Geoengineering in Poetry

by Frederick Turner, plus a discussion between Hannah Gold and Joanne O’Connell about their new books

Apocalypse is an epic poem about catastrophic climate change in the next several decades and a parallel catastrophic social crisis. A climate tipping-point happens, the Antarctic ice sheets collapse, and the existing answers prove ineffective. But the word “apocalypse” originally meant “unveiling,” and the story follows a group of remarkable human beings who find brilliant scientific and engineering solutions that require a very different way of looking at the world. That way also opens up profound spiritual perspectives, echoing in a twenty-first century secular scientific world the poetry of the book of revelations and the Zen parable of the ten bulls.

It’s perhaps my most important book—important to me at least—and many have asked me how I wrote it. So here goes.

1.  Prophecy Comes from the Mistakes

You don’t just learn, you learn that you’ve already learned a bunch of things you didn’t know you’d learned. And now that you set finger to key you find out what they are.

Which means that you have to trust yourself and plunge in.  That’s what heroes do, and poets have to do the same if they want to keep up.  In medias res, in the middle of things, as Aristotle said. There is no excuse for writer’s block.

In the case of Apocalypse, I’d written two earlier SF epic poems, The New World and Genesis, so I’d had plenty of chances to make mistakes.

The big mistake I made was in thinking that the mistakes my critics had pointed gleefully out in my earlier epics were really mistakes. In fact the mistakes were just what made them interesting. They made people argue about them and look at things from a different perspective and remember them and keep reading the book to find out what the trouble was.

Now I was writing poetry, and epic poetry at that, and science fiction epic poetry to boot. So I was naked on stage, the royal nonesuch, and a lot of fruit got thrown at me, some of it delicious, some rotten, and some, like the durian fruit, disgusting to smell but delightful to eat. I loved being called barbarous, sentimental, reactionary, camp, “troubling.” The New World prophesied the current political civil war in America; Genesis was used in NASA’s long-range futures planning for the settlement and terraforming of Mars.  Prophets are a pain in the neck: that’s why they throw prophets in pits.

So for an encore I knew I had to make trouble. I had to figure out not just the conventional wisdom, but also the conventional revolution against the conventional wisdom, and piss them both off.  It’s only in the uncanny valley between the two that the future lurks, and not only the future but the meaning, the spiritual goodies.

2.  The Uncanny Valley

A target-rich environment, or to change the metaphor, a hornet’s nest. I’d already violated the poetry workshop values of economy and the 17 line crafted free verse lyric, by writing poems of thousands of lines in voices not my own; told stories in verse when everyone knows the prose novel is the accepted modern way; gone back to outdated forms of meter and rhyme; mingled the nasty cheap pulp populism of sci-fi with the refined elegance of modernist verse; used a lot of scientific and technological words and thus desecrated the vocabulary of Dasein and authenticity; refused to lay at capitalism’s door all the evils of life; and gloried in the thrill of battle in a form—poetry–that was the property of very nice antiwar people.

But now in Apocalypse I learned a whole lot of new crimes. The uncanny valley in between the rhetoric of conventional environmentalism and that of climate change denial is geo-engineering.  Global warming deniers hate the very suggestion that anthropogenic warming may be responsible; like evolution, the fake moon landings, and women’s rights, it’s a liberal plot against God, the free market, and America. Environmental activists hate the idea that cheap dirty technological fixes might actually work, and heal the planet, thus derailing their deeper agenda: making everybody into meek green moralists, diagnosing heroism, adventure, glory, discovery, invention, contestation and fun as symptoms of ADD, and drugging us so that we don’t fidget. If I could get both sides to get mad at the book, I would know I was on the right track.

Likewise, I could mess up poetic diction by putting the most well-worn idioms into exact snapping pentameters and make them mean something completely different. I could use all the bits of language—grammar, subordinate clauses, logical inference, abstract terms from other disciplines—that are routinely cut out of beginners’ poems by conscientious poetry workshop teachers—and make them dance in an entertainingly ghastly way.  The uncanny valley between the heartfelt amateur verse that good people write about a dead friend and that la-de-da articulate croon you hear in NPR book reviews—but rendered in the unmistakable pentameter of Shakespeare, Milton and Pope. Even in Genesis I had cautiously kept a certain traditional nobility of tone; now I was about making the messy language of now, with all its technical jargon and bureaucratese and media catchphrases, into something so neat, so cool, that nobility might not be far off. Maybe cool is the new beauty.

3.  All Fiction Is Theater

I also learned some technical stuff that most writers always knew. Actors know it even better: whenever anyone says anything in a good play, they are trying to do something, they have what theater people call an objective.  I found that the conversations only worked if each character already has an idea of what his conversational partner wants, and even an idea of what their partner thinks he wants, and is bent on altering what the other person wants, for definite ends of his own. This can obviously be a destructive process; but it can also be a way in which humans build each other into better versions of themselves. We owe it to each other to take this work on, and to allow others to work on us likewise. It’s our gift to each other. In Apocalypse there’s a character who is supremely good at this, and s/he isn’t even human in a strict sense.  You’d like to meet hir.

This theatricality also implies that you can’t just be funny and witty and ironical in places.  You have to be so all the time, even in the most horrifying and tragic situations, or the story will simply die, the air goes out of it, the iridescent colors fade, and people stop reading or watching the stage.  Every word has to have ‘tude.

4.  Change the Contract Midstream

All art is about expectations and anticipations, even ones that in a strict sense don’t change over time, like painting, sculpture, and architecture (where the eye and the foot do the action, and the artwork changes in response). 

The experiencer of a work of art comes in with a sort of ticket, an implied contract with the artist.  OK art fulfills the contract more or less ingeniously, and gets rewarded by the experiencers’ satisfaction as they check off another item on their “been there, done that” list. Another summer blockbuster movie or romance ended with the car chase to the airport.

But really good art does something else. It takes its guest to a place where the original contract is suddenly or gradually shown to be a big mistake or silly illusion, and the real discovery/reward/goal now begins to materialize, something one hadn’t dreamed of.  And when that goal does appear, it miraculously does fulfill the original contract, almost inadvertently, as it answers a very much bigger question altogether. The Odyssey changes exactly half way through from the Arabian Nights to the Iliad, but even nastier and more splendid—and then we see that the Arabian Nights part was not a fairytale but the inside of the Iliad part.  The Ten Bulls of Zen starts as an orthodox parable of how to meditate, and then goes haywire when we realize that the goal was not the goal, and that goal stuff is not the point.  Beethoven’s Ninth turns from a work of art music into a gigantic hymn. 

In Apocalypse the change happens in Books 6 and 7. But the new contract is really the heart of the old. The Great Flood that overwhelms us all is Time.  And how do we hold that back?

5. When All Else Fails, Get Yourself a Conflicted Narrator

And let the story also be a deep study of the narrator’s own personality.  This way all the implications of the story can seep their way out, and the reader’s skepticism will have its own lively voice in the argument.  And also you’ve escaped from your own voice, the very thing creative writing teachers tell you that you have to discover. Unless you can escape it, you’ll be plagiarizing that voice the rest of your life.

And Number 6, which was not in the contract:

Get yourself a genius editor, like Tony Daniel at Baen and John Lemon at Ilium, and a brilliant agent, like Sara Megibow.  Then you might also get a sort of publishing first, in which, for instance, the same work of fiction appears as a gripping hard-SF war story, serialized and promoted as an ebook, and at the same time as a classical epic poem, beautifully presented in a fine press library-quality book.

Frederick Turner

Frederick Turner’s science fiction epic poems led to his being a consultant for NASA. He received Hungary’s highest literary honor for his translations of Hungarian poetry with the distinguished scholar and Holocaust survivor Zsuzsanna Ozsváth. He won Poetry’s Levinson Prize, and has often been nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature. Born in England, raised in Africa by his anthropologist parents Victor and Edie Turner, educated at Oxford University in English Language and Literature, he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1977. He is a Shakespearean scholar, an environmental theorist, an authority on the philosophy of Time, poet laureate of traditional Karate, and author of over forty books. Turner is Founders Professor of Arts and Humanities emeritus at the University of Texas at Dallas, having taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Kenyon College, and the University of Exeter in England. A former editor of The Kenyon Review, he is a winner of the PEN Southwest Chapter Golden Pen Award and several other literary, artistic and academic honors, and has participated in literary and TV projects that have won a Benjamin Franklin Book Award and an Emmy.


New Releases

League members Hannah Gold andJoanna O’Connell discuss their new Middle Grade releases, The Last Bear (HarperCollins) and Beauty and the Bin (Macmillan). Here, they talk about what led them to write books which deal with the climate emergency.

Joanne: Hannah, how about you start by telling us about The Last Bear?

Hannah: The Last Bear is the story of 11-year-old April Wood who spends the summer on a remote Arctic island with her scientist father. The island is called Bear Island but because of the melting ice-caps, the polar bears can no longer travel so far south. But one endless summer’s night, April spots something distinctly bear-shaped. A polar bear who is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life. On one level, it’s the pure joyful celebration of the love between a child and a wild animal, but, on a much deeper level, it’s also a battle cry for our planet. It’s also, and I’m so proud to say this, the book of my heart.

Hannah: And you could tell us about Beauty and the Bin?

Joanne: Beauty and the Bin is about a girl called Laurie Larksie, who comes from a family of full-on eco warriors. The Larksies are always off bin diving, marching for the climate and even (at a particularly low point for Lau) eating up leftover food in restaurants. Laurie loves her family and deeply shares their values, but she just wants to fit in at school. When she enters an entrepreneur competition with her homemade beauty products, Laurie has to find a way to be successful without losing sight of who she is. So, it’s about family, friendship, and values, and it’s (fingers crossed!) a funny and uplifting read.

Joanne: I’ve read that you grew up in a family where books, animals, and the beauty of the outside world were ever present. So, it sounds like your background helped lead you to write The Last Bear. Can you us a bit about your childhood and how it has inspired your writing?  

