I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Arboreality, but Campbell really pulled off multiple perspectives in a short book, which is no small feat. I was anxious about how well head hopping across time would work without something the length of a Sandersonesque tome, but by keeping the geographic scope limited and the characters within a few degrees of separation of each other, the narrative stays tight enough to stay invested in the outcome.
This book also does a good job of walking the line between climate apocalypse and everything was fine because of some hand wavy solution. Things are pretty rough throughout the book, but it does feel like things are slowly getting better. Wildfires, future pandemics, and sea level rise are just some of the issues facing our protagonists.
What I really appreciated is that there is no one hero to save us from climate change. The characters can’t save the world on their own. What they can do is plant seeds, both literal and figurative, for the next generation. That’s what spoke to me in this book. It really brought the concept of being a good ancestor to life, something my own ancestors might have thought of as “cathedral thinking.”
At this point, a certain amount of warming is baked into the climate system and I’m not going to see things return to “normal.” If you and I each do our own part to make the world a little better than we left it though, maybe my kid will see a stable climate or the next generation after them. It really puts all the struggles we’ve faced in the climate movement into perspective and makes them feel worth fighting even though they often don’t feel like enough.
If you even have the slightest care for future generations, do yourself a favor and read this book!
The Deep covers a number of different themes in such a rich way that it seems impossible it could be as short as it is. I personally really resonated with how the main character, imbued with the memory of their people, runs away from this duty because it is killing her. Much like Atlas bolted when Hercules gave him the chance, Yetu can’t take it anymore. When coupled with the environmental and human (mermaid?) rights themes of this book, I couldn’t help but think of how many people have burned out of activism while fighting to make the world a better place.
Yetu’s struggle with balancing her own well-being and that of her people is really the conflict here, with the fate of the world dependent on one person. The story didn’t pull any emotional punches and hit me a lot harder than any typical farmboy with a sword narrative might.
I also really love that the story didn’t end in the traditional, singular sacrifice of our hero, but in a more collaborative solution that was far better for Yetu and her people. It felt optimistic, but realistic, and was a welcome change to the one person saves the world on their own narrative even if Yetu’s own actions are a critical piece of that solution.
Despite the short length, the characters beyond Yetu held their own and felt like real people, not just cardboard cutouts there to advance the plot, which I’ve sometimes found to be the case in novellas.
I can’t recommend this book enough. It deals with some heavy stuff, but makes you feel like anything is possible if you don’t try to do it all on your own. It’s definitely going on my list of tidalpunk recommendations.
If you’d like to support the blog, please use the affiliate link to the book above, or consider supporting us on Comradery, a cooperatively-owned patronage platform.
Weird Fishes by Rae Mariz was a wonderful journey that reminded me of how I felt the first time I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a kid. This book is definitely going on my recommendations list for tidalpunk literature, as it very deftly addresses climate change and its effects on the ocean without feeling preachy.
The story is an interesting take on the buddy genre, pairing a sheltered octopod scientist with an emotionally-vibrant and well-traveled mermaid. Amusing and profound interactions between the two characters help them grow as individuals while they investigate the cause and solution to slowing ocean currents.
Mariz’s prose is beautiful and evokes a true feeling of wonder and connectedness to the ocean. Clever twists on common turns of phrase remind you that the main characters aren’t human, and the interplay of the many different species of the ocean gives hints at the biodiversity teeming below the surface. There’s even a cameo by 52 Blue, the “world’s loneliest whale.”
This book helps you remember that we came from the sea and that it still exerts an emotional pull on us like the tide. One of my favorite lines from the book is “People carry the ocean inside them. On an upright fishbone spine sits the soul of an octopus.” Not every line in the book is that poetic, but I feel that encapsulates my feelings when I read this book.
While I wholeheartedly enjoyed this book, it isn’t for everyone. The book doesn’t shy away from the real world consequences of microplastics, commercial fishing, and warming oceans. Many creatures die, often in graphic, but not prolonged, ways. This book also has a content warning for sexual assault.
