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The LCRW 33 Interviews: Giselle Leeb

July 29th, 2015

Giselle Leeb’s stories have appeared in Bare Fiction, Mslexia, Riptide, and other publications. She grew up in South Africa and now lives in Nottingham, UK, where she works as a web developer when she is not writing. giselleleeb.cielo.net @gisellekleeb.

Giselle Leeb

“Ape Songs” is a story about a buried girl and a mechanical ape. My mother, who does not generally read SF but is a smart lady, was savvy enough to call it a mix of Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. I thought it was one of the weirder and more challenging stories I received; every time I read it I get something different out of it, and I’ve read it a lot. I find it blackly hilarious, though not without hope. But let’s find out what the author thinks.

What inspired you to write this piece?

GL: I was free writing about the environment and found myself writing, firstly, about the girl character in my story, and then, much later, about the Ape of the Earth. The Ape of the Earth had a certain momentum and I wove the stories together. I often write to themes, but only if they spark something off. Humanity’s relationship with the earth is something I think about every day and it naturally came out in the writing.

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Belated Readercon Recap: Towards a Literature of the Anthropocene

July 23rd, 2015

LCRW 33 in my mom's raspberry patch

LCRW 33 in my mom’s raspberry patch

One LCRW theme issue, two Readercon panels and a lot of hallway/bar/dealer’s room conversation (not to mention years of bumping around blindly alone in the dark), have only whetted my appetite for a much broader, sustained conversation about the promise and pitfalls of writing fiction in and about the anthropocene epoch. Don’t get me wrong–the panels were great (see previous post for titles/descriptions) and I even got to moderate one of them. But I confess I am not particularly good at steering discussion, especially not in person, in front of a crowd, with four smarter, more eloquent people all of whom have equally valid and quite distinct perspectives. And there just wasn’t enough time to cover it all. My fellow panelists laid out fascinating ideas, and I got a decent line in here and there, but we barely got into stuff I thought we could have spent a whole panel on, or two, or seven. And I had all these lovely panel notes I didn’t even get to!

One of my hall conversations afterward was with Emily Wagner, program chair, who I asked for more like that next year. “Propose panels,” she said, and I will. But I’m also going to do what I can to get people talking in the meantime.

To that end, I’ve convinced a few of the LCRW 33 contributors to field some questions about how they apply these ideas in their own work. I’ll be posting those interviews here over the next couple weeks, and doing a few interviews myself elsewhere (here’s one with the UK-based Nottingham Writers’ Society).

First, though, I thought I’d recap the Readercon discussion for those who missed it (insofar as I remember it), share some of those notes I haven’t yet managed to get the good out of, and lay out the directions in which I think this conversation needs to go.

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LCRW 33 Contents

June 25th, 2015

lcrw33cover

It is done! And I am very happy.

fiction

Carmen Maria Machado, “I Bury Myself”
Alena McNamara, “Starling Road”
Giselle Leeb, “Ape Songs”
Michelle Vider, “For Me, Seek the Sun”
Deborah Walker, “Medea”
D. K. McCutchen, “Jellyfish Dreaming”
Sofia Samatar, “Request for an Extension on the Clarity”
M. E. Garber, “Putting Down Roots”
Eric Gregory, “The March Wind”

nonfiction

Christopher Brown, “Winter in the Feral City”
Nicole Kimberling, “Cook Like a Hobo”

poetry

Leslie Wightman, “The Sanctity of Nature”
Ingrid Steblea, “Another Afternoon in the Garden”
Kelda Crich, “Child Without Summer”
Peter Jay Shippy, “Singing Beach”

art

Kevin Huizenga
Dmitry Borshch
Steve Logan

What a mind-altering thing this has been for me. You know how, in this modern age, you look at social media and you only see what you want to see, from people you agree with, or at the most, you see stuff people you agree with are making fun of or eviscerating? Because that’s how the algorithms are designed to work, they’re these feedback loops trying as hard as they can to keep you coming back. Or maybe you look at TV, but your preferred stations and talking heads are doing basically the same thing, they’re narrowing down, they’re telling you what they want you to hear and only that. And of course, because everybody’s competing with everybody else for that privilege and for your attention, they simplify, dumb down, hyperbolize. And okay, maybe you go out into the world and interact with actual people, but disagreeing over drinks or a game of croquet just isn’t polite conversation, you don’t want to hear it from them any more than they want to hear it from you. Life as a process of polarization. It’s the virgin forest and the oil refinery and nothing in between.

