaying or forgoing marriage or children, groups of people opting to live together or constructing core social groups that are based on friendship rather than the “romantic ideal” of the nuclear family (which is itself a fairly recent invention). Then there’s the epidemic of loneliness, the mass migration to cities (now to suburbs with pandemic-spurred work-from-home), and the widespread familial estrangement that’s happening as the culture quickly shifts values across generations. Studies show that 27% of people in America experience estrangement from someone in their family that they or the family member initiates. That’s a huge change in the foundational structural unit of our society that’s hardly discussed. 

The rise of social media is an accelerator to all of this.

What is happening here? And how can we use stories to understand it? I’m speaking of Western culture, especially in America, because that’s the culture I live inside and observe, but we’re also a global world now, and I see ripples of this everywhere. In the 21st Century, we humans tend to live in the moment and have a pretty radical disconnection from the past. Some of us don’t want to see how history informs the present, how we’re connected through generational trauma, the legacy of red lining, and a hundred other ways, to the culture and practices of our ancestors, for good and less so. But many of us are also seeking more rootedness, not less. We’re coming to understand, collectively and often without public acknowledgement, that those connections have incredible power, that we need mutual aid networks of every kind just to survive, and that we were never meant to fly alone. In some ways, this is a wholesale rejection of the nuclear family and its atomizing effects on society—some of the family patterns of today are more similar to those a hundred years ago, as multiple generations in multiple configurations choose to live together again. This is sometimes driven by economic necessity, but not always.

In the future, I see lower birth rates, massive climate migration, and a reconfiguration of family so profound that it will, of necessity, be reflected in the legal structures of our societies. The hallmark of this change will be the widespread acceptance of its diversity, often without fanfare (even as it is violently rejected by some). Some of us will reach back for ancestral connections, strengthening Indigenous societies and living those cultural values in a visible way that enriches the whole of society. Some will break connections to toxic pasts and form new ones in their place. Still others will seek a mythical past culture that reinforces their structural power (this is the toxic version of this impulse for rootedness). Collectively, we will seek out and strengthen the connections that build the resilience we need to survive the 21st Century. And this will all happen in the context of a world that continues to heat and change, even as we’re trying to undo the carbon sins of the past.

I think of my optimistic climate fiction as a way to give space to positive solutions, not just in energy or climate mitigation, but in the very fabric of our family structures. So much change will be needed, and I feel strongly that we need more stories that show positive adaptation. I want to be part of writing those stories.

I see stories like yours, Gina, as a gift not just to people who share the often-overlooked cultural history within the stories, but especially for those who don’t (or have been disconnected from their past). I love how you focus on “care-based modalities.” Care work is the essential glue that holds families, and society, together. So many of us are unmoored, disconnected by a cultural emphasis on radical individualism, and are now wayfinding, seeking a rerooting to people and place. Rediscovering the diversity of connection that already exists among us—has indeed been here all along—is some powerful medicine. 

With that, I would love to hear your recommendations for future reading, both non-fiction and fiction (although with an emphasis on fiction because that seems hard to find), that highlight Indigenous perspectives or ancestral cultural practices, especially those that relate to our family connections or ways of living in relation to the natural world. Beyond writing these kinds of works, I think it’s so important to surface the works of others, to increase their visibility so we can all benefit from them.

Gina: Thank you for that super beautiful question! There’s so many amazing Indigenous writers to choose from. I personally love and live off of the poetry of Peter Bluecloud (Mohawk). Bear: A Totem Dance as Seen by Raven is a personal favorite.  I greatly admire the storytelling of Louise Erdrich (Chippewa), particularly the way that she brings to life friendship, loss, and family in The Roundhouse. Māori author, Witi Ihimaera’s The Uncle’s Storyis so hard-hitting, so moving. The novel absolutely changed the way that I love.

I look for writing that calls forward your tears, that hits you hard and alters you so profoundly that you’re never the same. Other authors that I adore include Kai Carlson Wee (look for Bracken), Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes), and Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried), each of which consider our non-human relations, our duties and roles to our families, ancestors, and most importantly, our commitment to those within our collective humanity that we may not yet know or understand.

Thank you so much, mahalo nui no koʻu naʻau, for your lovely questions and for your time, Sue, it was an absolute pleasure chatting with you!

Read By the Skin of Your Teeth and Seven Sisters, alongside the other stories from Imagine 2200, Fix’s climate-fiction contest, recognizes stories that envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress, imagining intersectional worlds of abundance, adaptation, reform, and hope. Read all 12 stories here.

Gina McGuire (she/her) is pursuing a PhD in geography and environment at the University of Hawaiʻi, where she considers the well-being of rural coasts from the lens of Hawaiian healing praxis. Her work has been published in Trouble the Waters: Tales From the Deep Blue, Yellow Medicine Review, “But When You Come from Water”, and We Are Ocean People: Indigenous Leadership in Marine Conservation, and she is the 2021 winner of the Imagining Indigenous Futurisms Award. Her writing and research are grounded in her love for Indigenous lands and persons (human and nonhuman), and in aloha for her ancestors.

Susan Kaye Quinn (she/her) is an environmental engineer turned science-fiction writer currently residing in Pittsburgh and dreaming of a better future through her hopepunk climate fiction. Her self-published novels have been optioned for virtual reality, translated into German and French, and featured in several anthologies.

Solutions Spotlight

In this issue’s extract from a book featuring a climate solution, Bren Macdibble shares an extract from How to Bee about the character hand-catching pests to feed to her chickens:

Kids are the best at pest catching, small hands, good eyes, fast and good at climbing. Me and Mags with our five chooks, we’re a good team. The chooks keep us fed with eggs, all from the pests we feed them. I dunno how people fed chooks from before when they poisoned the pests.

The farm’s full of circles. Bees, flowers, fruit. Pests, chooks, eggs. People, bees, flowers, fruit, pests, chooks, eggs, people… all overlapping circles. I don’t understand how it went before the famine. Poison? That’s like cutting the circles right through the middle. The circle can’t go nowhere but a dead end. No wonder the little bees stopped working and left us to starve.

Rewilding Britain helps replant hedgerows in the UK to provide pollinators with fertiliser and pesticide free variety in the food of pollinators.

214 Days to Create a Cli-fi Anthology by D.A. Baden

Author of climate rom-com Habitat Man, D. A. Baden, discusses her recent work on a climate anthology.

A group of chemical engineers from Herculean Climate Solutions based in Malaysia approached me in April of this year, so frustrated by the lack of progress that they wanted to see if climate related stories with a positive outcome might be a way to inspire people to take action. One had entered one of my Green Stories writing competitions and been inspired by the goal to use fiction to inspire action. The proposed outcome was for an anthology of Cli-Fi short stories to be published by November 2022 targeted at COP27 delegates. The brief was to show paths to a future where the identified solution has worked out. The hope is for the COP27 delegates to point at the stories and say: ‘I want that solution, that future, for my country’. 

There were just 214 days before the start of COP27. It seemed like an impossible task in such a short time, but no more impossible than fixing the climate crisis. We set to work, with no funds, little time and a sense of urgency. This powered us through and, with the help of the Climate Fiction Writers League and my own contacts from Green Stories competitions, we found experienced writers who were prepared to work with climate experts to hone and develop their stories.

Kim Stanley Robison kindly agreed to donate three chapters from his best-selling epic Ministry for the Future to the cause. Similarly the popular sci fi writer Paolo Bacigalupi submitted a story. The authors went above and beyond, and just in time we’ve managed to publish an anthology called No More Fairy Tales: Stories to Save our Planet.

These are 23 stories which aim to inspire readers with positive visions of what a sustainable society might look like and how we might get there. The stories are diverse in style, ranging from whodunnits to sci-fi, romance to family drama, comedy to tragedy, and cover a range of solution types from high-tech to nature-based solutions, to more systemic aspects relating to our political economy. QR codes shown on COP27 banners link delegates to associated webpages for each story and solution giving details of how they may be progressed.

Story pages:

Solution pages:

We needed to move fast so published it under my tiny imprint Habitat Press, which I set up to support the Green Stories competitions. But the stories are engaging enough for a mainstream audience too, so we’d love to get a larger publisher interested who can help to market the anthology to a wider audience.

