issue 136 - 2nd May, 2021
CJW: Welcome to the latest instalment of nothing here. It’s a big one. Sorry? This issue we’ve got returning guest, Andrew Dana Hudson. Thanks for joining us Andrew!
After last issue, brilliant Australian author Jane Rawson (Marlee and I both highly recommend From the Wreck) got in touch to remind me about Tasmania’s anti-protest laws. They’re significant not just because of the encroachment on civil liberties but also because they’re a direct response to environmentalist protestors trying to fight against logging in Tasmania’s forests.
And thanks to Max Anton Brewer, who got in touch about our take on Solar Radiation Management. We had a good chat and he gave me a lot to think about. If you ever think we’re missing something or we’re way off base with one of our takes, get in touch. I’ll always appreciate being prodded to consider things from a different angle. It’s the only way we can really learn.
Alright, on with the show.
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CJW: CREEPER Magazine Issue 2 Kickstarter
Fiction, art and reportage from the frontlines of the future.
Bad vibes, good times.
NH alum Austin and John have been hard at work on Creeper Magazine Issue 2 (with some editorial help from yours truly). Issue 1 was packed full of great writing and art, with fantastic design work tying it all together. (That issue 1 link is a free PDF if you want to check it out.) Issue 2 is even better.
Exclusive contributions from Tim Grove, Nina Shack Kock, Mike Corrao, Lex Griffiths, BKV Industrial, Garth Jones, Valentina Schulte, Andrew Macrae, Mark Rogers, Maddison Stoff, Gui Machiavelli, James Straker, Dan Hill, Kokofreakbean, Tom Lynch, Unconscious Abyss, Nyx Land, Ryan K Lindsay, DC Barker, Solvent and Tyler Alexander.
The Kickstarter has reached its goal, so the project is definitely going ahead, but this is your chance to get in on the ground floor and secure yourself a copy. Basic tiers are available if you just want the mag (digital or hardcopy), and other tiers include t-shirts, and some limited remaining copies of Creeper #1. Go grab it.
CJW: Arundhati Roy on India’s Covid catastrophe: ‘We are witnessing a crime against humanity’ - Arundhati Roy at The Guardian
A spokesperson for the fascist Hindu nationalist organisation the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – of which Modi and several of his ministers are members, and which runs its own armed militia – has warned that “anti-India forces” would use the crisis to fuel “negativity” and “mistrust” and asked the media to help foster a “positive atmosphere”. Twitter has helped them out by deactivating accounts critical of the government.
A long read on India’s second wave. Mass casualties, corruption, authoritarianism, trauma, loss. Anyone arguing to uphold IP restrictions on coronavirus vaccines is implicitly arguing for more of this in the Global South.
Related: World roundup: April 24-25 2021 - Foreign Exchanges with a succinct summary of the COVID situation in India and the international response.
MKY: Humans Shaped Life on Earth For 12,000 Years, And It Wasn’t All Doom And Destruction
for most of our history, humanity has lived in equilibrium with our world, despite us having altered most of Earth’s terrestrial surface far sooner than we realized.
“Societies used their landscapes in ways that sustained most of their native biodiversity and even increased their biodiversity, productivity, and resilience,” said University of Maryland environmental systems scientist Erle Ellis.
Analyzing reconstructions of historic global land use by humans and comparing this to global patterns of biodiversity, the researchers found that by 10000 BCE humans had transformed nearly three-quarters of Earth’s land surface - you can view an interactive map of their findings here.
This upends previous models that suggested most land was still uninhabited as recently as 1500 CE.
“Lands now characterized as ‘natural’, ‘intact’, and ‘wild’ generally exhibit long histories of human use,” University of Queensland conservation scientist James Watson explained.
“Even 12,000 years ago, most of Earth’s land had been shaped by humans, including more than 95 percent of temperate lands and 90 percent of tropical woodlands.”
