Wandering thoughts: Rare Earth Elements, Climate Change, and Fantasy Settings

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I had some grim thoughts about the future of our civilization today, and turned them into a fantastical exploration of alternate worlds… because that’s how my brain works, I guess. Join my escapade, and learn a little bit about Rare Earth Elements, modern technology, and climate change while you’re at it.

Rare Earth Elements are fundamental to Continue reading

Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

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I like the one on the left more.

I’m a sucker for a good cyclical story, for plot elements interwoven early and revisited at the climax. That’s part of my love for Die Hard and Hot Fuzz. This book is neither of those movies, but it does many of the same structural things.

My feelings for Ship Breaker are slow and warm, less the quick shine of delight than the steady glow of admiration. I enjoyed it a great deal, but I was particularly impressed by the way in which Paolo Bacigalupi built up the feel of coming full circle, and filled it with excellent foreshadowing as he established the struggles to be faced. I also appreciated the book’s explorations of family, loyalty, and love, how they felt etched deep in the text, part of the world that seeped out through every pore. Despite their omnipresence, I never felt as though the book was beating me over the head with its themes; I even ignored them for a while simply because of how completely they merged with the characters and text. Like a shot from a skilled pediatrician—medicine delivered amidst pleasant distraction—they were slipped into the rest of a seamless whole, the needle unnoticed until it was gone. Not perfectly slick, but very well done.

This book is easy to read as a hero’s journey, but Bacigalupi avoids the wish-fulfillment capability-fantasy that periodically crops up in genre stories. People struggle and strive through difficulty and danger, people learn and grow, but they never feel superhuman; the main character’s most fantastical accomplishment is quickly learning to read. This preserves a rough and prosaic taste that grounds everything, making the moments of higher tension even more piquant in contrast. It’s something I like a great deal.

I haven’t even addressed the setting or characters, the way Bacigalupi enmeshes the reader in the world without explaining anything, without needing to explain anything. It’s another thing I admire and aim for in my own stories, and I want you to discover it for yourself if you haven’t already. I wasn’t surprised to see Tobias Buckell thanked in the afterword, and if you like Ship Breaker or its ilk I’d strongly recommend Buckell’s Arctic Rising and Hurricane Fever.

Setting Work for Swamp Gangsters

I did some thought exercises and prep work for the setting I developed for Latour and their friends, back around the time that I wrote the first story in that setting. I didn’t share any of that work with an audience when I wrote the first stories, but climate change has been eating up most of my brain space today and this seems like an appropriate time to share.

Yes, Latour and Ren and the Pats and Cap all exist in a loose version of our world. No, I haven’t ever decided exactly what year it is.

But there’s a reason that everything in those stories happens on boats and floating structures.

When I was first thinking through the setting for that group of stories (I have more that I haven’t posted, due to wanting to be paid for them at some point) my thoughts were as follows… Continue reading

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler

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Holy crap, this is a good book.  Many thanks to Monica for the recommendation and the loan.

It turns out that Octavia Butler knew what she was doing when she wrote Parable of the Sower.  She managed to create a believable (and deeply grim) future; perhaps more impressive, the grim future she envisioned in 1993 still feels like a compelling vision of our potential future, even if the dates and tech seem a little bit off.  To be perfectly honest, I find the future shown in this book to be especially frightening because of the fact that I remember imagining something very much like it in my early childhood.  Except, of course, I had no conception then of the persistent undertones of racism that are seamlessly integrated into Butler’s story.

Somehow, despite writing about a world that is so clearly dying, about people caught in the death throes of a failing state, Butler writes a protagonist who retains all the hope that you could possibly ask for.  And this isn’t because our narrator is naive or stupid: it’s because she has looked carefully at the world around her and recognized that she has a choice between giving up and killing herself, or deciding to do something to change things.  And she’s clearly unwilling to give up.  I find her really refreshing, a wonderful narrator to follow through such a wounded world.

I’m not saying that it necessarily feels good to read all the way through; the truth is that this book is quite painful at times.  But it’s also uplifting in a way that only people enduring in the face of adversity can be.  And not just enduring, but people who refuse to simply prey upon each other, and who instead try to make something better from the world around them despite how ruined it is.  I like that a lot.  I find it inspiring, and I think that because of that this story fulfills an extremely important role.

Because I’m on a tight schedule today, I’m going to make this one brief rather than going into further depth about the story or its construction.  I admire what Butler has done with this story, and I wish she were still alive for me to thank her for writing it.  I hope that you pick it up and read it too.  If you’ve read it yourself, please weigh in with your thoughts below.  I’d love to hear them.

As if the good story weren’t enough, this is yet another good example of a teen female narrator for me to learn from.  Yet another reason for me to like the book.