Hannah: Animals have always been part of my world ever since the day my mum took me to a garden centre and we saw a litter of kittens for sale. My little eyes lit up and there was no way were going home empty-handed! At aged seven, I was young enough to think I could wear Penny round my neck as a scarf but also wise enough to know that animals spoke in the most special of languages – the language of the heart. My love of animals has just grown stronger and deeper with age – but not just the pets in our home, but animals everywhere. So, when it came to writing The Last Bear, there really was only one subject I wanted to try and capture – that mysterious, almost magical bond which exists between us (but particularly children) and them.

Hannah: You write about a family with an alternative lifestyle in Beauty and the Bin, so is any of that inspired by your own childhood?

Joanne: I think so. I grew up in a fun, loving family, where there was a huge emphasis on sharing, and community, and putting other people and the planet first. We campaigned against racism and for peace, we delivered leaflets, we wrote letters to Amnesty and so on. And the house was full of books and ideas and friends who were writers, academics, and thinkers. So as a child, political discussions flew around the dinner table. Plus, my family were part of a scheme to help care for more vulnerable children with disabilities, so there were often other children staying with us. Those children were a brilliant, important part of our lives but we didn’t have a huge house, so this involved a lot of sharing! The Larksies are all about sharing, and so yes, I think some of those childhood influences are in the book.

Hannah: So, it sounds like your family was interested in climate activism? How aware were you as a child or a teenager about climate issues? 

Joanne: Pretty aware! In my family, we were all vegetarian (though I have since been vegan for years) and we were into recycling back in the 70s/80s. We baked our own bread, had a veg box and used to shop at a zero-waste independent for all our grains, and beans, flour, and raw sugar. With our re-usable bags, obvs! It’s fantastic how the eco lifestyle is now going mainstream. I kind of wish I could go back and tell my 12-year-old self, sitting eating my organic packed lunch that one day, all this would be considered ordinary … I’d have choked on my chickpea fritters if I’d heard about vegan influencers, etc. I think it’s great how much awareness there is now but there’s a long way to go until things really change. What about you?

Hannah: To be honest, as a teenager, I can’t recall it being a topic of conversation, but my love of nature has always been there and having been lucky enough to live in various places abroad, I’ve seen first-hand the unbelievable and breath-taking beauty of our planet. I think anything that we love we automatically want to protect. So, the older and more aware I’ve become, the more I started to make ecological choices that were aligned to my values. When this no longer felt enough, I stepped up to be part of my council’s Climate Focus Group to see what change I could make on a community level. And writing The Last Bear is about making change on a global level.

Joanne: When and how did you decide to start writing The Last Bear

Hannah: In truth, I’m not sure I deliberately set out to write a climate change book but once I had chosen a polar bear as the main character (or in truth, he had chosen me) it was impossible to write about them without talking about the melting ice caps. Not just the fact they are melting at an extraordinarily frightening pace, but the affect this is having on all our Arctic animals, but especially the polar bears who rely on the ice-caps for hunting.

When looking at where to set the book, I stumbled across a real-life island named Bear Island because of the polar bears which once lived there. It’s a tiny island which does in fact have a weather station (but not staffed by one man and his daughter!) and is situated half-way between the mainland of Norway and an archipelago of islands much closer to the North Pole called Svalbard. Not that long ago, polar bears would use the winter sea ice to roam from Svalbard to Bear Island to hunt for seals. But now, because the winter sea ice has retreated so much, polar bears can no longer reach the island which bears their name.

Once I found that out – there really was only one story to tell. How 11-year-old April rescues a lonely, starving polar bear stranded a long way from home. What about you, did you intend to write about the climate emergency?

Joanne: My book is about that awkward tug between friends and family and I think making the family super aware of the climate emergency, helped tell that story. I wanted to highlight how it can be tricky (even now) to make eco choices when you’re at school, and there’s lots of peer pressure, from food to fast fashion.

Joanne: What kind of research did you do while writing it? 

Hannah: I spent a long time obviously researching Bear Island itself – the geography and geology of it, the weather and its habitat. The other main area of research was into the rate at which the ice-caps are melting in the Barent’s Sea area and how this is affecting polar bears in that region. Frighteningly, these statistics keep changing. At the start of writing the book the sea-ice was melting at a rate of 12% per decade according to NASA stats but just under two years later, this had crept up to 13%. I looked at how the loss of the ice caps affected the polar bear habitat and sadly, so many are literally starving to death because the ice is coming later and later each year. In fact, the ICUN predicts that by 2050 the polar bear population could be in serious decline – that’s a little over 25 years away. A lot of the research was quite upsetting, but I needed to understand the facts before I could write my story.

Joanne: The Last Bear is a book for readers of 8+. Some children will be reading it by themselves and I know you’ve been really careful to inspire hope and warmth in the story, despite the worrying subject. I think children’s writers have a responsibility when it comes taking care of younger readers when writing about the climate. How did you achieve this? 

Climate change is a scary thing on top of lots of other scary things happening right now. And yes, absolutely as an author, I feel we have a level of responsibility to our younger readers and need to be mindful of what emotions we are potentially inducing via our words. Fear, in itself is counter-productive. At the time of writing this book, there was a lot of dystopian middle-grade and young adult fiction on the market – and a lot of it, is very good. But I wanted to write something which was set in the here and now, and which instilled the message that it’s not too late. And funnily enough, that’s actually what made my submission to agents and publishers stand out – because I was telling it from a different narrative. On a personal level, I have always been interested in how we can engage children (and grown-ups!) to feel energized and engaged and books are a fantastic way to do that.

Hannah: I know Beauty and the Bin is a positive, and funny book, was that how you wanted to make sure readers didn’t feel overwhelmed by the climate emergency story?

Joanne: I definitely wanted to write a funny, light-hearted book for children. And hopefully it works, because I think humour can be a powerful way to engage people in issues. I also wanted to make sure that the message in the book was very do-able. Laurie makes homemade beauty products from discarded food – she turns squashy bananas into hair custard, and so on – and that’s a simple, affordable action for most readers.

Joanne: So, given that the subject matter is very important what message do you hope readers will take away from your work?  

Hannah: There is a line in the book that many of the early reviewers have picked up on. It’s when April is defending her actions to someone who is skeptical about what difference she (who is tiny) can make. She replies, ‘But what if every single person on the planet just did one thing?’ I think that sums up my attitude perfectly – it is not about waiting for someone else to sort this situation out, it’s about being the change ourselves and leading the fight. If we’re talking dream author goals, then I would really love to see my book in schools, libraries and even on the curriculum to inspire and empower children.

Joanne: Yes, empowering children sounds great. That would be amazing. But books are amazing, aren’t they? I was an avid reader as a child and so many fictional characters have stayed with me and given me hope, fun and confidence at different times.

Joanne: Our debut novels will be published in February (whoop, whoop!) and out there, in bookshops, libraries, homes and more importantly right in the hands of readers. I can’t get over how exciting it is to hear what children think about Beauty and the Bin – big shout out to those lovely early readers! So, when it’s published, I am crossing my fingers that some more children enjoy the book. What’s the best bit about publication?  

Hannah: At the time of this interview, we are sadly in another lockdown but all of this journey has just been an utter dream come true. The reaction to the book has been so heartfelt and special and I love particularly how many teachers are calling for it to already be used in the classroom. So, the best bit (aside from my own personal goals) is the thought that I really could make a difference. And that’s really what the whole book is all about.

Beauty and the Bin is out on 18th Feb, and The Last Bear comes on the 2nd in the US and 18th in the UK.

Twitter: @byesupermarkets

Joanne O’Connell

Joanne O’Connell is a journalist whose inspiration sprang from a year-long column she wrote for the Guardian called ‘Goodbye Supermarkets’, during which she met food waste campaigners, such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and eco-chef Tom Hunt, and presented a short video about taking her children foraging on a Scottish Island. She has written for The Observer, The Times, The Daily Express, The Independent and various glossy magazines, and is the author of The Homemade Vegan, published in 2016. She occasionally appears on television and radio, most recently on BBC Breakfast and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

Twitter: @HGold_author

Hannah Gold

Hannah Gold grew up in a family where books, animals, and the beauty of the outside world were ever present and is passionate about writing stories that share her love of the planet. She now lives in the UK with her tortoise, her cat, and her husband and, when not writing, is busy hunting for her next big animal story as well as practicing her roar. The Last Bear is her middle-grade debut.


Climate Change in the News

Grist Magazine has launched a new climate-fiction short story contest. Imagine 2200 calls for stories (3,000–5,000 words) that envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress. What might the world look like in the year 2200, and how did we get there? Conjure your wildest dreams for society — all the sweet, sweet justice, resilience, and abundance we could realize — and put those dreams on paper. Submissions are open now, and will close April 12, 2021. Literary judges will include authors Adrienne Maree Brown, Kiese Laymon, and Morgan Jerkins. The top three contest winners will be awarded $3000, $2000, and $1000 respectively, and nine additional finalists will each receive a $300 honorarium. Winners and finalists will be published on Fix’s website and will be celebrated in a public-facing virtual event. Join this uprising of imagination, and help turn the page on earth’s next chapter. grist.org/fix/climate-fiction-writing-contest-imagine-2200-prizes

More than 50 countries commit to protection of 30% of Earth’s land and oceans [The Guardian]

Reasons To Be Hopeful About The Climate Fight In 2021 [Refinery29]

Interview with Julie Carrick Dalton

Waiting for the Night Song by Julie Carrick Dalton was published this month by Forge. I talk to the author of the adult contemporary novel about her new release, and her motivations for writing about climate change.

Tell us about your new book.

Cadie Kessler, a forestry researcher, is in the middle of trying to head off a potential wildfire when she gets a panicked message from her long-estranged childhood friend, Daniela, after a body is discovered in the woods where they played as kids. Cadie rushes home, where she and Daniela must acknowledge the traumatic childhood secret that drove them apart decades earlier. As Cadie and Daniela confront their past, they come face to face with truths about themselves they don’t want to see, and Cadie must decide what she’s willing to risk to protect the people and the forest she loves. WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG is a portrait of friendship, secrets, and betrayal, a love song to the natural world, a call to fight for what we believe in, and a reminder that the truth will always rise.

How does climate change play into the plot?

