The History of Dystopia by Jamie Mollart

Dystopian fiction in its current form has been around for a long time. It’s been a prominent escape route from our daily life and has been a reflection of our collective fears and concerns for a couple of hundred years.

Since the events of 2020, and now 2021, have begun to make it look as if we’re actually living in a Dystopia, I’ve begun questioning what the place of Dystopian fiction is in our consciousness and whether it’s possible to cover new ground in a genre that increasingly looks like a mirror to the world, rather than a flight of fantasy.

I have a vested interest to declare here. I have a Dystopian fiction novel due to be published this summer, Kings of a Dead World, and as I’ve gone through the editing process it’s seemed more and more horribly prescient.

To understand Dystopian fiction, we need to understand its roots. Utopia, the perfect state, came before Dystopia, Sir Thomas More invented the term in 1516 and it took us quite a long time to come up with the flipside. We had to look forward to imagine a good future before our pessimism could imagine it’s opposite.

Dystopia literally means ‘unhappy country’ and was born purely to be the negative reflection of Utopia. The first recorded public usage of the word was in the House of Commons in 1868, when John Stuart Mill said, ‘it is, perhaps, too complimentary to call them Utopians, they ought rather to be called dys-topians.

The truth is people like the black and white of extremes, think right back to the Garden of Eden and Hell, so we needed to build a Utopia in order to define a Dystopia.

It was, however, authors who took control of the word and rooted it in our lexicon. Jack London’s Iron Heel’ and Yevgeny Zamyatins ‘We’ were front runners and there’s no coincidence that they book-ended the First World War.

Dystopian fiction is almost always fired by global events – World Wars, Pandemics, the War on Terror –  all of them have seen a boom in popularity of stories about the end of the world.

So, what is it that makes people enjoy Dystopia from a psychological point of view?

Some of it can be put down to simple Schadenfreude; the sense of taking pleasure from other people’s misfortune. In a very unpleasant, basic way human beings are wired to find satisfaction in other people’s problems, if it’s happening to them it’s not happening to us.

But we also have a morbid fascination in disaster. We see it in the slowing of traffic on a motorway to view a crash, in the obsession with reality TV shows and in the obsessive hitting of the refresh button on news about Covid-19. It’s a kind of group rubbernecking, and if it’s at a distance and removed we can observe it and take lessons without suffering the pain.

There’s no doubt people like to psychologically prepare for real disasters by taking a dry run and Dystopian fiction plays into this beautifully. It acts as a dress rehearsal for potential horrors.

We live in a world, which pandemic excluded, is the safest it’s ever been. Max Roser, an economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking at Oxford University says “We live in a much more peaceful and inclusive world than our ancestors of the past. The news is very much focused on singular events. All of these trends that I’m looking at are slow changes that happen over decades, or sometimes even centuries. These developments never have a ‘now’ moment that would make them interesting for news that is following current events.’

Murder rates are down globally, poverty is down globally, there is more readily available democracy than ever before, people are working less hard than ever before, there is more economic success and education than at any point in our history, technological advances are happening at an unprecedented rate.

And yet all of this comes at a price.

For a lot of people, myself included, awareness of the Climate Crisis is a constant chatter in their subconscious, and with it a sense of an impending reckoning where we will be faced with the consequences of the way we’ve played fast and loose with the world.

One of the problems with understanding Climate Change is that it can easily be seen as an issue that is too big for one person to have an impact on and so a modern Dystopia serves as a clean slate, wiping away everything that we’ve done to the world without having to imagine the steps in between. It is a shorthand way of jumping to the end of the story and enabling us to consider consequences without having to live through the horror that will get us there.

Equally an imagined Dystopian world can help us cope with a perceived stressful reality in the same way that horror movies do. It enables us to explore our worst fears in a way that isn’t immediately threatening, and this is exciting. It engages our fight and flight mechanism, kicks in the adrenaline, but in a controlled way. We can walk away from it safely and then consider what we’ve seen. It’s part of our way of coping with the rigours of the world.

Because we’re human beings though, forewarned is not always forearmed. We have a collective self destructive nature, an ability to ignore the bigger picture, and politically we work in a cyclical nature, you just need to look at American President’s approach to climate change to see this on a relatively short time scale.