If you check it out, there’s a survey at the end to see what impact the stories had on readers. Also be aware of the latest competitions being run by Green Stories:

  • 5 minute video competition £700 prizes 23rd Nov 22
  • Eco Santa short story. £100 prize. Deadline 30th Nov 2022
  • Orna Ross Green Stories Novel Competition £1000 first prize, £500 runner up + publication mentorship package. Deadline 3rd Jan 2023.

www.greenstories.org.uk Email: greenstories@soton.ac.uk

D.A. Baden is Professor of Sustainability at the University of Southampton and has published numerous book chapters and articles in the academic realm. She wrote the script for a musical that was performed in Southampton and London in 2016, and has written three other screenplays. Habitat Man was inspired a real-life green garden consultant who helped make her garden more wildlife friendly. Denise set up the series of free Green Stories writing competitions in 2018 to inspire writers to integrate green solutions into their writing (www.greenstories.org.uk). Habitat Man began as an effort to showcase what a solution-based approach might look like, and then took on a life of its own. In between teaching and research, she is now working on the sequel.

Solutions Spotlight

In this issue’s extract from a book featuring a climate solution, Carol Garden shares an extract fromthe Middle Grade novelKidnap at Murder Island:

The wave-energy converter in the bay was a great playground for underwater hide-and-seek. Annie Walker’s family maintained the converter and she had been swimming around it for most of her life. Its four corners were anchored to the sea floor by giant poles. Data-collection buoys floated on the surface… Like the engine of an old-fashioned car, the pistons converted the energy into electricity for the power station in the Dome on top of the cliff.

Cosmic Wasteland by Gemma Fowler

There is no doubt, a new Space Age is upon us. And, as much as I love the idea of space exploration and the discoveries/technology it will inevitably inspire, it bothers me. It bothers me so much it inspired my novel, City of Rust– a cli-fi story of tribalism, technology, ingenuity and… a planet-load of rubbish.

Ever since Sputnik blasted into our skies in 1957 there has been the understanding that when it comes to space, ‘what goes up doesn’t have to come down’. Which was OK when it was the odd satellite or capsule just big enough to fit a terrified dog in it – but in the 65 years since Sputnik made it into orbit, we have accumulated over 128 million pieces of space debris, from the size of a flake of paint, to ‘zombie’ satellites and a Tesla Roadster (cheers Elon), all spinning around our heads at seven times the speed of a bullet. And it’s going to get a lot worse.

It was space exploration itself that gave us the perspective of our world as vulnerable and rare -something to protect. In 1972 Apollo 17 gave us the ‘Blue Marble’, the first whole picture of the Earth in daylight. It gave momentum to burgeoning environmental movement, being coined ‘Spaceship Earth’ – our beautiful, vibrant life capsule, floating in the endless black void.

Forty-ish years later we’re letting the space around that precious life capsule become an impenetrable cosmic wasteland. And that is not cool.

Only now, when we’re beginning to see the consequences of our actions (space missions are constantly at risk from ‘debris strike’, and increasingly, so is the Earth), are we thinking that this space junk might actually be a problem. When will we learn? What will have to happen before we can see the bigger picture when it comes to our impact on the space around us? Alice Gorman sums it up perfectly in her brilliant book ‘Dr Space Junk Versus the Universe’:

‘Earth is slowly eroding into space with the materials we send into orbit and beyond. We’ve even increased the weight of the Moon, Mars and Venus by a nanofraction. But Earth is also aggrading as far huger quantities of cosmic material fall to Earth everyday – an estimated 40000 tonnes each year. This interchange of material between Earth and space is a good illustration that Spaceship Earth is more like a shoreline onto which the driftwood dusts of the cosmos wash.’

We’re treating space as we have always treated the Earth – without any care or forethought, continuing to leave the dirty trace of humanity everywhere we’ve been.

Humanity can be the absolute worst sometimes.

It’s this spiralling train of thought that inspired City of Rust – a scorched version of Earth so choked by its own rubbish that its only option was to shoot it all up into space, with disastrous consequences.

The society in City of Rust has the advanced technology and resources needed to change, but instead resort to tribalism and power grabbing, choosing make their environmental problems ‘out of sight, out of mind’ rather than solve them. Sound familiar? Is this not what we do when we ship our rubbish off to the developing world, or design space programmes with no built-in solution for their inevitable environmental impact?

In the New Space Age that environmental impact is going to be huge. USA versus Russia has turned into Branson versus Besos versus Musk, all driven by ego and intent on turning inner Earth orbit into an unregulated billionaire’s playground.

Don’t get me wrong, following the exploits of Elon and Jeff is one of my favourite things to do, and it is all fun and games (watching William Shatner get blasted into space WAS fun) until you think about the actual environmental impact of all the rocket launches and satellite deployments –

Since the start of this new, commercial Space Age, rocket launches have gone from a handful a year to over a hundred and counting. Still small fry, as far as emissions are concerned, but once their programmes are fully up and running, companies such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic will be aiming for two launches A DAY. Each leaving a dirty comet’s tail of rocket fuel and debris in their wake.

“Combustion emissions from rocket engines affect the global atmosphere. Historically, these impacts have been seen as small and so have escaped regulatory attention. Space launch is evolving rapidly however, characterized by anticipated growth in the frequency of launches, larger rockets, and employment of a greater variety of propellants. At some future increased launch rate, the global impacts from launch emissions will collide with international imperatives to manage the global atmosphere.”

MARTIN ROSS, JAMES VEDDA – the Center for Space Policy and Strategy

And it’s not just the environmental impact to think about. Astronomers have warned that once the Earth is wrapped in a blanket of privately hosted, unregulated, satellite mega – constellations, such as SpaceX’s StarLink and OneWeb, we will struggle to see our natural stars for the brighter, closer, artificial ones. One company is even trying to launch the world’s first interstellar billboard (Ok cool Bladerunner vibes maybe but ultimately…NOPE).

It’s a bloody mess up there. But, if anyone can sort it out, it’s us.

One of the first books I remember reading at school was Stig of The Dump by Clive King. I was an enthusiastic outdoor child, always covered in mud and often found upside down on the climbing frame in the garden, so Stig and Barney’s story really stayed with me. I remember admiring Stig’s ingenuity and his freedom. To me, his cave, adapted into a home with nothing but rubbish, was nothing short of magical:

‘(Stig)… took up the air of a householder showing a visitor around his property, and began pointing out some of the things he seemed particularly proud of.

First, the plumbing. Where the water dripped through a crack in the roof of the cave, he had wedged the mud-guard of a bicycle. The water ran along this, through the tube of a vacuum cleaner, and into a big can with writing on it. By the side of this was a plastic football carefully cut in half, and Stig dipped up some water and offered it to barney.’

The protagonists of City of Rust – Railey the engineer, and Atti the drone-flying bio-robotic gecko – are versions of Stig; quick thinking and deft, skilled at turning trash into treasure. Only the dump they live in is Boxville, a vast city made entirely from old shipping containers, grown up out of the rubbish heap created by neighbouring Glass City – turned into a lively, dangerous, exciting hub of human ingenuity.

We have many ‘Boxvilles’ on Earth now, places where rubbish and recycling is a way of life, like Manshiyat Nasser, a district of Cairo where unofficial garbage collectors, or ‘Zabbaleen’, recycle 90% of the city’s waste. Or Kamikatsu, the village in Japan where recycling is a way of life, and every scrap of waste is used or reused.

It’s people and places like this that give me a bit of hope. It is our desire to explore and innovate that has gotten us into this mess, and eventually it will be those same desires that will get us out of it.

The news is pretty distracting right now, and it seems like we have bigger problems than William Shatner floating about in a Blue Origin capsule, but the problem of waste, on Earth and in space, isn’t going away. I hope, and I do have hope, that we make the changes needed to avert disaster soon. Like the people in City of Rust, we have everything we need to make a change, all we have to do is put our politics aside, just for a minute, and take action.

As the late, great Whitney Houston once said, ‘I believe the children are the future’, and if even one child (or teacher or parent) reads City of Rust, (or any of the other amazing ecological books out there), and feels inspired to fight for the planet they will inherit, to use their ingenuity to help solve the problem of waste, on Earth and around it, then my job here is done.

*Mic drop*

Find out more about City of Rust.

