Category: Expert Review

Year of the Voice: First, Second, Third

Margaret Atwood’s “Year of the Flood” is a typical economic dystopian novel about a not too distance future in which the world has been divided into two distinct socioeconomic classes, and the few remaining inhabitants are recovering from a deadly manufactured bio-pandemic referenced as “The Waterless Flood.” The Waterless Flood consumed the world “not as a vast hurricane, not as a barrage of comets, not as a cloud of poisonous gasses. No: it is a plague-a plague that infects no Species but our own” (Atwood p. 424). This plague was released against the public through bioengineering (many speculate that the HIV/AIDS virus was developed with the same intent) and its delivery method was just as sinister: they “put it in the supersex pill” (Atwood p. 395), this clearly denotes the lower-income class and socially undesirables were the targets as it was first released in the Sex District. Corporate Juggernauts like “HelthWyzer” and “CorpSeCorps” have consolidated their power and influence together, while depleting the world’s natural resources. As the world careens into further despair and the people on the bottom of the economic scale begin to fight against the corporate rule, the Corporations ban together and adopt the ideology “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” That is to say, though in financial competition with one another, the rouge legions of militant groups like “God’s Gardeners,” (a theological group’s perspective threaded throughout the novel; much like Octavia Butler’s “Earthseed” from “Parable of the Sower”) are more of a burden to the corporations: enter “CorpSeCorps” and their “CorpSeMen.” CorpSeCorps is a totalitarian governmental force that “started as a private security firm for the Corporations, but then they’d taken over when local police forces collapsed for lack of funding” (Atwood p. 25), and their tactics are reminiscent of Hitler. The plot to “Year of the Flood” is richly developed yet simple and familiar in the genre of sci-fi/cli-fi writing, but what sets Atwood’s novel apart from the rest is its intricate structural design of what can be described as a pyramid triple narrative.

Most readers will only see “Year of the Flood” as a double narrative told from the perspectives of the two main protagonists, Toby/Tobiatha (her story is told from the third-person narrative) and Ren (her story is told from the first-person narrative); however, AdamOne’s voice in his sermons does not read neither first nor third person, but actually second-person narration. For instance, when AdamOne says “Dear Friends, dear Faithful Companions our Edencliff Rooftop Garden blooms now only in our memories. We are driven from one refuge to another, we are hounded and pursued” (Atwood p. 311). AdamOne’s subjective and possessive form use of personal-pronouns “we” and “our” interpretively can be read as the second-person. In second-person narrative the narrator is telling “you” (the reader) what “you” are doing, thinking, or feeling; arguably, AdamOne is doing the same by using the inclusive form of the personal-pronouns. AdamOne’s contextual use of the words are not the same as Ren’s first-person meaning, there is a difference. When readers see Ren use these words it is inclusive of herself and the other characters she is telling the readers about; on the other hand, when AdamOne uses these words it is as if he is bringing readers into the story; the reader becomes his “Dear Friend” his “dear Faithful Companion,” a brilliant literary technique implored by Atwood to bridge a deeper connection between the writing and the reader. More than bridging an emotional connection between readers and the novel, the triple narrative is the framework for the pyramid structure.

Unlike a triangle where two opposite points meet at a conjoining vector of interest, a pyramid has the same basic design, but its structure is a complex layer of building blocks leading to the point of interest, like Atwood’s “Year of the Flood.” On one end of the spectrum is Toby on the other Ren, though walking different paths Toby’s and Ren’s lives will intersect at the peak position of AdamOne and “God’s Gardeners.” The new theological belief system called “God’s Gardeners” fosters around what can accurately be described as a type of vegetarian extremism; the motto of this new religion is “God’s Gardeners for God’s Garden! Don’t Eat Death! Animals R Us…Spare your fellow Creatures! Do not eat anything with a face! Do not kill your own Soul!” (Atwood p. 39-40). This theological concept and its minister AdamOne are the meeting point of interest for Toby and Ren atop the pyramid. At the core, this structure delineates the fall of man: “the Fall of Man was multidimensional. The ancestral primates fell out of the trees; then they fell from vegetarianism into meat-eating. Then they fell from instinct into reason, and thus into technology” (Atwood p. 188). Atwood continues to build the structural integrity of the pyramid as “‘The fear of you’—that is, Man—‘and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air…into your hand are they delivered.’ Genesis 9:2. This is not God telling Man that he has a right to destroy all the Animals, as some claim. Instead it is a warning to God’s beloved Creatures: Beware of Man, and his evil heart” (Atwood p. 90-91). The preceding symbolizes Man’s hubris for advancement as the reason for the world’s destruction. As the blocks reach their peak, many species in Atwood’s world have become extinct because the environment has eroded. In their place, the Corporations have bioengineered new species culminating to the climatic discovery that the Corporations were seeking to bio-manufacture the perfect homosapiens, “Project Paradice.” Paradice Project was about “changing [human] cells so they’d never die; people would pay a lot for immortality. ‘What would you pay for the design of a perfect human being?’ The Paradice Project was designing one” (Atwood p. 305). It is the manufacturing of humans that leads to the completion of the pyramid, and the justification of “God’s Gardeners” linking Toby’s and Ren’s narrative as a whole. Ironically, the bioengineering of plants and animals (including humans) is the novel’s cognitive link to climate-change: sustainability of the world’s food supply through technological bio-advancements.

Succinctly, environmental sustainability involves protecting the natural world, with particular focus on preserving the Earth’s capability to support human life in the future. The correlational link this novel has to climate change is Sustainability: “sustenance is what sustains a person’s body. It’s food. Food! Where does food come from? All food comes from the Earth” (Atwood p. 149). With this in mind, food is the most key resource with direct sensitivities to climate-change; a timespan of too little or too much rain accumulation/precipitation, a fluctuation between hot and cold seasonal weather (when winter turns into spring, and summer turns into fall), or inclement weather patterns like severe flooding and/or hurricane storm systems, can have a significant effect on local crop yields and livestock production. According to an article published in The Guardian “the impact of recent droughts in the USA, China and Russia on global cereal production highlight a glaring potential future vulnerability” (Ranger p.1). The aforementioned quote highlights the adverse effects increasingly warm temperatures will have on the world’s food supply, which is most noteworthy given that Atwood’s novel clearly places her characters in a climate setting assuredly effected by global warming and extreme temperatures of heat. Characters are described as having to wear body coverings “in the sunlight, which is hotter by the minute” (Atwood p. 384), to protect their skin from sun damage and the harmful ultraviolet rays: “pink top-to-toes, for when the sun gets too high” (Atwood p. 365), like when “the sun’s at ten. They put on their top-to-toes and Toby smears their faces with more SolarNix, then sprays them again with SuperD” (Atwood p. 367). The heat of Atwood’s world is miserable with no escape: “it is shadier under the tress, but not cooler. It’s dank, and there’s no breeze, and the air is thick, as if it has more air stuffed into it than other air does” (Atwood p. 375). Attempting to condense the overall effects climate-change will have on the world’s food supply is complex because there are several variables that must be taken into consideration.

Some factors to consider are nutrient levels, soil moisture, water availability, changes in the weather frequency concerning rainfall and droughts are some of the challenges for farmers and ranchers. Global warming temperatures and carbon dioxide (CO2) increases are beneficial for some crops in some places, and deadly for others. Moreover, warmer water temperatures are likely to cause the habitat ranges of many fish and shellfish species to shift, which could disrupt ecosystems. Universally, climate change could make it more difficult to grow crops, raise animals, and catch fish in the same ways and same places as done in the past and present. The effects of climate change also need to be considered along with other evolving factors that affect agricultural production, such as changes in farming practices and technology. The three major food industries that will be affected are Crop production, Livestock reproduction, and Fisheries.

Crop Production:
Warmer temperatures will yield a positive effect on a great number of crops by promoting faster growth periods; conversely, these same warmer climates will reduce yields on other vegetation. It is important to note that faster growth times are not necessarily a total positive; for instance, in the case of grains “faster growth reduces the amount of time that seeds have to grow and mature. This can reduce yields (the amount of crop produced from a given amount of land)” (EPA p. 1). Most important to understand in agriculture, pertaining to any crop, is that the effect of warmer climates will depend on the crop’s “optimal temperature” for growth and seed reproduction, and if climate temperatures warm beyond a crops optimal temperature yields will decline.

Livestock:
Warmer temperatures will induce heat stress making animals more prone to “disease, reduce fertility, and reduce milk production” (EPA p. 2). Drought will effect pastures used for grazing and feed supplies, and “may increase the prevalence of parasites and diseases that affect livestock” (EPA p. 2). Increases in atmospheric CO2 may expedite the growth rate of planets that livestock use for consumption providing more food, sounds good, now comes the question of quantity or quality. According to the EPA “studies indicate that the quality of some of the forage found in pasturelands decreases with higher CO2. As a result, cattle would need to eat more to get the same nutritional benefits” (p. 2). Eventually, all consumable animal protein will become diseased and extinct.

Fisheries:
Several species of marine life have temperature specific ranges for which they can thrive. Take the cod of North Atlantic, they “require water temperatures below 54°F. Even sea-bottom temperatures above 47°F can reduce their ability to reproduce and for young cod to survive. In this century, temperatures in the region will likely exceed both thresholds” (EPA p.3). Migration of schools is not as easy an option as some may realize; moving into new regions will create competition between the species over food and other resources. Some diseases that affect marine life have the potential to become more dominant in warmer tempered water. In addition to oceanic climate changes, increases in temperature have caused the acidic levels to rise due to surges in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). According to the EPA “acidification may also threaten the structures of sensitive ecosystems upon which some fish and shellfish rely” (EPA p. 3). Again, all consumable marine protein will become diseased and extinct.