Writing in the Guardian, Obama said ‘During the course of my presidency, I made climate change a top priority, because I believe that, for all the challenges that we face, this is the one that will define the contours of this century more dramatically perhaps than the others. No nation, whether it’s large or small, rich or poor, will be immune from the impacts of climate change. We are already experiencing it in America, where some cities are seeing floods on sunny days, where wildfire seasons are longer and more dangerous, where in our arctic state, Alaska, we’re seeing rapidly eroding shorelines, and glaciers receding at a pace unseen in modern times.’

Trump’s attitude to Climate Change is the opposite, at once extreme and startling: “Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee – I’m in Los Angeles and it’s freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!” and “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Then, four years later I’m writing this as Biden is about to be inaugurated, and the news is reporting that he will undo up to 17 of Trump’s executive orders on day one of his presidency.

According to Paul Bledsoe, climate adviser to Bill Clinton’s White House, “Day one, Biden will rejoin Paris, regulate methane emissions and continue taking many other aggressive executive climate actions in the opening days and weeks of his presidency.’

There’s a microcosm of human behaviour here playing out in the role of the leader of the world’s biggest polluter. Human attitudes change in a cyclical nature and Dystopian fiction by necessity changes with them. In its role to discuss our worst fears it changes along with the geopolitical and socio economic landscape it reflects.

Here and now in 2021 we’re faced with the worst health crisis in a century, huge swathes of the globe are in lockdown, hospitals are filling up and economic disaster is piling up around the world. To all intents and purposes we feel like we could be living out the plot of a Dystopian novel. If anyone has watched Twelve Monkeys recently it suddenly doesn’t seem so fantastical. What has personally surprised me is that even in the midst of all this horror, our desire to delve into Dystopia hasn’t waned. For weeks at the start of the first lockdown Outbreak was trending on Netflix.

If Dystopian fiction is a mirror to our current concerns and a practice run for imagined horrors, then Covid-19 has served to bring our long standing relationship with the genre into sharp focus. Waterstones have reported a surge of sales of The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 and Brave New World during lockdown, whilst online sales of Stephen King’s The Stand increased by 163% in the first week of March last year.

So are we living in a Dystopia now? The answer is no and the reason being a subtle but important distinction.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Margaret Attwood, the grand dame of modern Dystopia and author of The Handmaid’s Tale, said “a Dystopia, technically, is an arranged unpleasant society that you don’t want to be living in. This one was not arranged. So people may be making arrangements that aren’t too pleasant, but it’s not a deliberate totalitarianism. It’s not a deliberate arrangement.”

What we are doing though is living through a time when we are as close in living memory to something that reminds us of the potential of Dystopian fiction and this affects us on a deep level.

The last living UK veteran of World War 1 died in 2009, The Spanish Flu and World War 2 will soon be out of living memory, Covid-19 is a worldwide trauma which is forcing us to look again at our collective fears, and with that comes a desire to delve back into Dystopia.

Speaking more broadly you have to ask is Covid-19 going to help us learn our lessons and lead to a more Utopian culture?

I truly hope so, but history tells us this hope is unfortunately probably unfounded. As discussed, Dystopia is a mirror to our fears, so it will always hold an important place in our culture until we agree on Utopia. (An aim which appears contrary to human nature.)

Dystopia holds a unique position in the literary canon because it speaks to us on a primal level and answers deep needs within the human psyche.

As the challenges the human race faces change so too will the Dystopian fiction that it consumes.

And this is why it will always be relevant. Until we fix the flaws in our species’s nature there will always be new ground for Dystopian fiction to cover.

Category: Dystopia, Science Fiction

Published by Sandstone Press (June 2021)

Kings of a Dead World by Jamie Mollart

The Earth’s resources are dwindling. The solution is The Sleep: periods of hibernation imposed on those who remain with only a Janitor to watch over the sleepers. In the sleeping city, elderly Ben struggles with his limited waking time and the disease which is stealing his wife from him. Outside, lonely Janitor Peruzzi craves the family he never knew. Around them both, dissatisfaction is growing. The city is about to wake.

Jamie Mollart

Jamie Mollart runs his own advertising company, and has won awards for marketing. Over the years he has been widely published in magazines, been a guest on some well-respected podcasts and blogs, and Patrick Neate called him ‘quite a writer’ on the Book Slam podcast. He is married and lives in Leicestershire with his family. His debut novel, The Zoo, was on the Amazon Rising Stars 2015 list. His second novel, Kings of a Dead World will be published on June 10 2021.