If you’re looking for a tidalpunk read that rekindles your love for the ocean, I can’t recommend Weird Fishes enough. If you’ve read any good tidalpunk books lately, let us know down below! I just started The Deep by Rivers Solomon and hope to report back on it soon!
Thanks to Stelliform Press for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
If you’d like to support the blog, please use the affiliate link to the book above, or consider supporting us on Comradery, a cooperatively-owned patronage platform.
After having my RadRunner Plus for nearly two years, I thought it was time for a long term review. Getting an ebike isn’t a small financial decision, and I was both excited and a little nervous spending what I did to pre-order a brand new model of ebike. Some of you out there might be on the fence about whether to get an ebike yourself, so I hope this helps in some way.
From hauling groceries, taking things to the recycling center, selling crafts at the farmers market, or going to the park with my kid, the RadRunner Plus has made biking around town an option for me. The electric assist makes me feel much safer when having to contend with traffic since the speed differential is much lower than when I was still riding my traditional bike.
Riding the bike is still a little less convenient than driving a car around Charlottesville, but it is a lot more fun. I need to plan my routes more carefully than if I were driving, and parking the bike can be a hassle since most places have plenty of car storage but no place to stick a bike securely.
Bike theft isn’t a huge problem in Charlottesville, but an acquaintance and his wife had their RadRunner Plus and RadWagon stolen not too long ago, so I’ve been a little more anxious with respect to parking the bike lately. If you’re worried about bike theft, I’d recommend this episode of the Bike Here podcast.
I kept my bike in front of our townhouse under a motorcycle cover for about a year with no issues, but have since moved it inside. During that time I didn’t really ride the bike since we had the new baby, but everything booted right up when I plugged in the battery despite being out in all weather conditions. I’m not sure if that’s a point in favor of RadPower Bikes or the Pro Bike Tools cover, but good job either way.
There are still certain aspects of riding a bike in America that make it more difficult to just hop on and go versus driving. Helmets aren’t a huge inconvenience, but it’s an added bit of friction compared to taking the car. When I was just riding by myself, I didn’t always wear one, but now that I’ve got a tiny human on board, it’s helmets all around. Despite the inconveniences, I did have two errands last week that I think demonstrate how ebikes can be a great car replacement.
First up was an unexpected run to the pharmacy. I was thinking of taking the bus, but since the bus only comes once an hour it made more sense to grab the bike. While it took a little longer in travel time than driving, I suspect our time door-to-door was similar since there is bike parking next to the pharmacy while the parking garage would’ve taken more time to navigate. The only worry I had was I hadn’t charged the bike and three trips into town stretched the battery to its limits. That’s a range of >25 miles in 80-92ºF (27-33ºC) weather hauling 250 lbs (113 kg) of humans around. I didn’t run the battery down all the way, so I don’t know how much further we might have been able to go. The battery did go empty on my way back from a grocery run before, and I do not recommend it unless you’re really looking for a new fitness regimen.
The second trip was to pickup our CSA from the farmers market. My child and I normally take the car after my wife gets home, but she wasn’t going to be back in time for us to make the farmers market before it closed this time. Ebike to the rescue again. All the vegetables fit in the front delivery bag along with a couple other items I picked up while we were there. Even in the 80s with 76% humidity, the ride was comfortable since on the bike you’ve got a breeze when you’re moving. I think I needed more cooldown time at the end than if I’d driven, but, since the car would have to cool down before it was comfortable, I wasn’t any sweatier if we’d driven.
The only complaints I have about the RadRunner Plus are the uncomfortable stock seat, the poor options for mounting the headlight if you have a front rack, and the flimsy kickstand. Definitely DO NOT step away from the bike with a kid onboard! I’m looking for a better kickstand solution, but my first pick, the Ursus Jumbo, doesn’t work on 20″ bikes. I decided to give it a go despite the manufacturer recommendations, and I can confirm it doesn’t fit the RadRunner Plus.