Gemma Fowler is a children’s author and general space enthusiast whose published titles include YA sci-fi thriller, Moondust, and MG cli-fi mystery, City of Rust. Even though she considers herself to be a complete layman, she has an infectious enthusiasm for science, which she brings to schools in talks and events based around the ecological and societal issues raised in her books. Aside from being a published author, one of her greatest achievements was featuring on Tomorrow’s World saying that she ‘liked peas’.

Solutions Spotlight

In this issue’s extract from a book featuring a climate solution, Jay Aspen shares an extract from Resistance, a near-future adventure romance.

The rain had stopped by the time Jac turned down the rough track approaching the farm, the air dancing with mosquitoes under the dripping trees, their tiny bodies luminous with microfilaments from the water that had birthed them. A powerful led-light outlined three flickering silhouettes of shadowy human figures, bulky in borrowed chem-suits as they sprayed the defoliant-ravaged garden with remediation bacteria. Half the area had already been treated and covered with mats of woven straw to keep the precious bacteria damp and multiplying.

Two years before that soil is clear of toxins.

Jac knew she should join the teams working in relays through the night, but with the medical needs of her new arrivals it was unlikely she would get the chance.

The Soil Science Society of America fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils.

Eco-anxiety – today’s childhood malaise by Carol Garden

My hairdresser’s son cries when items about climate change come on the news. He’s eight years old and he thinks we are all going to die. He’s really scared about the future. Like millions of children around the world with ‘eco-anxiety’ this affects his ability to function normally, thanks to a chronic fear of environmental doom.

UK researchers surveyed teenagers and young adults from ten countries and found they are suffering from climate anxiety at even higher rates than adults. These feelings go beyond worry. Kids with eco-anxiety feel fear, anger, grief, despair, guilt and shame. More than 60 per cent of Australian children feel eco-anxiety according to a recent survey. New Zealand children are suffering too.

For younger children, eco-anxiety can become overwhelming. It’s the modern bogey monster, something so big and terrifying that it can’t be overcome with the light on and a hug from Mum. Psychologists say that although painful and distressing, eco-anxiety is not a mental illness. Eco-anxiety is rational. These children understand the magnitude of the threat. Climate change has created a threatening and uncertain world, the climate crisis is complex and lacks a clear solution.

It’s a big enough concern that Harriet Shugman has written a book called How to Talk to Your Kids About Climate Change. There are online forums to help parents negotiate a problem that didn’t exist for previous generations. The best they can offer is help with discussing the climate crisis in a way that offers a hopeful alternative picture of what things might look like on a planet that is warming up.

In 2019 Greta Thunberg summed up how it looks to young people, when she told world leaders that instead of solutions she was hearing ‘blah, blah, blah’. Her valid question was “why aren’t you working together to fix this?” The wheels of progress are grinding far too slowly and eco-anxiety continues to rise.

It breaks my heart that children are worried they don’t have a future. Even fiction lets them down. Novels about the future are invariably dystopic and frightening. I can’t do much, but I can write, so I wrote a middle grade novel set in Aotearoa New Zealand 2072, where people live successfully with climate change. Today’s kids will still be alive then, so I reasoned that this time-frame would be reassuring. Because it’s for kids, there are super-powers and cool adventures. When it won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award last year, it validated my sense that kids need a positive picture of the world they are inheriting. Since the prize was being published by Scholastic, presumably it’s also a commercially attractive theme.

Kidnap at Mystery Island hit the shelves in New Zealand at the end of July. It is my small attempt to help and so far, kids are enjoying it. Not just kids either. A 91-year-old-reader told my mother that she couldn’t imagine a positive future world, until she read it. As a grandmother, she found it comforting.

“Children are infinitely more informed than their parents think, a lot of the time,” Caroline Hickman, a psychotherapist at the University of Bath in the UK told the BBC. She led the 2021 global online survey of climate anxiety in 10,000 teenagers and young adults aged 16-25 in 10 countries, including the UK, US, Brazil, India and the Philippines.

An alarming 75 per cent of the young people surveyed said they felt that “the future is frightening”. Fifty-nine per cent believed that “humanity is doomed”. Fifty-eight percent of respondents felt that governments were betraying them or future generations. Most of these young people are old enough to vote; elected officials need to take notice.

Eco-anxiety in children may have far-reaching consequences. If you’re a child who truly believes that the world is doomed, then what’s the point in getting an education, or even getting up in the morning? How can a child focus on playing and learning when the future seems so tenuous?

Anxiety is fed by feelings of powerlessness. Children have very little power to effect solutions. When the adults around them are ignoring climate change or worse, contributing to it, kids are more likely to fall victim to eco-anxiety.

Parents and teachers need to take a leaf out of Nathaniel Stinett’s book. The found of the Environmental Voter Project says he tries to think small, rather than think big.

“The key to joyfulness within the climate crisis is not to always think about the enormity of the problem. Instead, we should be focusing on the climate challenges and opportunities within our own lives and how we can succeed at those.”

For Stinett, this translates to eating less meat, dressing sustainably, driving less and asking people to plant trees instead of giving birthday gifts.

Kids can embrace these ideas, even when their parents aren’t fully on board. If they’re lucky, their enthusiasm will carry the whole family along on a positive journey. Well-meaning parents will hopefully support a child who wants to try being vegetarian. Walking or riding a bike to school is another area where kids can make a difference. Turning down a party in favour of a bushwalk sends a strong message. Likewise giving up a toy gift in favour of a tree. Recycling, cleaning up the playground – there’s a feel-good factor to taking action, no matter how small.

Environmental scientist Hannah Ritchie calls herself an impatient optimist.

“Optimism is seeing problems as challenges that are solveable; it’s having the confidence that there are things that we can do to make a difference,” she says.

Ritchie says the optimists are the innovators, the entrepreneurs, the ones willing to put their reputation, money and time on the line because they see an opportunity to solve a problem.

“We need to tell our kids that climate change is not just cruel, it also gets in the way of progress. Few scientists accept that humanity is doomed. If we’re serious about tackling the world’s biggest problems, we need to be more optimistic.”

We need our children to be optimists – to believe they can move us forward on climate action. Eco-anxiety creates pessimists who can’t see the point of doing anything. Humanity can’t afford to have its future generations mired in stagnation and regression, for want of a belief in the future.

Children can’t control the media, but parents can choose to switch it off when it’s overly negative. I subscribe to Positive News and loads of climate newsletters which show that innovative solutions are gaining momentum. This is the kind of news my friend’s child should be reading and seeing on TV and hearing about in the classroom.

In Kidnap at Mystery Island, the main characters are children. They are smart, resourceful and respected by the adults around them. Most importantly they are hyper-aware of the planet and the symbiotic relationship humanity needs to sustain, for survival. They are also funny, flawed and joyful. It’s a good life in the future I have written.

It heartens me that other writers are also creating stories and characters that will help children picture a future worth fighting for. We desperately need our tamariki to believe in a positive future, so they feel empowered and energised to go out and create it.

Tauranga author Carol Garden has been writing for a living as a journalist and communications manager for many years. In the 2020 Covid lockdown she wrote her first children’s novel, Kidnap at Mystery Island. A keen sailor, Carol used the beautiful islands of the Mercury Bay area as the book’s setting. When Carol is not writing or sailing, she tutors students in NCEA English, writing and literacy.

Kidnap at Mystery Island won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award in 2021 for ‘best novel by an unpublished author’.

Solutions Spotlight

In this issue’s extract from a book featuring a climate solution, Bren Macdibble and Zana Fraillon share a quote from The Raven’s Song, their co-written MG fictional book set in a post-city world. The main character talks about the changes they had to make after years of disease and climate problems drove survivors to abandon cities:

‘Yes, I know people in the old days lived in giant mega-cities smothered in dirty clouds and had lots of technology and lived unsustainably and used fossil fuels and drowned the world in plastics and pollution and parts of the honoured and natural world died and the seas rose and we invaded the wild areas and new diseases took hold and killed most of their children and now we have to stay in our townships and keep our hair short and our hands clean and not make a peep of pollution and not increase our numbers even by one coz we would need to expand our range, and the honoured and natural world needs hundreds of years to recover and rebalance the planet or we won’t survive. I’m twelve years old. I’ve had so many history lessons I know to my core this is how we have to live now. Three hundred and fifty kind, ethical, truthful people on seven hundred hectares or not at all.

