Green Dreams

Solarpunk, anyone?

Visions of Futures-Past

One of the things I love most about being a fiction writer is that I get to explore other worlds; the depths are limited only by my imagination. Of course, my imagination is driven largely by my real life interests, and these shift and change over the years as I grow older and <ahem> wiser.

My first novel, The Timekeepers’ War (Bedlam Press, 2014) is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland known only as The City. When I first started writing this book–in a Starbucks coffee shop outside the Staples store I worked as a cashier–in 2003, the world was loving the sexy hi-tech futures of movies like The Matrix and Minority Report. I was fascinated by a darker vision, though. What if we’re hovering on the brink of the end of the world?

Post-Apocalyptic Nightmares

These questions gave rise to The City, the vast and sprawling skeleton of a once-great metropolis much like those futuristic worlds that pop culture was swimming with at the time. Centuries of brutal civil wars and an unforgiving climate have made life on the surface of The City next to impossible. The elite classes long migrated to the Ursaarian Empire–a safe-haven of towers and bridges strung up far above the ground level. My main characters–Ghost and Lynch–struggle to navigate the anarchic “rules” of life on the surface while trying to bring down the oppressive regime that keeps them there. With the help of The Timekeepers–an enigmatic group of scholars who seem to know more about The City and its past than it should be possible to know–they plot another war.

At the time that I started writing The Timekeepers’ War I was a broke student, mulling over ideas about class systems, extreme poverty, life on the fringes, and of course, the looming threat of global warming. This is the primordial ooze that birthed The City, and they are still questions that linger in my mind.

It’s no coincidence, I think, that around this same time post-apocalyptic fiction had a kind of Renaissance. Zombie movies burst onto the scene, obliterating sparkly vampires in their flesh-eating wake, with 28 Days Later (2002), Resident Evil (2002), Dawn of the Dead (2004), and its comedy counter-part Shaun of the Dead (2004) gave rise–pardon the pun–to the insanely popular Walking Dead series (2010-…). Even without zombies, futurescapes took a turn for the bleak with Children of Men (2006), I am Legend (2007), and The Road (2009).

I’d love to claim I was ahead of the curve, with my finger on the pulse of the world zeitgeist, when I started writing The Timekeepers’ War. Really, it just goes to show you how everyone was starting to get a bit nervous about the way the world was going in the early 2000s. Now that I’m writing Book Two in The Timekeepers Trilogy, I’m noticing another shift in pop-culture narratives. I noticed it in my own writing first.

SolarPunk Dreams

I wrote about the rise of the SF sub-genre, solarpunk, here. At first I was thinking about the importance of positivity in fictional futures when the reality of our impact on the environment is looming large on our consciences. Science Fiction has the power to make people see possibilities–dark or hopeful–and envision the world as it could be. When we think about all of the various ways we consume fictional media–in books and movies, digital photography, fantasy art, even music like Janelle Monae’s ArchAndroid concept album–it becomes undeniable that the future is a part of how we experience NOW.

Predictive Pasts

We are influenced by our own visions of the future. Throughout human history, people have been turning fictional dreams into reality. In 1865, for example, Jules Verne wrote From Earth to the Moon which, in retrospect, is eerily similar to the real moon landing in 1969. The food replicators envisioned for the “Star Trek” series’ has become a reality with the advent of 3D printing technology, which can replicate using anything from plastic, metal, and glass, to the bio-printing of skin tissues for medical purposes.

Check out Science Alert‘s “15 Wild SF Predictions About Future Technology That Actually Came True” for more examples. Or do a quick google search for other historical predictions that weren’t quite as crazy as people once thought they were. The barrier between reality and make-believe is tenuous indeed. How much of modern technology was inspired by the over-active imaginations of our favourite SF thinkers over the years?

Green Dreams

In Book Two of The Timekeepers Trilogy, I am exploring some exiting new developments in The City. Now that the oppressive Ursaarian Empire has fallen, the Timekeepers are on a mission to rebuild. It’s a whole new world to Ghost, who has known nothing but underground tunnels and surface-side ruins for her whole life. With the Timekeepers in charge, she explores huge glass-domed neighbourhoods and towering greenhouses alongside solar-powered manufacturing sectors. It seems like a perfect world. But how much freedom is she willing to give up for the safety of a future with the Timekeepers? The shifting political landscape reveals that there is always a price to pay for security.

The Fictional Gardener

In the past few years, since moving to a property with a large vegetable plot, I have become very interested in different methods of gardening. Learning how to work with the environment in order to develop fertile earth without chemical intervention is a fascinating process. A large-scale shift away from traditional farming practices has changed our local agricultural landscape, and there are some amazing experiments going on in permaculture techniques.

I’m dipping my toes into the future of agriculture in this novel, but it’s really whet my appetite for further exploration of the SolarPunk genre. I don’t do hard SF, so don’t expect any detailed schematics on how any of my fictional greenhouses work. But I can’t wait to share with you some of the visions for the future I have, and to shine a little light into the darkness of The City.