If you’re on the fence about getting an ebike, I think you’ll really be impressed what they can do. They are definitely going to be part of our solarpunk future. I really like the RadRunner Plus, but everyone’s needs are a little different. You can’t haul more than one other person on this bike, so that might sway you one way or the other for a RadRunner vs a RadWagon if you’re looking at entry-level cargo bikes. If you’ve got a bigger budget, I’ve heard great things about the Tern and Urban Arrow bikes some people have here in town. I was incredulous when people said having an ebike is a game changer for getting around in a city, but they were totally right.
Do you have an ebike or cargo bike you love? Let us know down below!
The House of Drought is a WEIRD novella. I don’t typically read horror, so this is from the perspective of a fantasy/scifi reader. To that end, I really loved the folklore aspects of this story. Seeing what elements of stories are common and different across cultures is always facinating to me, and this story definitely delivers there. There aren’t any concrete explanations of what’s going on, and the multiple names and explanations for any given phenomena by different people bring the folklore to life. Knowing nothing of Sri Lankan folklore, I’m led to believe the author did this part justice.
Since the story hops around between several characters and timelines in the space of a novella, I never really felt a strong connection to any one character. I think that this is where the story would’ve benefitted from being fleshed out into a full length novel or cutting the number of viewpoints if it needed to stay a novella. I really want to give this story four stars since the setting was so interesting, but the lack of engaging characters drops it down to a three for me.
Speaking of multiple timelines, if you really need your books to be linear, this isn’t the story for you. There are frequent time jumps within a chapter, although they do follow a pattern once you realize what’s happening. It’s an interesting approach, but I don’t think it was really necessary to the story.
This is one of the first times I’ve seen a piece of fiction really try to connect colonialism and climate change and how imperialism has wounded the natural world. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish without getting preachy, but the author managed to weave it into the story without it feeling too heavy-handed. The tension between the House of Drought and the surrounding forest becomes an analogue for the tension between colonialism/capitalism and nature. I wouldn’t call it subtle, but by these forces being more animate setting than viewpoint character, it feels like an innate truth suffusing the story and not something the author slows down to explain in a pedantic manner.
This novella had me turning pages to find out what happened, but, like I said, the lack of any compelling characters makes it hard for me to give it more than three stars. I’m very interested to see what Mombauer can do with a full length novel though, since I think the rest of this story is pretty solid.
I’d like to thank Stelliform for providing an ARC in return for this honest review.
I’ve talked about how fiction can point the way to better futures, and one thing that really underlies fiction is imagination. As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” If we want to overcome the climate crisis we need to imagine a better future than our current cyberpunk dystopia. This is why I was so excited to find the From What If to What Nextpodcast by Rob Hopkins.
Hopkins and his guests take the listener on a journey to an imagined 2030 that has seen radical change for the better. Each episode focuses on a specific topic, like Universal Basic Income, and the show starts with the guests describing what a day-in-the-life in 2030 might be like.
It’s been said that people find it easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism, and that’s because imagination outside of how to make more money has been relegated to the realm of children. Having an active imagination is seen as a weakness for adults who shouldn’t have their “head in the clouds.”
We need to reinvigorate our collective imagination to move forward as a society. The challenges facing us are serious, but that’s all the more reason to stop taking ourselves so seriously. Imagination and play are pivotal to our survival as a species, and that’s something we often forget, particularly those of us with backgrounds in STEM. Artists are way ahead of us in this respect.
When I was in grad school, I remember a friend from Thailand telling us how the protests there were like big parties with music and dancing. I just didn’t get it. My understanding of a protest was a bunch of angry people waving signs and calling out demands on a megaphone.
Now though, I think protests parties seem more effective. Prefiguring a better world at a small scale, like Occupy Wall Street did, is like a kind of sympathetic magic to create a future worth running toward. From What If to What Next is a great way to start thinking about the possibilities in our solarpunk futures. As we’re still evaluating how things will be when we establish a “new normal” after the pandemic, I’m cautiously optimistic about how we might see a brighter tomorrow.
Do you have any favorite ways to let your imagination run wild? I’d love to hear what you do in the comments! I love going on walks to jump start my own imagination.