The shaping describes system level changes that have cascading ecological consequences, including negative outcomes such as the extinction of megafauna. Yet these interventions also provided important ecological functions like seed dispersal and improvement of soil nutrients. This expanded habitats for other plant and animal species and increased biodiversity.
Nonetheless, the problematic idea that we’re separate from nature has even infiltrated those fighting to slow our destruction of it.
“There’s a paradigm among natural scientists, conservationists, and policymakers that human transformation of terrestrial nature is mostly recent and inherently destructive,” said Watson.
Or, yes, that’s a massive blockquote for dramatic effect. Also, all the meat on the bone right there. The message is finally getting out there. Western Industrial Society is the aberration. Colonisation of the Americas and Australias and elsewhere are geoengineering - and this world hurtling towards a nightmare hothouse futcha is the direct result of it. Books like Dark Emu are an attempt to undo the erasure of how well Australia was managed by its indigenous population for tens of thousands of years.
As I wrote a while back, on theposthumanworld (let me be known by my trail of abandoned projects… or, I gave up trying to argue into the wind and decided to try and put it all in a series of novels and walk away) “the problem isn’t initiating action on climate change, but radically changing its direction.”
That message has even got thru to the XR protestors, who, for all their performative actions, made some excellent videos for Earth Day (speaking of performative actions):
Oh wait, they didn’t - they just used their platform to share the work of Survival International. Well, at least they’re being good allies…
To bring it all home… we shared an article here from the NYTimes with a rather misleading title an issue or two back… There’s a Global Plan to Conserve Nature. Indigenous People Could Lead the Way. - but you have to read through it see that, though they could be but they’re very much not… instead, they’re being excluded from the conversation, their voices are largely being silenced and they’re being stopped from doing what they’ve done best, basically forever - taking care of their home. Because… I think you get the picture by now.
-man with hook drags me from the stage- And that’s my time. You’ve been a lovely audience. What’s left of you lol :P Just remember, it doesn’t have to be like this. It never did. (They killed all the ‘witches’ for a reason btw.) We could all be like… living in… multispecies cities. Doesn’t that sound so much nicer?
CJW: Related: Google Earth Now Shows You The Consequences of Climate Change For The Past 37 Years - David Nield at Science Alert
DCH: Climate crisis has shifted the Earth’s axis, study shows by Damian Carrington, theguardian.com
In the past, only natural factors such as ocean currents and the convection of hot rock in the deep Earth contributed to the drifting position of the poles. But the new research shows that since the 1990s, the loss of hundreds of billions of tonnes of ice a year into the oceans resulting from the climate crisis has caused the poles to move in new directions.
If you’ve ever needed convincing that the Anthropocene needed to be declared than how about we’ve moved the poles 4 meters since 1980?
CJW: The United States is at risk of an armed anti-police insurgency - Temitope Oriola at The Conversation
The U.S. is at risk of armed insurgencies within the next five years if the current wave of killings of unarmed Black people continues.
Entities operating independently will spring up, but over time, a loose coalition may form to take credit for actions of organizationally disparate groups for maximum effect. There will likely be no single leader to neutralize at the onset. Like U.S. global counter-terrorism efforts, neutralizing leaders will only worsen matters.
The author of the study (and above article about the study) says that police reform could help curb the likelihood of armed insurrection, but even in the wake of Derek Chauvin’s conviction, it’s hard to say whether or not we can expect to see substantive reforms. Especially as a lot of Centrist types will think Derek Chauvin’s conviction is justice, when it’s welcome but too little and too late. Let’s hope it’s a first of many steps (ending with police abolition).
Anyway, I thought the above was interesting - especially the comparison between the US and smaller nations of north Africa. American exceptionalism in decline.
MKY: it reads like an instructional with the last para added on at the editor’s insistence… NOT THAT WE’RE SAYING YOU SHOULD DO ALL THIS.