I get that. It’s fine. I’m of the generation that waits for the world to recover. We endure the heat. We endure the storms that blow up out of nowhere, giant bacteria-stained clouds that roll and boil green at the edges, the wrecking floods that wash through, the long droughts, the days of smoke as fire burns outside our fences, coz this is what the honoured Earth does when she’s trying to recover.

We’re not the generation who live easy lives in huge houses, or travel the world on airplanes, or the generation that dies at the hand of strange new diseases and famines. We’re the ones who get to live and we live kindly and work hard upon this honoured earth. Our hard work keeps us all fed, even if it’s only on our seven hundred hectares with our three hundred and fifty people for the rest of our lives. We endure.’

The World Wide Fund for Nature works to preserve forests, to protect their value in locking away animal diseases that might pass to humans as well as improving air quality, stabilising land and improving water run off and quality.

Two Emerging Caribbean Writers

For the second year of Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors, writers from across the globe engaged their imaginations in discovering intersectional worlds of generational healing and community-based solutions. This year’s three winners and nine finalists bring new perspectives to the vital genre of climate fiction, with short stories that offer visions of abundance, adaptation, reform, and hope. Join us in celebrating an uprising of imagination with 12 stirring, surprising, and expansive looks at a future built on sustainability, inclusivity, and justice. Read all 12 stories here.

Today, two of the finalists talk about their work as young, emerging Caribbean writers – Nadine Tomlinson, author of the winning storyThe Metamorphosis of Marie Martin, and Akhim Alexis, author of The Lexicographer and One Tree Island.

Akhim Alexis: Hey Nadine, I’m really excited to chat with you about your winning story, The Metamorphosis of Marie Martin. Every time I read it, something new and magnificent jumps out at me. It’s a tender, vivid narrative that rings authentic from beginning to end. One of the first things that stood out to me was the seamless incorporation of major societal issues such as generational differences, mother-daughter relationships and the plight of the working class, all while keeping the main theme of illegal fishing/overfishing at the center of the story. What were your motivations behind these narrative choices?

Nadine Tomlinson: Hi Akhim! I’m happy that you enjoyed reading it. Thanks for the beautiful compliment. I’m thrilled that we get a chance to talk with each other about our stories.

I’ve noticed that mothers and grandmothers are a developing motif in my pieces, which I’m curious to explore and see where it leads me. When I write about grandmothers, in particular, it’s my way of remembering and venerating my ancestral mothers. The mother-daughter relationship can be fraught in both real life and fiction, so it was refreshing to envision the close and healthy relationship between Bubbles (Marie Martin) and the women in her family as I outlined the story. In crafting her as a young woman from the working class in a male-dominated industry, I needed her to be physically and mentally tough. She reminds me of Tupac Shakur’s “The Rose that Grew from Concrete”. So, it was a happy synchronicity that she presented herself to me as a fierce, vulnerable, beautifully imperfect being who draws her greatest strength from her mother and sister. Her desires and goals for her and her family’s survival were instrumental in positioning her as an anti-heroine to be understood.

How about you? Your story “The Lexicographer and One Tree Island” awakened me to the threat that climate change poses to language loss. Dialect is my jam, so I appreciated its inclusion in your story and enjoyed learning some Trinidadian patois. What inspired you to juxtapose language death with ecological extinction?

Akhim: Dialect is my jam too! Language has always been at the centre of what I do, I studied linguistics in undergrad and developed a more holistic appreciation for issues such as language death. With climate change being synonymous with loss, I felt that identifying the disastrous domino effect it can have on all aspects of life, especially culture. I wanted to juxtapose language death with ecological extinction in a manner which left room for unmooring from catastrophe through diasporic resilience, one of which is the prioritization of language documentation. So making Toni a lexicographer and having him create a dictionary as the story progressed was not just fun, but it was part of giving language some much needed space in climate change discourse.

This is why I was so captured by your story. You touched on something that has always been a point of contention in the Caribbean, standard english as the perceived correct form of english. You go so far as to show how members of society judge you for speaking your very own language (Jamaican patois).It’s the same here in Trinidad. Do you see the ways in which we as a people perceive our respective dialects changing in the future? And what role do you think fiction has to play in tackling issues like language confidence and climate change?

Nadine: Oh, that explains a lot! That was genius of you.

It’s wild, the chokehold that Standard English has on some people, to the extent that some parents forbid their children to speak Jamaican Patois in their homes. It’s mind-boggling! How about teaching children how and when to code-switch instead of vilifying our Mother tongue? I’ll go even further. How many of our youth know that some words in Standard English owe their existence to the indigenous language of our islands’ original inhabitants?

Duolingo recently added Haitian Creole as one of its beta languages. That’s huge! That’s why I’m hopeful that our respective dialects will each receive official status as a second language and be integrated into the educational curricula in the near future.

Caribbean fiction writers at home and abroad have been boldly promoting their dialect in their works. Jamaican icon and cultural ambassador, the Honourable Louise Bennett-Coverley, paved the way for authors such as Nicole Dennis-Benn, Marlon James, and others to confidently and liberally flavour their writings with our patois. Some of them stood up to agents or publishers who were against the use of dialect in their books, which went on to become bestsellers and win awards. With that level of belief and confidence in self and the integrity of one’s mother tongue, I don’t think language confidence will be a worrying issue.

I haven’t read Diana McCaulay’s Daylight Come yet, but I know it tackles climate crisis in a post-apocalyptic Caribbean setting. Now that I’ve read your story, which serves as an urgent warning for us not to wait until a dire event threatens to eradicate our indigenous languages and dialects, I’m curious to see if and how she explores the impact of that crisis on language. Because when peoples disappear, so do their languages.

In your post-apocalyptic setting, the Garden-of-Eden theme is compelling. I particularly loved that you depicted the snake as female, because it’s a symbol of the mystical feminine, way before organized religion demonized serpents. Was this theme, complete with Tonie, Sahoora, the “oceanic rapture”, and the snake intentional, and what was/were your intention(s) for using it?

Akhim: Thank you so much for your ruminations on language, Nadine. I need to get Duolingo and learn Haitian Creole, ASAP!

Feminizing the snake was a conscious decision. I wanted to usurp the expectations of the reader. The Bible, the popular religious text that it is, has created pervasive ideas of good and evil that govern how many of us operate. Put a talking snake in a  story and immediately the reader’s mind goes to The Garden of Eden and its attendants; evil and banishment being the main mental touchstone. I wanted to shake that story up a bit by twisting the notion that evil (as symbolized by the insidious masculine snake-devil) would invade paradise.Instead I opted to turn the snake’s arrival into something more hopeful.

In many ways, the divine feminine snake works to help the two men on the island by providing a fruit that serves as a rare gift and nutrient. She brings with her a measure of calmness, kindness and stability to the island. Injecting her spirit into the story felt mandatory. I am of the opinion that many of the problems in the world would not exist if more women were in positions of power. The fact that the snake, arguably the largest entity known to the inhabitants of the island, does not use her size and perceived dangerousness to take the island back as her own, but instead works together with the bird and the boy, in a way, speaks back to the snake in the Garden of Eden and speaks toward a future that rejects combativeness and war (in all its forms).

Oceanic rapture for me is something that I believe is looming, always right around the corner. Port-of-Spain, the capital city of Trinidad and Tobago was originally an area of coastal wetlands and mangrove forests. A series of land reclamations took place over the decades to get it to the highly developed city it now is. But over time the water is going to want its space back. Oceanic rapture can play the slow and steady game, and we know that slow and steady tends to win the race. Humanistic transformations must happen in order to curb the future chaos that looms ever so quietly around the islands. We have to reassess how we operate on the land we live on and want future generations to live on.

This leads me to the major transformation that happens in  The Metamorphosis of Marie Martin. Did you go into your story knowing that the main character would undergo such an internally pivotal and ecologically effective transformation, or did it unfold as you wrote?

Nadine: I love that you had that insight about the snake and the divine feminine. It wove the plot elements in your story together so beautifully and seamlessly.

And I agree that the water is going to reclaim the areas it once owned. I see the same thing happening in Jamaica. It’s just a matter of time. It’s scary to think of the consequences. You’re absolutely right. Instead of the powers-that-be giving the green light for ripping up the land and tearing down trees to build more hotels, they need to reassess, as you recommended, and implement action plans to prevent, rather than try to cure, disaster.