Given these facts Atwood presents a scenario that present day scientists and biologists are working on to counter this potential food shortage, creating genetically modified plant and animal species that will be able to better endure, survive, and sustain the changing climate. From Atwood’s novel these include the “rakunk,” a cross between a raccoon and a skunk; the “mo’hair,” a sheep with human hair in colors such as silver, blue, and purple; and the “pigoon,” a pig with human brain tissue. The most alarming animal, the liobam, was created by a religious extremist group: a cross between a lion and a lamb, gentle-looking but deadly. Atwood’s fictional claim is not too farfetched as a paper published in the Journal of “Ethics, Policy and Environment” suggests successions of biomedical alterations that could be used in the physiological development of human beings to help them consume less making them more suitable to sustain in the changing food climate. Some of the biological modifications are “pharmacological meat intolerance” (Liao, Sandberg, & Roache p.5) and “making humans smaller” (Liao, et. al. p. 7). The paper suggest that individuals that have an affinity to meat flavors, and want to give it up for ecological reasons, but may lack the necessary willpower to resist on their own could take a pill that would induce mild to severe nausea upon ingestion of meat, which could lead to a lasting aversion to all meat products. Moreover, “meat intolerance is normally uncommon, in principle, it could be induced by stimulating the immune system against common bovine proteins” (Liao, et. al. p. 6); basically, someone can be programmed to distaste meat flavors. Another Frankenstein type of treatment suggested by the authors is genetically modifying humans to be smaller is stature with the logic that smaller humans consume less. There are two ways to accomplish making humans smaller: (1) using “preimplantation genetic diagnosis. It simply involve[s] rethinking the criteria for selecting which embryos to implant” (Liao, et. al. p. 8); (2) using “hormone treatment either to affect somatotropin levels or to trigger the closing of the epiphyseal plate earlier than normal (this sometimes occurs accidentally through vitamin A overdoses” (Liao, et. al. p 8). However, instead of trying to change the physiology of plants and animals, would it not make more sense just to stop overusing the Earth’s resources: “God’s commandment to ‘replenish the Earth’ did not mean we should fill it to overflowing with ourselves, thus wiping out everything else” (Atwood p. 53). The big extraction companies just need to stop, what has been pulled from the Earth is more than enough to compensate for current and future use there is no need to go down the mad science track.

Margaret Atwood’s “Year of the Flood” is a tremendously, highly, recommended controversial book that puts Earth’s over consumption problems at the feet of the major perpetrators, the 1% big business companies, while calling to action individuals to fight now and stop asking “what can I do, am only one person?” This novel evokes individuals to stand: “We must be a beacon of hope, because if you tell people there’s nothing they can do, they will do worse than nothing” (Atwood p. 248). What’s worse than nothing? Sitting idly by and watching the world decay.

 

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. New York: Randon House, Inc, 2009. 1-431. Print.

EPA .Agriculture and Food Supply. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/agriculture.html>.

Liao, Matthew S., Anders Sandberg, and Rebecca Roache. “Human Engineering and Climate Change.” Ethics, Policy and the Environment (2012): 1-29. Print.

Ranger, Nicola. The Guardian. N.p., 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/sep/19/climate-change-affect-food-production>.

The Anti-Bond

I’m not necessarily convinced that reading the blurbs on the inside of a book’s dust cover is a valuable use of your time, but I did find myself reading the blurb for Hurricane Fever, and in the first paragraph the copy writer says that “Roo is an anti-James Bond for a new generation.” I think that’s a useful idea, and it’s stuck with me, because most of how I feel about the book can kind of be revolved around that idea. I mean, in theory Hurricane Fever is a novel I should like a good deal: it’s an action-packed genre piece with thoughtful worldbuilding, a meaningful engagement with real-world issues, and a responsible approach to the social problems endemic to its source material. Even so, actually reading the book I never really managed to feel much more for it than “yeah, it’s okay.” There’s something about it that isn’t quite there, and the novel sometimes feels on-the-nose and easy in a way that just isn’t quite satisfying. Read more

There’s a Hurricane Fever going around and you’d better get used to it

Hurricane Fever is unlike any of the other books that we read this semester. While it has some ties to a number of the other more complex cli-fi books we have read, it is largely a crime novel that focuses on storytelling. My first thought when I started reading the first chapter was that it reminded somewhat of the classic noir crime novels from the 1930’s and 1940’s that revolve around the Sam Spade or James Bond type. It had some of the same dark and gritty qualities that dominate books like Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon. The aspect that makes these types of novels so gripping is the raw realism and frightening plausibility of the world created by the authors. There is typically nothing particularly deep or intellectual about these types of books, but the storytelling is always attention grabbing. In Hurricane Fever, we follow a retired agent from the Caribbean Intelligence Group who is trying to live a simple life on the waters of the Caribbean so he can raise his orphaned nephew. Much like other books or movies following an agent who tries to retire, the protagonist is in someway or another forced out of retirement to do one last job. In this case, Roo needs to get revenge on the hatchet men/terrorists who murdered his teenage nephew and are trying to start a second black plague. Somehow, however, amongst all the murder, torture, blood and guts the most terrifying part of this book remains the issue of climate change and increased natural disasters.

In this book, climate change was the foundation of the story that is Hurricane Fever, and the focal point is the well-formed plotline and story that follows Roo. But for the sake of this review, seeing as it is the last one I will write for this class, I find myself needing to focus on the climate aspect of the book. This may be due to my personal interests and concerns about climate change, but in my mind while reading this book, the idea of increased climate related natural disasters never left my mind. The implications of this kind of world are horrifying to me and they should be for everyone. Hurricane Fever shows us a world where the domino effect of climate change has ramped up to the point where massive hurricanes are regular occurrences. This is perhaps the most frightening part of climate change that many people do not fully understand or terrifyingly enough choose to ignore, and that is the fact that if we do not curb our increasing use of fossil fuels, natural disasters will become more prevalent and more severe. As we release more carbon into the atmosphere and the temperature of the ocean rises steadily, we will absolutely begin to see more hurricanes because they feed off of warmer water temperatures. The world that Roo lives in may not be something that only appears in fiction novels in the near future. If you look at recent disasters such as the tsunami that hit the Philippines in 2009, you can see that many nations simply do not have the resources necessary to recover from such an event. The Philippines are not a wealthy nation, so can you imagine what would happen to a country such as this if tsunamis started to hit once or twice a year? Even here in America, the wealthiest nation in the world, we are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster that struck 10 years ago. It is a simple fact that we as humans do not have the capability or the money to deal with such an increase in natural disasters. As humans we truly need to grasp the gravity of the situation at hand, which is that if we do not change our behavior, we may push the world’s climate to a point where humans can no longer survive.

This concept can be overwhelming to some and hard to comprehend, and I found an article that I attached below that I think effectively describes how this pattern works. One of the most eye opening segments is the statistic on the number of hurricanes, tsunamis, draughts, and typhoons that happen during a year and how much they have increased. “According to the EM-DAT, the total natural disasters reported each year has been steadily increasing in recent decades, from 78 in 1970 to 348 in 2004.” The thing about this pattern is that it starts off increasing steadily and then begins to increase exponentially, so in another 30 years one can only imagine how prevalent they will be. I definitely appreciate that books such as Hurricane Fever bring this issue to light. When scientists describe this process, it is easy to get lost in all the numbers and facts, but when an author who has the skill of vivid and artful storytelling it makes it easier for people to wrap their minds around. And in the end this is exactly what the world needs: widespread understanding of the issues we face as a species.

 

http://www.livescience.com/414-scientists-natural-disasters-common.html

http://lareviewofbooks.org/review/shock-new-normal/

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.

Hurricane Fever: Action, Sci-fi, or Just Plain Pulp

After reading a lot of really difficult works in this class, it was refreshing to sort of take a breather with Hurricane Fever. I feel like this is one of those books that you would see people reading at the beach or on their porches when they’re just trying to enjoy a lazy kind of day and escape from the real world. That being said, there is more to this book than just a quick adventure in the Caribbean. Tobias Buckell has infused themes of race, climate change, and corporate deceit into a book that could have ultimately winded up being all too easy.

Nisi Shawl’s article brings up two classic spy characters in her write up, Ian Fleming’s James Bond and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne. One of the major similarities between these two is their being white. In Hurricane Fever and Buckell’s previous work, the main protagonists are black. This makes me wish that these would be made into movies because it would be really cool to see a spy series featuring black characters, which this day in age shouldn’t even be an issue. Buckell also uses preconceived notions about race well in his book, like when the hotel patron hands her towel to Roo thinking that he works for the hotel. Instead of losing his cool, however, Roo uses it to his advantage which shows that he isn’t just level headed and calm, but also takes advantage of every situation.

What’s also surprising about this book that I can’t really say about a lot of the other stuff we’ve read this semester is just how subtle it is. Maybe I’m just a little bit more than clueless, but I had no problem believing that the sunken islands in the story were actually sunk in real life. The best kind of fiction is fiction that makes us believe in what we’re reading, otherwise we’re reading an outlandish story that probably may not even be worth the paper that it’s printed on. I loved The Year of the Flood for creating a future world that shouldn’t exist, but may actually one day. Hurricane Fever did the same thing. It created a world that isn’t exactly like ours, but may mirror the world we will live in within the next decade or so. All of this is done without Buckell lecturing or providing us with tedious facts that really only seem to exist to make the book longer. I’m looking at you Climate Changed

I want to step away from what the book is about for a moment and focus on the style that it’s written in. This is the only flaw I can see with this book, but it’s a flaw that was big enough to keep me distracted through some of the reading. First of all, there were times where I didn’t believe in the character of Roo. After Delroy is killed, he sort of shifts into overdrive with his mission for revenge and only brings up his pain a few times during the book. I would’ve like to see Roo in pain more over Delroy to make me really want to see him get his revenge. As it stands, it just wasn’t used enough to really grab my attention, and I just didn’t really care about Delroy all that much to begin with. Also, the writing could be a little choppy at times. This definitely helped move the book along, but I would have liked to see some nice descriptions or just more elaborate. That’s just a matter of taste, however, and not an objective flaw.

