Author: James H Princivalle

Final Audit

How did knowing you’d have to write a Review on the blog change the way you read our books? How did it change the way you prepared for class?

I definitely think knowing I’d have to write a review affected the way I read each book, and how closely I read it. I had to go into it with the mindset of, “Okay, what do I have to pull out of this that would be relevant to a review?” and spend the book really looking more for key points and flaws rather than reading for enjoyment. However, it’s reading for class, so that aspect isn’t necessarily a problem.

How did writing in this format affect your writing process and writing style? I’m really interested to hear how writing in a blog format was different from writing you’ve done in other classes, whether English classes with more traditional papers, other courses with online writing (blog, discussion board, etc.) or otherwise. Did the possibility of a wider audience – your classmates, or anyone who stumbled upon our blog – change the way you wrote?

I typically find when writing for other classes that I have a tendency to be long winded. I found more and more consistently with the blog that I had to be punchier and I had to make my points more succinctly. My screenwriting class uses the discussion board format where every week someone submits their script for critique online and everyone must post on the discussion board what they thought. I think I prefer this method because it gives me more opportunities to write creatively

How often did you read the Reviews posted by your classmates? Did you gravitate towards reading particular writers?

Not as often as I should have, but I did try to read a handful every week. I tended to gravitate toward Bobby’s reviews because I think his writing style is very fun, and we seem to have similar tastes as far as literature goes.

Did knowing that you had to post on the blog affect the way you read (and watched) stuff unrelated to the course readings?

Not really, because I wasn’t approaching them from an angle of having to review them. When I read for pleasure I consume it as I would a film or television show and just experience it viscerally without necessarily analyzing it. At least not at first.

I’d be excited to hear you reflect on whether and/or how your experience with and attitude towards the blog changed over the course of the semester. Did it live up to its promise? Was the blog element of the course better or worse than you hoped or feared?

I didn’t really have any negative attitudes toward the blog at the beginning of the semester. I thought it was a cool idea, and it turned out to be a very engaging teaching tool.

Finally, if you’d like, reflect upon the possibility that the work you’ve posted on the blog is now available for anyone to read, even now that the course is over. Do you think this blog could be a useful resource for future readers curious about the topic?

I do! Given that cli-fi has not quite reached the mainstream in a big way, I think it’s good to provide people with a wealth of opinions on the matter from a host of different sources. None of us feel the same way about cli-fi or climate change in general and it would only serve to make someone’s view more rounded by intently looking at our blog. In that sense, I definitely believe the blog can be used as a useful teaching tool.

I’ve Got A Fever, and the Only Prescription is More Hurricanes

Here we are, we made it, and this is it, the final book of the semester. All things considered, Hurricane Fever may have been saved best for last. I’ve had my ups and downs with many of the books that we’ve read this semester, so it was really nice and refreshing to read a fast paced thriller as our final book. The book follows Roo, an ex-spy living an average day to day life in the Caribbean taking care of his nephew, when he’s plunged into the mystery of the murder of one of his former colleagues.

The primary thing this book did well, is similarly the thing I thought worked so well about Snowpiercer. It is not using Climate Change as primary source of forward momentum for the novel. The book has its own story to tell completely independent of the looming threat of climate change constantly hanging over the entire book like a storm cloud. In this case literally a storm cloud. Cli Fi as a narrative device, in my opinion, works better as a factor working outside the plot as opposed to the force driving it. I think when used thusly it is able to more succinctly get the message of climate change out there, and it does it with subtlety rather than beating us over the head with the never ending threat of planetary destruction. It normalizes it as a concept, and as something that is happening, while also making it something that should be concerning. However, I’m off on a tangent, back to the book itself.

I found Hurricane Fever to be very engaging. I liked how quickly the plot zipped along, I found myself unable to put it down most of the time. Roo was a very interesting character to follow, even if he and the story do fall into some typical clichés common in stories like these (the retired spy being pulled back into the game and things of that ilk). However, I would not consider that a point against the book, it’s something that befalls most writers, and it’s a book that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. It’s not trying to be the Great American Novel, and nor should it, it’s a fun action spy thriller and I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys the genre reading it and not finding something worth liking about it.

