I read a lot of stories about climate this month. Stories that are hopeful, mournful, and rageful in turn. I also read stories about the joy of looking at and being a part of nature, and of looking up towards the wide open sky and all its stars.
I’ve been trying to read outside more, but its either too hot or thunder-storming, both in historic intensity. The lichen spots on the stone outside creep along as always, and I’ve been sure to set out water for birds to bathe in and insects to drink from; small, important things.
The Stone Wētā by Octavia Cade – Women scientists across the globe operate under the names of flora and fauna they seek to protect, as they hide and pass on climate data under a regime on a near-future Earth where conducting truthful science can result in death. I truly can not get over the structure of this novel, where each chapter focuses on a climate operative and the plant or lichen or animal she takes her code name from. Interspersed between facts about the organism is the narrative of each woman’s work as an operative, what drove her to protect climate data, and the way her behaviors mirror that of her chosen code name. Its a brilliant and thrilling way to weave the narrative, making it clear what drives the characters, and the way ecosystems, animals and plants and people, are interconnected.
In May I read These Lifeless Things by Premee Mohamed, and among all the chilling scenes of that novella, the fate of the International Space Station has haunted me these last few months. The International Space Station also makes a haunting appearance in The Stone Wētā, and I’m now trying to recover from both scenarios. This paragraph is not so much a review as me reckoning with how much I care about the ISS, which is not something I realized was as important to me as it is. Other things that I am endeared to: lichens. Stories that have devastated me: These Lifeless Things, The Stone Wētā.
To return solely to The Stone Wētā: A thing I struggle with in both reading and writing climate fiction is that it is such a dire and imminent threat, and fiction frequently can not fully reckon with it. Much of the climate fiction I’ve read is utterly defeatist (understandable, sometimes), working on the assumption of utter ruin. Others stop right before what would be the climax in a three-act structure, because we are all of us on the precipice and it is so hard to see ahead. But Dr. Cade both resists and incorporates the singularity of these two outlooks. The Stone Wētā acknowledges the ruin that has already come – the loss of biodiversity, of habitat, of people – and the ruin that is yet to come. It acknowledges that many are in the process of acting, the final wind up before the leap. It acknowledges that there are many already fighting, that there is hope, and there is grief, and there is violence, and there is reaching out to one another, and that all of these are necessary tactics, necessary presents and futures. Much as this was a devastating read, it was also a strengthening one.
Birding With My Human by Sylvia Heike in Nature Futures – A human and her robot go birding, and the robot experiences what birding is like from human eyes. A thoughtful and charming story. I love stories about robots getting a glimpse of what it means to be human, and this story treads new ground in the genre, with something as simple and spectacular as birdwatching being the point of exploration of humanity. Heike’s descriptions of birding from both human and robot eyes are fantastic, and I love the humor of the robot trying to figure out what little brown bird it has spotted, an endeavor any person who watches birds has undergone. A truly lovely story about birdwatching, and what it means to be a perfectly imperfect human.
I’ve been slowly working my way through the stories and poems of Issue 5 of Hexagon. I’ve only read through the first three pieces of the issue so far, and they’ve all been stunning:
Dust of Red by Emily Blue – A woman wanders across a ruined and dust-choked landscape, attempting to make it to the Rocky Mountains before the rains come and drown the field of dust. Yet something pursues her across the dry plains. I love stories where the main bulk of the action is just traversing hostile landscapes, and Blue expertly describes the surroundings Basil drags herself through, enough that you can almost taste the dust on your lips. The story ends with a twist that I didn’t see coming at all, but after reading seems of course the only potentiality in a landscape so parched and dry.
Shadow of the Ziggurat by Isobel Mackenzie – A bricklayer and a master carver go to build the king’s ziggurat. They think about the future, and the stars, and who will remember them in the shadow of the ziggurat. A fun setting, of master artisans and radio waves, and yearning for the stars. I enjoy the slice of life feel of this story, the leisurely pace, and the tender moments between the bricklayer and Leta.
Always Finds a Way by Sadie Maskery – The world ends, but lichen remains, waiting for the perfect moment to propagate. All things die, but this is not a negative, because life springs from death. Gotta love a piece that plays with the delicacy and tenacity of lichens, and pushes it to a wondrous extreme. An absolute delight of a poem.