A slow uptick in local temperatures creates conditions that attract a bark beetle to the woods of New Hampshire. Cadie, a forestry researcher, is trying to prove the beetle has arrived in New England, although models indicate it should not be there. The same conditions that appeal to the beetles are driving out native species, including a tiny song bird (from the title) that Cadie remembers from her youth. The federal government has restricted federal lands – including the forest where Cadie suspects the beetles are – from environmental research. She must decide if it’s worth risking her career and possibly jail time to defy the restrictions and collect samples to prove she is right. When Cadie advises fire crews to clear fire breaks in the town where she grew up, a long-buried body is unearthed and Cadie must confront the traumatic secret she has been hiding since she was eleven. As the drought worsens, crops fail, and the beetles settle in, wildfire looms over the small agricultural community and Cadie must decide how far she’s willing to go to do the right thing.

What kind of research did you do when writing it?

Eight years ago, I bought a piece of land and started a small farm in rural New Hampshire. I didn’t have a background in agricultural so the learning curve has been steep! I enrolled in the New Entry Sustainable Agriculture program at Tufts University and did a lot of reading about farming in my area. I learned that the growing season in my region has expanded by twenty-two days in the past century because of a slow, steady increase in the average summer temperature. It made me wonder about all the slow-burning, quiet effects. I researched the invasive species and endangered species affecting my area and tried to imagine how the absence of a tiny song bird and the presence of an invasive beetle could impact the personal lives of residents, as well as the broader community and the world.

What are some of your favourite books about climate change? (fictional or non-fiction!)

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

The Bear by Andrew Krivak

American War by Omar El Akkad

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

Why is it so important for you personally to see climate change discussed in fiction?

Fiction can convey truth in ways that charts, graphs, and scientific research often can’t. Inhabiting characters in fiction is an act of empathy which opens us up to new ways of considering the world. When it comes to climate change, too many people think about it as a looming crisis, but for many regions of the world that crisis has already arrived. I chose to focus on a small, insular community in New England we might not consider as on the front lines of the climate crisis. I wanted to tease out the small impacts we are already noticing and connect them to other parts of the world. For example, the endangered song bird in my book is dying off, in part, because its winter habitat in the Caribbean is being destroyed by deforestation and hurricanes. The bird is returning to New England in smaller numbers every year, which, in quiet ways, alters the ecosystem of the forest in New Hampshire. Everything is connected. It’s already happening, and we can’t think of it as a looming crisis any more.

Can you share a quote from the book that you hope will resonate with readers?

“All the other creatures had fled. The mice, spiders, crickets, squirrels. The silence they left behind hurt. The owl sat on a charred branch. Its home had been in these woods. Its mottled brown and amber stood out in stark contrast to the black and gray backdrop. Exposed without camouflage, the great bird blinked at Cadie and pulled its square head lower into its shoulders. Its whole body shuddered, as if shaking off a bad memory.

The owl launched itself into the air. Time to start over.”

What message do you hope readers will take away from your work?

I hope readers might see the small changes in their own region and consider how they tie into the global crisis. Climate change doesn’t happen in silos. We can’t think about it as something happening to other people. We all know that the people affected first and worst are most often marginalized, poor, indigenous, black, and brown communities. If readers feel like they are not being affected personally by climate change yet, I hope my book will prompt them to recognize their privilege and consider their own connections to and responsibility for populations already living the crisis.

You can find out more about Waiting for the Night Song here.

Julie Carrick Dalton

Julie Carrick Dalton’s debut novel WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG (Tor/Forge, Jan 2021) and a second novel, THE LASTEEKEEPER (2022), both hinge on contemporary climate-related issues. Pre-publication, WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG has been named to Most Anticipated 2021 lists by several platforms including Buzzfeed, Medium, and Betches, and has been featured in The Chicago Review of Books. As a journalist, Julie has published more than a thousand articles in publications including The Boston Globe, BusinessWeek, The Hollywood Reporter, Electric Literature, and The Chicago Review of Books. A Tin House alum, 2021 Bread Loaf Environmental Writer’s Conference Fellow, and graduate of GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator, Julie holds a master’s in literature and creative writing from Harvard Extension School. She blogs for DeadDarlings and The Writer Unboxed, where she often writes about climate fiction. She is a frequent speaker and workshop leader on the topic of Fiction in the Age of Climate Crisis at universities, high schools, bookstores, and writers conferences. Mom to four kids and two dogs, Julie also owns and operates an organic farm in rural New Hampshire, the backdrop for her novel.

How to Build a Solarpunk City by Lauren C. Teffeau

The climate crisis is upon us, and while meaningful action may be hampered by our politics and short-term mindsets prioritizing profit, our imaginations remain unfettered to envision a brighter future. A future that hasn’t been polluted by our overreliance on fossil fuels or soiled by plastic waste or sullied by habitat loss and the inevitable extinctions that follow. A future where humanity has found a way to integrate society with the natural world to the benefit of all. A future I desperately want to see, even if we only accomplish a fraction of that in my lifetime.

I know I’m not the only one impatient to see change on this front. The rise of solarpunk in speculative fiction is testament to that—a body of literature imagining radical futures ranging from solar-powered utopias to gritty works in progress striving for a better tomorrow. Implanted, my 2018 debut novel with Angry Robot, is the latter, set in a solarpunk domed city where technological advancements fuels rehabilitation efforts to restore the natural world ravaged by climate change.

When I first started writing the book, I didn’t realize I’d be creating one of the more ambitious worlds I’d ever attempted. I was simply writing a story about a young woman on the run from her employer after a job gone wrong. I only knew I wanted it set in a high-tech city full of spatial and social constraints. Over time, that slowly coalesced into the city of New Worth, where people enjoy all the connectivity they can get as consolation for being trapped under glass.

You’ve surely read books where the setting becomes a character in its own right, but it’s not necessarily something writers can plan for—you can only hope it comes across to readers as strongly as you feel it. But the solarpunk-meets-Blade Runner aesthetic stuck, becoming inextricably linked to my story, characters, and the city that embodies them all. And I managed it without a contractor’s license or a degree in architecture or city planning, though I suppose that can’t hurt.

The following books helped me bring my storyworld to life and can inspire you to dream up your own city, or perhaps simply envision a brighter timeline, focusing on both the high-concept and the nitty-gritty as well as the people who will be inheriting our future.

Mark Kushner’s The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings

Think of this book as architectural #INSPO for just about any bleeding edge technology out there and how it can be incorporated into the materials, space planning, and design of real life edifices already being built today. While you might find yourself wanting a bit more detail from some of the building profiles, the pictures make up for any lack of text by demonstrating what’s achievable when funding and ideals intersect. When writing, I tend to focus on what’s possible, not necessarily practical or even probable (it’s more fun that way), in the hopes that science and demand will take care of the rest over time. Why not expect anything less from our future?

David Bergman’s Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide

Let your imagination take wing, but spare a thought for sustainable design. We’re going to have to pay the piper at some point for humanity’s impact on the Earth’s climate and resources, so be sure to factor that into your version of the future. Bergman outlines the environmental and energy-conscious considerations in planning and design we should all be thinking about, from our own homes to the administrative buildings erected by our local officials. Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” What are the priorities for your future city? So much can be telegraphed by not only the form but the function of the buildings we choose to surround ourselves with. Make yours work harder for a better future.

Kate Ascher’s The Works: Anatomy of a City

Even with cutting edge science and sustainability in mind, we will always be wrestling with infrastructure of some kind. Ascher’s The Works and companion volume The Heights go into great visual detail about all the individual elements and systems in place that make cities and skyscrapers function. While New York City is emphasized, those basics undergird just about everything everywhere, and such fundamentals change very slowly over time. Unless your future city is brand-new, you’ll have to think about how the old infrastructure can be incorporated or improved upon by the next phase of development. Twist the foundations to your advantage or use them as obstacles for your characters, but whatever you do, don’t overlook their potential.

Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Everything

I’m not sure who gifted me a copy of Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Cross-Sections when I was a child, but it provided me with hours—and I do mean hours—of contemplative entertainment as I pored over the inner workings of cruise ships, skyscrapers, and castles. I remember that last one most vividly, particularly the nobleman taking a dump in the garderobe and the serf hard at work in the latrine below. Besides the obvious amusement that provided at the time, it’s still a nice reminder of not only the essential infrastructure your city needs to account for, but also the different jobs people have. Who shovels the shit and why? Now apply this to just about every other facet of your city. 

Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Everything is similar, sort of a How Things Work with a mind to the spatial requirements manufacturing different objects requires—a must when designing a physically-constrained city. Biesty’s work may be billed as children’s books, but to me, they are essential reading for fully understanding differences in scale and scope, depth and breadth, in a unique and undeniably visual way.

Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

Who will live in your city? Where do they live? Where do they work? More importantly, how do they communicate? How do they think? I was introduced to Turkle’s work in graduate school, and she writes about how connectivity has affected interpersonal behavior and communication in an accessible way, drawing on decades of her own research. I believe it is impossible to think about the future without factoring in how the internet has fundamentally changed our interactions, interests, and engagement with the larger world. And all those things will be reflected in both the private and public spaces of your cityscape. Even if you are assuming the communication technology will be different or something happens where it’s no longer possible in quite the same way, we must acknowledge the changes that it has made on us in so short a time, changes that will track through the generations to come and bubble up in unexpected ways.

A previous version of this post appeared at SFFWorld. You can find out more about Implanted here.

Lauren C. Teffeau

Lauren was born and raised on the East Coast, educated in the South, employed in the Midwest, and now lives and dreams in the Southwest. When she was younger, she poked around in the back of wardrobes, tried to walk through mirrors, and always kept an eye out for secret passages, fairy rings, and messages from aliens. She was disappointed. Now, she writes to cope with her ordinary existence. Her novel Implanted (2018, Angry Robot) was shortlisted for the 2019 Compton Crook award for best first SF/F/H novel. Her short fiction can be found a variety of professional and semi-pro speculative fiction magazines and anthologies.