I think at this point just about everyone knows someone who thinks climate change is a problem, but that it will be too expensive to fix, or that the solutions just aren’t viable. I think Saul Griffith’s new book, Electrify, is the perfect book for this audience.
You can’t judge a book by its cover, but the blue foil shimmering on the white background of this cover certainly conjures images of the future. While tech bros promise techno-utopian carbon capture machines more efficient than trees, this book excels in rampant pragmatism. Griffith lays out a pathway to decarbonizing the United States transportation and power sectors with only currently existing technologies.
I don’t think I’m the target audience for this book, but I do think the plan to #ElectrifyEverything is a necessary, but not sufficient part of a solarpunk future. The catchphrase usually comes with some caveats, like probably not all industrial processes, and I do feel that solar thermal needs more love since a large percentage of energy use in the home is used for heating, but it’s a decent simplification for the bulk of our current fossil fuel applications.
Electrify can be criticized for not addressing climate justice beside a passing mention. We can’t afford to reinforce the racist and otherwise imbalanced power structures that originally lead to climate change during the energy transition. That said, this book isn’t designed to message an entire Green New Deal in one fell swoop. As someone who grew up listening to talk radio as a red state Republican (more on that later this year), I think Griffith does an excellent job of doing what we engineers do best – sticking to the facts.
He lays out a clear, but concise, explanation of how daunting climate change is, but then paints a solution by the numbers to how we can overcome it and be more prosperous by doing so. I’m not usually a big fan of all the militaristic language used to describe climate work, but the comparisons in this book to World War II mobilization are useful to put the scope of the issue into perspective. In short, reducing most of our emissions will cost a little less than it cost the US to fight WWII in terms of national GDP.
I think part of the reason climate inaction has been such an easy sell is because it feels too big for any one person to have any agency in the fight. Griffith points the way for how families, especially when bolstered with government-backed loans, can replace the pieces of equipment that generate the bulk of their carbon emissions – their car(s) and their appliances. This gets people in the door for the climate conversation.
I know centrism is a dirty word in solarpunk circles, but I don’t think we’re going to succeed in overcoming climate change or climate injustice if we decide that we can’t work with people who are coming from a different political background. Red states already generate the majority of the renewable power in the country, so that’s a starting point. The Republicans I know believe in fairness and justice, but the party and conservative talk show hosts have had decades to distort what those words mean in a political context. We aren’t going to overcome that conditioning overnight, but this book is a step in the right direction, even if it does just seem like neoliberal techno-utopianism at first blush. I feel there’s more going on here than that, but maybe I’m naive.
I am sending this book and my copy of Repair Revolution to my dad. He’s retired and does solar installs on the side since he has his certification as well as experience from wiring up his old and new houses for solar. He’s also a Trump supporter which led to some… strain in our relationship over the last few years. I’m hoping that this book will at least show how we have viable path forward to overcoming the worst effects of climate change without some massive government takeover of every industry, which is what many Republicans fear. Is it going to make him gung-ho about climate equity? No, but at least maybe he’ll be interested in talking about climate solutions instead of automatically shutting down the conversation. It’s not going to be an easy process to get to a solarpunk future, but we’ll get there, step by excruciating step. Electrify shows how the energy transition can at least be a relatively painless part of the process.
Is saving money and increasing our resiliency a way to bridge the political gap, or is storytelling the answer? I think it’s probably a mix, but let me know what you think below!
Disclaimer: If you order the book using the Indie Bound affiliate link above, I may receive a small commission.
I’ve mentioned before how my Pebble smartwatch is one of my favorite devices, but I thought I’d detail how the device is helping my sanity in 2020, four years after Pebble company shut down.
Pebble was one of the first successful smartwatches, and raised $10M on Kickstarter, making it the most successful crowdfunding campaign to date when it closed in 2012. Watches started shipping in 2013, and even seven years later, the Pebble is one of the best smartwatches available.