The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood is the only book we’ve read this year from an author that I had read previously. Last summer I had read The Handmaid’s Tale, so I knew what I was getting myself into with this book, to a certain extent at least. I found similar themes here as I did The Handmaid’s Tale, from the way the book plays with time and the flashback mechanism, to its religious themes, to its use of female characters. I think it that way, it was probably the book I enjoyed the most all semester.

The story follows an environmentalist cult who spent years anticipating a horrific plague, and thus were able to avoid it. The reader follows this story through Ren and Toby, both of whom are members of the cult known as the Gardeners. Throughout the book the perspective shifts between these two women, while also switching tenses from first to third between Ren and Toby, respectively. This manner of writing truly provides a wider scope as far as the world she’s constructed is concerned. Through Ren we are able to view the world of the gardeners on a real personal level, experiencing it through the thoughts and emotions of another person, whereas when we switch to Tobey we are provided with a more objective viewpoint, showing the world for what it is, rather than how Ren sees it.

The world that Atwood constructs is one that was more or less destroyed by the greed of corporations, which seems to be a common theme, at least of the last two books we read. I can’t complain though, given the world we live in, it’s honestly the most accurate cause for the downfall of humanity we could expect. All in all The Year of the Flood is an engaging read that I recommend to any fan of good science fiction. Margaret Atwood isn’t new at this, she’s well-seasoned and knows exactly what she’s doing, and she does it very well.

Snowpiercer

I actually saw Snowpiercer over the summer in one of the 2 theaters in the area where it was actually playing. The story centers around Chris Evans, who plays Curtis, the leader of a quasi-Hunger Games rebellion bent on taking out the class system that has arisen in their society. This was all brought about by a plan to stop climate change through pumping coolants into the atmosphere. The plan backfired, and sent the world into a new ice age, leaving all that is left of humanity forever circling the earth on a massive never stopping train.

The train is divided by class, the wealthy belong to the front, where the poor reside in the back. This system has been in place for almost 20 years, and the passengers of the back finally step up to put an end to it, by pushing their way through the train, car by car, to get to the front and overthrow the established order.

As far as Dystopian Sci-Fi goes, this all seems pretty basic, but it’s truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Snowpiercer’s elegance is in it’s simplicity, what it lacks in intricate plot it makes up for in world building and characters. The world of the train is so beautifully weird and unique, with the variations in each car and how we see the culture change the further up the train you move, and how that world is filled with a wealth of memorable and weird characters. Most notably Tilda Swinton, who was easily giving one of the best and most hilarious performances of her career. The rest of the cast are all great as well, but it’s Tilda Swinton and Korean actor Kang-Ho Song who absolutely steal the show.

The weirdness of some of it’s characters is only heightened by the spectacle of it’s fight scenes, as well as the gorgeous set design. The fight scenes are tense and tight, and are only elevated by the unique settings in which they take place.

It’s really great that we get to watch this movie from the perspective of a cli-fi class. I love it because Snowpiercer is such a perfect example of how weird and different you can get with something like cli-fi, similarly to something like The Windup Girl, where the story could not exist without the cli-fi setting, but it’s more of a cherry on top rather than taking up the whole plate (like, arguably, Forty Signs of Rain).

As Ted Alverez stated in his article on the film for Grist.org, “Snowpierecer is a cli-fi film with no science in it, and we need more films like it.” He’s entirely correct. Because while it is very important to view cli-fi in a grounded realistic context, it’s also just as important to place it in a more accessible fictional context as well. “Climate change is merely the Big Bad that pushed us into a terrible struggle, like Russians in the ’80s or nuclear weapons in the ’50s (also, Russians in the ’50s).”

Using Climate Change as a concept alone without trying desperately to explain it creates an inherent fear with regards to it. It’s so easy to get bogged down with facts and figures and Snowpiercer recognizes that and that the greatest fear comes from the unknown and one of the only ways to increase awareness and inspire a reaction is to create fear through ambiguity.

All in all, Snowpiercer is a great ride that I highly recommend getting on at the next stop.