Climate Change in the News

Bank lending to plastics industry faces scrutiny as pollution concerns mount [Reuters]

How Brexit deal could force UK and EU to stick to tougher climate targets [Independent]

Exxon Mobil Is Twisting Itself in Knots to Justify Pumping Even More Oil [New Republic]

Many Scientists Now Say Global Warming Could Stop Relatively Quickly After Emissions Go to Zero [Inside Climate News]

Terror, hope, anger, kindness: the complexity of life as we face the new normal by League member James Bradley [The Guardian]

Nearly $640 billion coal investments undercut by cheap renewables: research [Reuters]

The Case for Climate Rage [Popula]

Interview with Laura Wood about Effie the Rebel

Today Laura Wood’s Middle Grade novel Effie the Rebel is published. I talk to Laura about her writing and activism for young readers.

Effie is changing the world, one classroom at a time.
Dark forces are at work at Highworth Grange school: the student council has been taken over by a tyrannical villain with his own agenda. But Effie Kostas isn’t about to stand by and watch democracy crumble! She’s leading the resistance – but politics can be a dirty game and Effie will need to keep her wits about her as she faces down the enemy. With the help of her brilliant band of misfit friends, a bad-tempered parrot, and a former nemesis, can Effie save the school she loves before it’s too late?

Categories: Middle Grade, Environmental activism, Politics

Published by Scholastic

Tell us about your new book.

Effie the Rebel is a middle grade book about a young activist, determined to make a difference at her school and in her community. When the student council is taken over by Effie’s nemesis, a villain driven by self-interest, Effie realises it’s time to stop playing by the rules and take matters into her own hands. It’s funny and angry and full of hope and glitter glue.

How does climate change play into the plot?

Effie and her friends are trying to make their school more green: she organises a river clean up, a recycling programme, and starts a zine to discuss climate change and the difference they can make with her fellow students.

What kind of research did you do when writing it?

I researched young activists, zines, and advice for schools and communities about becoming more green – things like composting and local clean ups. There are so many people doing such amazing work out there and the research was actually really inspiring. When it came to Effie’s zine I found myself doing a lot of research into plastic use and I was shocked by some of the figures I found – for example that the average person eats 100 bits of microplastic in every meal.

What approach did you take to talking about complicated topics, either political or scientific, for younger readers?

I guess this links to the kind of research I was doing – looking at young activists who were in a similar situation to my readers, and trying to find brief, clear facts that would make my points with the biggest impact. Also, I think it was important for me to have a sense of hope underpinning all the conflict – a feeling that while things are bad, there is still the possibility of change.

What are some of your favourite books about climate change?

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg, Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari and The Lorax by Dr Seuss!

Can you remember when your journey with environmental activism started?

I suppose I started learning about the environment at school, and I remember always being very interested in that and feeling a sense of empowerment, I guess, that through actions like recycling I could make a difference – as a child that is a rare thing, to feel that you’re able to enact real change. But shamefully, I think it’s only much more recently that I’ve been really aware of and interested in environmental activism, and that truly is down to incredible young people like Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate, Autumn Peltier, and Amy and Ella Meek.

Why is it so important for you personally to see the environment discussed in fiction?

Because it is important. Climate change is not something that’s going away, and as a writer for young people in particular I think their fiction should help them to better understand and cope with difficult subjects like this one, particularly when it’s their future at stake.

Can you share a quote from the book that you hope will resonate with readers?

There’s a silence that stretches between us for a moment. “Effie,” Iris breaks it finally. “If you’re going to be an activist then I’m afraid you’re going to come up against a lot of Matt Spaders. People who want to belittle you and the cause you’re fighting for. People who are afraid of change, or who have their own reasons for wanting things to stay the way they are.” She reaches out and squeezes my hand, just for a second. “Do you believe what you’re fighting for is right?”

“Yes,” I say quickly. “I think raising money for the river clean up is important. I think it’s exactly the sort of thing the school SHOULD get involved in as part of the community. We shouldn’t only be interested in what’s going on inside the school gates… that’s so narrow minded and selfish. And damage to the environment affects all of us anyway!”

“Well then,” Iris is brisk, “you’ve just got to keep fighting for it then, haven’t you? Where would we be if the suffragists just gave up when an obnoxious boy told them he didn’t like what they were doing?”

“STUPID PEANUT,” Lennon squawks.

“He IS a stupid peanut,” I agree, thinking over what Iris has said. Suddenly I find maybe I can manage a piece of cake after all, and I take a big squishy bite.

What message do you hope your young readers will take away from your work? What steps would you like them to take to be more involved in environmental activism?

I hope they’ll find themselves feeling angry, but I also hope they’ll feel hopeful. I want them to know that they are taken seriously, and that they have autonomy and power of their own, that we adults are listening, and we want to hear what they have to say. I hope they’ll find a way to be more involved in environmental activism that they are passionate and excited about, but also that it will encourage them to realise that even the smallest actions can make a difference.

Laura Wood

Laura Wood is the winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing and the author of the ‘Poppy Pym’ and ‘Vote for Effie’ middle-grade series and YA novels, A Sky Painted Gold and Under a Dancing Star.

She loves Georgette Heyer novels, Fred Astaire films, travelling to far flung places, recipe books, Jilly Cooper, poetry, cosy woollen jumpers, Edith Nesbit, crisp autumn leaves, Jack Gilbert, new stationery, sensation fiction, salted caramel, feminism, Rufus Sewell’s cheek-bones, dogs, and drinking lashings of ginger beer.

Interview with Aya de León

A Spy in the Struggle by Aya de León was published this month by Kensington Books. I talk to the author of the adult thriller about her new release, and her motivations for writing about climate change.

Tell us about your new book.

A Spy in the Struggle is about a millennial Black woman who has followed all the rules, but can’t seem to find the success she’s been promised. She graduated Harvard Law and joined a top corporate law firm, but when they’re indicted for securities fraud, she turns whistleblower to cover herself. Then, when she can’t get another job in corporate law, she goes to work for the FBI. They send her to infiltrate a Bay Area eco-racial justice organization. In the process, she begins to have doubts that she’s on the wrong side.

How does climate change play into the plot?

This multi-generational organization has an ongoing campaign against a biotech company in their low-income Black and Brown Bay Area city. It’s sort of every horrible environmental scourge possible, from toxic dumping to rising cancer rates near the lab to producing dangerous chemical weapons. They are also the prototype shady corporation promising capitalist solutions to climate change, in the form of designer biofuels that they promise will have zero emissions, but actually have a huge carbon footprint to produce. Also, there’s a critique of a fictional mainstream environmental organization that has created a number of nature preserves and solicited donations based on those holdings, but it comes out that they are also allowing fossil fuel drilling on those lands. It is actually in response to this scandal that the mainstream green organization begins funding these multi-cultural projects throughout the US. However, because they are so poorly funded, they are generally ineffective. However, this particular one is very effective, and attracts the attention of the FBI.

The organization is focused on youth leadership and is making clear connections between racial justice and climate justice.

What kind of research did you do when writing it?

I started writing it in my 20s, when I was part of an intergenerational African American community organizing group. We speculated about what would happen if we were ever infiltrated by the FBI. In the early 00s, I decided to include an environmental justice angle. Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything was important in grounding the deceitful practices of mainstream environmental organizations. I also had to study FBI procedures to get those details right.

What are some of your favourite books about climate change?

On Fire: The (Burning) Case for the Green New Deal by Naomi Klein.

Can you remember when your journey with climate activism started?

I had been “concerned” about climate change, but everything came home to me with Hurricane Maria in 2017. I am part of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, and I could no longer look away from the issue. I began to call myself a climate activist. I wrote SIDE CHICK NATION, the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2019. Later that year, I became active in climate organizing. In 2020, I became a founding blogger with The Daily Dose: Feminist Voices for the Green New Deal.

Why is it so important for you personally to see climate change discussed in fiction?

Currently, people are obsessed with books set in the past or in the dystopic future. It’s as if we want to rewind to the time before the crisis was looming, or fast forward to a time after it’s all fallen apart. We don’t want to be in the time when we need to take action. Which is why I think it’s necessary to set books in the present where protagonists are compelled to begin to act on the climate crisis. This is true of Side Chick Nation, as well as another of my novels-in-progress.

What message do you hope readers will take away from your work? What steps would you like them to take to be more involved in climate activism?

Whoever we are, wherever we’re from, wherever we live now, and whatever we’re doing, climate is our issue, and the climate movement needs us. The biggest shift right now needs to be from the encouragement to do individual things, particularly with regard to consumer waste (reduce/reuse/recycle) to putting our energy toward policy changes at the corporate, military and governmental level: (Green New Deal/cutting the military budget/ending fossil fuel dependence). It’s no longer about individual solutions, but planetary ones.

You can find out more about A Spy in the Struggle here.

Aya de León

Aya de León directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley, teaching poetry and spoken word. In spring 2021, she will be a visiting professor in the graduate creative writing program at the University of San Francisco. Kensington Books publishes her award-winning feminist heist series, which includes SIDE CHICK NATION, the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. In December 2020 Kensington will publish her first standalone novel, A SPY IN THE STRUGGLE, about FBI infiltration of an African American eco-racial justice organization. In June 2020, Aya published her first children’s chapter book, EQUALITY GIRLS AND THE PURPLE REFLECTO-RAY, about a girl who uses her superpowers to confront the president’s sexism. Aya is a founding blogger with The Daily Dose: Feminist Voices for the Green New Deal, and she organizes with the climate movement and the Movement for Black Lives.
Aya’s work has also appeared in Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Bitch Magazine, VICE, The Root, Ploughshares, and on Def Poetry. Aya has organized elementary school students for the climate movement, and has written about it for Mutha Magazine. She also delivered the 2019 Afro ComicCon keynote address on Afro-Futurism as a call for Black people to join the climate movement and save the future. Aya is at work on a YA black/Latina spy girl series for teens called GOING DARK. She is an alumna of Cave Canem and VONA.

Writing a love story to Antarctica by Midge Raymond

Plus an interview with Aya de León about her new novel A Spy in the Struggle

There are details of a book giveaway at the end of the newsletter – fill out the form to enter!

For me as a writer, place is essential to character. Every setting, whether an American city or an icy continent, has a personality, and where a character lives, or is from, is so vital to me in understanding that character. So I always begin a story not only with a character but with a sense of place.