Hurricane Fever is more than just an action/spy novel. It explores important themes of climate change and race that gave the novel some backbone. While being smart with its themes, however, it never bogged me down in too much preaching or lecturing. It kept up a quick pace and I’m very thankful for that. I just wish there was a little bit more to the book in terms of description and emotion. Still, it’s definitely worth a quick read and provides an ample amount of information for discussion. It’s certainly one of the more entertaining books we’ve read.

The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood is a novel that brings forth cli-fi, religion, and the ugly truths about prostitution, class and corporations. The novel itself is about a religious group called the gardeners who are aware of an impending “waterless flood” about to take place. The gardeners find peace in living a simple life with no meat, they only wear recycled clothes, and believe in their faith more than anything else. They are founded on the fact that they believe the human race has strayed away from what God originally set out for us, and with the world being run by less than moral corporations that’s not exactly not true. What I really enjoyed most bout this book were the flash backs. It really surprised me that a lot of people found it really hard to follow and even thought that the flashbacks weren’t important to the story. The flashbacks, for me, gave the context for everything that was going on. They explained why things were the way they were at this present moment in time, and even showed us a different side of the characters. One of the most interesting things about the books for me were the elements of prostitution and corporations that seem to go hand in hand with these dystopian societies. The fact that both girls were stuck in opposite sides of the spectrum with one being stuck in a high end day spa while the other is stuck in the “cleaning room” of a strip and prostitute club where the girls would go to get tested for STI’s. I thought it was really interesting how Atwood showed these two sides in great detail and how they definitely relate to the actual struggles that some girls go through today. Maybe not the being stuck in the room parts, but definitely the high class and low class “doing-what-needs-to-be-done” work ethic. What really is different is you’d think it would be Ren who would have this deep hatred for the corporations because she’s in the current situation she’s in but its actually Toby. Toby’s whole entire life has been abandoned because her father shot himself with a rifle…and she couldn’t even report it because the blame of having any firearm at all would fall back on her. So she’s stuck abandoning her entire identity and going underground all for the sake of staying alive. Just when you think things can’t possibly get worse for her, she gets a job and falls under the eye of a her manager who happens to be a sexual predator. He objectifies women and turns them into his own personal sex slave just for the thrill of it. The importance of class is all too relevant when we see how there are definitively two different types of people, those who live in the corporate compounds and those who find refuge in the slums. The corporations run the world like a drug cartel, and if you cross them or get in the way of their agenda you will probably find yourself dead in a ditch somewhere. At the end of the book we can see how Toby starts to see through this, and how she notices that only the few, the privileged are reaping the benefits. Atwood does a great job of bringing in a serious problem into a book that at first glance is just about climate change. I think this book is a lot more than what it looks like on the surface, with so many back stories and other things going on that makes it turn into one cohesive work about many major social problems.

Laughing into the Waterless Flood

In a recent interview with Slate, Margaret Atwood states of fiction, “You have to show people in the midst of change and people coping with change.” In The Year of the Flood, the second book in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, she postulates how mankind will react in preparation for an impending Waterless Flood. The majority of the story revolves around the ecology-based religion of the God’s Gardeners who seem to have accepted mankind’s inevitable fate and are preparing for the Waterless Flood to wash over Earth. In her creation of the God’s Gardeners and her injection of humor into their beliefs and values, Margaret Atwood is able to examine the role of religion in a pre-apocalyptic changing world and simultaneously raise questions about the role of humor in literature.

Initially one might be a bit befuddled by the idea of a religion recognizing man’s devastating impact on the planet. In novels such as Flight Behavior and in real life, many religious people believe that mankind could only be brought to its end by the hand of God, so the idea of anthropogenic climate change wiping out the species seems incredulous. However, Adam One, the leader of the God’s Gardeners in The Year of the Flood addresses this supposed contradiction. He quotes the Word of God from Genesis 8:21 which reads, “I will not again curse the ground anymore for man’s sake.” When God entrusted Noah with “the task of saving the chosen Species,” He made a covenant and relinquished his desire to ever bring humanity to its end (Atwood, 90). The Gardeners, who consider themselves to be a “plural of Noah,” recognize that “any further cursing of the ground would be done, not by God, but by Man himself” (Atwood, 90-91). While it would be facile to view this description of Gardener philosophy simply as a way to account for the aforementioned contradiction, it additionally harkens back to the concept of living “in the midst of change.” As the physical world changes, there is no room for traditional religions such as Christianity. Humanity has been forced to accept its impact on the environment and “can no longer fall into the error of pride by considering ourselves as exceptional” (Atwood, 53). Subsequently, in response to this paradigm shift of accepting mankind’s fate, religion, one of the most obdurate forces in history, is required to adapt its philosophy to fit into the changing world. While they may believe in the same God, the God’s Gardeners’s views are a far cry way from those of the Appalachian Christians in Flight Behavior.

Another way in which religion changes within the world of Year of the Flood is through its views on sainthood. Traditionally in the Catholic Church, those who become saints are men and women who live their entire lives practicing and spreading the Word of God. However, in Atwood’s speculative world, saints are those who lived their entire lives fighting for ecological progress. For instance, the God’s Gardeners deem Silent Spring author Rachel Carson to be a saint for she “dedicated her life to the Feathered Ones” (Atwood, 370). This debasement of the idea of sainthood reflect a larger societal shift in values. Now, pious and zealous religious figures are no longer those valued in society. Instead, the brave souls such as Rachel Carson or Euell Gibbons who fought adamantly for the birds and the trees are the true heroes.

In her initial review in the Telegraph of Year of the Flood, Caroline Moore describes Atwood’s depictions of the Gardeners and their saints as a “serio-comic balance.” Much like the aforementioned Slate interview in which interviewer Ed Finn lauds Atwood’s “deadpan wit and irreverent playfulness,” Moore is recognizing the importance of humor in the deathly serious genre of cli-fi. Atwood is able to look unflinchingly into the eye of the impending Waterless Flood and chuckle. Perhaps what allows Margaret Atwood to laugh even when confronted with the grizzly serious issue of anthropogenic climate change is her self-proclaimed unwavering hope. In the Slate interview, although Atwood admits that she cannot ascertain whether or not humanity will still be around in one hundred years, she states “I think hope is among a number of things that are part of the human toolkit. It’s built in…” Unlike authors such as Phillipe Squarzoni or Naomi Oresekes who scarcely make any room for laughs in their own works of cli-fi (using that term liberally in the case of Climate Changed and The Collapse of Western Civilization), Atwood’s innate hope in humanity allows for The Year of the Flood to be filled with dark humor.

The role of humor in the genre of cli-fi or in relation to climate change in general is a notion which seems to be rarely discussed. In fact, a Google search of the phrase “climate change humor,” results primarily in poorly put together right-wing memes which mock the entire belief in man’s impact on the global climate. So the grand question here is: does the humor work? Can a cli-fi novel take a seriously effective look at mankind’s negative environmental impact and still be incredibly humorous? While some may argue that in order for a novel about an issue as monstrously threatening as climate change to be effective it must be unflinchingly serious, in the case of Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, the dark humor is not only effective in captivating and intriguing the reader, it may very well be the most effective aspect of the entire novel! For instance, one of the most simplistically poignant lines of the entire novel comes in the form of Zeb’s vulgar song, “nobody gives a snot, nobody gives a snot, that is why we’re on the fucking spot, ‘cause nobody gives a snot!” (Atwood, 242). The entire theme of mankind’s ignorance leading to our downfall, which authors such as Barbara Kingsolver or Kim Stanley Robinson have spent hundreds of pages trying to convey in the most eloquent way possible, is reduced to four lines of hilariously blatant “poetry” and it becomes one of the most memorable lines of the entire novel.

Part of the reason why Zeb’s simple song is so effective is because it serves as a stark contrast to the Feast Day songs of the Gardeners from the God’s Gardeners Oral Hymnbook which preface each of Ren or Toby’s narratives. Caroline Moore refers to these Gardener songs as “sonorously bathetic hymns.” These songs themselves are not without humor for they, like Saint Euell or Saint Rachel, are greatly different from what we would expect of a 21st century church. For instance, the image of a choir of Gardener children singing out, “We dangle by a flimsy thread/ Our little lives are grains of sand;/ The Cosmos is a tiny sphere/ Held in the hollow of God’s hand ” is drastically and humorously different from Catholic children singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” in a church today (Atwood, 427). Atwood’s ability to depict a cult-like religion with the framework of Catholicism which actually stresses importance on mankind’s weaknesses and wrongdoings showcases both her cunning wit and her sheer brilliance as an author.

Back to the contrast between Zeb’s songs and the Gardeners’ hymns, Atwood’s hilariously genius comes through in her ability to depict how Zeb is able to create bigger and more radical thoughts in just a few words while the Gardeners struggle to convey anything concrete or palpable in many of their hymns. Furthermore, this contrast between the singing of Zeb and the Gardeners creates a parallel and sets up the larger contrast between their two disparate philosophies. One of the reader’s very first glimpses of Zeb’s character comes though his earliest song, “nobody gives a hoot, and that is why we’re down the chute” (Atwood, 64). At this point, the reader had already been exposed to at least three Gardener hymns and has likely already begun to understand the dryly superfluous and anticlimactic nature of these hymns. Thus, Atwood deploys her cunning humor to establish Zeb’s personality as being dissonant from the collective mindset of the Gardeners. This dissonance later comes to an apex as Zeb breaks away from the crumbling faction of the God’s Gardeners and forms his own sort of sect, MaddAddam. So, Margaret Atwood has used Zeb’s vulgar songs which could easily be glanced over as throw-away lines to nearly single-handedly establish the basis of the entire personality of Zeb’s character and create a major contrast between him and the God’s Gardeners. Ultimately, Atwood’s humor is not only effective for handling the ideas climate change in literature, but also just as masterful story telling technique in general.