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

In the publishing landscape that we live in, we are being constantly barraged by Sci-Fi dystopias that are a dime a dozen. Knowing that, it’s hard to imagine a book like The Windup Girl distinguishing itself amongst its competitors. However, if there’s anything I can say about The Windup Girl, it’s certainly different.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is set in a distant futuristic Thailand, where the world has run out of Petroleum, so energy is primarily obtained by human labor. Energy has become the largest industry do to its commoditization, so the energy companies now rule the world, also having taken control of the world’s food supply. Genetically engineering the only food that’s on the market. The book follows Anderson Lake who owns one of the factories where people are made to wind massive springs in order to generate energy.  He is trying to find illegal food sources to turn a profit, and along the way he falls for a Windup Girl (people genetically engineered for a specific purpose) named Emiko. The book goes on to expose the corruption of the powers that be and to end the monopolization of food.

While I didn’t necessarily love reading the book, I do think it holds up a very poignant mirror to our present day society, just by taking it to extremes. I very much appreciated it’s commentary on corporations and monopolies and oligarchies, and why that is such a problem for any given society.  Bacigalupi knows that when one or even just a few corporations have a hold over every corner of industry, there is nothing to stop them from basically holding the people hostage for whatever goods or services they want. “You want food, well we have all the food so we can charge whatever we want.” This is happening today, the most relevant example being that of cable providers and how they fought net neutrality. Bacigalupi presented us a world where the bad guys ultimately won, as far as the beginning of the novel is concerned at least, and it could be said that in doing so, along with other writers like him, helped make people aware of the problem and contributed to working to stop it today.

That’s part of what is so interesting about this book for me. Yes, it is a Cli-Fi book, but despite its setting, and its ending, I primarily see it as a book warning of the dangers of lack of corporate oversight. The Global Warming aspect is there, but I find it to be slightly inconsequential as far as the rest of the book is concerned, especially as compared to the other works we’ve read. Even though I personally didn’t love reading the book, I definitely recommend it. It has a lot of great ideas, and is incredibly relevant to what’s happening today.

In the Not Too Distant Future…

Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson, takes place in what is referred to by the author as the “near future,” this differs greatly from the majority of the books we’ve read in this class, because nearly every other one takes place in the distant future. Setting this book in the near future provides an interesting opportunity. It creates a sense of immediacy with the message of the book. Typically with the setting of a cli-fi novel being in the distant future, one can run the risk of creating significant distance between the reader and the message. Take for example, The Time Machine, in his novel, HG Wells takes us so far into the future that we become so removed from reality to the point beyond seeing his message as something that could even feasibly happen. Let alone something that could affect us any time soon.

Now, take that in comparison with Forty Signs of Rain, and we are presented with a story that could very well happen tomorrow, feasibly speaking (for the sake of my point). The book puts forward that we are so beyond the point of no return, that all it will take to through the world into total chaos is a “trigger event” which comes in the form of the Hyperniño. The Hyperniño ravages the west coast with a superstorm that literally tears California apart, while simultaneously a storm hits the Atlantic, flooding DC and causing widespread chaos. The book ends with Charlie saying to Senator Chase “Are you going to do something about Global Warming, now?” creating a true sense of immediacy between the reader and the real world.

Kim Stanley Robinson presents a world that is nearly identical to our own in terms of it’s time setting, but one in which we are past the point of no return as far as climate change is concerned. He is trying to convey a slightly hyperbolic account of what could happen if we do nothing to prevent global warming. It shows us a world where it is too late so we can do something in our world where it’s not.

Audit

I think the blogs are a really good idea just in general. I think a lot of Professors have problems keeping their students engaged with the material, but a weekly blog is the perfect way to keep them involved. Especially considering this is such an out there subject matter, it’s a great idea to keep tabs on how those students are responding to it and how their opinions are evolving with regards to it throughout the course of the semester. Not to mention that more classes and teachers need to embrace the technological world we live in and use that as a means of bringing the classroom into the future.

The only thing I really wish was different, were more direct writing prompts in terms of the blogs. Just doing reviews are fine, but at the same time I feel as though if we were given more structured book specific prompts, the writing would be much easier to do on a week to week basis. This is mainly because I personally have never been great at “Here’s a thing, now go write about it.” I think doing that would really make the blog better, and in addition to that maybe it could be required that students each find a relevant web page every week to post and blog quickly about as well.