In writing My Last Continent, Antarctica itself became a character of sorts—in the novel, the continent becomes part of a love triangle between Deb and Keller, who are both so strongly connected to Antarctica in their own ways, for their own reasons. For Deb, Antarctica is part of who she is, and there is no place else she can imagine being.

Visiting and researching Antarctica taught me so much about those who spend their time at the bottom of the earth—and most intriguing to me, I think, are the non-humans who live in Antarctica: whales, seals, seabirds, and particularly penguins. It’s hard not to love such adorable creatures, but what I love most about penguins is that they are among the most persistent animals in the world, striving every season to raise a new generation as they face a world that is less and less hospitable to them.

Antarctica is experiencing climate change more rapidly than nearly any other place on earth, and yet there is still great hope for the continent and its creatures—as long as we all realize that despite its location at the end of the earth, we are all very closely connected to this faraway place, and we need to do all we can to protect it.

“Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?” Elizabeth Bishop asks in her poem “Questions of Travel”—the same question I am asked often when I talk to readers about My Last Continent. Would it be better for Antarctica if we all stayed at home?

Antarctica is not a country and has no permanent human residents. Yet in the twenty-first century, it is becoming a hot spot for travel.

The first 57 citizen-explorers visited Antarctica in 1966, and by the time I visited in 2004, the continent was seeing about 20,000 visitors a year. According to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), by 2012, Antarctic tourism increased to nearly 27,000, and it was around 40,000 in 2019—down from the busiest season the continent has ever seen, which was 46,265 in 2007-2008). Now, the global pandemic has given the continent a break—but when travel resumes around the world, should we be going to Antarctica at all?

While My Last Continent is about a catastrophic shipwreck, travel to the Antarctic is historically quite safe; however, this does not mean it is without danger. Despite such technological advances that make polar travel easier and more comfortable, a ship is only as safe as her captain—and due to the capricious nature of ice and polar weather, even an experienced captain isn’t immune from human error or the whims of the wild seas that surround Antarctica.

And, as the story of My Last Continent makes clear, when it comes to polar cruises, bigger is most certainly not better. This article in The Guardian (titled “A new Titanic?”) made the point very clearly: “If something were to go wrong it would be very, very bad.”

Another issue with big ships is their environmental impact. All travelers should carefully vet their tour operators, making sure they follow the guidelines of IAATO, and choose a company with vast experience in ice-filled waters. The Southern Ocean is highly unpredictable, and an experienced captain, crew, and staff makes all the difference—not only for the safety of passengers but for wildlife as well. Check out Friends of the Earth’s Cruise Ship Report Card before booking a trip (in its 2020 report, no major cruise line earned a grade higher than a B-minus; most grades were Ds and Fs).

Better yet, enjoy the last continent from afar. Web-based citizen science programs like Zooniverse offer virtual experiences—for example, a chance to count penguins and identify individual humpback whales in Antarctica. From our computers, we can “travel” the world, see incredible sights and creatures, and contribute to ongoing research efforts.

Sometimes it takes visiting a place to fall in love with it and become inspired to help save it—and this may well justify our carbon footprints in the end. Which brings me back to the question: Should we stay home? There is no easy answer. But those of us who have the luxury of asking the question might consider that, for the sake of the planet, the oceans, and for future generations, the road less traveled—or not traveled at all—does make all the difference.

Antarctica is sometimes misunderstood as a plain, vast, white place—which, of course, it is—but it’s also a continent brimming with amazing colors (among them: the reds, oranges, and violets of its sunsets; the bright greens of the aurora australis; the reds and greens and browns of its algae; and the myriad shades of blue and white that comprise icebergs).

Also among the most amazing—and the most overlooked—aspects of Antarctica are its sounds. For example, listen to the sounds of icebergs rubbing together here. It sounds a bit like furniture breaking apart, and then a little like a penguin colony from far away, and finally it becomes something completely otherworldly.

And scientists have recorded the wonderfully eerie sound of wind whipping across the Ross Ice Shelf, which creates an unearthly humming noise. These recordings were gathered by scientists who spent two years recording the “singing” of the ice via 34 seismic sensors. They realized the winds caused the vibrations on the ice, creating a constant hum that will help researchers study changes in the ice shelf, such as melting, cracking, and breaking.

What I found most remarkable about Antarctica is the silence—that is, the sounds of spaces with no human presence at all. It’s impossible to capture in a video or audio, but I did try to capture the feeling in My Last Continent: “…we listen to the whistling of the wind across the ice and the cries of the birds. I savor the utter silence under those sounds; there is nothing else to hear—none of the usual white noise of life on other continents, no human sounds at all…”

There are very (very) few places on the planet that are as free of human sounds. Nearly every single sound is natural, whether it’s the wind, the rush of the sea, the calving of icebergs, or the sounds of penguins.

Much like the character of Deb in My Last Continent, I’m concerned with how the penguins are faring in a world of chaos (including climate change and, until the pandemic, increasing tourism). So, how exactly are the penguins doing?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, of the eighteen species of penguins listed, four are stable (the Royal, Snares, Gentoo, and Little penguins), two are increasing in numbers (the Adélies—in 2018, a “supercolony” of 1.5 million Adélie penguins was discovered in the Danger Islands—and the Kings, who are widespread, from the Indian Ocean to the South Atlantic, and yet, according to one study, are being forced to travel farther for food, which means that their chicks will be left on shore to starve). The status of the Emperors is classified as unknown, and when it comes to the remaining penguin species of the world, their numbers are all decreasing—and in some cases, they are decreasingly alarmingly fast.

The penguins in the most danger of becoming extinct are the Galápagos penguin (with an estimated 1,200 individuals left), the Yellow-eyed penguin (with fewer than 3,500 left), and New Zealand’s Fiordland-crested penguin, also known by its Māori name, Tawaki, meaning crested, which the IUCN lists at between 2,500 and 9,999 individuals (yet local researchers’ estimates are of only 3,000 individuals).

These are pretty scary numbers—and the itinerant lives of each of these endangered species make them very hard to accurately count, which means that while there could be more than we think, it’s likely that there could be far fewer than we realize.

So, what can we humans do for penguins to help make the world a better place for them? Here are a few ideas to start.

  • Re-think our consumption of seafood—especially krill (and health supplements containing krill) and farmed fish, who are fed krill. Overfishing is one of the biggest causes of penguin death, whether it’s because humans are eating their food (krill numbers have declined 80 percent in the last 50 years) or because they are killed by fishing nets and longlines. Even “sustainable” seafood has an impact on the oceans and wildlife.
  • Be a thoughtful traveler and a respectful birdwatcher. If you must travel to see penguins (and it’s pretty irresistible), choose places that can handle your human footprints—and always go with eco-friendly tour companies. Once there, always pay close attention to guides and naturalists who know how to keep a safe distance. If you’re traveling without a group or guide, be sure to study up; learn about the birds’ habitat so you can be sure to stay out of their way.
  • Do all that you can to combat climate change. (See the Climate Reality Project and Cowspiracy for some good tips.) Over the last six decades, scientists have observed an average increase of 2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade on the Antarctic peninsula. For the penguins especially, climate change isn’t an abstract, faraway notion: It’s happening before our eyes, chick by chick.
  • Learn more by visiting such organizations as Oceanites, and support such organizations as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which protects all oceans and creatures, and such conservation efforts as the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, which monitors penguins and works on the ground to ensure protections for them.
  • Become a citizen scientist. Penguin Watch is a completely addictive website that uses citizen science to help study penguins. Be warned — you may lose hours to penguin counting! But at least you’re doing it for science.

You can find out more about My Last Continent here.

Midge Raymond

Midge Raymond is the author of the novel My Last Continent and the award-winning short-story collection Forgetting English. Her writing has appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, the Chicago Tribune, Poets & Writers, and many other publications.

Midge worked in publishing in New York before moving to Boston, where she taught communication writing at Boston University for six years. She has taught creative writing at Boston’s Grub Street Writers, Seattle’s Richard Hugo House, and San Diego Writers, Ink. She has also published two books for writers, Everyday Writing and Everyday Book Marketing.

Midge lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is co-founder of the boutique publisher Ashland Creek Press.


New Release

A Spy in the Struggle by Aya de León was published this month by Kensington Books. I talk to the author of the adult thriller about her new release, and her motivations for writing about climate change.

Tell us about your new book.

A Spy in the Struggle is about a millennial Black woman who has followed all the rules, but can’t seem to find the success she’s been promised. She graduated Harvard Law and joined a top corporate law firm, but when they’re indicted for securities fraud, she turns whistleblower to cover herself. Then, when she can’t get another job in corporate law, she goes to work for the FBI. They send her to infiltrate a Bay Area eco-racial justice organization. In the process, she begins to have doubts that she’s on the wrong side.

How does climate change play into the plot?

This multi-generational organization has an ongoing campaign against a biotech company in their low-income Black and Brown Bay Area city. It’s sort of every horrible environmental scourge possible, from toxic dumping to rising cancer rates near the lab to producing dangerous chemical weapons. They are also the prototype shady corporation promising capitalist solutions to climate change, in the form of designer biofuels that they promise will have zero emissions, but actually have a huge carbon footprint to produce. Also, there’s a critique of a fictional mainstream environmental organization that has created a number of nature preserves and solicited donations based on those holdings, but it comes out that they are also allowing fossil fuel drilling on those lands. It is actually in response to this scandal that the mainstream green organization begins funding these multi-cultural projects throughout the US. However, because they are so poorly funded, they are generally ineffective. However, this particular one is very effective, and attracts the attention of the FBI.

The organization is focused on youth leadership and is making clear connections between racial justice and climate justice.

What kind of research did you do when writing it?

I started writing it in my 20s, when I was part of an intergenerational African American community organizing group. We speculated about what would happen if we were ever infiltrated by the FBI. In the early 00s, I decided to include an environmental justice angle. Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything was important in grounding the deceitful practices of mainstream environmental organizations. I also had to study FBI procedures to get those details right.

What are some of your favourite books about climate change?

On Fire: The (Burning) Case for the Green New Deal by Naomi Klein.