As a serious work of climate change fiction, The Year of the Flood is nearly impeccable. While many books in this genre struggle to reach a widespread literary audience, Atwood’s use of dark humor and inventive narrative techniques ensures that her works will not be relegated to the often overlooked “science-fiction” trade paperback racks at Barnes and Noble upon which many works of cli-fi will sit untouched. Margaret Atwood appears to be well aware of the enormity of her audience and the impact that her works could have on not only literature but on society at large. In The Year of the Flood, Atwood exerts her influence as an author and tackles the challenge of anthropogenic climate change with all the force with which it deserves to be tackled. While Atwood’s work of so-called speculative fiction may not be a novel from which a reader can walk away with a myriad of answers of instructions on how to behave, it is a fantastic speculative tale rife with humor which examines how mankind’s imminent realization of the erroneous nature of its ways could reshape the world.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2015/02/margaret_atwood_interview_the_author_speaks_on_hope_science_and_the_future.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/books-life/6167348/The-Year-of-the-Flood-by-Margaret-Atwood-review.html

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. New York: Anchor Books, 2009. Print.

The Year of Religious Immersion

The Year of the Flood is certainly the most immersive book we’ve read so far. I found no issue diving directly into the book and really getting a feel for the deeper ideas and plots immersed within. This book has two really huge themes that I think are worth discussing. The first is religion, and its ability to effect people, and then obviously vegetarianism, and how that will help us to ensure a sustainable future. This will lead into the bigger discussion of how this book relates to the class as a whole, because it very clearly does.

I think that the overarching ship of religion that this story sailed on was fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed the idea of religion being used to convey the major themes and ideas of the book. The religious group in this story is referred to as the “Gardeners”, they are a sect of people who live a very modest life. They are vegetarian because of their belief system, and they also grow almost everything they consume. Their entire policy is about reducing their environmental impact and only using what they need at all times. They get almost all for eh materials they use in their day to day lives from the world around them, and teach this kind of conservationist lifestyle to their children. This lifestyle may seem great and wonderful, but it can certainly have its shortfalls. The main one that I can find is that this society has completely eliminated meat. This is a major issue nutritionally for any society that wishes to not only survive but also to prosper. A vegetarian diet can be incredibly nutritious, but there are certain vitamins and minerals that one simply cannot get from fruits and vegetables alone. There are visible signs of the malnutrition of the Gardeners in their descriptions. The only one who is ever described as anything other than thin is Zeb, and that is because he eats meat on the side. I would imagine that him introducing meat into his diet is what has allowed him to be so strong in the first place. I only know so much about the negative impacts of not eating meat at all because of some research I did after considering a vegetarian society.

The gardeners also believe in the complete reuse of everything. This is an interesting concept to me because it seems incredibly practical, especially in a post apocalyptic wasteland, like the one described after the “waterless flood”. There is definitely some utility in the ability to utilize products for different purposes, and there is certainly no harm in repurposing something to make it into something else. The Gardeners take it to a new extreme when they are simply reusing everything. They sleep on husks from dead plants, now that is a little extreme. Their entire society fascinates me simply because it is so different from the one that I am accustomed to living in. There are just so many fundamental differences between the world today and the cult that the Gardener’s live in. Which, I do believe them to be a cult. I had not thought of them that way until Lucerne started to tell people she had been abducted, and while that story was not truthful, there are many aspects of the Gardener way of life that are very cultish. I’m sure that in a time of incredible environmental change doomsday cults would pop up everywhere, and I’m sure there would be plenty of able bodied men and women waiting to join.

The final aspect of this book that needs to be discussed is how it relates to the class as a whole. This book is definitely about a changing environment. Which does relate to the climate element of our class, thankfully so because these books tend not to. There is also an interesting “end of the world scenario” element to this book, which allows us to test what we believe about our own faith and morals. Would you be able to carry a belief system with you even past the proverbial ‘end of days’. I think this book asks in a lot of ways what faith is, what belief is, and makes fun of those people who are overly prepared for climate change, the few who are doing all the work, and those who are woefully unprepared, the many who have not even changed their lightbulbs yet.

 

Works Cited

“Why You Should Think Twice About Vegetarian and Vegan Diets.” Chris Kresser. N.p., 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

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.

Snowpiercer Review

Snowpiercer was a highly anticipated movie for me as soon as I heard the plot and the cast. Claiming science fiction as my favorite genre, a climate fiction movie composed of high action beats and intense dramatic ramifications meant that Snowpiercer may have been made just for me. As a forewarning this movie is graphic, violent, and has many scenes that may force you to look away if you tend to be squeamish. I attempted to avoid spoilers as much as possible but things slip out in a review.
The plot of the movie is best left simply explained, as the twists and reveals are what give Snowpiercer its constant barrage of emotional gut-punches. The extremely diminished population of Earth is living onboard a train in constant motion. The world outside of the train is a barren and frozen tundra caused by scientists attempting to avert global warming, succeeding but throwing the process in reverse, causing a new Ice Age. On the train the people are segregated by class with the malnourished commoners in the back and the rich elite occupying the front. The train and plan to save humanity was all orchestrated by a visionary named Wilford, but getting into any more than his name takes away a central mystery to the movie. The desolate in the back of the train are led by the strategic Curtis and his old decrepit mentor Gilliam. Forced to eat disgusting protein blocks and live in squalor, Curtis bides his time waiting to lead a revolution.
There is a grotesque torture scene near the beginning of the movie that perfectly encompasses the brutality of life on the train. Describing this movie as a blood bath does not do the fight choreographers justice. Once the action and plot get in motion it rarely slows down as Curtis accompanied by other characters rebel and crawl their way to the front of the train. Lots of characters die, children are constantly in danger, and you will see and hear taboo content that is rarely touched upon in other movies. Snowpiercer is an Indy film that was only screened in selective theaters, explaining how it gets away with a few of its more noteworthy scenes. All of the grizzly scenes would be excessive had they not been backed up by the fantastic acting that makes this world feel all too possible.
The movie touches on a multitude of complex sci-fi issues such as geoengineering, eugenics, and “big brother” controlling the masses. Class exploitation and self-sacrifice are a main focus and while the film expresses that mankind is responsible for its own downfall; Capitalism is also to blame for the predicament that the train goers find themselves in. Curtis has a choice to make at the end of the movie with no clear cut answer. Is it better to attempt to change and fix the oppressing society, or burn the whole thing to the ground and begin anew? The ending of the movie did not go where I expected it to, but the revelations in the end of the movie justify Curtis’ decision and emotional journey whether you agree with his decisions or not.
In the secondary reading I chose for Snowpiercer, “A Snowpiercer Thinkpiece, Not to Be Taken Too Seriously, But For Very Serious Reasons” by Aaron Bady, I agree with a lot of the points that he made. I mentioned Curtis choice already and Bady had the same thought if the world “Is it worth sustaining? This is a question that the movie raises at several points, particularly when we learn why so many of the passengers lack arms and legs”. I had been confused during one scene in the movie when the rich train-goers and partiers are seemingly happy to have the opportunity to tear the lower class citizens limb from limb, and Bady gives a good explanation on why that may be, “Without occasional violence, there would be only pleasure, and pleasure fades when there is nothing but pleasure. At a certain point, you need blood; the revolution provides that blood, as does counter-revolutionary violence against the bare-life tail-section passengers”. I had not thought about it myself , but Bady makes a great point when he says that, “Snowpiercer is not about the revolution we might have today, then; it’s about the time after revolution has ceased to be possible”. I believe that the previous quote is a much better way to describe this film after the revelation in the end.

Overall the action, world building, and emotional beats make this a must see film for any fan of sci-fi, cli-fi, and dystopian fiction in general.

Snowpiercer: Ice-Fi=Nice-Fi

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE SNOWPIERCER:

Before I begin my expert review of the movie Snowpiercer, I would like to point out that I was thoroughly engaged the whole time in figuring out where I knew the actor who plays Curtis from. And it just hit me. It’s Chris Evans AKA Captain America.

ANYWAY, over the weekend I had the pleasure of watching Snowpiercer, a 2013 South Korean science fiction film, for the first time in my life. The movie begins in the year 2032 in which everyone on Earth lives on the Snowpiercer, a massive train powered by a perpetual motion engine that travels on a track that spans the entire Earth. This is because back in 2014, an attempt to counteract global warming goes desperately wrong and results in a second ice age that is so destructive that almost all life on the planet is killed. Those who survived are the inhabitants of the train with the societal elites living in the front sections and the poorer people living in the tail sections, constantly surveyed by guards.

The story kicks off when our protagonist, Curtis Everett, leads the passengers of the tail sections of the train in a revolt against the guards and basically everyone who gets in their way. Their main goal is to reach the front of the train and take the engine. The first place Curtis and his band of followers stop for a short while is in the jail car, where they free Namgoong Minsu (the creator of the train’s security system who will be able to open and close the gates necessary for the group to advance farther up to the front of the train) and his daughter, Yona. They are offered Kronole, apparently a really addictive drug, in exchange for their help.

About halfway through the train, the group is met by a group of guards in terrifying masks led by Minister Mason, who acts as the voice of Wilford (the revered and often creepily worshipped creator of the train and the perpetual engine). This scene was definitely my favorite. I especially liked when the train passed through a tunnel and there were no lights but the guards had night vision and everyone else who couldn’t see was aimlessly swinging their weapons around in hopes that they would kill someone. This fight is ended when Curtis is forced to give up his second-in-command and best friend, Edgar, in order to take Minister Mason as captive for the rebels.