Climate News

Are you an educator, blogger or graphic designer? Would you like to get involved in climate activism as an online volunteer? The Climate Fiction Writers League is working with Jointly Earth to find activists who can volunteer some time to help the group develop further into a resource for teachers and librarians. If you would have a few hours to spare, you can help us with Outreach, Graphic and Web Design and Curriculum Development. There are lots of other opportunities on the website to work with other environmental groups if none of those are a fit for you.

How Biden is reversing Trump’s assault on the environment [The Guardian]

Waiting to Address Climate Change Will Cost Trillions of Dollars [Gizmodo]

The Shift Toward Clean Cars [NY Times]

How to spot the tricks Big Oil uses to subvert action on climate change [Vox]

League member Laura Lam and University of Edinburgh evolutionary biologist Sinead Collins have launched C.Y.O.TOPIA, or Choose Your Own Topia, a YouTube series that investigates two different approaches to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 to build these two versions of a future, and discover what we can do collectively to bring about a better world.

An extract from new book The New Climate War, where scientist Michael Mann explores the concept of ‘soft doomism’ and how it threatens vital action [Crikey]

League founder Lauren James talks about her new Middle Grade release The Deep-Sea Duke

The Climate Fiction Writers League was created and run by Lauren James. This week her new novella The Deep-Sea Duke is published by Barrington Stoke.

Tell us about your new book.

The Deep-Sea Duke is a sci-fi novella set on an alien planet. It’s aimed at struggling readers (age 8+). The story follows a pompous amphibian Duke Dorian as he takes his best friends – a living volcano and a servant-class android – to meet his parents.

How does climate change play into the plot?

Dorian’s parents happen to be the monarchs of a water planet (think: space mermaids!), which is currently struggling to find housing for an influx of climate refugees. A race of butterflies have made their planet uninhabitable by burning fossil fuels, so they had to leave the hot planet. Dorian’s parents have to find habitats for them.

What kind of research did you do when writing it?

I read a lot of books about climate change as research for this novella and my upcoming climate thriller, Green Rising. I also subscribed to email newsletters like Heated, Lights Out , and Green Light by The Guardian to make sure I was getting up-to-the-minute climate news.

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

It’s all about character – as long as readers can see the effects of a difficult topic on someone they care about (whether that’s a human, animal, alien or robot!) then they’ll understand the importance. Empathy is a really powerful force in creating change.

So many of the climate fiction books I read focus on the effect that individuals can have on the planet, with the message that we all need to be more responsible, greener consumers. I wanted to look at how industry and businesses are causing pollution, to make it clear to my young, scared readers that it’s not their responsibility to fix climate change. No amount of careful consumption can fix an industry-wide problem.

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

The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres & Tom Rivett-Carnac

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climateby Naomi Klein

Can you remember when your journey with environmental activism started?

I studied Chemistry and Physics at university, so I’ve been studying the science of climate change for many years. It’s incredibly frustrating that I was taught the science of the greenhouse effect and the proposed solutions over a decade ago, and yet we’re still no further along in fixing it.

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

I’m most interested in seeing the politics of climate change discussed. Everyone is aware of the science, but I’m not sure that everyone understands the details of oil companies’ campaign of science denial, or the other political events which have slowed down the efforts to counteract climate change.

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

“Climate change, I’m afraid. They’ve been using those motorised penny farthing bicycles for centuries now. It burnt up all the fossil fuels they dug up from the ground. It released chemicals into the air that changed the atmosphere of their planet. It has been raising the temperature for decades, but they just ignored the problem. This summer, the planet got so hot that wild fires started breaking out everywhere. Global warming has turned it into a desert wasteland.”

Dorian winced. “Oh dear. They’ve had to evacuate?”

What message do you want readers to take away from The Deep-Sea Duke?

The carbon emissions responsible for climate change are largely caused by industry, and can only be reduced through government action. However, if you’d like to make lifestyle changes to help limit your individual emissions, here are the most effective changes you can make. Some of these will take many decades to achieve, but long-term societal changes are the only way we can tackle this problem.