Can you remember when your journey with climate activism started?

I had been “concerned” about climate change, but everything came home to me with Hurricane Maria in 2017. I am part of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, and I could no longer look away from the issue. I began to call myself a climate activist. I wrote SIDE CHICK NATION, the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2019. Later that year, I became active in climate organizing. In 2020, I became a founding blogger with The Daily Dose: Feminist Voices for the Green New Deal.

Why is it so important for you personally to see climate change discussed in fiction?

Currently, people are obsessed with books set in the past or in the dystopic future. It’s as if we want to rewind to the time before the crisis was looming, or fast forward to a time after it’s all fallen apart. We don’t want to be in the time when we need to take action. Which is why I think it’s necessary to set books in the present where protagonists are compelled to begin to act on the climate crisis. This is true of Side Chick Nation, as well as another of my novels-in-progress.

What message do you hope readers will take away from your work? What steps would you like them to take to be more involved in climate activism?

Whoever we are, wherever we’re from, wherever we live now, and whatever we’re doing, climate is our issue, and the climate movement needs us. The biggest shift right now needs to be from the encouragement to do individual things, particularly with regard to consumer waste (reduce/reuse/recycle) to putting our energy toward policy changes at the corporate, military and governmental level: (Green New Deal/cutting the military budget/ending fossil fuel dependence). It’s no longer about individual solutions, but planetary ones.

You can find out more about A Spy in the Struggle here.

Aya de León

Aya de León directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley, teaching poetry and spoken word. In spring 2021, she will be a visiting professor in the graduate creative writing program at the University of San Francisco. Kensington Books publishes her award-winning feminist heist series, which includes SIDE CHICK NATION, the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. In December 2020 Kensington will publish her first standalone novel, A SPY IN THE STRUGGLE, about FBI infiltration of an African American eco-racial justice organization. In June 2020, Aya published her first children’s chapter book, EQUALITY GIRLS AND THE PURPLE REFLECTO-RAY, about a girl who uses her superpowers to confront the president’s sexism. Aya is a founding blogger with The Daily Dose: Feminist Voices for the Green New Deal, and she organizes with the climate movement and the Movement for Black Lives.
Aya’s work has also appeared in Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Bitch Magazine, VICE, The Root, Ploughshares, and on Def Poetry. Aya has organized elementary school students for the climate movement, and has written about it for Mutha Magazine. She also delivered the 2019 Afro ComicCon keynote address on Afro-Futurism as a call for Black people to join the climate movement and save the future. Aya is at work on a YA black/Latina spy girl series for teens called GOING DARK. She is an alumna of Cave Canem and VONA.


Giveaway

To enter to win a bundle of advanced copies of upcoming Middle Grade climate fiction, including Melt by Ele Fountain, The Last Bear by Hannah Gold and Burning Sunlight by Anthea Simmons, fill out this form.


Climate Change in the News

The Paris climate pact is 5 years old. 5 youth activists share their hopes for what’s next. [Vox]

The Biggest Climate Wins of 2020 [Gizmodo]

How to Defeat the Fossil Fuel Industry [The Nation]

Paris climate agreement: 54 cities on track to meet targets [The Guardian]

UNEARTHED – essay by League member James Bradley [Meanjin]

League member Kate Kelly’s top eco-adventure story writing tips [The Guardian]

How Fiction Can Persuade Readers that Climate Change is Real [Euro News]

Interview with S J Morden

Gallowglass by S J Morden was published this month by Gollancz. I talk to the author of the adult sci-fi novel about his new release, and his motivations for writing about climate change.

Tell us about your new book.

Gallowglass is a standalone near-future SF thriller about commercial asteroid mining – if you want an elevator pitch, think “Treasure Island in Space” – and while it’s set in the same timeline as my previous books One Way and No Way, there’s only a couple oblique mentions to events in those books.

We’ve moved into the second half of the 21st century, and private corporations are slowly colonising Cis-lunar space: it’s a real gold rush scenario, with fortunes to be made but often on the back of some terrible working conditions that can and do kill people. Regulation is almost non-existent and what there is tends to be ignored if it gets in the way of profits. Throw in a multi-trillion dollar asteroid, a crew of blue-collar miners with dubious pasts and a captain who is far from what he seems, and there’s ripe conditions for a lot more than shenanigans.

How does climate change play into the plot?

In two main ways. Firstly, it provides a backdrop to what’s happening out in space – whole populations (mainly poor, mainly brown or black) are being shifted north or south by increasingly intolerable summer temperatures, while rich northern and southern countries are desperately trying to preserve what they have by throwing up barriers at their borders and mitigating climate effects within them. Secondly, it gives motivation to the more mercenary-minded crew that if they can just hit one big payday, then they can sit above the chaos on their pile of money. Some of the characters are a lot more altruistic than that, but there’s a core belief in all of them that cold hard cash in their own hands is better than it being in someone else’s.

What kind of research did you do when writing it?

As with all my books, but this series especially, I’ve left no stone unturned in my search for scientific veracity: hard SF uses science to force the characters to make choices that otherwise they wouldn’t if the background was a little more flexible. There’s no hand-waving away problems – this is Macguyer or die territory. My spaceships are, while fictional, the kind of thing that we can either build now, or are looking to build in the future, and I’ve spreadsheets and plans and delta-v calculations and everything: orbital mechanics can be singularly unforgiving.

Asteroid microgravity is something that I’ve theoretically known about, but when coming to actually write about it, is the most terrifying thing ever. Not enough gravity to help, but just enough to really ruin your day. And that’s before the cohesiveness of the asteroid itself is considered. The whole place is a deathtrap waiting for a mistake.

But most relevant here is that at the start of every chapter is a quote – all taken from primary sources, all cited – about climate change: the science, the opinions, and the way private briefings within the petrochemical industry contrasted with their public press releases. You’d almost think there was a deliberate covering up of the problem, from back in the 1950s and onwards.

What are some of your favourite books about climate change?

I think the first book I read that had what could be described as environmental themes was probably Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965). Arrakis is a desert planet whose indigenous people dream of a wet, fertile world, but the rest of galaxy relies on to remaining dry as it is the only source of the drug Spice.

There were other early books too: JG Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962) and John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes (1953). What’s striking are their publication dates: climate change and people’s reactions to it have always been a topic for fiction – it’s far from a new thing. I suppose it’s only over the last decade that it’s become politicised, although that’s not the fault of the science, nor of those who follow it.

Can you remember when your journey with climate activism started?

I studied geology at university: that conditions on Earth were always in flux was simply a given, but it was taught that the climate changed only gradually, over millions and tens of millions of years. Overlaid on that was the newer idea that volcanic events and meteorite strikes could disrupt the climate in a very short time and that those effects would last for thousands and tens of thousands of years.

The realisation that human activity could fit between those two timescales, that over the course of two to three hundred years produce not just a measurable effect, but an existential and global threat, was just coming into view while I was studying for a PhD in the late 1980s. A speaker from the UK Meteorological Office came to the department to give a lecture, laying out the foundational science and trying to extrapolate trends into the future. Those early predictions are now seen as rather optimistic and generous, but I still remember the sense of disquiet I had afterwards. Then as the 90s progressed I kept up with the science. Honestly, it’s not looking good, is it?

Why is it so important for you personally to see climate change discussed in fiction?

It’s problematic. People tend to react to the crisis in front of them. If there’s an earthquake or a fire or an industrial accident, then it’s much more straightforward to plan and then behave appropriately. Climate change is a slow-motion disaster, and it’s almost impossible to comprehend its seriousness because of its decades-long timescale. Even when we accept its scientific validity, it remains in an emotionally-distant future.

Which is where fiction comes in. By telling stories that are set in that future, our emotions are engaged – the theoretical becomes a vicarious reality, and it helps us re-orientate ourselves and our expectations. When we feel it in our bones, that tomorrow is not going to be the same as today, we can start making long-term decisions.

Of course, all this is moot to those who are already in crisis: in poverty, in precarious employment and housing, struggling to keep food on the table and the lights on. Too many people are rightly distracted by their current conditions to worry about what might happen in ten years or twenty years.

What message do you hope readers will take away from your work? What steps would you like them to take to be more involved in climate activism?

Oh, this is hard, because I don’t want them to take away a ‘message’: novels are for entertainment, and if I wanted to preach, I’d find myself a pulpit. But the idea that art is somehow value-free and apolitical is nonsense on a stick. Obviously, I’ve brought things into the plot that I want to discuss, that I want to explore and dissect, and I want my readers to be engaged in those topics too, better to understand their own views, and yes, perhaps to challenge them. Most of all, I want them to experience what the characters are going through, so that they can incorporate them in their own experiences. That’s how we change and grow as human beings. Someone who’s never read a book lives just one life.

The most constructive act that someone can do at the moment is simply this: vote for a political party that takes climate change seriously, and has a plan to (not going to say ‘fix it’ because I think we’re beyond that point) reduce its effects by a rapid decarbonisation of the economy. Climate change isn’t something we can solve as individuals: it’s a global problem and it needs a global solution.

You can find out more about Gallowglass here.

bookofmorden.co.uk

S. J Morden

Gateshead-based Dr Simon Morden trained as a planetary geologist, realised he was never going to get into space, and decided to write about it instead. His writing career includes an eclectic mix of short stories, novellas and novels which blend science fiction, fantasy and horror, a five-year stint as an editor for the British Science Fiction Association, a judge for the Arthur C Clarke Awards, and regular speaking engagements at the Greenbelt arts festival.

Putting a Positive Spin on Rising Sea Levels by Clare Rees

plus an interview with S J Morden about his new release Gallowglass

It was a work-avoiding youtube wormhole. I can’t now remember what work it was that I was trying so hard not to do- marking, cleaning, lesson-planning maybe- but I was definitely being successful. I’d probably started off on a comedy cat video, but somehow, within a few clicks I’d ended up watching highlights from a Trump supporter rally. I can still remember that ‘don’t click you’ll only hate yourself’ feeling but, meh, why else do you watch youtube? I clicked.