The group then passes through a schoolroom where they stop for a moment and listen to a rather psychotic teacher explain the history of the Snowpiercer and Wilford himself. Her and her students sing a really creepy song then look out the window at the seven people who once tried to survive outside of the train, frozen completely in their tracks. That entire time, the group was totally unaware that Wilford’s agents are preparing an attack on them that this schoolroom teacher is in on. They watch on TV as these agents attack the entire tail section of the train and killing Gilliam, Curtis’s dear friend and mentor. After a rather long fight, all members of the group are dead except for Curtis, Namgoong, and Yona (yes, even Octavia Spencer who played Tanya, a more essential member to the group than most but not important enough for me to talk about in greater detail. I love Octavia Spencer though.).

The final three reach the final car before the engine; a large door stands in the way. Namgoong gathers all the Kronole he’s gotten both from Curtis and from other passengers along the way and begins to clump it all together. He explains that Kronole can also be used as an explosive and that he intends on blowing off the side door of the train, leading him outside. He explains that he sees a crashed plane in the same spot every year, but in recent years he has seen more and more of the body and the wings of the plane…meaning the ice is thawing. He figures that the outside world is probably now back to a somewhat livable temperature and concludes that living literally anywhere else is better than living on this train. Then, the door to the engine opens, a woman comes out, shoots Namgoong, and invites Curtis inside to have dinner with Wilford.

Wilford is basically the sketchiest guy ever. He’s doing that typical villain thing where he tries to make nice with Curtis in order to make himself seem scarier or more intimidating to him. Wilford takes Curtis directly up to the engine and tells him that he wants Curtis to take over as overseer of the train. Obviously Curtis doesn’t want to do this and betray his own people. Instinctively, Curtis punches Wilford in the face and knocks him unconscious and Yona comes in and lifts the floorboard revealing that Wilford has been taking the children from the tail section of the train to use as replacement parts because children are the only thing small enough to get down there. Curtis sticks his hand in between all the gears to help get Timmy, Tanya’s son and the most recently taken child, out from underneath the floor. Namgoong lights the Kronole and races to the engine room. He and Curtis use themselves as shields for Yona and Timmy during the explosion. Considering the world is covered in snow and ice, OF COURSE the explosion triggers an avalanche. The train derails and we assume everyone else is either dead or severely injured because the only two who emerge from the train are Yona and Timmy. They spot a polar bear in the distance, proving that life is capable of being lived on Earth.

In the secondary reading for this week, “A Review of Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi) Cinema … Past and Present”, we learned that Snowpiercer started out as a graphic novel. We also learned that the movie takes itself in a more or less drastically different direction, where at the end of the graphic novel, Curtis decides to be the keeper of the engine as opposed to punching Wilford square in the dome. We also learned that this movie is part of a sub-genre of cli-fi called “ice-fi”, which is the basis of a lot of movies involving climate change. This is because people are definitely afraid of freezing to death in the same way that they’re afraid of spiders, snakes, or, I don’t know, commitment. Making a movie that revolves around a hot climate is probably way harder to depict and also the “dead calm” of excruciating heat is no match for the panic that the entire world would be in if we suddenly plunged into an ice age. “An ice-world is beautiful, frightening, and high contrast”, the secondary reading says, and saying that it’s harder to depict an increase in temperature than it is to show a forty degree drop as an ice age, as in Snowpiercer (Svoboda).

In my opinion, it is painstakingly obvious what climate change has to do with this movie. The entire situation is caused by spraying special particles into the sky in order to try to reverse the effects of climate change and the plot is them having to deal with the fact that they have to live on a train because the outside world is too cold to hold a functioning society. The theme of the movie is deeper than some scientists messing everything up and accidentally plunging the Earth into an ice age, though. This movie is also a political message. It’s more or less a warning sign for government elites that’s basically like: here’s what the working class is going to end up doing if you all think that capitalism is still a good idea. We can also say that this movie is an allegory for Soviet Communism, which attempted to seize power and reduce exploitation without actually doing anything substantial about the capitalist system as one of total domination. As you can probably tell, I was almost a political science major.

Overall, I really liked this movie. I definitely understand why eating pizza while watching it might be a concern because some parts are really gross and gory, however, I ate Subway almost the whole time so I really think that’ll be okay. I thought that the acting was incredible and believable, something that is sometimes lacking in movies nowadays. I thought it was amusing and almost funny about how this entire movie probably wouldn’t have happened if they had sprayed the right amount of climate-controlling particles into the air. This movie was basically one big, “…oops”. It was also interesting knowing that this might one day have to be an option in real life. Hopefully our real-life scientists won’t screw up as badly as those ones in the movie did though. I mean, HOPEFULLY it won’t come to that at all, but I fear that the future isn’t looking too good. Unless all humans actively do something to change the way they’re living and are aware and conscious that climate change is a real thing that’s happening, we’re all going to end up living on a train for at least eighteen years until Curtis/The Human Torch/Captain America saves us all.

Windup Timebomb

The dystopian future world in which Paolo Bacigalupi sets his award-winning novel Windup Girl is dazzling. It is more immersive, vibrant, and exciting than anything I’ve read since Heinlein’s “future history.” It is as rich as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and yet not jammed with story-slowing lore. The story is paced like an action movie, especially the second half, which is full of explosions and fires and chases and backstabbings just like the best blockbusters are. It twists through politics and intrigue. It examines greed, disease, bare survival, and what it means to be human.

Many diverse characters drive the story, only some of whom even know one another, and most of whom have names that are confusing to non-Asian audiences. In this regard, Bacigalupi demands a lot from his reader. However, the investment of effort pays off. Every character is deep and believable, with urgent and impure motives that accurately parallel real-world attitudes.

The real world is rarely straightforward.

Anderson Lake, whom at first I thought was the main protagonist, is inscrutable in the end: I have no idea if he was a good guy or a bad guy.

Stonewall Kanya is transformed by the time the story concludes—into what, I’m unsure, but I can tell it’s her own person.

Tan Hock Seng—the scheming, paranoid, little man who lost his whole family and financial empire in the violent overthrow of his homeland years before, and who now diligently protects his own interests, no one else’s—is my favorite, for some reason I don’t understand. He does awful things.

Emiko, the genetically engineered “windup girl” for whom the book is named, is tragic and sympathetic, even as she murders eight people in one second. That scene in particular, I really do hope to see on the silver screen someday.

The moral ambiguity in this book is striking. Some of the ethics that Bacigalupi tangles with, we are already tangling with in our real, modern world, too. The question of how to deal with refugees (political or climate refugees), is a real, terribly ambiguous question, for one. Questions about the use of technology to interfere with the natural reproductive process—“Has science gone too far?”—and of the origins of the human soul, no one is qualified to answer; but they are persistent questions nonetheless.

Of all the big questions that this book raises, the one that captivates me most is: How wrong is it to privatize a public good?

In the world of Windup Girl, rising sea levels have displaced countless people around the globe. The United States have fallen, Finland has been allowed to starve to death, and Burma is no more. Thailand is mostly underwater, and the city of Bangkok is surrounded by tall protective dikes. Increasing religious fundamentalism has driven many (like Hock Seng) away from their homes, and all nations are weakened by political factionalism. International cooperation has deteriorated almost completely in the paranoid aftermath of pandemic plagues, which geneticists designed on purpose. Monstrous, flawed, import-export economies have made all people dependent on free trade, but trade is zealously restricted, both by the white shirts and the Trade Ministry, whose interests do not even coincide. “Calorie monopolies” benefit from this fierce over-regulation, but everyone else suffers. They genetically engineer foodstuffs for sale worldwide, but they engineer them to be sterile, forbidding their customers from planting and farming, forcing them to always buy more, or else. (They are the ones who let the whole population of Finland starve, because a trade agreement couldn’t be reached with the highest levels of the Finnish government.) Anderson Lake is secretly employed by a calorie monopoly, AgriGen Industries, and he is charged with tracking down a man named Gibbons who infringed upon a number of their patents. Patent infringement, in this case, could mean any use of his skill as a geneticist in any way that might benefit anyone at all, except his heartless corporation. The bottom line is the bottom line is the bottom line, humanity be damned.

The term “patent troll” flashes across my mind. This is the derogatory term for software developers and companies who seek patents for their products, with no intention of actually furthering the field of computer technology, but only desiring to make money… waiting for someone else to just try and contribute to computer technology in some meaningful way, using a concept that’s a little similar to theirs, so they can sue ’em. These people are impediments to progress. Mustache-twirling-, coin-counting-villainous as they are, however, their malevolence can hardly compare with that of the heartless calorie monopolies, who hold whole nations hostage.

The Monsanto corporation, on the other hand, compares ominously well. Monsanto practically is a modern-day calorie monopoly. The similarities to AgriGen and PurCal, which are dark, dark figments in Bacigalupi’s dystopian vision, are frightening. To me, it is easily conceivable that, if the political climate ever afforded them the opportunity, even for a second, Monsanto would seize the right to sterilize all foodstuffs except for their own brand, as a perfectly practical measure to eliminate economic competition, and thereby subjugate farmers and consumers everywhere to their will, good or bad… and it’s bad. Monsanto is for profit, not for humanity. It’s a business.

So, to rephrase the question: What’s more important, the safety, security, and happiness of humanity, or profitable business? If you don’t answer “humanity,” then you’re either a sociopath or you don’t understand the question. It is the more difficult-to-defend of the two possible stances (being much less quantifiable than business is), yes, but it is right and good to stand for humanity. Everyone should be as happy and as healthy as is humanly possible. I take this as a given.

I am reminded of another modern-day analog for the calorie monopolies’ evil, too, besides the obvious Monsanto: privatized health care systems. I believe we all deserve state-of-the-art medical treatment (not to mention education, governmental representation, etc.). And I contend that it should be granted to us, for no other reason than that we deserve it, even if we can’t pay for it. Libertarianism and socialism are not four-letter words. They are for humanity. If they are against big businesses, so be it. Big businesses go against humanity when they grow too big, when they dominate their market, removing the consumers’ freedom to choose. They forget their place. Humanity should come first, and profit is incidental.