If only I was better read I could point to something that makes the point better, but what I can’t help noticing is that all the protest in the US and elsewhere around COVID has been ‘give us our freedoms’ not like, WTAF YOU LET MY FAMILY/FRIENDS DIE FOR A FUCKING DONUT or whatever. I don’t even wanna look at what the current death toll is from da economy uberr alles. I have the luxury of living in a city where we made a collective sacrifice last year to prevent that (and have an ache in my gut that sez our Fed Govt are gonna do their best to make it all worthless.). And JFC, look at India rn - oxygen tanks under armed guard. OXYGEN FFS.. So if someone can point me to whatever the counterpoint to ‘Manufacturing Consent’ is, which should be something like ‘managing dissent’… that’d be ace. Please and thank you.
ADH: Funny, I don’t read that Conversation piece as “hint-hint” so much as “gosh, sure would be terrible if the US got to finally have its race war!” Probably not the author’s intent, but I’d say many, if not most, American security policymakers will read something like this and not see the virtues of police reform but instead start dreaming up ever more elaborate ways to surveil, disrupt, infiltrate, and demoralize Black organizations.
MKY: truuuuuuuuuue. I hope the teens have actually been reading this…
CJW: Biden isn’t ending the Afghanistan War, he’s privatizing it - Jeremy Kuzmarov at The Gray Zone (via Brendan)
Uncle Sam also covets Afghans’ mineral wealth. A 2007 United States Geological Service survey discovered nearly $1 trillion in mineral deposits, including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and critical industrial metals like lithium, which is used in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and cellphones.
An internal Pentagon memo stated that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.”
As friend of the pod Brendan said “The coup in Bolivia failed, so cheap lithium has to come from somewhere.” I want to pretend I’m surprised, but sadly it makes too much sense…
~ “What’s the exit strategy?” “there is no exit strategy, we stay. EMPIRE. REAL EMPIRE.”
Whoever controls the spice controls the world…
…sfw if the spice is killing the planet and all that energy could be redirected elsewhere.
DCH: Surely We Can Do Better Than Elon Musk - Nathan J. Robinson at Current Affairs
Now that the president of the United States is no longer a climate change denier, and there may be some kind of broad national effort to electrify American transit, Musk may take on an even more important role in shaping our national vision for transit, power, and the human future in space. It is therefore vitally important to see through the myths around him, to understand the bleakness of his vision for the future, and to present something better.
DCH: Visions of the future like indentured servitude on Mars.
ADH: Musk discourse is a great way to illuminate the outlines of my filter bubble, because I follow and listen to pretty much exclusively people who think Musk is a cringy, overrated shithead who somehow hyped his way into a massively inflated fortune. But then the other week I was giving a talk about solar futures for some middle schoolers. I discovered very quickly that if I described one possible solar ownership model as “Elon Musk leases every rooftop in America,” they would not see this as a bad thing. Instead half a dozen blank Zoom boxes would type “Elon Musk!” in the chat as though I had just shouted out any other Zoomer meme—Fortnite, maybe?—and not a plutocrat compelled by his class position to work for the degradation of their families and future working lives.
MKY: if only all his posing got the kids to read the Culture books too. Gtk how this can be framed and get the kids attention tho… (then just phase out the Musk grifting element).
ADH: The Computers Are Getting Better at Writing - The New Yorker
Whatever field you are in, if it uses language, it is about to be transformed. The changes that are coming are fundamental to every method of speaking and writing that presently exists.
Very cool to see a write-up of Sudowrite, a tool I’ve gotten to be an early beta user on, created by fellow up-and-coming sci-fi authors James Yu and Amit Gupta. Sudowrite can’t write for you, but it can sort of write around you, opening up possibilities or helping you reduce the cognitive load of deciding what color a fictional room’s walls should be. But it very much feels like a just-the-beginning kind of phenom. Anyone who writes or reads should start thinking about what this means for them.
CJW: Well I just signed up for the beta. Let’s hope I get in.