Yes, I did. It was one of the first things that came to me before I started outlining the story. People say that things happen for a reason. That may be true, but in Bubbles’ (Marie’s) case, there’s no rhyme or reason to her transformation. That’s deliberate. I wanted her metamorphosis to be open to interpretation, which I think makes things interesting because it creates opportunities to have enriching discussions on life, the natural environment, and our symbiotic relationship with Nature.

It’s dope that we’re both from the Caribbean and featured the sea, creatures, and types of transformation in our stories. In “The Lexicographer and One Tree Island”, I see Tonie’s metamorphosis, arising from ecological adaptation, echoing Bubbles’. How cool is that! The synchronicity!

It was my first time writing a climate fiction story, and I can safely say that it won’t be my last. As we look forward to a future brimming with hope and creative solutions, how do you envision young, emerging Caribbean writers tapping into this energy to develop an interest in writing climate fiction or climate stories that are creative non-fiction? What can be done to encourage and guide them on this aspect of their writing journey?

Akhim: I’m with you on writing more climate fiction! I loved challenging myself to write more hopefully and to think toward solution. Young Caribbean writers should think about what issues–whether within their own lives or on a macro scale (countrywise or regional–needs further narrativization. What about home should become more present in contemporary Caribbean narrative? What stories need to become as common as folklore? That sort of creative thinking must reveal the need for more climate fiction and creative nonfiction. Guaranteed they should also not just think about it as “climate fiction.” Labels are important but can also be limiting. We know that many things can be true at the same time. Life happens simultaneously. You can write about: love, marriage, divorce, UFOs, academia, the rum shop, car accidents, lonely widowers, unemployment, Carnival, and still find a way to insert the climate condition into the story. We are only limited by our own imagination.

Also, challenge yourself and try to get out of your comfort zone. That’s what I did when I entered the Imagine 2200 climate fiction contest. Forcing myself to sit down and drum up a story so far from what I usually write has helped me become a better writer. I suppose as emerging Caribbean writers, becoming  a better version of your creative self is always a good thing.

It was a pleasure talking to you, Nadine, about The Metamorphosis of Marie Martin, writing, character and the climate. I hope we can do this again sometime!

Nadine: I hope so, too, Akhim. It was fun, and I learned lots from you.

Imagine 2200, Fix’s climate-fiction contest, recognizes stories that envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress, imagining intersectional worlds of abundance, adaptation, reform, and hope. Read all 12 stories here.

Nadine Tomlinson is a Jamaican writer and speculative storyteller. Her short fiction and poetry explore themes that include the natural environment, and African and contemporary folklore in Jamaican culture. Her writings are published in adda, The Gold Anthology, and elsewhere.

Akhim Alexis (he/him) is a writer from Trinidad and Tobago who holds an M.A. in Literatures in English from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. He is the winner of the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival’s Elizabeth Nunez Award for Writers in the Caribbean and was a finalist for the Barry Hannah Prize in Fiction and the Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize. His work has appeared in The Massachusetts Review, Transition Magazine, Chestnut Review, and elsewhere.

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Solutions Spotlight

In the YA dystopia Islands by Jacob Sackin, students do trail work in nature to plant native species and get closer to the natural world.

“We have three full crews of high school students now from the outdoor school that work a few nights every other week. They don’t get paid that well, but they get school credit, and they love the work. It’s been a solution to so many of our problems; the kids who have to take all the drugs because they can’t sit still in class love it cause they get to move around a lot, and it’s a great way to expose them to the outdoors. We’ve cleared out a good deal of the scotch broom around here. You know, I’ve spent my whole life feeling powerless to do anything to help heal this unnatural world that we’ve created; but I’ve learned that the secret is not to let yourself get discouraged trying to fix everything all at once, and I don’t mean to just make the most of it, but to create your own little island universe that feels good and right, whether it’s on the side of a mountain or in the room of a tiny apartment.”

An ode to nature and a warning against cultural trappings

Today Mary Woodbury, the social media manager for the Climate Fiction Writers League, talks to Mark Ballabon about her new novel, The Stolen Child. Mary writes under the penname Clare Hume.

Mark: What really motivated you to write The Stolen Child and what age range are you writing to?

Mary: Part one is Back to the Garden, first published in 2013 and then revised in 2018 to begin the Wild Mountain duology. The motivation was speculating a world in which our planet would continue to go downhill due to humankind’s various impacts, such as causing ecological and climate breakdowns as well as more divisive politics and corruption. How would that affect a small group of people? What could they do to learn from their past mistakes, to continue to survive? I called the first novel speculative eco-fiction, but speculative fiction, they say, is becoming realism, so that was something to account for when writing part two, The Stolen Child. Another inspiration for writing the sequel was my strong need to do some place-writing. We’d spent some time on the western coast of Ireland, and I wanted to relive some experiences there, even in story form.

As far as age-range, this is partly a coming-of-age novel, where 11-year-old Fae is one of the main characters, but I feel the audience is mostly an adult one. Fae is mature for her age; some of the things she and others go through in the novel aren’t typically subjects for middle-grade audiences. I feel, however, that adult readers might see their younger selves in Fae and use her experiences as a reminder to get back to their more innocent, less jaded outlooks on life and find the strength to do so in order to envision our world anew, to pay more attention to the natural spaces.

Mark: As the storyline, atmosphere, and pace of this excellent story gather momentum, one of the important themes emerges on climate change. You mention that one of the protagonists, Elena, has a philosophy about this which she derives from reading Moby Dick which is that “…to redeem the planet, we must first redeem ourselves.”  Could you give an example in the book where this happens in one of the scenes and/or with one of the characters?  

Mary: It is less about morality in Moby-Dick than it is about Elena’s love for oceans, which she has not visited before, and a need to ground herself in familiarity as well as the idea that oceans were once more abundant and clean. The first Wild Mountain book took place around 2080, so seas had risen and flooded some coastal cities by then. In Back to the Garden, Elena and Daniel’s son died after falling out of a tree and, not too long afterward, Elena, always the reader and the Keeper of Stories, takes Moby-Dick with her on the trip down South with the rest. It’s a familiar story to her, and she needs to be grounded by something after her son’s death. Of course, Melville was great and fiercely dramatic about describing the sea. One of the passages is:

Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all. 

That passage particularly shows how much humans revere the sea, documents the state of the oceans then compared to now, and points out how looking at our own reflections in water can expose ourselves. All the characters in the first book are dealing with something terrible from their pasts: deaths, living a life of excess, a mother leaving without saying good bye, unrequited love, a divisive quarrel with a lifelong friend, etc. Elena simply realizes that to have the energy and resolve to fix the planet, we have to fix ourselves first. Her conduit is the ocean; it means so much to her, and during her read of Moby-Dick for the umpteenth time, she is grieving so deeply that she realizes she needs to do something in order to feel alive again. Overcoming the grief is something she thinks needs to happen before she can have the energy to do other things for the good of the world. She feels a great need to put her feet into the ocean in order to be renewed.

I have to go into some background here and parallel some of Elena’s history with my own. When I was a little girl, my pappaw, who lived in the eastern Kentucky Appalachian mountains, told me a lot of stories. I loved him very much, and he was my favorite adult relative to hang out with. He and Mammaw had some steps leading up to their house in the holler, and flanking the bottom steps were two black milk cans. On top of each was a conch shell. Pappaw told me if I put a shell up to my ear, I would be able to hear the ocean. I didn’t believe him, but it was true. Like Elena, back then, I had never been to the ocean. Like Elena, I wanted to see the ocean very badly, especially after my pappaw showed the magical sound that a shell could bring from the ocean. I dreamed of it. Eventually, I would move to southern California, and then coastal British Columbia, and now I live in Atlantic Canada. All ocean playgrounds.

So, I understood Elena’s desire to step her feet in the ocean. Perhaps it’s both tangible and symbolic, but the first time I put my feet in the ocean, I stood there forever. It came after a period of grief in my life. It seemed freeing standing at the edge of a continent, gazing west at what seemed like eternity. Elena has this same lifelong dream. She wants to experience it when they reach Savannah, Georgia, in Back to the Garden, but doesn’t get to because the sea is full of debris. 