Windup Girl is a fantastic depiction of a worst case scenario, a scenario that might actually happen if capitalism goes unchecked without regard for ethics.  It’s a mind-blowing, excellent book.

The Windup Girl

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl is definitely not an easy read. He thrusts readers off their feet into a futuristic world based in Thailand in the 23rd century. He doesn’t really prepare readers for the story he shares in the sense that his world comes with many new technologies and terms that aren’t necessarily easy to understand or comprehend. He doesn’t really do a good job in explaining all of these imaginative elements and it seems like you’re just expected to know exactly what he’s talking about as if we already know all about Bacigalupi’s made up futuristic society. I do applaud Bacigalupi for his creativity, but overall I feel that a majority of the components of this world, along with the heavy plot lines and plethora of diverse characters, are just simply overwhelming and confusing. It is without a doubt, extremely easy to get totally lost in this novel.

Paolo Bacigalupi presents a world in his novel The Windup Girl ultimately impoverished due to climate change and the future society is left without fossil fuels and other sources of cheap energy. In this time, genetic modification is something far too common. GMO’s are something I have looked into immensely. Personally, they really freak me out considering we truly have no idea what the long term effects are. I believe Monsanto to be a power tripping monster of a company, similar to the mega-corporations present in Bacigalupi’s society. Aarthi Vadde draws upon this point when describing The Windup Girl in her own reviews. “The Windup Girl is about climate change and the geopolitical maneuvering that takes place to secure resources—in this case seeds—in a world where fossil fuels, cheap energy, and food abundance no longer exist. Its other protagonist is Anderson Lake, an American “calorie man” looking to open markets in Thailand, a country that has survived the global food shortage and mass extinction of plant species by refusing to import genetically modified, sterile seeds from Lake’s Monsanto-like employer AgriGen” (Vadde). In this society however, it goes past just genetically modifying crops. They take it as far as animals and people. The treatment of these genetically modified organisms is utterly horrific. Companies use the “megadonts” which are beast-like elephant creatures to run the factories under terrible conditions and severe abuse. Whereas, “New People” such as the character Emiko are treated like lesser beings. “Emiko, a genetically engineered geisha-type being invented in Japan and abandoned by her owner in Bangkok, where she becomes a slave in a sadistic sex club. Spliced together from human and possible Labrador genes, Emiko is faster and stronger than human beings, but is programmed to serve. She is also designed with incredibly small pores, which make beauty her fatal flaw. If she tries to run, fight, or generally get out of line, she risks overheating to death” (Vadde). Being that this book is read from different perspectives from different characters, I found Emiko’s adventure and story of survival to be the most interesting to read by far. 

I would say that this book could ultimately serve as a warning of the immense power science truly has when it comes to GMOs. In this story they do in fact cause deadly epidemics such as plagues and disease. However, Emiko is promised  that genetic modification will be used in order to create a new race of “new people” so she can live with more people like her. This ultimately leads me to believe that GMOs could be a good thing for society when left in the right hands and under strict regulation, because if they are not things could completely turn for the worse and get out of control.

 Works Cited

Vadde, Aarthi. “Megalopolis Now.” Public Books. N.p., 6 Aug. 2013. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl definitely takes a bit of getting into before the action starts to pick up and stories begin to unravel, but reading it is well worth the effort. There are two things that really struck me while reading this novel: How important the changing perspectives is to advance the plot and keep the reader engaged, and how raw the representation of prostitution and pimping is depicted.

Every chapter allows the reader to be exposed to a different character’s perspective. Of course it was a bit confusing at first to get used to being dropped into changing situations ever chapter, but it reminded me of the movie Crash. These characters were seemingly irrelevant to each other, leading their own lives and dealing with their separate problems. But gradually as the story unfolded, the reader could see how their lives overlapped and influenced each other. I thought this was interesting when it was first revealed how Anderson’s and Emiko’s lives had to do with each other. It was especially pleasant to be given little details here and there from one character that regarded another character; it was like filling in the empty spots of a jigsaw puzzle. Admittedly, it was still a bit difficult to keep up with the heavy plot lines at times especially because of the new terminology: Calorie men, white shirts, blister rust, genehacking. Surprisingly, understanding and visualizing most of the qualities of Emiko as a windup girl wasn’t that hard. The only thing I would point out is that a visual on-screen interpretation would be extremely helpful in understanding her mechanical ticks.

Emiko’s story line was by far the most interesting to me. Her life as an exotic performer/prostitute was shown in such a realistic and unapologetic manner that I had no choice but to respect the author for his bravery. I feel as though most artists would be cautious to portray the work and lives of prostitutes for what they are for fear of making the viewer uncomfortable and even guilty. Movies like Pretty Woman depict unrealistic portrayals of the dangerous night work of prostitutes. Its illustration, according to one Newsweek article, suggests to young children that prostitution is a viable career choice that may even bring enjoyment (Burleigh). This is certainly not a message that should be given to anybody. Prostitution is not a choice, it is sex slavery, which is clearly shown through Emiko’s experiences very early on in the novel. Her “performance” (which is quite clearly rape) on stage is humiliating and degrading on many levels. She endures the sexual assault and emotional trauma because she physically has no other choice as she was genetically engineered to please her companions and she economically has no other choice because she is in serious debt to her owner, Raleigh. As if her rape isn’t enough for the reader to cringe, Raleigh very clearly shuts down Emiko’s wishes to leave the establishment by essentially telling her how worthless and undesired she is outside of Japan. This treatment is incredibly harsh and even heartbreaking, but the rawness of the depiction is exactly what people need to see and be exposed to. Prostitution is in no way a pleasant experience and people should not be led to believe anything other than its abusive and traumatizing qualities. I applaud Bacigalupi’s talent and bravery in shining a light on the very serious topic, even if it’s not the main issue being depicted in the story.

 

Burleigh, Nina. “Sex Trafficking and the ‘Pretty Woman’ Fairy Tale.” Newsweek, 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Nature and Capitalism in the 23rd Century

It is tempting to read Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl as a story of GMOs gone wild. GMOs themselves are not so much the issue, however, as it is the ethics and philosophy behind their use that cause disaster. In Bacigalupi’s 23th Century Thailand, GMO food is an accepted, necessary part of the nation’s food supply. The problem is not that these foods are unhealthy, but that the actual companies that produce these GMO crops also produce plagues to wipe out their competitors’ products while showing little or no regard to how many people consequentially starve. These companies essentially cause the necessity of GMOs, as new crops are needed to replace those wiped out by plagues, and so Bacigalupi’s concern throughout The Windup Girl is the power that these bioengineering companies have, especially because of how they exploit global vulnerabilities created by climate change and the continued dominance of a capitalist global economic system.

In exploring this issue, Bacigalupi runs into more existential questions about bioengineering: what divides human civilization (i.e. our GMOs) from nature? Gibbons, the premier genesplicer in Bacigalupi’s world, posits that there is no difference: “We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods.” (Bacigalupi 243). While, as Aarthi Vadde notes, there is something “Machiavellian” about characters like Gibbons and his obsession with godhood, the premise that bioengineered, artificial evolution is an extension of nature may not be as radical as it seems. Scientists today arguing in favor of GMOs note that genetic manipulation is merely the advancement of techniques that we have already used for millennia: “according to [Dr. Steven] Novella, humans have been using selective breeding to create more desirable versions of plants and animals for thousands of years. In fact, it was a lone monk, Gregor Mendel, who in the 1800s discovered the laws of inheritance and launched the science of genetics by crossbreeding pea plants.” (Indre Viskontas, “No, GMOs Won’t Harm Your Health”). Still, no matter how ancient this assessment of nature’s boundaries may be, there are some dire implications to such a notion in the 23rd Century. The most damning of these implications is that if our GMOs are as disposable as the nature we create them from, (as indeed anthropocenic climate change asserts this disposability), then so too are the most ethically problematic GMOs imaginable: the New People.

Emiko, the titular windup girl, embodies the contradictions that this extended definition of nature entails. Emiko is conflicted between her instinctual inclinations for subservience, her strict obedience training, and her desire to be a free person. This desire, although it may deviate from other New People, (it is never confirmed if the village of free New People that Emiko dreams of is real), suggests that however artificial her origins are, she is of emotionally developed. We know that Emiko feels hope: “There is a place for windups. The knowledge tingles within her. A reason to live.” (Bacigalupi 101). We know that she feels pain and anger. Simply the fact that she feels conflicted demonstrates that despite the shackles of genetic programming she was created with, she is capable of experiencing different emotions. This is in turn should be evidence enough of her humanity, but Bacigalupi’s GMO humans experience an oppression that is much older than the technology that creates them.

Windups or New People are subjugated to slavery, and much like European colonial slavery of the past, this new generation of enslaved people is necessarily dehumanized. 23rd Century Thailand uses a Buddhist ideology to assume that New People like Emiko do not have souls, their justification being that New People are created rather than born. This definition of the soul, however, conflicts with the idea that New People are an extension of nature, and does not consider their capability of self-agency. This is because their inclination to follow their instinctual programming hides their agency. When Emiko does contradict these inclinations, while also expressing genuine emotion, she proves her agency resolutely effectively defies this dehumanization.

For these reasons, Emiko’s remarkable humanity is in an odd way, a kind of praise for GMOs, despite the manipulability and other negative traits that she is created with. Emiko is direct evidence for Gibbons’ definition of nature: she both is artificial in origin, yet natural in her humanity. Still, to treat her entirely as a positive portrayal of GMOs is both negligent and overly optimistic, as the cruel and oppressive flaws she is designed with once more remind us of the dangers that a bioengineering-centric view of nature poses. Creating GMO humans may not be such a bad thing if they are used primarily to continue the survival of the human race, (assuming that we count them as members of our kind), like Gibbons more or less hopes: “We should all be windups now. It’s easier to build a person impervious to blister rust than to protect an earlier version of the human creature.” (Bacigalupi 243). Creating GMO human slaves; however, as is the case with the New People, can only be seen as exploitative and sadistic; it relies upon a dehumanization of New People that Emiko’s character so resiliently contradicts.

