As a Science Fiction Geek…

The most important environmental novel.

As a science fiction geek, I ought to be able to predict the future. The lord knows, I have spent enough time in the company of Ray Bradbury, Ann Leckie, Clifford D. Simak, Frank Herbert, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Of course the writers never get it quite right, but metaphors can be close; the TV pundits and newspaper columnists are less reliable as they spout ever-changing opinions on a daily deadline. Nonetheless, despite my eclectic reading, I have a bad feeling about the future.

With so much of the world ill or in lockdown, we are often depressed. And at the present moment, I am dismayed by our ineffectual government’s wasting weeks trying to nail Trump for the assault on the U.S. Capitol. We were all terrified by the attack, though I’m not at all sure it was an attempted coup. Of course the plotters and the violent attackers should be brought to justice. But it is ironic that the House and Senate allowed Trump to threaten national security for four years by constantly firing people in important positions–that scared me as much as the assault on the Capitol! No, they dare go after him now that he is out of office, and because they personally felt threatened when the Capitol was attacked. They did not show the same degree of concern for mass shootings in churches and schools, or for police violence, or the many other terrors set loose on the population by maniacs. Was this really a coup d’tweet?

A great political and environmental novel.

I try to avoid reading about politics. I voted for the Dems because I want to see green energy implemented, the vaccines distributed quickly, strategies for dealing with pandemics and climate change, and the completion of the thousand and one other important things the government owes.

For the last year, we have looked to infectious disease specialists and other scientists who have tried to hold this country together. Some states and the federal government actively interfered (and still interfere) with mask mandates recommended by the CDC. What is to be done? Where is all the government brain power?

The Cumaean Sibyl, also probably has a Zh.D.

But with my Zh.D. in Vampire and Zombie Lit , I am relieved that it is at least not the zombie apocalypse. The movies 28 Days Later and 28 Months Later can be viewed as a terrifying metaphor for a pandemic. Of course in the zips of this century, good vampires were as fashionable as the bad zombies. In the Twilight books, which I binge-read on the recommendation of a fortysomething friend, the witty, klutzy heroine, Bella Swan, moves to the small town of Fork, Washington, to live with her policeman father, and is not impressed with the fog or the small-town culture. But Edward, the gorgeous perfect gentleman vampire, saves Bella’s life when a car almost rolls on top of her. The two fall in love: Edward is something of a human rights activist; he drinks animal blood instead of human blood. Bella’s best friends are vampires and werewolves, and it is only a matter of time before she will have to make a change. But there is a place for infectious disease specialists in their Twilight world: medical experts are called in!

Somehow we never expected the pandemic, or any of it. It’s all horrifying, but it could be very much worse . Some people are suffering horribly, some people are terrified, some view this era as an inconvenience–and I might try the latter for a while, if I can just wing it.

Spring is coming–then we’ll be more positive! At least we hope so.

The Plague Notebook: Derealization in SF Time

Earth Day, April 22, 1970

All too easily, this could be a science fiction novel.

“You don’t necessarily develop a vaccine that is safe and effective against every virus. Some viruses are very, very difficult when it comes to vaccine development – so for the foreseeable future, we are going to have to find ways to go about our lives with this virus as a constant threat,”  said David Nabarro, professor of global health at Imperial College, London, and an envoy for the World Health Organization on Covid-19 (The Guardian).

We don’t see the larger picture when we look at the pandemic.  We say cheerfully, “They WILL find a vaccine soon.” And some happy people look on the “bright side,” the decrease of pollution.  They believe our society will carry this ecological awareness into “the new normal.”  

I love the new clean air and the new quiet–I see the beauty of nature more than ever–but I suspect  Paradise will be lost-again. People will get back in their cars, trucks, SUVs, and hybrids (the compromise quasi-ecological vehicle affordable to the few) and drive doorstep-to-doorstep more than ever, running their engines constantly at drive-throughs.  

Accidents and politics are interwoven.  One gathers that Covid-19 was an accident transmitted by bats to live animals in a Wuhan market  (ugh!) and then to humans.  There is plenty to despair about with such a horrifying accident, and we have read about the deforestation and urban sprawl that led to greater proximity to wild animals and thence the virus.   

And then there is overpopulation, as we have known at least since the mid-20th century, one of the greatest causes of pollution and a deterrent to sustainability and life on earth.  And so the plague: accident, politics, conspiracy theories, and a kind of I Am Legend a wound up in a big SF novel (with a bad plot!).

There are three science fiction books I recommend to help cope with our pollution-created crises:  Frank Herbert’s ecological masterpiece, Dune (which I posted abut at my old blog Mirabile Dictu here and here), John Brunner’s The Sheep Look up (which I posted about here), and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest (not at all a good book, but an ecolological novel)!  

À la Caffeine: Editing Pulp Science Fiction

“Why did I say I’d do this?” I wondered as I sipped a soy latte at  À la Caffeine.

À la  Caffeine is the chic coffee boutique for itinerant writers in our uncharted provincial city.  Managed by a library school dropout who has posted  “Shh” signs on the wall, it is a nearly silent cafe.

“Shh” isn’t everybody’s favorite word.  And so the clientele tend to be Renaissance Fair organizers designing Celtic Clan flyers, nervous Ph.D. students writing snappy dissertations on Sexuality in  Small Towns in Willa Cather’s Later Fiction, and freelancers desperately polishing reviews of “The Ten Best Homeless Shelters in Town”–for the alternative paper.

I often write such things myself, but today I’m editing a pulp SF novel about a race of “Uplifted” animals– animals who are biologically modified in labs to have human intelligence.

I am doing this as a favor for an editor friend who is  forced to publish this thing.

Wow!  This is ineffably bad.   I asked in an email,  “Did you know the hero is a  lemur whose ancestors are   blue ponies?”

She wrote, “Yeah.  Delete ALL adjectives and adverbs and cut to 30,000 words. Then we hide it in an anthology, submit it for an SF novella prize, and call it done.”

But where to start?  Here is the astonishing first  paragraph.

And so it came to be that Hal the Lemur flew through the tall green  trees of Madagascar Not-on-Earth  on the morning that Mam was attacked by the Madagascar Hawk. Hal bravely fought it. His Mam was not alive…not dead.  He could get help  from the  blue Ponies who’d trained him in Rhetoric and Medicine. And then he saw the Pony Ship was gone. Gone through space……time was a concept…time and space beyond Ponies beyond Earth…beyond…and he was alone.

But will it win the novella prize?

I’ll have another soy latte.