  • Vote in all political elections you are able to, and make sure your representatives are aware that your vote is based on their climate policy views
  • Replace garden lawns with wildflower meadows
  • Switch to LED lightbulbs
  • Don’t fly – and pay for carbon offsetting for any flights you are required to take
  • Make sure your savings and pensions schemes are not invested in companies contributing to climate change. Ask your company to divest from their harmful default options
  • Avoid eating beef, and transition to dairy alternatives
  • Buy in-season food, grown locally (avoiding hot-house produce grown out of season)
  • Change to a renewable energy utility supplier
  • Buy electric cars – but only once your current car is absolutely unable to be fixed. Keep current cars on the road for as long as possible, to keep manufacturing emissions low
  • Install solar panels or solar roof tiles
  • Air dry clothing instead of tumble drying
  • Avoid disposable, cheap fashion and invest in long-term, quality pieces that can be worn for many years

And, of course, plant trees wherever you can. They truly are the lungs of our planet. Depleted forests, savannahs, peatlands, mangroves and wetlands have the ability to grow back quickly, but we need to give them the opportunity to do that. 

Lauren James (founder)

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and The Quiet at the End of the World, among others.

Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide, been translated into five languages and shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award.

Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She teaches creative writing for many organisations, including Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands.

Lauren is currently working on Green Rising, a Young Adult climate change thriller about nature, geoengineering and civil disobedience in the face of overwhelming corporate negligence, which will be published in 2021 with Walker Books.

The Deep-Sea Duke by Lauren James

When Hugo and Ada travel to their friend Dorian’s planet for the holidays, android Hugo is anxious about being accepted by Dorian’s powerful family. But when they arrive on Hydrox, there are more pressing things to worry about, as the planet has been overrun by refugee butterflies. Displaced from their home by climate change, the butterflies have been offered sanctuary by Dorian’s parents, but they’re quickly running out of space. Meanwhile, beneath the seas, a strange creature is wreaking all kinds of havoc …
Can Hugo, Dorian and Ada step in before the crisis gets out of control?

The sequel to The Starlight Watchmaker is particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 12+. 

Categories: Science Fiction, Dyslexia-friendly, Romance, Scavenger hunt

Published by Barrington Stoke (out now)

Melting Ice and Rising Seas

by Kate Kelly

All my life I have lived near the sea. I’ve spent my days watching the pulse of the tides and smelling the salt on the air. The sea is my life, my passion, my career (I’m an oceanographer). For that reason it was inevitable, when I turned my hand to writing fiction that the sea would feature as a recurrent theme.

Most of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, and yet the ocean depths are one of the least explored regions of our planet. Life began in the oceans, and their circulation patterns have a major effect on our weather and climate. For example, it is the warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift that give the UK its mild weather, when it’s at the same latitude as Labrador!

Ever since climate change was first recognised by science, authors have been exploring various scenarios through their fiction. As a result Climate Fiction covers a wide variety of possible futures for our planet and our civilisation and the ocean plays a vital part in many of these. Let me share with you a few examples.

One of the first effects of a warming world is that the ice caps start to melt. Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has been showing some of its lowest summer extents in recent years. As more of the underlying ocean is exposed so more sunlight is absorbed, warming the waters and increasing the melting.

The loss of the Arctic sea ice is a tragedy for the creatures who live in these regions as year by year their habitat disappears. This loss of habitat is poignantly explored by Hannah Gold in The Last Bear.

Photographs by Kate Kelly

Of course all this melting ice introduces a huge influx of fresh water into our oceans. If this should disrupt the circulation in the North Atlantic then Europe’s climate could become more like Labrador, an ironic twist for a warming world, and of course, a scenario that several authors have explored. Angela Kecojevik imagines just such a frozen world in her forthcoming novel, Train.

Then there is sea level rise. It is estimated that if the Greenland Ice cap were to melt global sea levels would rise by about 7 metres. Should all the ice caps melt sea levels could rise by 70 metres or more. With most of the world’s largest cities being in low lying or coastal regions we have a potentially catastrophic scenario building.

Many authors have incorporated global sea level rise into their stories when addressing climate change. It doesn’t take a great deal of sea level rise in order to have a dramatic effect on our world. Many places are below or barely above sea level. A rise of only a few metres could obliterate Bangladesh, Northern Germany or the Netherlands.