Well, reading submissions for this issue has been the opposite of all that. It’s been open and organic and worldview-shakingly diverse, and it has been a balm. I feel like I’m seeing this thing, us and the world, in so much more relief and nuance than I ever was before.

I don’t know if it’ll feel the same for all of you who read it; you’re not vested in it in quite the same way; you’re not seeing yourself in it like I am. Seeing myself in the work of 250 or so writers, poets and artists, picking out the best of those, the ones that touch and cut at me and break me open. And then reading them all again, being forced by practicality and circumstance to pick out even fewer, then fewer still. And then arranging those in order, not unlike the way one arranges the scenes in a story, for all these other people to take in. What a thing.

Maybe it won’t be the same for you when you read it. But I hope it will. Because we all need that.

The issue will be out in print and ebook form in time for Readercon, at which there will with any luck be a small group reading from those contributors who happen to be in town. Later there will be a podcast episode. More about all that later. In the meantime, why not subscribe to Lady Churchill’s, get your copy and some delicious chocolate in the bargain.

A happy if belated solstice to you all.

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The Cairn War

May 1st, 2015

In my local woods, there are cairns: rock towers, more or less precariously or painstakingly balanced, maintained by passing hikers. I’m one of those maintainers. The others, if I had to guess, are a hippie couple I’ve passed once or twice on the trail, long hair, long beard, hemp clothes. I was like them once.

100_1056 (1)

The cairns follow a cycle, or so I subjectively perceive. Like the woods, they change with the seasons. They grow slowly, if at all, through most of the year. If a storm or a careless mountain biker knocks a stone awry, we maintainers will replace it. But come the end of winter there’s always an explosion of effort. I think this has to do with the melting snow, the thawing, the anticipation. There’s not much to do in the woods at the end of winter except slip on an ice patch and fall in the mud. And raise cairns. So: around March, I find new stone towers appearing where none were before. Who’s doing this, I wonder. What does it mean?

I’ve known about cairns forever. In the northeast they’re more common–if for no other reason, then because there are more rocks. Glacial processes, treeless mountain ridges over which the AT passes and there’s no place to paint the white blaze where it will stick up out of the snow, there’s always rocks. It’s practical. Less so in Michigan, where there’s nothing above treeline and you might actually have to walk ten paces to find a rock bigger than a fist.

IMG_1300 (1)

I didn’t become aware of cairning as an ancient human cultural institution, a ritual practice, until steph explained it to me at one of her solstice parties in Western Mass.

When Spring comes to my local woods, somebody knocks down all the cairns. Every year. The new ones and the old ones. Because I’m a lonely pseudopagan in a christian country, because I’m cynical, I assume this is an act of malice. I assume the hunters who spend all winter filling my woods with shotgun casings and beer cans for me to clean up look at my (our) cairns and see paganism, see some kind of threat. I have no evidence for this. But because I spend so much time spoiling for a fight about how yes, climate change is real and no, god didn’t give us dominion over nature so we could pave it, that’s what I see. And for a little while, it makes me sad.

Then I remember that building and rebuilding the cairns is part of the point. It’s a process, an interaction. Nothing lasts forever. We tend our gardens, they tend us. And we tend each other. As steph says:

We have created physical evidence of passing this way; and less tangibly we have left our marks upon each other – bits of spirit inspiring compelling turning and calling us on, always with the invitation to return.

So I rebuild them.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Happy May Day.

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Progressive Fiction

April 3rd, 2015

(what is it good for? pissing people off
making pissed off people feel better)

I have an idea for a journal of environmental justice fiction. Will I follow through with it? Time will tell, wiser heads will tell against it. Tentative title, Reckoning: a word that means variously figuring out where one is, charting a course ahead, and settling accounts for decisions made in getting here. Also a Grateful Dead reference.

When I awoke, the Dire Wolf
Six hundred pounds of sin
Was grinning at my window
All I said was “come on in”

Environmental justice? It’s where social justice and climate/environmental activism intersect. Indigenous peoples comprise only 6% of the world’s population and contribute basically not at all to climate change but suffer its effects in absurd disproportion; they also do an absurd disproportion of the work to try to stop it. Among industrialized peoples, meanwhile, access to natural resources tends to be a privilege of the rich, polarizing the demographics of climate activism over the long term–another devastating effect of institutional oppression. I grew up hiking, camping, traveling to national parks; I love nature and want to protect it. I grew up with limited access to people of other cultures and backgrounds; I had trouble understanding everything that meant, and I have to work at it constantly.