That the calorie companies in Bacigalupi’s vision of the future can bioengineer both slaves and devastating crop diseases means that we need to be cautious about who has the power to tinker with GMOs and what the limits of GMO production should be. If we are to continue pursuing new GMO technology and crops, then we need powerful regulation, not just the kind we already follow to make GMOs safely palatable, but also the kind that carefully enforces humane ethics as well. Bacigalupi teaches us this and also warns us that as long as nature and civilization progressively meld together, there is much peril if a profit driven elite remains at the center of this fusion.

 

Works Cited:

Viskontas, Indre. “No, GMOs Won’t Harm Your Health.” Mother Jones. N.p., 14 Feb. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

Vadde, Aarthi. “Megalopolis Now.” Public Books. N.p., 6 Aug. 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

Human Survival

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi provides a terrifying depiction of a futuristic society. One of the central messages that Bacigalupi wanted to express through this novel was the idea of human survival. He examines how far humans are willing to go to survive–what they will sacrifice and what they will do in order to get what they want even if that means going against morality. Moreover, he demonstrates the strength of humanity and how even when a society falls, we bond to one another and do whatever needs doing to continue life.

This novel is considered a sci-fi novel because it directly relates to climate change. It takes place in Thailand, in which there is a great deal of turmoil and corruption as a result of the shortage of food, loss of energy resources and outbreaks of the plague. The only resource that the city has left is seeds because all of the other resources that produce energy, such as fossil fuels, are depleted. This is relevant to today because we are also running low on energy resources. Another issue that deals with climate change is the increasing water levels.

In the article, Megalopolis by Aarthi Vadde, she considers the setting of Thailand in this novel, to be a megalopolis, or a western society that is predicted to fall due to its increasing growth of population. Vadde discusses how this megalopolis is literally sinking due to the rise of water levels. She describes this novel as an Anthropocene, which is a vision of the future defined by the impact of humans on Earth systems. She continues to write that the end of the world presented in this novel was not a sudden event; rather it was a gradual progression of cities emerging in water (Vadde). As I was reading, I also noticed this imagery of water and the sinking of cities. Emiko, one of the main characters, was drawn to water throughout the book. Water was largely discussed in relation to the world coming to an end; however, water was also used as a symbol of the rebirth of humanity.

One of the main reasons why the society of Thailand fell was because the government lost all control over its people. All of the characters in this novel had their own economic or political agendas and went around the government to get what they wanted. For example, Anderson Lake, the owner of the Spring Life factory, kept it a secret that he was in search of the Thai seed bank. In addition, his employee Hock Seng, embezzled from the company in order to plan for an escape. He also wanted to steal the blueprints from Anderson. This shows how the characters lied and stole from one another because they were looking out for themselves during this time of panic. Through these characters’ actions, Bacigalupi demonstrates how humans will do things that go against morality in order to survive.

In addition to these economic and political disasters, Bacigalupi reveals the social corruptions within Thailand by describing the sex trade. Anderson fell in love with the windup girl, Emiko, who worked as a sex slave for Raleigh. Emiko told Anderson about the seed bank and Anderson told her about the village that had new people. Emiko fantasized about escaping to this village through out the novel. Therefore, Emiko’s main mission in the book was to escape from slavery and go to this village. Again, this shows how when society falls the main mission of the individual is to survive, and in Emiko’s case it was to escape from this society completely. Although Emiko never made it to this village, after Anderson died from the plague and she was the only one left in the society, a scientist named Gibbons approached her and promised her that he would use her genes to create a new race of humans. The ending of this novel shows how humans have a moral responsibility to continue life.

Vadde analyzes the ending of this novel. Vadde interprets Gibbon’s idea of Emiko’s genetics being superior by stating, “Emiko’s genetic makeup does not exclude her from “us humans,” nor does the “natural world” exclude a sinking megalopolis” (Vadde). Vadde is making this parallel that Emiko is still considered human even if she does have strong genes and a dying society, as great as Thailand, still influences the natural world. This idea presented by Vadde can be applied to the issue of climate change. The individual as well as the whole society influences the natural world. Therefore, in order to better the earth, changes need to be made on a large and small scale.

The Wind Up Girl is a sci-fi novel that questions what it means to be a human and what humans do in hard times in order to survive. Through the characters actions, the reader is able to see that humans will go against morality in order to protect themselves. From the beginning to the end of the novel, the central theme remains that humanity will always perceiver even when societies fall. Humans will fight to the end because the strongest desire that we hold is to live.

References

Vadde, A.(n.d.). Megalopolis Now. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://www.publicbooks.org/fiction/megalopolis-now

Forty Signs of Rain…and Questions.

Forty Signs of Rain is a straightforwardly entrancing tale of science and politics that presents a cast of intelligent and interesting characters, all involved in the day to day workings of US government and scientific institutions. Science in the Capitol, as it is aptly described, should very well become required reading for both global climate scientists, and political candidates. This novel does a respectable job of humanizing the scientists throughout, presenting them as real people facing everyday problems even though they spend a majority of their time trying to save the world from deconstructing around them. As Frank is writing the harsh letter to Diane Chang he emphasizes the need for more involvement from the National Science Foundation, “If the Earth were to suffer a catastrophic anthropogenic extinction event over the next ten years, which it will, American business would continue to focus on its quarterly profit and loss.” (210) The problem is, as Mathis Hampel states in his Washington Post article, Want to convince people that climate change is real? Stop talking about the science of it. “We are not dealing with a pollution problem to be solved cost-benefit style. Climate Change is not a hole in the earth’s ozone layer caused by a set of manageable chemicals.”

So how do we go about talking about the issues that are affecting us world-wide in a way that can create meaningful progress? How do we not feel the same frustration Charlie did when was talking to Strengloft? “He was combating liars, people who lied about science for money, thus obscuring the clear signs of the destruction of their present world. So that they would end up passing on to all the children a degraded planet, devoid of animals and forests and coral reefs and all other aspects of a biological support system and home.” (193) How can we aim to tackle climate change when all other aspects are lumped into the movement for progress? Hampel states, “By now, everything from trade policy or global inequality to animal extinctions or indigenous people’s rights has been woven into the tangled knot of climate change politics.” Not only are the politicians positive they are “addressing” the issue (in their own way), but most of the time not taking the issue seriously enough. The President jokes with Charlie in their meeting regarding CO2, and Strengloft comments that isn’t as bad as it seems. “The last time there was a significant rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, human agricultural productivity boomed…” “The end of the black death might account for that,” Charlie pointed out. “Well maybe the rising CO2 levels ended the Black Death.” Earlier in the conversation Charlie tries to explain the reality of what is happening, “There are scenarios in which the general warming causes parts of the Northern Hemisphere to get quite cold, especially in Europe. If that were to happen, Europe could become something like the Yukon of Asia. ”Really!” the president said. “Are we sure that would be a bad thing? Just kidding of course.” (159).

This scene sounds sadly true, and what I expect out of discourse on the subject. Is there really anyway to have an open and active conversation, that results in actual, substantive change within the government? Kim Stanley Robinson speaks to this in his interview, In 300 years, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science Fiction May Not Be Fiction. “This suggests legal changes imposed by democratic government, which are more and more urgently needed. The free market can’t do it because it isn’t free, but in fact a particular legal system completely inadequate to the situation, and the prices we concoct for things are completely unresponsive to physical realities. So, we are in quite a bit of trouble here, because capitalism is a cultural dominant and the current global way of conducting things, world law, and yet inadequate to the situation we face.” We indeed have the money to spend on researching and solutions to our current situation, yet choose to spend it on “immediate action” targets, such as the military as Frank mentions in his speech to the board.

“Tell them they can’t give half a trillion dollars a year to the military and leave the rescue and rebuilding of the world to chance and some kind of free-market religion. It isn’t working, and science is the only way out of this mess.” He goes on to say, “Scientists should take a stand and become a part of the decision making process….Because we are not the military, we are already civilians, and we have the only methods there are to deal with these environmental problems.” (325) Forty Signs of Rain does a successful job contributing to the popularization of current scientific thought. As it currently stands however, climate change is simply an argument about big government. Neomi Oreskes addresses this in, Science vs Politics saying, “For Republicans in Congress and elsewhere, it’s not about climate change, it’s definitely not about science, it’s about government.”

Is the solution to drop the “science says” arguments as Hampel suggests? Will it take a catastrophic event, like what happened in Forty Signs of Rain? It would be amiss not to mention the reaction from Senator Phil Chase after the flood had subsided, “Isn’t this amazing?” as he waves like the grand marshal of a parade (393). Perhaps it really seems to be “amazing” to the Senator, as Washington DC had never experienced an event such as that, in its history. What’s not surprising is that the Khembalis reason for arriving in DC, were that the catastrophic events were not a “one-off” occurrence. Frank remarks, “Meanwhile the Khembalis were essentially multigenerational exiles, occupying a tidal sandbar in near poverty.” (229) This is the situation of many people around the globe, that has gone relatively unaddressed. I want to believe we are more aware than the Guardian Book Review suggests, “Humans have gone from being the smartest animal on the savannah to being ‘experts at denial’. He (Stanley) suggests that the storm clouds are gathering on the horizon, but we can no longer read the danger signs.” However, not much evidence is pointing to the contrary. Even as Charlie asks at the end if the Senator will do anything, now that he sees the catastrophic results, his answer remains the same as always, “I’ll see what I can do.” (393) The more research is presented, the more that answer isn’t good enough. The “near-future sci-fi” novel does a good job at creating believable characters, in the midst of working towards real, fundamental change. This novel has taken two sides that have historically gone in opposite directions, and puts them at the same table. Hopefully, Stanley’s next two novels in the series can shine even more light on the issues that surround the politics of climate change. Forty Signs of Rain explains and dramatizes this in terms even a Tea Party Republican can’t ignore. Whether they will read it or not, is another question.

