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.
“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.
What’s your own relationship to the earth like?
GL: I grew up in a village in South Africa and was lucky enough to be outdoors a lot when I was a child. I lived on a farm for a year when I was about eight, one of the best years of my childhood. At the time, I was just living it and not thinking about it, but I appreciate it now.
Later, I worked in the Karoo, a semi-desert, counting plants for a botany lecturer during three of my summer holidays, and that’s when I discovered a conscious love of the earth. I enjoy cycling touring and find that a few weeks of cycling and camping is one of the best ways for me to connect to nature.
At the moment, I do feel that my daily life needs more contact with nature. I would love to live in the countryside, but also love people and would find it hard to be too remote for too long.
To sum it up, I love the earth, feel connected to it, and am distressed at what’s happening to it at the moment.
What do you think is fiction’s (or poetry’s) role in changing minds, making people think and feel differently? Do writers have a responsibility to engage creatively with humanity’s problems or encourage their readers to do so? (If it helps, consider Paolo Bacigalupi’s answer to this in his recent Grist interview.)
GL: I wouldn’t set out intentionally to write about anything specific. I don’t believe in putting deliberate lessons into a story. Having said that, as mentioned in the question above, the way I write is to try an idea and then see if it sticks. Hopefully, if a topic engages you in your life, it will come out in your writing.
I do think there is a need to get people interested in what’s happening in the world, but anything direct might be better as non-fiction. I think fiction has a better chance of working if people absorb it indirectly, and people are pretty quick to sniff out a deliberate attempt to lecture them. The flip side of this is that readers may be moved by something, but it will not necessarily change their habits as a result.
I do think a lot of people are concerned about the environment, but perhaps don’t know practically what to do. I think we need to develop a shared ethics about the environment. There are practical things people can do, like giving up red meat, which could have a major impact on climate change.
Is humanity doomed?
GL: I’d like to say not, but given the statistics, things aren’t looking great at the moment. I don’t think people are moving fast enough. There is this odd ‘stick your head in the sand’ attitude. I don’t think people are to blame; it’s partly human nature and our inability to really believe in long term effects – like facing death or giving up smoking. I think a lot of people find it almost impossible to believe that the place where they live will be underwater or that they might run out of food. Although this is already happening in places, many people are perhaps too remote from it. There’s also the collective action problem: why should I do something if nobody else is?
I recently read that the closer people are to the environment and the poorer they are, the more concern they have for it, which makes a lot of sense to me. In parts of the world, we are cushioned by consumer habits and we’ve created this disconnect between what we are doing and its effects on ourselves and others.
I think if people could be directly in touch with nature, it would help them to connect. I do think that a bond with nature is something that is developed through living in it. At the same time, if too many people go into the wilderness, it will be destroyed.
The other problem, of course, is the concentrating power of global corporations who are uninterested in the effects their actions are having, and political parties with short-term interests. In the recent UK election, even the Green Party hardly mentioned the environment in the main TV debate; a terrible oversight – but possibly deliberate as it was not considered an important enough issue to win voters with.
Real climate change does require an overhaul of the global economic growth model, which threatens the current balance of power.
On the plus side, there are activists who are fighting these battles and, while change does seem overwhelming, I don’t think it’s impossible. I read an article recently (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun) and like its point about developing a positive alternative, instead of simply criticizing existing policy. I hope this is possible, but I’m not convinced because of vested interests.
Of course you could say that humanity might disappear and the planet will remain, but I hope it doesn’t work out that way. One of the things that makes people so lovable and interesting is their strange contradictions; although this can also cause violence and destruction. But we are part of the diverse natural world and I hope we can find our place in it.
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet No. 33, a theme issue about humanity’s relationship with the earth guest edited by me, is available in 30% recycled dead tree form from Small Beer Press and indie bookstores near you. The ebook version is at Weightless Books.