Indigenous protesters at Iximche on the eve of 13 Baktun
Indigenous protesters at Iximche on the eve of 13 Baktun

More and more, environmental justice seems to me the best way to come at climate activism, because it’s about people. People are part of nature, it’s meaningless without them, people will make or break it.

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Gene Wolfe

August 13th, 2014

All of us from that time grew up with the feeling that you shouldn’t waste anything: you don’t waste rags, because rags can be useful.

–Gene Wolfe on the Depression, from this excellent interview shared with me by Justin Howe, reader of everything. Not a new sentiment–my grandparents were living evidence of this–but a universal one. Perennial. I can only hope the kids of the next generation grow up with this inscribed on their hearts/souls/skulls. Those of the current one certainly didn’t. Lately it seems chances are high it’s going to kill us.

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Review: Sherwood Nation, Benjamin Parzybok

July 15th, 2014

Preorder <i>Sherwood Nation</i> from Small Beer Press

In a Pacific Northwest beset by hourly more plausible, climate change induced desertification, the city of Portland struggles under strict water and power rationing, while the government and the rich glut themselves on hoarded resources. A plucky group of rebels arises to oppose them in the name of the people, annexing the poor Northeast neighborhood to create a tiny utopian state within city limits. Idealism, triumph, smashed idealism and tragedy ensue, along with a healthy share of the soulstring-resonatingly surreal.

“…You’d need a mask and a horse, obviously.”

“Mm, spurs.”

An eerie clop clop clop sounded through the open window and they looked at each other in amazement.

“A horse!” she said. “You’re a conjurer!”

But instead it was a big moose that stumbled along the dusty street, its skin tight over its ribs. Its head jerked left and right in anxious, almost animatronic movements.

“Oh no,” Renee said, “I fucking hate this. Josh saw a bear two days ago—I told you?”

They watched it continue down the street until a shot rang out. The moose’s body jerked and sidestepped strangely and then there was another shot.

“That’s a whole shit ton of extra food rations if they can store it,” Zach said as they watched men close in on it. “God knows how they’ll store it.” The moose stumbled again on a third shot but continued on.

“They’ve got to get a straight shot in.”

“I can’t watch,” Renee said. She climbed back in bed and spoke to Zach’s shirtless back as he watched the moose fall and the hunters try to drag the animal to the side of the road. “Hunters in the streets.”

“Dying of thirst has got to be worse,” Zach said.

Benjamin Parzybok’s Sherwood Nation is the sort of SF novel I’ve been waiting for someone to write, wishing I could write: a near-future utopian political adventure romp thought experiment. By page 50 I was crying and cheering. These are not common reactions for me when reading fiction; I wish they were. Now I’m waiting for someone to write the next one, while I struggle to do the same. Here’s hoping it be you.

It’s not nostalgic–no laser blasters, no spaceships with batwings and 50s car fins. It’s not escapist. No, okay, it’s escapist–dare I say all fiction is–but it escapes to something rather than from it? It’s not grimdark, where the escapism comes from reveling in hopelessness, forcing you to roll in hopelessness like a bully mashing your face in the mud so when you look up at the real world it briefly–falsely–looks less shitty. It’s realistic, it’s honest. It’s fun. It’s as fun as Parzybok’s first novel, Couch, which is saying a lot, and somehow it manages to be almost as silly even while realistic, sympathetic, human characters are making horrible decisions and getting killed. It’s full of heroic characters I can actually believe in, I can almost believe myself and the people I love capable of being like, in the right circumstances, under great pressure. And it puts those plausible heroes in a setting enough like our own that the hard solutions they find just might apply to the real world. And that is something we need. Something I don’t see SF or literary mainstream fiction or anything in between providing.

Parzybok manages to make it feel effortless, spontaneous and painstakingly well thought out at the same time.

It’s not perfect. Sometimes Sherwood Nation gets caught up in its own myth and falls into wish-fulfillment. But it’s not often. As often, we’re shown the kind of horrors a Fox News pessimist might imagine of a dictatorial/socialist utopia. And as in every other post-apocalypse setting I can think of, there’s handwaving. The question of where the water comes from, the long view of a droughted state, fades away for most of the book. But the focus is on the social and political aspects of revolution, people getting caught up in ideas, people resorting to each other in ways they don’t, can’t, in other than extraordinary circumstances. All Parzybok’s really clever ideas for surviving water shortage and living with power shortage on a citywide scale may be considered to take the place of SF wow-factor trappings in a more traditional postapocalyptic novel–I think of Bacigalupi’s spring guns and engineered elephants. They’re cool, they fit the setting, they inspire–and in so doing set the stage for the radical choices that drive the plot–they’re not the story. But unlike in Windup Girl, really unlike in anybody else’s SF I can think of, Parzybok’s wow-factor trappings are actually practicable, now, to actual beneficial result for the individual and the potential future of humanity. And for me, at least, and for us climate geeks who are the likely target audience, that plausibility does absolutely nothing to reduce the wow-factor itself.