In both my own novel Red Rock and Marcus Sedgewick’s Floodlands there has been a relatively small sea level rise. Floodlands is set in the Fenlands of East Anglia which will be one of the first parts of the UK to be inundated. This will happen with a sea level rise of no more than a few metres. In Red Rock a twelve metre sea level rise has resulted in Cambridge becoming a wasteland of tidal mudflats and abandoned buildings.

In Always North, Vicki Jarret has gone with the more extreme sea level rise of 50-60 metres, as has Emmi Itӓranta with Memory of Water. Cities and entire countries and underwater and whole populations have been displaced.

But sea level rise isn’t the only effect that the warming oceans will have. Warmer oceans mean more energy being introduced into the atmosphere and this feeds into more dynamic weather systems. In other words, fiercer and stronger storms. We are already seeing these extreme weather conditions across the world. Hurricanes that are larger than normal, and more of them.

Julie Bertagna takes all this into consideration in her novel Exodus. As well as flooding caused by the rising seas, the lower lying cities have been subjected to repeated storm surges which has made them unviable. The world as we know it has fallen apart.

All these novels emphasise the fragility of the civilisation we have built. It’s frightening to think how fast everything could unravel and that any of these scenarios could be our future. These books may be fiction but the underlying science surrounding climate change is solid. Human activity is having a profound effect on our planet and hopefully our stories will help to draw attention to the catastrophic results climate change could have if left unchecked.

Let’s hope our fiction doesn’t become reality.

You can learn more about Red Rock here.

Kate Kelly

Kate Kelly is a marine scientist by day and a writer by night, with short stories published in a number of SF magazines and anthologies, often inspired by her fascination with the sea. Her first novel, Red Rock, a Cli-Fi adventure for young adults, was published in 2013 by Curious Fox. Kate and her family live in Dorset UK and when she is not writing she takes to the sea on her paddleboard, or can be found wandering the remoter stretches of the South West Coast Path.

Categories: Thriller, Dystopia, Young Adult

Published by Curious Fox (out now)

Red Rock by Kate Kelly

The ice caps have melted. The coastal areas we once knew are gone, and only scavvers now live in the flooded towns. The world has changed, but as 14-year-old Danni Rushton soon discovers, it isn t the first time… Living with her uncle after the tragic death of her parents, Danni s world is turned upside down when her aunt is assassinated. With her dying breath, she entrusts Danni with a strange, small rock. Danni must not tell a soul that she has it.

But what is the rock for, and to what lengths must Danni go to keep it safe? This action-packed adventure takes the reader from the barren terrain of Greenland, to the flooded ruins of Cambridge, and on to a sinister monastery in Malta. In her effort to save her uncle and evade a power-hungry space agency, Danni discovers that friends aren t always what they seem, and a rock isn t always just a rock…

Climate News

Dizzying pace of Biden’s climate action sounds death knell for era of denialism [The Guardian]

Picture Books That Highlight Climate Change by league member Chitra Soundar

Aviva will use its ‘ultimate sanction’ to force action on global warming [Financial Times]

The North Sea oil giants fueling climate change with millions of tonnes in preventable emissions [Unearthed Greenpeace]

Other new member releases:

Kat Wolfe on Thin Ice (Wolfe and Lamb Mysteries #3) by Lauren St. John [Middle Grade Adventure]

Wench by Maxine Kaplan [Young Adult Fantasy]

P.S. What’s up with the climate? by Bijal Vachharajani [Picture Book]

Hope Jones Will Not Eat Meat by Josh Lacey [Middle Grade activism]

While this newsletter will always remain free to read, I’ve set up the option of contributing to the administration costs of running the site. Essays and interviews are scheduled every two weeks for the next year, which is a lot of work to organise and upload. I’d like to receive enough donations to allow the league to hire a book publicist to process new applicants and schedule the newsletters, so that it’s sustainable long term. All donations are appreciated!

Discussion between Hannah Gold and Joanne O’Connell

League members Hannah Gold and Joanna 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 give respite care for other families, so there were often other children staying in our house, with me and my sisters. Those children were a brilliant, important part of our lives and we loved it but it also involved a lot of sharing! The Larksies are a warm, loving family and they’re 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.

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]

Geoengineering in Poetry

by Frederick Turner

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.

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

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.

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]