In 2017, I joined the smartwatch crowd with a used, original Pebble. Smartwatches aren’t a required part of modern society, but my Pebble lets me triage incoming smartphone notifications and send simple replies. I set my phone to silent and receive a gentle vibration on my wrist whenever a notification comes in for one of the apps I’ve allowed to notify me. When I unlock my phone later, I can see any low priority notifications, but I really enjoy not having the mental clutter of seeing or hearing every single notification as it comes in. My Pebble makes my smartphone experience significantly more pleasant and offers me a small bit of mental clarity I wouldn’t get otherwise.
Earlier this year, my Pebble had started dropping it’s connection to my phone and experiencing some strange issues. Afraid it was dying, I put it in airplane mode and used it as a regular watch for a couple months. After digging around online, I decided the most likely culprit was the battery, so I ordered a replacement. Then, I kept using the Pebble as a regular watch for another month since I was so intimidated about cracking it open to replace the battery.
I eventually worked up the courage to do the battery replacement, and I am so glad I did. I’d forgotten how much calmer my mind feels without the incessant chimes and dings of my phone’s notification system. The new battery is slightly bigger so the watch back isn’t flush anymore which hampers its water resistance, and I cracked the backlight guide which gives a slight line down the middle of the display, but I’m just going to call that beausage and move on. It’s only visible when the backlight is on anyway, so it’s exceedingly minor.
One downside of having a watch from a defunct company is that not all of the watch apps work anymore. Luckily, the back end for many services is now maintained by the Rebble community, so if you have a fancy newer Pebble Time, you can still use voice dictation, and the app store is still there even if not all the apps work 100% anymore.
The Pebble isn’t perfect by any means, but a smartwatch that still works seven years after its debut seems pretty solarpunk to me. When Android Wear and Apple watches get relegated to obsolescence by Google and Apple, Pebbles will still be telling time and making life subtly better. Like any electronic device, I can see where the watch may eventually break down, but I’ll probably try to find another Pebble unless someone comes out with a similarly simple smartwatch. I would suggest upgrading to the Pebble Steel though since the plastic casing seems to be the most fragile part of the whole watch.
Do you think smartwatches are an unnecessary extravagance, or something that can help deal with information overload? Let us know in the comments!
Hey all, just thought I’d do a quick post about some of the books I read this summer since we’re just passing the Fall Equinox. Today, I’m partway through Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction from Arizona State University. At this point I’ve read several different explicitly solarpunk anthologies, and I think the main difference from cli-fi (climate science fiction) is that solarpunk takes an optimistic tact. This anthology seems like a mixed bag of optimistic and dystopian visions of the future. I think it’s good to keep in mind that things could go badly, but I find I’m dwelling in negative outcomes enough to really want a whole lot of that in my fiction.
Some of the other books I finished recently were Rewiring America by Saul Griffith, Sam Calisch, and Laura Fraser, Walkaway by Cory Doctorow, and Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson.
I reviewed Rewiring America on the blog, if you want a more in-depth look at it. In short, it’s a detailed plan on how to decarbonize the vast majority of the US economy by 2035. I think it would make a good subset of the Green New Deal, if we ever get one, but it largely sidesteps issues of environmental justice and corporate concentration in favor of being politically palatable.
I’m hoping to write a piece about Walkaway soon, but I think the most succinct way to describe it is as Atlas Shrugged but written by someone who has discovered that capitalism and state-based communism are both bad news. Shrugging and going walkaway both are in response to a government and society that are hostile to the protagonists, leaving them the option to opt out of the default society. For those of you who have read Atlas Shrugged, there is no 100 page philosophical speech or significant narrative left turn in the back third of Walkaway. The time jumps between sections of the book were queued well, so I wasn’t left confused like I have been in some books that used this technique.
Altered Traits was recommended to me since I’ve been trying (and mostly failing) to build a habit of meditating. It details the scientific research into meditation and the effects it has on the brain. As someone with a scientific background, it’s always nice to see that there are measurable data to back up the anecdotal evidence that a particular thing is beneficial. Biological systems tend to be messy, so there are bigger error bars than you might see in physics, but the trends back up the general consensus that more meditative practice means more mental health benefits. Some of the effects even start kicking in pretty early for some practices. The book did a great job of describing how different types of meditation exercise different parts of your brain, so now I have a better idea of what kind of meditation to do if I want to boost concentration or combat negative feelings associated with depression. If you are interested in meditation or neurology, I’d definitely recommend giving it a read.