I confess I love everything Parzybok has ever written. I know he’s not for everybody. But I’d argue Sherwood Nation is also the most accessible thing he’s written. So…if you’re anything like me…give it a try, won’t you?

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Is it time yet?

April 22nd, 2014

Is it time?
Okay, yes, this is just me measuring soil temperature to see if it’s time to hunt morels (not yet!) but I think it gets the point across.

Wikipedia says Earth Day is celebrated in 192 countries. Where? By who?

This week’s Cosmos episode was about how we probably would have all died of lead poisoning if somebody hadn’t convinced the corporations…or wait, not convinced…forced the corporations to accept that the absurd lead levels in the atmosphere were their fault and were likely to kill everybody if things went on as they were. Fascinating. It took 20 years between when Clair Patterson pointed this out and when enough people accepted it to actually do something. That happened in 1984, when I was five. This–2014–was the first I’d heard of it.

Why is this not a common cautionary tale, like the bomb?

Seems to me the science about global warming has been in since at least 1991. If we consider Wallace Smith Broecker to be global warming’s Clair Patterson, the science has been in since 1975. When I was negative five. Which would make the year we were supposed to have done something about it 1995.

How long is it going to fucking take?

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Bamboo Phone Case

November 14th, 2013

These people offered me a free phone case if I reviewed it. At first I figured they were spammers. Then my lovely Snugg iPhone 5 Real Bamboo Wood Case came in the mail. Figured I’d better hold up my end.

bamboo phone case

The case fits snugly, with no forcing required and no wiggle room, unlike either of the last two cases I’ve used (likely because they were cheap–you get what you pay for, it seems, unless you write a review afterwards). There’s a thin layer of something velvety on the inside to facilitate sliding. The two halves fit together leaving a thin, visible seam I soon forget to be annoyed by. In the hand It feels substantial, real, and quickly becomes familiar: a cross between a cutting board and a speaker case.

Unlike my last case, this one leaves the buttons uncovered; I am pleasantly surprised to rediscover how responsive they are when not encased in glossed rubber. Holes drilled in the wood to accommodate buttons and ports are correctly placed and centered; perhaps my only real complaint about the whole thing is that, as with many, many other cases, the hole for the headphone jack isn’t wide enough to admit any of the myriad of mini stereo connectors I possess other than the one for my headphones. Unlike all those other cases, it seems not impossible that I might widen the hole in this one with an appropriately sized drill bit.

The best thing about it is that it’s not plastic. A living thing was destroyed to make this, but a living thing that will grow back, quite quickly as I understand bamboo, and it’ll sequester a little carbon in the process. Sustainable materials! At least if it’s done right. And when Apple inevitably makes the form factor obsolete in their fruitless quest for perpetual newness and I must leave this case by the wayside, it will obligingly decompose into organic matter, as opposed to merely breaking up into smaller and smaller nurdles over centuries as it passes through the digestive tracts of birds and fish that might otherwise have felt inclined to take part in the food chain.

Update: My phone gave me a splinter. I like it even more now.

Update 2: I dropped it, from a height of maybe 4 feet, and it split in three places, in such a way as to make gluing pointless, though I tried anyway. Cutting bamboo that thin has its drawbacks, apparently.

I really liked this case. Guess I get what I pay for. I used it for kindling, so at least it’s not clogging any landfills.

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Sleeping Bear

May 29th, 2013

Sleeping Bear Dunes

I spent the weekend at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and have returned with the resurgent impression that it would be more fulfilling and about a million times more effective if I laid off writing fiction and computer code and became an angry environmentalist full time. At this moment I literally would rather sit around watching my garden grow than struggle with some story that progresses at an equally glacial pace towards far less bountiful fruition. Nothing I make will be as beautiful as that which no hand hath made. Were all I’ve made to disappear, who would care?

This is not meant to be bleak or mopy. On the contrary. Thank God there is still something other than the internet.

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