DCH: CEOs are hugely expensive – why not automate them? by Will Dunn at The New Statesmen
There’s a good argument for automating from the top rather than from the bottom. As we know from the annotated copy of Thinking, Fast and Slow that sits (I assume) on every CEO’s Isamu Noguchi nightstand, human decision-making is the product of irrational biases and assumptions. This is one of the reasons strategy is so difficult, and roles that involve strategic decision-making are so well paid. But the difficulty of making genuinely rational strategic decisions, and the cost of the people who do so, are also good reasons to hand this work over to software.
It’s hard not to adore the delicious irony of this suggestion but let’s be honest Algo-CEOs would likely care even less for their workers. It’s not like the algorithms that function as middle management for millions of gig workers are all that humane…
CJW: Cities of Light
This book is about imagining the future of the post-carbon city. […] [T]his book is also about imagining the future of the human experience and human community in the wake of a sustainable energy revolution. We imagine that future as very different than the cities of today.
One of the reasons we invited ADH to come on board for this issue was to discuss a couple of recent books featuring some of his work. We shared The Weight of Light last time Andrew joined us, and in a similar vein is a new collection from the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, Cities of Light. Like that last collection, the stories herein (from Paolo Bacigalupi, S.B. Divya, Andrew Dana Hudson, and Deji Bryce Olukotun) came from a workshopping process that involves writers, artists, experts, and student researchers, meaning there’s a strong scientific basis to each story, and accompanying essays. It’s a worthy project, entwining fiction and current research.
ADH: Thanks Corey! This was a great project to work on, both as a writer and as one of the organizers of the project this time around. Partly it was great because it meant getting an exclusive tour of NREL—the US’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado. Like The Weight of Light, this book came out of a pretty interesting kind of collaboration, where the basics of the four sci-fi stories were concocted by multidisciplinary teams: an engineer, a social scientist, an artist and a sci-fi writer, all jamming off a few prompts. That setup is a pretty effective way to jumpstart the ol’ speculative brainstorming process, lemme tell you.
I’m pretty happy with the story I ended up writing for the collection: “Solarshades” (apologies to our cyberpunk forebears). It’s about a kid in suburban Portland getting sucked into a life of anti-refugee resentment and violence, who has his politics changed up when he gets ahold of a pair of AR specs that give him insight into energy relations in his community—he gets to literally see like a state. It’s vibe is a kind of utopia-and-its-discontents, which let me foreground sadistic militia chuds and lace a lot of fun ideas into the background: a nationalized All-Mart, sprawl repair for all who want it, big job guarantee unions camped out planting the rewilding zones.
But the main thrust of my story, and the four others, is that the transition to renewables isn’t one smooth process. There are lots of decisions to be made, choke points we may hit, winners and losers of different arrangements. Energy is hyper-political even when it’s not wrecking the climate, with big variations in those politics based on geography and history. In some ways our fossil fuel infrastructure has suppressed the complexity and diversity of energy politics, and we should all get ready to start thinking about these issues more deeply as things change over the next couple decades.
CJW: Multispecies Cities
One of the great things about anthologies with a broad theme is seeing the varied stories that fit under that umbrella. And that’s certainly the case with this anthology of 24 solarpunk stories from Worldweaver Press, with multiple takes on the “multispecies” angle, and cities entirely optional.
Some highlights for me included “Old Man’s Sea” by Meyari McFarland and “Crew” by E.-H. Nießler, which share an oceangoing setting and old cetacean soldiers, “Vladivostok” by Avital Balwit, “In Two Minds” by Joel R. Hunt, “The Mammoth Steps” by Andrew Dana Hudson (and I’m not just saying that because he’s here), and “The Streams Are Paved With Fish Traps” by Octavia Cade.
More details at the link above.