Her reflection of Moby-Dick is simply parallel to the future in which she lives; she knows that once the seas were wildly abundant and resourceful, as in Moby-Dick, and she clings to that like she clung to something familiar when her son died, but climate change and ecological catastrophe has altered coastal landscapes forever. It’s her lamentation for how things have become. She also knows that humans allowed this to happen; thus, her conclusion is that to fix things we must fix ourselves—that is, to look inward, fix what is broken, and then begin to look outward to the world, to find empathy and energy to fix other things.

Mark: I was very caught by the vivid scenes described in the book many years after the ‘Tipping Point’ of the climate crisis we are currently in. Scenes of wildfires, rising sea levels, and crumbling ruins of underwater buildings from ‘the old world’. From the in-depth research which I know you have done, do you feel that we are at that tipping point now?  

Mary: The Tipping Point, described more in the first novel, was further along than we are now. But I feel we are in the vulnerable years leading up to the Resource Wars, also explained in the first novel, a slower attrition that leads to the Tipping Point. Tipping points generally happen when things escalate to a point, and then the perfect storm topples things. The first novel described how there was a “parting of a river,” a widening gap between haves and have-nots, and that’s definitely guiding our world now and has been happening for a while, where billionaires own or buy their way into our communication platforms, media information, and politics. A big amount of money is spent on both frivolity and control. Meanwhile, more and more people do not have the essentials.

I did do some climate research, but, as far as storytelling goes, climate models can only partially predict how we speculate futures. Politics, capitalism, health, and so on factor into climate tragedies and can aggravate everything. Healthcare in North America, for instance, has taken a plunge, much of it due to the pandemic. In my Canadian province, for instance, we’ve lived here for over three years and my husband still doesn’t have a family doctor. Emergency clinics are shutting down. Ambulances and emergency personnel are limited. People have died because of these things. 

I remember researching diseases (before Covid-19) and learning that it was possible that tropical vector-borne disease and mosquitoes could move northward. This happens in the first novel, along with a mysterious flu. In the story, climate change is exasperated by such issues, including lack of clean water, no more widespread healthcare, no access to medicines, and so on.

Four years after part one, Covid-19 happened, and now, also, mosquitoes and diseases like Dengue are moving northward, just like the articles I’d read had predicted. Talk about speculation becoming realism. But other factors at play, like healthcare issues, are getting quite scary. I believe all these things together, along with continued freak storms, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornados, and dangerously high temperatures, will make societies completely unsustainable, along with our present rate of population, consumerism, and bad leadership decisions that care more about business than health or environment. It just feels like we’re living on the edge, and though I still have some optimism, due to the work of many people to reduce emissions and find renewal technologies, I don’t know if the majority of us will be on the right path to make it happen like it needs to happen.

Mark: Most of the protagonists, especially Fran, Elena, and young Fae herself, clearly have a deep connection with the planet. Is it this which inspires their efforts to re-wild? And do you think that if the human race does not significantly re-wild, it will be forced to do so anyway in the end as matter of survival?  

Mary: At some point, with much lower emissions, the natural world will begin to rewild itself, so that is happening in the Wild Mountain series, even though long-term climate changes will last for a while. But, also, the older generation, Fran and Elena, grew up partly in a world we would recognize, and they saw, first-hand, ecological decline. Because they’d grown up on a mountain, their parents and grandparents also had recognized this and taught their descendants how to live within limits of sustainability. They had respect for the land, water, air, and all the other species also dependent on them. I don’t think it’s so much that these characters are trying to re-wild things, but they are continuing the way they were raised and also teaching their children, like Fae, the lessons. They also have creature comforts, like growing grapes, because they like to drink wine. But they try to do things wisely, like reusing waste and water in their permaculture gardens and using solar power for energy. They don’t really have much other choice, either, because most of the world is off the grid. So, yeah, it is a matter of survival as well as the knowledge of how to not make the same mistakes as in the past. 

Mark: Right from the start, we see that 11-year-old Fae is clearly a very sensitive, wild and independent-minded young woman, and it was really extraordinary to hear her inner thoughts when she’s on her own. Was she based on someone you know, or a particular representation of a child who is relatively free from the stresses, distractions and pressures of modern culture? 

Fae’s wildness is partially inspired by William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Stolen Child,” which is an ode to nature and a warning against cultural trappings that lead us astray and complicate our lives. Living with nature may also awaken a certain animal in us. At least, this is my take. Faeries are also close to nature, but they do have a variety of mythologies. They can be good or bad, bright or mischievous. I always got the feeling you don’t really want to piss off a faerie! 

The rest of Fae is sort of based upon my childhood. I was a fierce reader, shy, and a child of solitude, just like her. I had friends and loved being with others. But, and this is still true, I am most myself when on the trail, in an ocean, or in the deep of a forest. I remember once, when running in a fairly large forest near Vancouver, BC, I stopped watching signs and got lost, and absolutely loved that feeling. Same as when I did a precipitous run above Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher, on a trail that was meant for walking. Though others were around, I was more in-tune to the ocean and cliffs below, the grasses to the east of me, and the old ruins and wildflowers flanking the trail. Another time, when on a run in Ireland, I just took off down the road of the cottage we rented. I was by myself and felt some trepidation of going too far—I wasn’t sure where the paved road ended and the dirt one began, about whether I had wandered into someone else’s property. But it was magical, and I felt like Gandalf would come along in his wagon, with a wink in his eye. (Fae has a similar experience after being kidnapped.)

Mark: Up on Wild Mountain, where most of the main characters have settled in the beginning of the story, they are all effectively living off grid, having created a sustainable ecology. If they hadn’t been forced into this way of life, would they have chosen it anyway? 

Mary: That kind of life was one their ancestors had built; more than being forced into that way of life, it was always in my mind that they, living off the land, were naturally inclined to respect the mountain. I went into some of that in a previous answer. 

A lot of subject material in these novels is inspired by my mother’s side of the family, who lived in a holler in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky. When you live on a mountain, like in the older days, you are close to the land and respect it. Of course, as I was writing these interview answers, in the summer of 2022, the towns they lived near–Hazard and Hindman–were experiencing extreme flooding, and many people have died. It saddens me to no end, but, watching the news, I saw the extreme resiliency of the people in the area. The willful and strong Appalachian people came together to help feed, clothe, shelter, and rescue those who needed help during the dangerous flash-flood. It’s the same helpful caring as what I had seen years ago as a child visiting my grandparents in their holler. I wrote this kind of resiliency into my characters on Wild Mountain. It’s something else I found in Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway, and when I interviewed the author, we talked a lot about the idea that when tragedy happens, it’s not always looting and pillaging but people coming together to renew and rebuild. In short, the novel’s characters have a way of life that is sustainable, renewable, and resilient. It’s not only rewarding but practical.

Mark: In your vivid and beautiful descriptions of the long journeys, which some of the main characters take, one can’t help feeling your own passion for the natural world and your horror at the destruction of it. Do you think that through your story, a different depth of appreciation and respect for the planet can be rekindled?

Mary: I hope so, and despite some of the cautionary tale stuff, from the get-go, I go back to that thought of Elena’s: if we can redeem ourselves, we can redeem the planet. One reviewer called Back to the Garden a “dystopia with a smile.” I liked that. Good dystopias are never futile. They should have protagonists putting up a fight and doing what they can to make things better. Inspiring fearlessness and courage is so much more important than passive hope. There’s a genre of fiction called solarpunk, which is more tech-based than my novels, but one of its traits is that it’s more positive than not. It’s not necessarily utopian. Utopian is “no place,” and we can’t be inspired to base our imaginations and actions on never attaining a place of actual sustainability. Rather, we should be inspiring people to strive toward “some place,” something that’s entirely possible. 