A MAGA cap-wearing man was standing facing the camera with a stadium of flag-waving people behind him. Everything he said elicited cheers from the crowd, and all of his statements were short. It was the usual series of vague promises I think- but then he started to talk about climate change. And unusually, he was fully prepared to concede that climate change was real. It was at this point that I started to pay attention properly. Not only was it real and happening he admitted, but it was A GOOD THING (cheers from the crowd). It was happening in America right now he told them, and that’s fine, because it had already happened before in the Bible (more cheers. Lots of flag-waving).

In the Bible, he reminded us, God had razed whole cities to the ground due to their immoral behaviour. The MAGA speaker was, of course, specific and strangely enthusiastic about what that behaviour was, but I can no longer recall the details (indeed, as I’m writing this during lockdown, it just makes me feel jealous). God had also made sea levels rise before (cheers). Yes, sea levels rising was nothing new, the speaker reassured the crowd, because Noah and his family had faced that exact challenge. God had made sea levels rise in the past as a way of washing the earth of sin, and getting rid of all of the sinners (epic cheers). He finished by reassuring the crowd that America was ready  for climate change, sea levels rising, and it would be fine because God would take care of them, just as he had taken care of Noah in the Bible.

It wasn’t so much rage I felt, as absolute shock. I couldn’t believe there was somewhere people genuinely thought a Noah’s ark situation might be a good one for humanity or the world. I can only assume the stadium, and the speaker, were quite a long way inland, and maybe somewhere mountainous. I’d never met anybody like that and was shocked that so many people obviously thought drowning billions of people was a sensible idea- or were confident that they’d be some of the ones to survive. I spent  a couple of days muttering to myself when stopped at traffic lights, or when pushing the trolley round the supermarket, but then- and I get that this is how conspiracy theories/ extremism work- I started wondering whether maybe it had really happened before. Whether the MAGA man could be right, and if Noah’s ark could possibly be true.

It was a short skip from that to writing a book about a group of people trapped on top of a giant, killer, jellyfish following sea levels rising (plus, maybe, a couple of other missing stages). Jelly’s take on Climate Fiction is deliberately silly and bizarre- but then so was MAGA man’s. I think it’s important to explore our climate change future by looking at the possibilities in a range of different ways, and sometimes we can consider change the best when looking at things through absurdities. I also don’t think a climate change future is entirely bleak, because that’s not how humans work.

Gallows humour is a key feature of some very important books:

·        The Decameron- frame narrative is set in the black death

·        A Modest Proposal- satire about the poverty in Ireland

·        Candide- includes the Seven Years War and the Lisbon earthquake

·        Catch 22 (and so many other war satires, including Blackadder)

In the coronavirus nightmare we’re currently living, humour has been a coping strategy for many.  I think humour is going to be a key feature of how we deal with climate change- as it is a key feature of how humanity has always approached negative situations. Gallows humour has been what has got many of us through the past year and, yes, if there ever was actually a zombie invasion, my survival plan does include a couple of dad jokes (What do vegan zombies eat? GRAAAIIIINNS. Where in the house is the best place to hide from a zombie? The living room).

What MAGA man and his youtube clip of horror did remind me, is that we as humans always deal with situations differently- both in terms of our reactions to them, and also in our solutions. We can see that right now in the way different countries have dealt with the current pandemic, or even in people’s differing attitudes to whether the vaccine is a good thing or not. I think books offer us a safe way of exploring those possible futures and solutions without having to actually deal with them- which is why I think Climate Fiction is particularly important.

Despite coronavirus, it’s climate change that is probably the most important issue of our lives, and the lives of future generations. And if we’re at the stage now where even radical Trump supporters can fill stadiums by talking about it, then it’s a pivotal concern even to groups who have previously denied its existence. Hopefully it won’t result in mythological sea monsters rising from the deepest parts of the ocean with the intention of killing us all, but it is unlikely that the experience will be as good as MAGA man and his supporters hope.

Books obviously won’t prevent ecological disaster, but they will help us think about it and explore both the human consequences and strategies for survival. Some of that survival will depend on being able to see humour and absurdity in the world because, for some people, that’s a way of coping with disaster.

So, why are sea levels getting higher? Because the sea weed.

Twitter: @ClareRees3

Clare Rees

Clare is the Head of English in a Berkshire school. She has enjoyed a varied career so far, including spending two years teaching in Ethiopia and seven years in inner London comprehensives. She loves working with teenagers and is particularly keen on the aspects of her job which involve the promotion of reading and writing for pleasure.

Clare holds an MEd in International Education and an MA in Late Medieval Literature, and has had educational resources published by Pearson, AQA, Teachit and Zigzag. These have included co-authored books, lesson resource collections and teaching units. She has also written education articles for The Independent and ‘Secret Teacher’ blogs for The Guardian. She has a particular interest in, and has carried out research into, the development of literacy skills across the curriculum.

Jelly is her first novel and was published by Chicken House in August 2019.


New Release

Gallowglass by S J Morden was published this month by Gollancz. I talk to the author of the adult sci-fi novel about his new release, and his motivations for writing about climate change.

Tell us about your new book.

Gallowglass is a standalone near-future SF thriller about commercial asteroid mining – if you want an elevator pitch, think “Treasure Island in Space” – and while it’s set in the same timeline as my previous books One Way and No Way, there’s only a couple oblique mentions to events in those books.

We’ve moved into the second half of the 21st century, and private corporations are slowly colonising Cis-lunar space: it’s a real gold rush scenario, with fortunes to be made but often on the back of some terrible working conditions that can and do kill people. Regulation is almost non-existent and what there is tends to be ignored if it gets in the way of profits. Throw in a multi-trillion dollar asteroid, a crew of blue-collar miners with dubious pasts and a captain who is far from what he seems, and there’s ripe conditions for a lot more than shenanigans.

How does climate change play into the plot?

In two main ways. Firstly, it provides a backdrop to what’s happening out in space – whole populations (mainly poor, mainly brown or black) are being shifted north or south by increasingly intolerable summer temperatures, while rich northern and southern countries are desperately trying to preserve what they have by throwing up barriers at their borders and mitigating climate effects within them. Secondly, it gives motivation to the more mercenary-minded crew that if they can just hit one big payday, then they can sit above the chaos on their pile of money. Some of the characters are a lot more altruistic than that, but there’s a core belief in all of them that cold hard cash in their own hands is better than it being in someone else’s.

What kind of research did you do when writing it?

As with all my books, but this series especially, I’ve left no stone unturned in my search for scientific veracity: hard SF uses science to force the characters to make choices that otherwise they wouldn’t if the background was a little more flexible. There’s no hand-waving away problems – this is Macguyer or die territory. My spaceships are, while fictional, the kind of thing that we can either build now, or are looking to build in the future, and I’ve spreadsheets and plans and delta-v calculations and everything: orbital mechanics can be singularly unforgiving.

Asteroid microgravity is something that I’ve theoretically known about, but when coming to actually write about it, is the most terrifying thing ever. Not enough gravity to help, but just enough to really ruin your day. And that’s before the cohesiveness of the asteroid itself is considered. The whole place is a deathtrap waiting for a mistake.

But most relevant here is that at the start of every chapter is a quote – all taken from primary sources, all cited – about climate change: the science, the opinions, and the way private briefings within the petrochemical industry contrasted with their public press releases. You’d almost think there was a deliberate covering up of the problem, from back in the 1950s and onwards.

What are some of your favourite books about climate change?

I think the first book I read that had what could be described as environmental themes was probably Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965). Arrakis is a desert planet whose indigenous people dream of a wet, fertile world, but the rest of galaxy relies on to remaining dry as it is the only source of the drug Spice.

There were other early books too: JG Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962) and John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes (1953). What’s striking are their publication dates: climate change and people’s reactions to it have always been a topic for fiction – it’s far from a new thing. I suppose it’s only over the last decade that it’s become politicised, although that’s not the fault of the science, nor of those who follow it.

Can you remember when your journey with climate activism started?

I studied geology at university: that conditions on Earth were always in flux was simply a given, but it was taught that the climate changed only gradually, over millions and tens of millions of years. Overlaid on that was the newer idea that volcanic events and meteorite strikes could disrupt the climate in a very short time and that those effects would last for thousands and tens of thousands of years.

The realisation that human activity could fit between those two timescales, that over the course of two to three hundred years produce not just a measurable effect, but an existential and global threat, was just coming into view while I was studying for a PhD in the late 1980s. A speaker from the UK Meteorological Office came to the department to give a lecture, laying out the foundational science and trying to extrapolate trends into the future. Those early predictions are now seen as rather optimistic and generous, but I still remember the sense of disquiet I had afterwards. Then as the 90s progressed I kept up with the science. Honestly, it’s not looking good, is it?

Why is it so important for you personally to see climate change discussed in fiction?

It’s problematic. People tend to react to the crisis in front of them. If there’s an earthquake or a fire or an industrial accident, then it’s much more straightforward to plan and then behave appropriately. Climate change is a slow-motion disaster, and it’s almost impossible to comprehend its seriousness because of its decades-long timescale. Even when we accept its scientific validity, it remains in an emotionally-distant future.

Which is where fiction comes in. By telling stories that are set in that future, our emotions are engaged – the theoretical becomes a vicarious reality, and it helps us re-orientate ourselves and our expectations. When we feel it in our bones, that tomorrow is not going to be the same as today, we can start making long-term decisions.

Of course, all this is moot to those who are already in crisis: in poverty, in precarious employment and housing, struggling to keep food on the table and the lights on. Too many people are rightly distracted by their current conditions to worry about what might happen in ten years or twenty years.

What message do you hope readers will take away from your work? What steps would you like them to take to be more involved in climate activism?

Oh, this is hard, because I don’t want them to take away a ‘message’: novels are for entertainment, and if I wanted to preach, I’d find myself a pulpit. But the idea that art is somehow value-free and apolitical is nonsense on a stick. Obviously, I’ve brought things into the plot that I want to discuss, that I want to explore and dissect, and I want my readers to be engaged in those topics too, better to understand their own views, and yes, perhaps to challenge them. Most of all, I want them to experience what the characters are going through, so that they can incorporate them in their own experiences. That’s how we change and grow as human beings. Someone who’s never read a book lives just one life.