References:

Washington Post, Mathis Hampel http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/01/22/want-to-convince-people-that-climate-change-is-real-stop-talking-about-the-science-of-it/

The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/04/in-300-years-kim-stanley-robinsons-science-fiction-may-not-be-fiction/274392/

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/jan/17/featuresreviews.guardianreview21

Naomi Oreskes: Harvard Gazette http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2014/02/science-vs-politics/

40 Signs of Rain and What’s next….

This was a compelling read. I felt the characters were well rounded and relative to everyday life. Coming from the perspective of a person who is starting to grasp the science fiction and the whole idea of climate change, this novel allowed me to think in a more significant way. What struck out the most aside from the characters, was the different scenarios in which the author showed in building a case for climate change or science in general. All of the politics that goes into getting funding and your message out about initiatives was presented in a way that I could see a lot of this happening.

There were not a lot of theatrics but bare boned discussion and situations that I would say is everyday life. While it could have had some stronger high moments (the biggest one was when Frank broke into the office to get is resignation letter and the elevator tryst:-) so some might see it as boring it did have some moments where you felt sorry, mad and disappointed in how hard it is to get a project off of the ground. I really was getting pissed when the group of scientist were deciding whether or not to give funding and I felt like why does is it in the hands of a few to make a decision about something that is much bigger than that group of people.

Towards the end with the chunks of cliff falling, animals escaping from the zoo it kind of brought things full circle. It showed that cause and effect and brought it back to climate change is a real and that we as a society need to take note. It is a collective idea that requires much work and attention. While this book is fiction based it has enough relevance for you to want to do research and find out more about this idea and where we are currently.

I am not compelled to read the trilogy because too much of this will make me depressed. Will recommend to others.

40 Signs of Something

When I first started reading this book I had every belief that it was going to be just another far fetched science fiction novel about climate change. So imagine my surprise when it was nothing of the sort. A lot of people describe this book as “boring” but I don’t really see that. I see a web of different stories that somehow intertwine together into one. Stanley does an amazing job of not being overly scientfictiony. That’s not to say he doesn’t throw a lot of facts at you because he does, the details of Leos biological research, the depth of Frank’s thoughts about everything, and even the dynamic that Charlie and Anna have going on. You would think that the little tid-bits of information he gives us about Charlie raising his sons or about what Frank really thinks about Anna or even how Leo feels about his boss are irrelevant, but they aren’t. All of the little details are what make the story real. They make it believable. They make us relate to it in a way we haven’t before. So no, we aren’t given a page turning action packed novel, we’re given something else entirely. An invitation to see how all of these different lives intertwine together to show us what can happen.

Stanley also really shows us how much words matter when it comes to our government and how things work. We see Charlie talking on the phone about getting his ideas through congress to construct carbon sinks and to work for international cooperation for amelioration of climate change. We see how much the emphasis is on the words that are used when he just has to turn around one or two within the piece of legislation he’s trying to get passed. It just shows how even though climate change is a real thing thats happening right now, you still have to be manipulative and careful to show that it’s really something that we have to take care of with out in-sighting fear into everyone. It’s a catch 22. We can’t over sell it because we, just like in the book at first, are not seeing the effects right away. We’ve been talking about it so long, about how its such a problem and we’re going to be sorry…but no one cares. And the fact that nothing significant has happened just justifies and reinforces the people in power’s decision to do nothing about it. Now the flip side, us underselling it, us not doing everything in our power to show people how important it is, will have everyone going crazy asking where were the scientists that were supposed to have seen this coming.  A perfect example of this is in the article “In 300 Years, Kim Stanley Robinson’s science fiction won’t be fiction” when he refers to us as “the dithering”. Not only do we refuse to believe it, we blatantly deny that it is even happening.

Everything always leads back to money and power. Money in the sense that in order to combat this problem, its gonna take money. And a lot of it. If no one can see a major cataclysmic even within our life time, they see no reason to just throw money at it. Then we come to power. Ever notice how people with all the power in the world really don’t do anything? Well when it comes to politics, I’m sorry to say that the needs of the greater good don’t always outweigh the power of an election year or political agendas. If no one else is trying to fix something and you’re the only one making noise, you’re going to find yourself being the odd one out. We are the only people who can save our planet, but a lot of us are letting anything but what’s right get in the way of what needs to be done. Kim Stanley Robinson showed us that if nothing else, we need to pay attention.

Flight Behavior: Too much drama, not enough climate

Flight Behavior is a novel that takes its time, perhaps too much so. It has a lot going on under its surface story about migrating butterflies. It touches on themes of personal growth, relationships, media, social class, and climate change denial. While the novel smartly takes its time in developing each relationship in the story, I feel the focus on the interpersonal relationships in Dellarobia’s life is to the detriment of the overall climate message that Kingsolver hoped to convey.

The novel, while technically “about” the migration of monarch butterflies, which migrate to Tennessee instead of Mexico due to climate change, centers on Dellarobia’s relationships with her family and friends. Specifically, the book focuses on the state of her marriage. Over the course of the novel, Dellarobia finds herself drawn away from her husband, Cub, through a discovery of her own intelligence and potential, as well as her growing attraction to other men such as her telephone guy and Ovid Byron, the climate scientist. Her relationships with these people, as well as those with the rest of her family and friends, help humanize the character and the novel itself. However, the novel takes its time doing so, and one can argue that it takes too much time. At times, the books drags on with scenes of pointless conversations and pages filled with unnecessary descriptions of nature.

The novel also presents an interesting class conflict, which I felt distracted from the climate change message initially, but ended up enhancing it through its portrayal of climate denial. I found the descriptions of class to be the strongest parts of the book. The comparisons drawn between the lives of Dellarobia and her neighbors, and the visiting climate scientists and tourists, are quite stunning. My favorite scene in the book took place when one of the climate scientists attempted to lecture Dellarobia about her carbon emissions and made the mistake of asking her to fly less and to bring Tupperware to restaurants for take out. Poor Dellarobia had never flown, and hadn’t eaten at a restaurant for two years. The climate scientists are also shocked at her lack of a college education and her sparse knowledge of mathematics. The class struggle works both ways, however. Dellarobia briefly describes Cub’s fascination with a TV show that is not named, but can only be The Big Bang Theory. He laughs at what he perceives to be rich nerds failing completely at social interaction. Dellarobia takes note of their expensive looking possessions and thinks he ought not to judge. These differences highlight the class divisions present in the novel and uncover instances of privilege, which is an extremely interesting topic. Here, however, the differences are used to display ignorance to the problem of climate change. The less educated and the religious seem to both be lower class, and also more frequent deniers of climate change. While these people are not the real problems, as their lifestyles do not significantly increase carbon emissions, they are also the people that vote those that deny climate change into office. Bear talks about his staunch support of cutting taxes for the 1%, which, as we know, perpetuates the big businesses that contribute to emissions. Also, the religious such as Hester see the butterflies as simply beautiful, and refuse to believe that anything sinister is going on. Hester believes that God sent them, and condemns Dellarobia’s protests that the butterflies are an indication of a deeper problem.

The novel has something very interesting to say about media and climate change that I believe is very relevant to our society’s current situation. In the novel, the poorly educated townpeople of Dellarobia’s Tennessee home are hesitant to accept that climate change is the cause of the migration, and the presence of the butterflies is not a gift. In addition, media outlets twist the story to focus on Dellarobia’s human-interest story, rather than the importance of the butterflies’ migration habits. When Ovid is interviewed and asked a question about climate changed, the interviewer leads him to answer as she wants, and when he is honest, she declares that she cannot air the footage. Luckily, Dovey catches it all on her phone, and the video goes viral.

This portrayal of the media is unfortunately accurate. A whole industry exists behind the denial of climate change, sowing doubt into the minds of the people so that the common man will not bother with the issue and companies will be left alone to poison the earth. One example is a pamphlet passed out by an electric company, claiming that global warming was caused by the sun and not carbon dioxide. “Despite every major science academy in the world disagreeing with them, the pamphlet claimed the role of carbon dioxide was minor.” (A) Florida, a state in which rising waters could have a devastating effect, has banned officials of its Department of Environmental Protection from using the phrase “climate change.” (B) These developments are deeply troubling and show the extent to which companies will go to prevent the loss of profits, to the detriment of the rest of the planet.

Fortunately, there is a thriving activist movement working against climate change. While change on a large scale is the only thing that will save the earth, there are many groups working to change public opinion into one of consensus that climate change is happening. The novel portrays this group in the form of the protesters who picket the logging of the area where the butterflies reside, and the knitters who send Dellarobia knitwear for the butterflies. While these methods might not do much in the short term, they are indicative of a public interest in the subject, which can only help. Dovey’s video of Ovid’s interview goes viral, which exposes the censorship of the media and displays his true scientific explanations of the situation. The Internet is a huge asset to the activist movement. Websites such as 350.org (C), also mentioned in the novel, help to organize people and to change minds.

Overall, I thought that this novel displayed some good themes about climate change and class that were provocative and had the potential to start interesting discussions. However, I felt as though the book was bogged down by excessive focus on interpersonal relationships and descriptions of nature. I enjoyed the book fine as it was, but I feel as though many people whose minds are not already made up about climate change would not find this book very appealing to read.

Sources:

  1. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2015/mar/05/doubt-over-climate-science-is-a-product-with-an-industry-behind-it
  2. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article12983720.html
  3. http://350.org/