I also feel that I was very lucky as a child to have parents who took us out into nature often. We still go hiking at Turkey Run, a place my dad hiked with me in a baby backpack when I was a kid, so it’s a lifelong tradition. It’s a beautiful state park in central Indiana. We also canoed, white-water rafted, rode horses, camped, hiked everywhere, climbed mountains, and even just picnicked a lot at parks. Our house had a meadow behind it, and we would go out there and discover all kinds of plants. I was a kid who got into things like milkweed and dragonflies. I mentioned my pappaw earlier. I had a 4-H project once to color in (had to be exact shade of color) various birds and critters on a poster board. I took it down to show Pappaw during a spring break, and he knew every detail, habit, habitat, and shade of color for each animal. I admired that and wanted to be like that when I grew up. I also had an uncle who was a geologist in a national park out West. I collected rocks, so he would always bring me something; my favorite were quartzes. While my friends kept perfumes and jewellery on their dressers, I had rocks. Anyway, those experiences instilled respect for nature to me. I had the elder mentorship like the people on Wild Mountain had, and know that this upbringing was extremely fortunate. I always wanted the natural world to survive and was an activist from a young age. I hope to motivate people to remember their young adventures in nature, or if they weren’t fortunate to have them, maybe my stories will inspire them to get out there and experience them.

Mark: Without spoiling the climax of the story, there is a description of an extreme religious cult based in a future setting but with strong echoes from today. It seems to indicate that even if the human race faces the extreme consequences of its damage to the planet and society, people will still cleave to some of the old obsessive or fanatical behaviours which cause so much harm today. Do you think that there will be a profound turning moment when people are forced to realise that the societies we have created and the levels of consumerism are far beyond sustainable? 

Mary: I wanted to look at Yeats’ ideas of the figurative meaning of stolen child, but the novel also takes the literal meaning of “stolen child.” It was around the time I was writing about Fae, when she went missing, that I learned about QAnon. I went down the rabbit hole of learning what that was, because I was so perplexed. Society has always had strange cults, but usually they have known leaders. QAnon doesn’t, really, or, if there were a couple guys on the internet having fun, they were not worshipped; however, Donald Trump became the QAnon cult messiah, even though he was never recognized as a leader. The cult started when one or more anonymous members of an internet forum were dropping mysterious clues that were intriguing to some, because who doesn’t like a mystery? But the messages were clearly political, bent toward illogical conclusions–mere coincidences were taken as absolute truths and interpretations were conspiratorial rather than based in reality–which led to wild rumors. This was, and is, extremely dangerous. The cult in my story is different, but still weird and frightening. Their solutions to problems are also based upon false narratives, such as the idea of “saving the children” from otherwise savage, non-religious, or even non-white lifestyles. Their saving is nothing more than brutal kidnapping and enslavement, however. “Saving the children” is also one of the QAnon narratives, also based upon things that aren’t happening. 

I think there will always be strange narratives that have no basis in fact but which offer a front for people who may be looking to belong somewhere. There always have been. The strange thing is that today’s false narratives are so removed from reality in a time when we understand more science than ever before. We should be more enlightened, not regressing. As far as whether there will be some profound turning moment, I don’t think so. Individually, yes, but overall, not likely. If anything, we might slowly get there, but it seems to me it will happen as it always has, two steps forward, one back. And getting there doesn’t mean that “there” is a final destination; it’s just part of the journey to somewhere else. Many false narrators today also have their own ideas about utopia. Many believe in a great reset conspiracy and a weird accelerationist movement to get there, but “there” is dystopian for many of us as it has to do with white nationalism, patriarchy, and extreme hatred of, and taking away the rights of, those who do not fit into their ideal future. 

Mark: Is there a core message that you would want people to take away from having read The Stolen Child?

Mary: I’m hoping, first and foremost, that readers like the story. I tried to make this an interesting tale that would provide a good experience for the reader rather than a polemic. Also, I want to prop up nature, in everything I do. Most stories I loved as a child, and now as an adult, do not “other” natural environment. They bring nature into the story as an integral part of being human; this is a trait in eco-fiction, which I’ve studied for years. I hope that what readers get out of the Wild Mountain series is a new understanding of rewards in life and how that can come from good friends and family, along with equality, empathy, and conservation. 

Mark: I finished the story wanting to know more about what happens to the younger generation in the story. Is there any chance that your duology will turn into a trilogy?! 

Mary: I thought about writing a trilogy at one time, in fact have another piece of art licensed for part two (The Stolen Child would have been part three). The second part was to be called To the Waters and the Wild, which would have been about the sail up north to the Khutzeymateen Wilderness area and the life there, with the last part, The Stolen Child, to be about the sail to Ireland and everything that takes place there. “To the Waters and the Wild” ended up being one of three sections in The Stolen Child instead. I might change my mind someday, but I doubt this story will go further. I do wonder what happens with Fae in the future–I loved writing the character–but I think I provided enough clues about things that she and her brother Alejo want for their future, which actually circle back to the prologue in part one of the series. 

I am currently working on a novel called Elk Stories, which is more contemporary. It’s a nod to the Appalachian Mountains, where I spent a lot of time as a kid, as well as a bittersweet story about two sisters coming to terms with their mother’s Alzheimer’s. Like all my stories, climate change plays a part. I also have another novel in the works, which I’ve set aside and might offer for free reading someday. Up the River is about a socially awkward young woman living in eastern Kentucky, in the Appalachian area, when a pipeline spill and a subsequent flash-flood threaten the livelihood of people living in the area and an aquifer nearby. This, too, has become realism. 

Find out more about The Stolen Child, and Mark’s Young Adult novel Home.

Mary Woodbury writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume and lives with her husband and two cats in Nova Scotia. SA graduate of Purdue University, she earned degrees in English and anthropology. She ran Jack Magazine (now archived at Stanford University). Now she runs Dragonfly Publishing and has written The Adventures of Finn Wilder, Back to the Garden, The Stolen Child, and Bird Song. Her hobbies, besides reading and writing, mostly include the outdoors. Mary loves being on trails and hanging out in rivers and oceans. 

Mary is the owner and curator at Dragonfly.eco, a site exploring world eco-fiction. She has written articles for Impakter, Chicago Review of Books, SFFWorld.com, Ecology Action Centre,and ClimateCultures.net. She is part of the core team of writers at Artists and Climate Change

Mark Ballabon is a philosopher, environmentalist and author who has been teaching and writing about personal and spiritual development for over two decades. He is the author of many published articles and several non-fiction books such as: Courting the Future: Preparing for a Different World, which is a collection of essays that explore the future in a visionary and practical way, including the climate crisis and climate change in the human.
During the past four years Mark has been developing a trilogy for YA readers, starting with ‘Home: My life in the Universe’. Mark lives in England with his wife and continues to be involved in a variety of creative projects with young people, including co-founding a successful international youth group.

Solutions Spotlight

In this issue’s extract from a book featuring a climate solution, Claire Datnow shares an extract from Red Flag Warning, a YA eco adventure.

“Put your hands up if you think that someone sooner or later will invent a machine that can capture carbon from the atmosphere? A few hands shoot up. “Those with their hands up are correct. The machine already exists you know: It’s called a t-r-e-e.”

Puka cannot wait to be called upon, he is so fired up. “The older generation are the ones doing nothing about the climate crises, they are ones destroying our forests. But we teenagers are the leaders. We are the fighters. And we are determined to improve the state of the planet we love,” he blurts out.

When the applause fades, Ranger Eka claps his hands for attention. His sharp gaze travels over the audience. “As for the older generations . . . from the beginning of time your ancestors believed the Earth was sacred and that we cannot harm any part of it without harming ourselves.”

The Eden Reforestation Projects work with local communities to restore forests on a massive scale, thereby creating jobs, protecting ecosystems and helping mitigate climate change.

Just Stories: African Solarpunk Challenging a Growing Climate Apartheid by Nick Wood

Narrating ‘stories’ is an ancient, lasting, and universal way humans have developed, to make sense of themselves and the world, and this includes linking together a series of facts (or events) from which to derive meaning. There is a huge, gathering factual story facing all of us – with no definitive end in our lifetime – a bleaker, and more extreme climate future lies lurking ahead. But how can we prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed by the sheer immense scale of this unfolding planetary tragedy, apart from resorting to the defense of denialism or conspiracy theories?

Two poets hold succinct keys, I think. As TS Eliot wrote in Four Quartets, ‘humankind cannot bear very much reality.’ Yet Emily Dickinson maintained: ‘Tell all the truth, but tell it slant…the truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind.’

Climate Fiction Writers League is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

What else is fiction, but slanted and bearable truth?

And what is fiction that facing forwards, watching for our emergent futures? Speculative Fiction (SF, sometimes called ‘Science Fiction’) models the potential scenarios ahead, proposing alternative models of the future – i.e., different ways of living, organising and being within the world. Because such templates may function as a threat to the status quo, it was no accident that several SF novels were banned for periods by the apartheid regime in South Africa. This trend of banning books and ideas continues to this day, not least in a current right-wing book banning binge, within the United States.