However, despite thinking the blogs are a good idea, and a great addition to any classroom environment, I don’t really think the blogs are indicative of my writing ability as shown in other classes, and that’s mainly because of what I was saying before with regards to the lack of prompt structure. Despite that though, it is not an idea that should be abandoned, it should be held on to and expanded through many other classes throughout Temple’s campus.

Butterflies are Important. No, really.

To be perfectly honest, I have never really given much thought to the importance of butterflies to this fragile china cup we call nature.  I know they look pretty, and something something about nectar. However, Barbara Kingslover’s novel Flight Behavior truly did make me see their importance, and it was an excellent way of bringing the reader in on caring about climate change and the effects that it has. She does this while also portraying the honest realistic reactions to climate change that we see today. The bickering between the two sides leading to constant stalemate over what we should actually do about the problem before it’s too late, until inevitably, it is too late (as it always is).

While Kingslover does do a very good job of realistically portraying the situation, I can’t help but agree with everyone else that the pacing is downright awful. I don’t need it to be a high octane thrill ride, but I’d kind of prefer a general sense of forward momentum throughout. However, this is simply not the case. Kingslover takes her time and meanders through the story, which depending on the book, can often work very well. I don’t necessarily think it works to her advantage in this instance. When you’re trying to use your book as a method of informing people about climate change, you have to keep their attention throughout so as to convey the entire message. In the deliberate pacing of the book, my attention was fairly consistently strained, and it only serves to reinforce the stereotype that climate change is a boring subject, which should never be the case.

I can’t honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed the book, or that I would necessarily recommend it. However, for what it was, it was more or less exactly what it needed to be. Kingslover was able to give a real honest portrayal of climate change without resorting to the Hollywood method of blowing its effects out of proportion. In that sense it was very subtle, and often even refreshing in parts. It was just a little too subtle for its own good most of the time.

Well, I guess that’s it then, isn’t it?

The idea of the end of the world and civilization is nothing new, I covered this in my review of The Earth Abides. It is a tried and true narrative that will always have an audience. However, having said that, The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read. It is very unique to find a fictional book written so matter of factly. The book just lays out the history of the future so dryly it seems as though it’s already happened. I think this is the books point, to lay out horrific event after horrific event, to make the reader think it’s already inescapable. Forcing us to deal with the consequences or change our ways.

It takes not only cli fi, but also the spread of disease, a topical threat at the moment given the outcry against vaccinations (another touchy subject which I could easily rant about for many many paragraphs). The book positions itself 400 years in the future, looking backwards, as though recounting the history of the future of western civilization. This device is very clever and works to the books advantage, being written as though it is nonfiction, however, it’s not exactly the most enjoyable read. The author has stated that he believed this book is very positive, I find it to be downright dour. Yes it is clearly a call to action against apathy, which is sorely needed.

Although, despite the book’s very clear omnipresent warning, the book does very little to say how the path may be deviated. Though I suppose this is to be expected. The book is intended as a warning, it is not written as such. It reads as a factual account, so it would make sense that no alternatives or solutions would be provided. The book as it stands presents the future as it is and says “This is it, it happened.” As a history book would. You wouldn’t open your history book to find it say “World War II could have been avoided had we provided more aid to Germany following the end of World War I.”

As it is, The Collapse of Western Civilization is a fascinating read, which kept me enthralled for all of its 50-odd pages. I definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in how climate change may affect the future, and what dangers may be in store for us. Just don’t expect it to make you feel good about yourself and how you’ve been going about it.

Earth Abides, Humanity Does Not

I think in this day and age, people get a certain idea in their heads when they hear the phrase “Post-Apocalyptic Fiction,” because that term in literature has a much different connotation today than it did 30 or 40 years ago. Today it’s primarily associated with things like The Hunger Games, or Divergent or even The Maze Runner (whatever that is). If you asked that question 30 years ago, the immediate response would be something akin to I Am Legend, or The Stand, which arguably paved the way for the post-apocalyptic fiction of today. I find it interesting how influential The Stand is, primarily because it seems to have been influenced heavily by Earth Abides.