On the audiobook front, I have been relistening to The Stormlight Archive books by Brandon Sanderson. The fourth book in the series, Rhythm of War is coming out in November, so it’s a good time to catch up on what’s happened so far. These books are epic fantasy, so the first three clock in at 42, 48, and 55 hours of audio! I also was listening along with the Year of Dresden reread this year, and the newest book, Battle Ground, just came out on Tuesday! The Dresden Files is urban fantasy if you haven’t run across it before, so it’s a little lighter fare than the doorstoppers Sanderson writes. If you’re looking for a noire-esque wizard detective trying to get by in the modern world, you should give them a try!
If you want to get a free audiobook, I did recently get a referral code for Libro.fm, which is an audiobook merchant that works with local bookstores so they aren’t cut out of the audiobook market like they are with Audible. If you want to support Cory Doctorow’s work to fight DRM and Audible’s overwhelming market power in the audiobook industry, I suggest you checkout the Kickstarter for his upcoming book, Attack Surface. The Kickstarter ends on Thursday, October 8, 2020 at midnight.
What have you been reading/listening to lately? Anything that seemed particularly solarpunk, or just some good old fashioned escapism?
FYI – There are some affiliate links in the article there, so I may get a small referral fee if you purchase something through them.
Saul Griffith wants to point out something that we in the science and engineering community have known for awhile: we already have the technology to solve climate change, we just lack the political will. Griffith’s new book, Rewiring America, is a deep dive into one course of action that would eliminate most fossil fuels from the American economy by 2035 and save households bundles of cash in the process.
I started engineering school in 2005, and while there was a growing amount of research into alternative energy at the time, we already had a pretty good idea of what would be needed to transition our economy away from carbon-heavy resources: electrify everything. Fifteen years later, the costs of solar, wind, and electric vehicle technologies have fallen exponentially. The best time to start investing in electrifying everything was during the 70s oil crisis. The next best time is now. As atmospheric carbon concentrations grow, we need to accelerate our efforts to decarbonize. Griffith and OtherLab‘s extensive analysis of US energy distribution shows the gains that can be made quickly by electrification.
One thing often ignored by opponents of climate action, but thoroughly explored in Rewiring America, is that electric motors and generation systems have a much higher overall efficiency than systems dependent on fossil fuels. Just by switching our current lifestyle to all electric, our overall energy consumption would drop by half in the United States.
Most of my quibbles with this book are because I’m not the target audience of the book. I don’t need convincing that climate change is serious and that we have to do something about it. I’m incredulous about Griffith’s claims that we don’t have to change our lifestyle or his handwaving with regard to the availability of certain critical materials, but Griffith is trying to reach out to the people on the fence who’ve been told by deniers that climate change is either a hoax or is too expensive to tackle. These climate delayers are a bigger problem than climate deniers, since the vehement denial of climate change is coming from a very small segment of the population. Most people agree that there is a problem, but don’t want to take action because they don’t believe it will affect them personally. Griffith skirts around equity and monopoly power while pouring on a heavy coating of patriotism to appeal to this audience that is on the fence about taking action on climate change.
One of the least appealing parts of the book was the incessant call for a war effort and lauding American exceptionalism. Griffith certainly isn’t the first to use this language, but it is getting a little old, not just for me. The book is US-centric, with only occasional references to what could happen worldwide, but we’re also the only country with a major political party that denies the science of climate change. We need this book more than anyone else right now.
Most people want the same basic things, but in the current polarized political environment we don’t even speak the same language. I think Griffith is doing a good job of trying to bridge this gap by focusing on the no-compromises parts of the energy transition: cleaner air, quieter cities, and more comfortable living. As a solarpunk, I don’t think we can ignore the equity or the structural problems that lead to the climate crisis to begin with, but Griffith’s plan gives us a starting point to have an honest conversation about climate action.
Have you read Rewiring America? Do you think it has the potential to kick people off the sidelines of climate action?