ADH: This is a great book and I’m quite pleased to have a story of mine reprinted in it—especially since the focus was on stories set in Asia and visions by Asian authors. It’s really good to see solarpunk expanding its purview from climate/energy/environmental sci-fi to broader examinations of our relationships with other species. It’s not new—heck, Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemonic” featured a drug addicted cyborg cetacean, iirc—but it is somewhat new to try to figure out how we make those relationships work.
For me, this is a big part of my speculative thinking. I think I got on this hobby horse last time I was here on NH, arguing that we should build a civilization that lets elephants go to art school—so we can find out what kind of art free and empowered elephants make. Which is the subject of the novel project I spent most of pandemic trying to tease out. And I think it’s the most interesting frontier of philosophy and political theory right now—the “animal turn” as it’s called, with blow-your-brain-open nonfiction books like Donaldson and Kymlicka’s Zoopolis.
Having spent the last couple weeks churning through short stories submitted to Grist’s Imagine 2200 contest, I can tell you there’s more coming. Speculative fiction might be on the cusp of an “animal turn” of our own. Get Multispecies Cities to get ahead of the curve.
Cyberpunk was always multi-species… people just weren’t listening :P
We could integrate the natural world right into the substance of our cities. If we knew how to use our power properly, we could guide herds of American bison right through our own streets. We could live in an Eden at peace with packs of wolves. ~ Bruce Sterling, Distraction.
So it’s up to solarpunk to carry the fire now.
Movies + TV
CJW: The Empty Man Is the Next Great Cult Horror Film - Tres Dean at Vulture (via Dan Hill)
I’d heard some whispers about The Empty Man on Twitter recently, and this week it finally appeared for rent on Google. As the above link points out, it’s the sort of film where you’re better off going in without knowledge or expectation.
All I’ll say is that it’s not just a horror film, perhaps not even a horror film, but one that combines the language of horror and thrillers to create something incredibly compelling. There are also so many different elements to the story/film that I’m surprised it works as well as it does. In the hands of a less skillful creative team, this easily could have been a mess.
Run, don’t walk etc.
ADH: Stowaway (2021) - Netflix
There’s nothing particularly new, idea-wise, about this astronaut-technical-difficulties drama. But I found it worth the watch just for the uncanny scenes of doing a spacewalk in centrifugal gravity. Turns out when you put someone in a spacesuit against a starry background, I’ve been trained to expect them to float gently around, maybe take some tentative steps with magnetic boots, a la The Expanse. To see them walk, rapel, peer over the edge of their craft into deep, deep nothingness—it feels wrong. Almost like they were filming it in zero-G and the actors had to pretend like they were moving in gravity. Funny how I’ve got all these ideas about how space should work, even though I’ve never been and likely never will. I walked away from the film with big Committee to Abolish Outer Space feels.
CJW: Review: A Promising Young Woman - Ayesha A. Siddiqi (via Mandy Brown)
Promising Young Woman succeeds, not as an illuminating commentary on campus assault, but as an exhibit of the existential tension between the victimhood white femininity depends on and the feminist cosplay it congratulates itself for. It is the perfect film for the death throes of a phenomenon best known as girlboss feminism.
Promising Young Woman - at The Right Lube
It’s easy to imagine a sad ending. But those of us who are concerned with survival rather than martyrdom look around the fucked up world and try to imagine happy endings every day.
These two reviews do a much better job than I could of detailing the many failures of Promising Young Woman. Spoilers if you care about that sort of thing, but honestly I think you’re better off reading these and then deciding if you want to bother with the film.
MKY: Huh. I guess my love of watching “nice guys” getting fucked with overrides how much girlboss feminism grates on me (like, gave up trying to watch Star Trek: Voyager because jfc, fuck Janeway). I def enjoyed the discussion with the star and director on Struggle Session.
