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.

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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.

Killer of Enemies, by Joseph Bruchac

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I know that young adult action stories might not be everyone’s preferred genre, but how about a post-apocalyptic young adult action story that weaves Native American history, lore, and culture seamlessly into other general Americana such that it feels like a fitting piece of a larger tapestry without feeling lost or subjugated by other elements?

I can’t take full credit for that astute observation. It was mentioned by one of my excellent classmates.

Killer of Enemies is a good, punchy story that fits with mythic narrative traditions in a number of deeply appealing fashions. It’s very nearly pulp. And it’s written by a member of the Abenaki Nation, which gives me a wonderful home-feel due to my fond early childhood memories of listening to Wolfsong telling stories around Vermont. It doesn’t hurt that it’s all about the badass warrior woman Lozen, named in honor of the real Lozen of the Chiricahua Apaches. I’d say that this book is pretty good stuff.

The Shadow Speaker, by Nnedi Okorafor

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Yet another excellent book that I’ve found through this semester’s syllabus. Nnedi Okorafor’s combination of a post-apocalyptic setting with fantastical afrofuturism is absolutely magical. I would strongly recommend this book for so many reasons; the setting might honestly be the least of them, despite how much I like it.

I understand that there’s a sequel in the works, titled Stormbringer, and I can’t wait to get my hands on that too.

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson

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I know, it’s not more Barium Deep. My apologies. But I’m busy and this is an easy recommendation to make. The Summer Prince is an excellent book. I won’t go in depth, because I have a submission due for my editor tomorrow and I want to give her more material, but it’s an excellent book and was one of the few items on my syllabus so far this semester that I’ve found myself reading for pleasure.

I guess I’m part of the target audience these days, but this gave me a great deal to think about in terms of art, and what art means and what it does. It also contains queer romance, and a sometimes hopeful sometimes not vision of a post-apocalyptic future. It’s very much worth reading.

Oh, and in case this is the sort of thing that you care about, this book is written by a woman of color and has (exclusively) non-white protagonists. I really liked it.

The Golden Princess, by S.M. Stirling

It’s been a while since I read any S.M. Stirling, and I picked this one up more on a whim than anything else.  I’d gotten tired of the most recent spate of Change novels, probably because of a disconnect between my expectations and what Stirling was delivering.  I wanted Stirling to write an active story about a smaller group of characters, with palpable progress in the plot achieved in the course of each book.  Stirling did create that progress but it was far slower than I’d hoped for, and he spent more time focused on the milieu of the story rather than advancing the story that I wanted to see resolved.  In fact, after the first trilogy the pace of progress slowed precipitously, until it was almost a crawl.

The Golden Princess doesn’t change that pattern.  What did change was my expectations of what I’d find in reading the book.  And I have to say: reading these books as milieu fiction, as much about the world in which they take place as they are about any of the characters, is far more fun and rewarding than reading them with expectations of tight and fast plot.  Definitely worth starting up the series again.

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Unfinished Flash Fiction

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Last week I mentioned that I was writing something to submit to a contest.  I didn’t finish it.  Instead, I submitted something else (Cosmo Katie, from earlier this year) to Flash Fury.  Wish me luck.

I’m currently rather busy with schoolwork, so all I have for you today is the unfinished piece which I tried to write last week.  I still haven’t decided what my new schedule should look like, but it will probably end up being a post on Tuesday or Wednesday, and another on Friday.  Read on for violence.

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