The most constructive act that someone can do at the moment is simply this: vote for a political party that takes climate change seriously, and has a plan to (not going to say ‘fix it’ because I think we’re beyond that point) reduce its effects by a rapid decarbonisation of the economy. Climate change isn’t something we can solve as individuals: it’s a global problem and it needs a global solution.

You can find out more about Gallowglass here.

bookofmorden.co.uk

S. J Morden

Gateshead-based Dr Simon Morden trained as a planetary geologist, realised he was never going to get into space, and decided to write about it instead. His writing career includes an eclectic mix of short stories, novellas and novels which blend science fiction, fantasy and horror, a five-year stint as an editor for the British Science Fiction Association, a judge for the Arthur C Clarke Awards, and regular speaking engagements at the Greenbelt arts festival.


Climate Change in the News

Lauren James Launches Climate Fiction Writers League [Tor] – an interview about this newsletter, and taking inspiration from the Women Writers Suffrage League

If you’d like more climate fiction in your inbox, check out journalist Amy Brady’s monthly newsletter Burning Worlds, where she interviews writers and artists who are thinking about climate change in their work

Lorde’s essay on travelling to Antarctica to learn about the climate crisis firsthand [Rolling Stone]

Temperature analysis shows UN goals ‘within reach’ [BBC]

Why Science Fiction Authors Need to be Writing About Climate Change Right Now by League member Charlie Jane Anders [Tor]

Writing Fiction in the Age of Climate Catastrophe: A Conversation Between League members Anne Charnock and James Bradley [LA Review of Books]

What I learned from preparing for the end of the world by League member Carys Bray [The Guardian]

Interview with Cara Hoffman

The Ballad of Tubs Marshfield by Cara Hoffman was published this month by HarperCollins. I talk to the author of the middle grade novel about her new release, and her motivations for writing about climate change.

Tell us about your new book.

The Ballad of Tubs Marshfield is an environmental fable about frog and his doctor cousin who live in a Louisiana swamp. Their lives are happy until many of the creatures in the swamp become sick and it’s up to them to find out the source of the illness and protect their world. I couldn’t have anticipated when I started writing a second children’s novel about a singing frog, a mysterious illness and an uprising—that we would be living with a mysterious illness, with multiple uprisings throughout the country, and that our children would be confined at home, audience to the collective anxiety of the nation; to California burning; to the tears of parents who lost jobs, family, faith in better society. Children live and adapt to the terrors of the adult world.

Part of the reason I wrote The Ballad of Tubs Marshfield is because Children alive today have the biggest challenge in front of them—adapting to the climate crisis. And adults should respect the depth of their burden, support them and also give them cause for joy because joy helps assure survival. As a writer, and just as a fellow creature on this planet, the most important work I can be doing now is in aiding the people who will be left with the crisis—helping them to understand it and withstand it.

How does climate change play into the plot?

The narrative arc of the novel is about a changing landscape, extinction events and then discovering the source of the problem and working together, even with people you disagree with, to help fix that problem. Most of all I wanted kids to see that the red and blue, the binary, the black and white world that has taken over the collective imagination in our country can change. We can work with people we disagree with to make a world in which all can live. I wanted to write about resourcefulness: lemmings who can sew their own parachutes, frogs who can hop trains, and water rats who can outwit alligators. We all need a little of that resourcefulness right now in taking on the climate crisis.

What kind of research did you do when writing it?

I researched the bayou and did extensive research on frogs. Most of the research for this book was part of work I had done as an environmental reporter.

What are some of your favourite books about climate change?

Elizabeth Kolbert’s work is some of the most important on climate change. I try to avoid book on the subject that are dystopic, stick to what’s realistic. There is an amazing book for children written by the astronaut Sally Ride, Mission: Save the Planet which looks at the interdependence of ecosystems. This message is essential for kids—we’re all in it together. As Tubs says, “A creature is a creature.”

Can you remember when your journey with climate activism started?

I worked for about twelve years as an environmental reporter in the rust belt and in rural New York State. This kind of reporting is mostly covering corporate crimes; illegal dumping—and sometimes all too legal dumping by industries. I covered racist and class-based redlining that causes increased cases of cancer and other illnesses in certain neighborhoods. I covered industrial farming practices that cause ocean dead zones and soil erosion, extinction, and illness among humans. It was an education.

Why is it so important for you personally to see climate change discussed in fiction?

The climate crisis is going to affect everyone personally, whether they are directly experiencing it right now or not. Fiction as a form of art is how humans engage with experiences and emotions beyond those of their immediate circumstances, and it’s how many people come to understand the landscape of their own emotional lives, and learn about other lives and other places. As an act of communication, and a way of communing with and thinking about other beings it’s hard to improve upon.

What message do you hope readers will take away from your work? What steps would you like them to take to be more involved in climate activism?

There are lots of things kids can be doing. The most important thing is changing the way we think about the environment. taking time to be in nature if it’s possible, taking time to notice other forms of life and seeing how interconnected our environment is. The earth doesn’t belong to people, people belong to the earth. I’ve been interested in this project through the National Forest Foundation where people are planting fifty million trees. They are replanting trees everywhere in the country from Florida to Alaska. Their goal is to repopulate the forests. Trees of course help filter carbon out of the atmosphere and help clean the air. Forests help filter and supply water and provide homes for animals of all kinds. They help provide a healthy habitat for four hundred species—including humans. I’d encourage kids and their parents to google the National Forest Foundation to find out more.

You can find out more about The Ballad of Tubs Marshfield here.

Cara Hoffman

Cara Hoffman is the author of Running, a New York Times Editor’s Choice, an Esquire Magazine Best Book of 2017, and an Autostraddle Best Queer and Feminist Book of 2017. She first received national attention in 2011 with the publication of So Much Pretty which sparked a national dialogue on violence and retribution and was named Best Suspense Novel of the year by the New York Times Book Review.

Her second novel, Be Safe I Love You, was nominated for a Folio Prize, named one of the Five Best Modern War Novels by the Telegraph UK, and won a Sundance Institute Global Film Making Award.

Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Paris Review, Bookforum, Rolling Stone, Salon and NPR and she has been a visiting writer at Columbia, St. John’s and Oxford University. She is the recipient of a number of awards and accolades including a MacDowell Fellowship, an Edward Albee Fellowship, and a Cill Rialaig Fellowshp. She is the author of the classic children’s novel Bernard Pepperlin.

She currently lives in Manhattan and Athens, Greece with Marc Lepson and is at work on her fourth novel.

But we all know this stuff. Don’t we?

by Marcus Sedgwick

Almost exactly 20 years ago, I was writing what would become my first published novel, Floodland. Set in a future Britain in which rising sea levels from climate change have seen half of the country disappear under the waves, it came out in March 2000. Obviously, the publication of one’s first book is an intense thing, and there are lots of memories, but one thing that happened surprised me at the time. When the book was published, that year, it was very wet in England. (This is not the thing that surprised me, that’s coming.) In fact, there were epic floods across the country and it was making national news. Such apt publicity for a book release is clearly tricky to arrange – never mind that the kind of flooding I was writing about in the book, due to sea levels rising, was not the kind of flooding that was occurring that spring, which was due to excessive rain fall and rivers bursting their banks as a consequence. Though both, of course, are a consequence of climate change. What surprised me was that many people said to me, quite genuinely, how clairvoyant I must have been to write a book about flooding just before it was about to happen.

To be honest, I found this ridiculous – climate change is not a new story now, and it wasn’t a new story 20 years ago either. (Theories of climate change stretch back to the early 19th century.) The very fact that my slim novel had grown out of a request from a publisher for short stories about climate change showed that this was on lots of people’s minds. But in the strange (I thought) reaction I received to my book’s theme, I learned something important – just because we might think something is well-known, accepted scientific fact, doesn’t mean everyone does.

That’s why it’s very important that we continue to speak (even at risk of boring ourselves) about the vitally important matters that need to change in the world – in this case, climate change. And of course, the best way to do this is to work with younger people.  Most adults, once they have made up their mind about something, never change it, regardless of how ill-informed their choice was, how sparse or incorrect the information they based their decision on. And frankly alarming experiments into confirmation bias show us that once made, even in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence, most people stick to whatever they have decided is ‘right.’

It is for this reason that I was delighted that Floodland was later accepted as part of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education’s Power of Reading project, and has been actively used in primary schools for most of its life. The work that CLPE do across the board is both powerful and well thought out. Kicking against the pricks of successive ill-informed education ministers with their unworkable and ineffective schemes – phonics, ‘learning objectives’, all the National Curriculum box-ticking exercises – CLPE produce excellent material that primary teachers can use in the classroom, based around the use of ‘real’ books, which are read in their entirety over the course of a term, perhaps, and then explored and expanded in a variety of ways: through art, drama, science, music and so on. The work I am still sent every week from teachers who’ve worked with the book makes me happy enough; the letters I get from young students bring tears to my eyes.

Incidentally, thinking back to confirmation bias, other research shows that people’s minds are more easily changed by fictional accounts (ie books and films) than by factual accounts (ie news stories and scientific pieces). So working with books like the ones on this site is a genuinely positive step for change.

That’s why I am pleased to be able to offer here the CLPE’s (recently updated) scheme of work for Floodland, for you to share with whichever primary teachers you happen to be, or know. Thank you to CLPE for offering this work gratis. If you’re interested in Primary Education, you probably already know about their work, but if not, go here and see more of the resources they have to offer.

Link: Free Floodland resource from CLPE

By Marcus Sedgwick (May 2018, Updated November 2020)

MARCUS SEDGWICK is a writer of novels for adults, novels for younger people and of non-fiction. He even published a couple of picture books once but that’s a secret. He is winner of many prizes, most notably the 2014 Michael L. Printz Award for his novel Midwinterblood.

Climate change fiction by Marcus includes Snowflake, AZ and Floodland.


Climate Fiction in the News

The Ministry for the Future is the most important book I’ve read this year [Vox]

12 Great Books on Climate and Environment to Gift This Holiday [EcoWatch]

The forgotten environmental crisis: how 20th century settler writers foreshadowed the Anthropocene [The Conversation]