CJW: Bits of the film are interesting, but along with the critiques at the links above, it also suffers from sounding like it was written by a version of GPT-3 trained on white feminist twitter - similar to Knives Out and the cringe dialogue related to that alt-right teenager. But maybe both those films are for people who haven’t allowed their brains to be melted by twitter and need someone else to do it for them…
CJW: Appropriate Measures - Jackie Brown and Philippe Mesly at Real Life Mag
[Appropriate technology] concept is particularly relevant today, in light of the threats to autonomy and democracy posed by highly centralized technologies. It provides a model for countering the capital-intensive and extractive modes of production that still prevail and are increasingly unsustainable. But its shortcomings are equally instructive.
A great piece on some design movements from the 1960s, and how they could still be relevant to us today. Exploring these valuable but sidelined ideas seems a worthy project, especially considering the many and varied challenges we will face in the coming years if we want to reach a sustainable and equitable future.
The essay also suggests a very niche alternate history where the governmental appropriate technology departments of the 1960s flourished and became the basis of governance to the extent that neoliberal economics never had a chance to take hold.
CJW: The Red Deal: Indigenous action to save our Earth - at Roar Mag
“Land back” strikes fear in the heart of the settler. But as we show here, it’s the soundest environmental policy for a planet teetering on the brink of total ecological collapse. The path forward is simple: it’s decolonization or extinction. And that starts with land back.
Each movement rises against colonial and corporate extractive projects. But what’s often downplayed is the revolutionary potency of what Indigenous resistance stands for: caretaking and creating just relations between human and other-than-human worlds on a planet thoroughly devastated by capitalism.
An excerpt from the introduction to The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth by The Red Nation, proposing a sort of decolonial and truly radical alternative to the Green New Deal.
Great stuff outlined here, though the repeated references to AOC don’t carry much weight after reading this earlier: The Democratic Party and the political origins of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, by Eric London at World Socialist Website. If anyone has seen counters to this piece, let me know, because otherwise it’s very revealing and pretty damning.
MKY: Honest Government Ad | Electric Vehicles
As a writer/journalist/whatever teh fuck i am, the further i get along this winding road, the more i start to see into the Matrix source code of the discourse and ‘mainstream media’. And one of the best decisions I made, now that COVID is over here (until the Fed Gov fucks it all up, because that’s their core business), is stop reading the news and stop scrolling thru the comment section that it is twit-rage. And start relying on more reputable sources. Like Juice Media. They do all the real work of inspecting the matrix source code line by line, and give you the grim dark truth of just wtaf is happening in Aus with videos like this.
ADH: THE LIGHT FANTASTIC: An Exclusive Look at James Turrell’s Roden Crater
Known as Roden Crater, it stands 580 feet tall and nearly two miles wide. One of the tunnels that Turrell has completed is 854 feet long. When the moon passes overhead, its light streams down the tunnel, refracting through a six-foot-diameter lens and projecting an image of the moon onto an eight-foot-high disk of white marble below. The work is built to align most perfectly during the Major Lunar Standstill every 18.61 years. The next occurrence will be in April 2025. To calculate the alignment, Turrell worked closely with astronomers and astrophysicists. Because the universe is expanding, he must account for imperceptible changes in the geometry of the galaxy. He has designed the tunnel, like other features of the crater, to be most precise in about 2,000 years.
The first time I visited a Turrell skyspace, I didn’t even realize what I’d walked into. I was just wandering the grounds of the De Young Museum in San Francisco, and I find myself in a round dollop of a room, looking around trying to figure out why all of a sudden light seems to work differently.
This is a project I’ve heard about for a few years—my friend and occasional colleague Ed Finn taught a class on literature about light that got to engage a bit with Turrell. Then there was the infamous donation from Kanye West. It’s turned into a bit of a folk-tale among the Arizona arts scene, but now, reading this, I think I may have to mark 2025 on my calendar to make sure I can come visit.
There’s something very sci-fi about Turrell’s work, especially Roden Crater. Not like it’s inspired by sci-fi, but like it’s the kind of thing sci-fi creatives imagine might occupy a grand future civilization that really has its shit together. Except it’s happening right now.
CJW: See you next time.
Cutting Room Floor