Prior to this class I had never even heard of The Earth Abides, and it was relatively hard to track down on Amazon, but now having read it, I see its influence all over The Stand, and by extension many other novels which followed in its footsteps. I Am Legend as well, probably more so, but having not read I am Legend I cannot really comment. Throughout the novel, Stewart makes significant commentary on the human condition in the absence of human society. He shows us a very bleak picture of the human race practically tearing itself apart in the face of adversity. He shows us that when truly faced with the advent of our extinction, we do not face it with dignity.

The ultimate commentary that Stewart is making with Earth Abides is that as humans we think ourselves more important than we truly are. The Earth has existed long before the dawn of Homo sapiens, and will continue to spin long after we’re gone (hence the title). Stewart even says within the novel, “As for man, there is little reason to think that he can in the long run escape the fate of other creatures, and if there is a biological law of flux and reflux, his situation is now a highly perilous one. During ten thousand years his numbers have been on the upgrade in spite of wars, pestilences, and famines. This increase in population has become more and more rapid. Biologically, man has for too long a time been rolling an uninterrupted run of sevens.” He’s basically saying that we’ve had it too good for too long and that we’ve been doing nothing but bragging about it, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. The Earth Abides, but humanity does not, and most probably never will as far as Stewart is concerned.

It’s the End of the World as we Know it… and I Feel Fine

On an educational and scientific level, climate change is a topic that is very important to me. I consistently find myself very aware of the fact that climate change is a serious problem facing our world, but is simultaneously a problem that no one seems to take all that seriously. However, in reading Climate Changed: a Personal Journey through Science, I find my climate change related anxiety somewhat eased. Not because I’m wrong to think that climate change is a serious problem, it is, but because one of the most difficult aspects of climate change is resolved through this book. That issue being the explanation of climate change itself, and how it functions. The idea of taking Climate Change and explaining it through the medium of comics is a genius idea. It is a perfect way of representing all facets of the issue visually which works very well in its favor because the facts and images work perfectly in tandem with one another and comfort me in the idea that this is the perfect avenue for people to truly understand the climate problem in a palatable way.

I, and many others, think that is the key to solving the climate problem is getting people invested. However, it is consistently the case that people feel so far removed from the subject that they can’t bring themselves to truly care about it. As stated in The Nation’s article The New Abolitionism, Global Warming is a concept similar to slavery that demands the American populace be shocked out of apathy into change. The primary difference being that slavery was something truly quantifiable that we could see happening right before our eyes. Climate Change is too, to some extent, though the outcomes and side effects are much less objectively objective. Yes, we can see the ice caps melting, we can see the deterioration of glacier national park, and we can observe the gradually rising temperature. The problem is that people have a tendency to explain away these effects as not being our fault. Arguably, this happened similarly with Slavery, so logically if history is to repeat itself, then eventually people will become shocked out of their apathy and stand up to do something to stop climate change. Hopefully this will not lead to a bloody war pitting brother against brother on the battlefield.

Now, I am not saying that Climate Changed is going to be the catalyst for something like that. Instead, I think that it is a book that will not so much shock people out of apathy, but will gradually win them over. It is a subtle beautifully illustrated depiction of what climate change is and what effect it will have on the world around us, and more importantly than that, why we should care. It takes climate change to its most basic level and tells in such a way that anyone at any age can understand it without dumbing it down. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the subject, and I highly recommend it to absolutely anyone who either doesn’t see it as a problem, or wants to know more about it. It has not completely eased my climate change anxiety, but I’m almost there.

In the End

HG Wells’ The Time Machine, has many different narrative threads going on with regards to messages he wants to convey through time travel. Probably the least referenced of which is the one which is the subject of this class. The Environmental angle may be the least touched upon overarching message of the book in general, but they are still important with regards to the other messages the book is meant to convey, particularly our desire to automate every aspect of our lives, and how this will evolve to be weaker. Wells illustrates this through the Eloi and Morlocks in the year 802,701 AD. However, it is not through automation as the Time Traveler assumes that creates the frailty in society, it’s through subjugation. In this way Wells is able to illustrate the inherent problems of race relations as well. The Time Machine posits that if we do not live peacefully in a mutually beneficial society, things will fall apart. It was a very interesting read that asked much more interesting question than I expected, especially considering it was written in 1895. It takes us to the end of the world and back and shows that in the end, by nature of the time machine itself, suggests that human endeavor will endure even though the world will not.