Don’t worry, I’m not going fluffy on you. There is plenty not-right about this optimistic new regime. And as Ghost knows, there is always something lurking beneath the surface…

Share Your Dreams and Nightmares

What have some of your favourite depictions of fictional futures been? Give me the dark, the light, and the terrifying! Have you read any SolarPunk? Who are you favourite architects and concept artists dealing with the futuristic green spaces and agriculture? I’d love to hear from you!

SF Art Review: Julian Rosefeldt’s “Manifesto” at MAC

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I was in Montreal in October and visited the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC). As much as I love art galleries and museums, I didn’t anticipate seeing an exhibition that I felt worthy of a blog review; art and science fiction don’t often cross paths in my experience. But fortune favoured us. We stumbled upon “Manifesto” (2015),  an experimental art/film series by Julian Rosefeldt.

I confess to not knowing who Rosefeldt was before viewing the exhibit. However, I will not soon be forgetting the name. This 13 part film installation shook me. I have never had such a visceral reaction to a piece of art before, and that in itself was memorable. But the content of the films stuck with me, and I found myself mulling over the imagery and dialogue for weeks afterward.

The star of “Manifesto” is the instantly recognizable Australian actress, Cate Blanchett, who plays 13 different characters in 13 separate short films in which she delivers magnificent monologues made up of snippets of artists’ statements from the past 100 years. I know, the description sounds bizarre, but it really works. Each scene and character seem to embody a particular art movement, from Dadaism to Abstract Expressionism to Futurism.

The exhibit itself is a darkened theater, and you walk in to see a huge screen with a firecracker burning in slow motion while Blanchett begins the titular “Manifesto”. As you move further into the theatre room, you see twelve different screens set up around the room, each at slightly different angles to one another, so that you are only ever standing directly in front of one screen. Blanchett is on every one of them, working her way through some everyday situation while continuing the Manifesto.

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The films are playing simultatiously, so that each monologue creates a kind of dialogue between artists. The most powerful part of the exhibit are the moments when Blanchette’s characters each deliver their monolgues in a monotone at a different pitch. The films are timed so that the monotone segments all play at the same time. So you’ll be immersed in one particular film when all of a sudden these other voices swell up around you and the sound is so surreal and all encompassing that you feel like you are there, or like the film has come off the screen and surrounded you. The first time it happened I physically felt it over my whole body. As I said before, it was not an experience I’ll soon forget.

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So what does this have to do with Science Fiction? Maybe not much. Except some of the films themselves had SF vibes to them. Situationalism felt post-apocalyptic, and Constructivism is a kind of nostalgic mod-SF feel. Ironically, Futurism was depicted by a stock broker on Wall Street.

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And in a way, the conversations that these montages of manifestos were having, in the words of artists over a 100 year span, had a kind of science fiction-esque aura about it, too. One of my favourite parts of science fiction literature is how hilariously it “dates” itself in terms of how quickly our cultural visions of the future evolve. Those disparities stand out and funny, embarrassing almost, as we get to experience first hand the naivety of our cultural imaginations. It’s an uncomfortable reminder of how clueless we really are about our current world and future prospects, no matter how sure of ourselves and our lives we think we are.

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Here were all of these artists, the voices of their times and cultures, speaking about art and particularly, the future of art. And what I noticed, rather than the disparities between past and present ideas of what art is and what art should be, were the similarities. There was a distinct shift in the conversations as we watched how the artists expectations for the future actually did affect the evolution of culture and art. And it didn’t matter what order you watched the films in, it would be the same. Past and future artists seemed to support one another and speak with one voice about what art is.  As past molded future, so too did the future seem to shape the past–or our experience of it, at least.

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And I began to think about Science Fiction. If you’ve read SF for a while, you’ve likely experienced moments where you realize that you are currently living in the time that some of your favourite SF writers were writing about. Noticing how they got it right or wrong can be entertaining and, sometimes, eerie. The genre does become a kind of dialogue between the past and future.

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It often amuses me how similar the themes of retro SF can be with modern writing, and how different they look once the mask of cultural expectations is applied. And they’re all right! That’s the best part. Even if we make mistakes in our visions of the future, what we are saying about ourselves with that vision is true. This is why I continuously surprised myself by thinking “I agree” with one artist’s views and then turning around to also agree with the opposing view of another, within a span of about 15 min. Either that, or I’m just really susceptible to well delivered arguments, haha.

Anyway, I had wanted to write about this and tell you guys my half-formed thoughts on the matter. And I promised myself I’d be more disciplined with posting here. So there it is. Has anyone else seen it? Or seen the trailer and wondered about it? I think each of the individual films is available on Julian Rosefeldt’s website HERE. Check them out and talk to me!

Thanks for reading if you made it this far…