One of the quintessential SF stories centering climate changes was the Parable series; set to be a trilogy, but sadly incomplete, due to the premature death of the author, Octavia Butler, in early 2006. The Parable books (Sower, 1993 and Talents, 1998) highlight a burning California in the mid 2020’s, where a white demagogue US President is pursuing a ‘Make America Great Again’ agenda. The books highlight the need for adaptability and building sustainable communities of mutual aid which (in this case) are unified by a new, enlightened, and inclusive ‘religion’, called ‘Earthseed’.

Closer to home, Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon establishes a post-oil, post- capitalist society in Nigeria, where a better world is built after ‘aliens’ have made contact – and awoken the old gods and spirits of the earth. A new world emerges where indigenous belief systems are married with technology, a process coined by Ian McDonald as ‘jujutech’. The reclamation of indigenous (African) epistemologies constitutes a narrative ‘push back’ – a decolonizing turn – against the colonizing role of materialistic science and much early white western science fiction.

As the SF author William Gibson was reputed to have said, towards the end of the last century: “The future has arrived – it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” So, too, the climate story, where the emissions of the Global North (and the richest) have exerted devastating impacts, particularly on the Global South, where resources to both survive and manage this are considerably less, due in no small part to long histories of colonial exploitation. Neo-colonial style extractions persist within international corporations and financial systems, such that the United Nations News reported (in 2019): ‘World Faces Climate Apartheid Risk.’

Given this burning inequality, climate change and climate justice are clearly both intertwined concepts. But where are the voices and stories from those most impacted, the ‘climate precariat,’ in the Global South? There is a form of narrative inequality at work, in terms of whose voices and stories are heard – and under what conditions, by those with the power to either amplify or censor. Conservation and climate activism within Africa, for example, has been operating long before Greta Thunberg, with Wangari Maathai and her Green Belt Movement being the most significant forerunner in twentieth century Kenya (and beyond).

International corporations, allied by degrees of state capture, act with increasing neo-colonial impunity too. Eco-activists and indigenous ‘protectors’ have a history of being murdered, particularly in the global South, which is now reaching levels akin to war zones. As the world burns, from Canada, California, Siberia, and the Arctic, to the Amazon and the east coast of Australia, it is quite clear that the days of reckoning for our planet are right here, right now.

One critical resource constantly being depleted in many areas – through drought and misuse – is global fresh water. Yet, in 2019, the ‘financialization’/commodification of water has begun – water is seen as the ‘new oil’ – it has been put onto stock markets and is presented as a tradable commodity, not a human right. Given Cape Town’s (South Africa) threatened Day Zero in 2018 (i.e., the city reportedly running out of water), my initial premise for my own book Water Must Fall (2020) was, what if water was completely controlled by private companies? This had in fact happened partially previously, seen in the Cochabamba Water War in Bolivia – where the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had insisted on the country selling their water to a private multi-national, who ramped up prices to unaffordable levels for the majority of the country’s populace.

Water Must Fall is set in 2048, in drought-stricken Kwa-Zulu Natal and California in ‘The Federated States of America.’ The central question facing the four main characters in this book is: In a desiccating world, who gets to drink? I adopted a rotating three-character chapter sequence throughout, with two of the characters focusing on Southern Africa, one on the ‘Federated States’ – a deliberately chosen name to highlight that nation states, however powerful, are subject to change, fracture and even, dissolution. What would a world without borders look like – given nature has no borders?

Within the SF sub-genres, I would characterize Water Must Fall as African Solarpunk, where ‘social justice is survival technology’. This genre focuses on resistance against a global system that has proven to be toxic to the planet – i.e., neo- liberal racialised capitalism – and replacing it with a greener and more just way of living, including the reclamation of indigenous rights and knowledges.

The ending of Water Must Fall involves a community – the Imbali Collective ‘Save our Water’ (SOW) – being faced with forcible relocation, to make way for ‘gentrification’ of their land. Dispossession of a vulnerable, disadvantaged community has multiple painful resonances, which can only echo down the corridors of a long apartheid history. The Imbali SOW survival response involved a considered land occupation, as well as legally pushing for the recognition of historically original land rights and the granting of personhood status to the natural world, a la the Ganges in India. If a company can be a person, why not a river? (In Water Must Fall, it’s the Msunduzi.)

Opponents of land reclamation always point out the dangers of land occupation, especially to the Zimbabwean Land Occupation Movement at the turn of the century – but a way must be found to address the massive (and iniquitous) resource inequalities between the ‘privileged’ and the ‘precarious’ – not least because those who have contributed the least are facing the worst brunt, of the unfolding climate crisis. Under a climate justice rubric there is a need for reparations, rematriation, allowed mobility/migration and land and water access, in a future which embraces all – and where no one is expendable.

A reclaiming of the public commons, such as land and water, over private wealth and a system that continues to carry hegemonic and exclusionary structural violence against the majority of the world’s inhabitants. Nothing less than a new and more just world order is required if we are not just to survive, but to survive compassionately and sustainably, despite the climate depredations that still lie ahead.

For what sort of world do we want our children/relatives/loved ones to live in? There can be no just and good future, without a just system – which means oppressive institutional systems and mechanisms that foster exploitation and damage – yet are often hidden and vociferously defended, such as white, toxic, capitalist patriarchies – need to be dismantled or reconstructed, for a fairer way of operating, that respects both life, and what little is left of our natural planet.

Speculative fiction does have a history of involvement with issues of justice, more recently in the anthology Octavia’s Brood. As the co- editor Adrienne Maree Brown stated:

“This is why I write science fiction (after spending so long in social justice work). To cultivate radical imagination…All organizing is science fiction, all efforts to bend the arc of the future towards justice, is science fictional behaviour. How we do that work really matters. We are all interconnected. Denying that, we die. Surrendering to that, we live. Let us all live.”

Speculative fiction (SF) can help us live and relearn our relationship to life in all its manifestations. Yet stories are not enough in themselves. We need to act to build a better future, given the dirty forces that continue to carry investments in the deadly status quo…we need to act now.

The future is already here.

Let us all live.

Find out more about Water Must Fall.


For more African stories of climate resistance and struggle, please see:

(Nick Wood):The Five Best African Climate SF Books

Aramide Moronfoye: African SF and Climate Change: How to Talk About an Apocalypse  

Hannah Onoguwe et al., Three Short Works of Literature That Can Inspire You to Fight Climate Change. The Slate.

Dilman Dila. One Cut CO2.

Tlotlo Tsamaase. Wild Authors. Artists and Climate Change.

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki. Wild Authors. Artists and Climate Change.

Chinelo Onwualu. Centre for Science and the Imagination.

Solutions Spotlight

In this issue’s extract from a book featuring a climate solution, Gill Lewis shares an extract from Willow Wildthing and the Dragon’s Egg, a fantasy story illustrated by Rebecca Bagley for 5 – 9 year olds. Willow and her brother Freddie have found a newt in the overgrown garden of their new house. Freddie thinks it’s a baby dragon. They realise they have to make sure they convince the adults to give it a home and protect its habitat. The story shows urban rewilding being used to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity:

The last owner of the house hadn’t done anything with the garden for years and the grass was so long that it came up to Willow’s waist. The bushes were overgrown and tangled with brambles and ivy. Nettles grew in thick green clumps and bindweed curled around the washing line.

‘I like it wild like this,’ she said. ‘Can’t we keep it like this for me and Freddie?’

Dad smiled. ‘Not everyone likes a jungle. It is a bit of a mess, and we need to clear these weeds.’

Willow just stared at some of the empty spaces where the bushes had been pulled up. She turned to Dad. ‘We can’t pull up all the bushes. Freddie’s dragon lives beneath them.’

‘I’m sure there are plenty of other places for it to live,’ said Dad. ‘I think newts like damp places near ponds.

Willow looked around. The neighbours’ gardens had patios and tiny squares of cut grass. Not a flower was out of place and it looked like weeds were forbidden. They didn’t have ponds either. ‘Where will it go, if we dig up its home?’ she said. ‘It has to have somewhere to live.’

The Wildlife Trusts help protect urban wildlife.