Not to get all "modernity is a loss of innocence" about this
It’s been a bad week, not so much for me personally as for my polity, America, which was made to look in the face (again) just how dysfunctional and inadequate our politics has become. Our laws gift killers with death machines. Our police are a self-interested, stupid and cowardly criminal gang slash occupying army. Our media is a gullible circus show. Our leaders are both systemically and individually useless, incapable of either doing anything to stop the endless parade of tragedies or doing anything to dismantle the bulwark of money, corruption, and minoritarian entrenchment that ties their hands. Even before nothing is done, we talk about how nothing will be. It’s just dead obvious that this is all the case, and yet no one can do anything about it. The Senate and the Supreme Court need to be abolished, and yet what governing body could or would vote for such reform? The cops preventing parents from rescuing their children while letting death stalk the school unchallenged——that’s the perfect metaphor for our whole system, which is incapable of doing anything more useful than defending the legitimacy of its own cancerous sores.
So, it was uplifting and enlivening to get to chat on Wednesday evening with several of my fellow politically inclined sci-fi writers: Malka Older, Christopher Brown, and Eliot Peper. All three were brilliant, thoughtful, and gracious, and hopefully made me look similarly so despite coming into Wednesday with a brain-numbing bad mood. The event was a good reminder of why I love speculative fiction: it’s a medium of expression for people who insist that change is both possible and inevitable. To me SF is a way of thinking about social change, of gathering onto the page all the forces that make one year different than the next. And in doing so SF can illuminate the possibility space, to show us other ways of living and being that can put our present circumstances in perspective. Sometimes we don’t even need to look to the future to grab these possibilities, as dozens of other nations have already banished or avoided our peculiar American tradition of mass shootings. Gun control exists, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.
Malka was quick to quote the G.O.A.T. Ursula LeGuin’s famous line: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.” There’s a second, less often quoted part of LeGuin’s original riff: “Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.” It’s a good addition to remember. Having just published a novel about climate change, I get asked a lot about whether climate fiction can save the planet. My go-to response has been that cli-fi is “necessary but not sufficient.” Art and literature won’t make action/change happen all on their own, but I can’t imagine any major transformation or mobilization succeeding without culturemaking being a part of it. Or, in LeGuin’s formulation, catalyzing it.
So as tired and rehearsed as it might feel in this moment, I think it is a necessary-if-not-sufficient radical act to talk explicitly and vigorously about what we think the future can and should look like, at the same time as we articulate how fucked the present currently is. The future can have fewer guns, fewer killings, more democratic institutions, more accountable cops (or people that work for our public safety that are nothing like our cops today). In the future “the Senate” can take its rightful place in history books among other antiquated-sounding elements of bygone civics, right next to the 3/5ths Compromise.
As I tick down the last chapters of my WIP novel The Remainder——I’m finally, really in reach of done with this draft——I’m looking forward to a summer of turning back to short fiction. I think I might take on some of these possibilities in the stories I’ll be writing. I’ll be in good company. Malka’s Infomocracy books abolished the Westphalian nation-state, and Chris’s trio of novels overthrew our present failed state. But really, anyone can do this. You can talk to folks at your Memorial Day picnics about a future in which we aren’t ruled by shitty old rich people and their nihilistic servants. All organizing is like this: awkward and exhausting and cringe until you remember that most people want the same things you do. It won’t be sufficient, but it almost certainly is necessary.
Places I’ll Be
Flagstaff, May 31 (Tuesday @ 6pm AZ), Bright Side Bookshop
St. Louis, June 16 (Thursday @ 7pm CDT), Left Bank Books
St. Louis, June 18 (Saturday @ 2pm CDT), The Book House
Gilbert, AZ, August 6 (Saturday), Barnes & Noble
Press Clips, Reviews, Interviews, Etc.
Amy Brady writes the excellent Burning Worlds newsletter covering climate change and the arts. Amy was kind enough to interview me about Our Shared Storm in this month’s issue. Here’s a bit of what we talked about:
Amy: What role do you see climate fiction playing more widely in our public understanding of the climate crisis? Do you have any favorite works you'd like to mention?
Andrew: . . . Not to get all "modernity is a loss of innocence" about this, but it's kind of like how industrialization accidentally built an enormous, billion-machine apparatus for warming the climate. (And then fossil companies not-so-accidentally decided they wanted to keep it going, no matter the cost to the rest of us.) Now, if we are going to meet 1.5C goals, we need to build a new apparatus deliberately, one that stabilizes the planet through decarbonization and carbon removal. Alongside we'll need to construct narratives and imaginaries that propel this process along. It's an odd place for creatives to be. We're used to writing whatever we are interested in, or what the market calls for. I think we all balk at the idea that we have a responsibility to uphold or reify or support a particular kind of culture—since usually those calls have been about defending an unjust status quo. But unlike a century ago, now we know the permanent ecological consequences imaginaries can have, so I don't think we have a choice.
Also, a while back I talked to Eben Kowler for an article he was working on for Compass Magazine, a publication of the Association of Professional Futurists. That article, “And Then There Was Light: When All the News Seems Bad, Solarpunk Offers a Ray of Hope,” is out now in the May issue.
Art Collection: Lemminkäinen's Mother
Another print I got at the Finnish National Gallery a few winters back, chosen this week for the evocation of loss and mourning. (I swear this newsletter won’t always be such a bummer, hopefully, so long as circumstances cooperate.) Here’s some of the official description:
In the story, warrior and womaniser Lemminkäinen dies because he has tried to kill the swan of Tuonela. His mother rakes the pieces of his son’s body from the river and puts them back together. In this picture she tries to revive him and receives a glimmer of hope in the form of the rays of sunlight that penetrate the gloom of Tuonela. A bee brings the balm of life from the abode of the gods, and a miracle happens: Lemminkäinen opens his eyes and is once again alive.
It hangs in my hall next to the other piece of grim Finnish art I own, their colors complementing each other well, their vibe a lovely dark contrast with the rest of the house.
Buy My Book
Our Shared Storm: A Novel of Five Climate Futures is out now! Buying a copy or telling others about the book is one of the best ways you can support me and my writing. And if you read it/like it, please do leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads or any other platform——it helps a lot.
B.R.B. & T.T.Y.L.
In June and July I’ll——at long last!——be attending the Clarion Workshop at UC San Diego. I applied and was accepted in 2020, but COVID scuttled attempts the last two years to have an official gathering. I’m eager for this six-week break from my pandemic hermitage.
The schedule for Clarion is extremely rigorous, however. Workshopping stories every weekday, with the expectation of producing new short fiction every week. As a result, I’m putting this newsletter on hold for the summer. If anything new and exciting happens, I may fire off an abbreviated edition. Otherwise I’ll be back with regularly scheduled newslettering in August.