In a time of troubles aggravated by human malware at a global scale revealing the cracks in our fragile reality we find ourselves taking a journey through a very near what could be with Octavia Butler. A staple of science fiction since the late 80s, Butler's Parable of the Sower sets itself in the here and now as imagined from nearly thirty years ago. The story is almost too close to reality to remain fiction in our upended world. The book certainly pulls no punches and I often found myself only managing to read a few pages before needed a break to real from the series of blows. Suburban enclaves carving out a semi agrarian society established on the shakey alliances of begrudging neighbors set the stage for a world burning down. Everyone clings to 'normal' or the old ways of scraping together enough bread to make it another day, just as long as nothing upsets the fragile balance of false security and raising tensions. The future is bleak, but for the young, who only know uncertainty, there is a possibility. There is no attachment to the old normal, now is normal, all you can do is live in the now and carve a space to have a better future.
I started this writeup three weeks ago, got distracted and buried in the day-to-day as well as other hobbies. It is time to get it out there and cover all the fun side channels of our meeting set up by the dire and hopeful vibes of Parable of the Sower. At least it is still October :)
The illustrated version (for Joe) is available here.
One of the first things that stands out in my notes from our SkyFi virtual gathering is the question, "What would Butler think of this story now?" Are we headed for a reset, and would she see the current drama of the world and our country specifically as part of the slide (the Pox), or are we on the threshold. There was a lot of parallel in this story to the alternative futures presented in William Gibson's most recent books (The Periphery and Agency) as subtle shifts in the norm have rippling destructive or transformative effects on society. Instead of technology, Butler explores religion as a shared belief. Olamina's emerging belief is not in an external force or being but in the neverending presence of change. Change as the life force of the universe, and the resistance to entropy that keeps the gears turning. Embrace this change, prepare for the unexpected, and lean into uncertainty. It is a painful path, a path of suffering and instability, but an optimistic path, where change can be shaped and encouraged by the individual land the collective. The embrace of change leads to freedom. It is this acceptance of uncertainty that keeps Olamina from despair in the loss of her world.
The unnerving parallels between Parable and our current climate continue with the Pyros. Drug crazed anarchists bent on the destruction of the sick and dying world through fire and mayhem. California is burning, much like today. Drought and abuse of the land have created an environment ready for the Pyros to wreak their havoc and transform the suburban sprawl of barely hanging on American middle-class establishment into a fresh landscape for the new world. This is another aspect of the book that is exciting, even in the profound sorrow there exists an optimism. All things have their place in the god of change. Destruction leads to trauma, trauma to healing, and eventual to rebirth. The cycle of suffering and happiness is as eternal as change. The jarring question remains, "How much will burn?"
Onto the lighter parts of the evening. Good friends, good cheer, and maybe a couple of good whiskeys help to lighten the mood and drive us into our usual rampage of cultural influence.
UTOPIA on Amazon
"It's weird" and "I don't know truly whether I liked it or not" were the sentiments of the group. It seemed that people are digging Cusak though.
Ken Burns - The Dust Bowl
New Rose Hotel - https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0133122/
Another often maligned 90's film, David Fincher's Alien 3, which originally had a screenplay developed with William Gibson, emerged as a long topic of discussion. We felt that the movie gets a bad wrap, but its dystopic space prison settings and continued evolution of the Xenomorph was really on target with the franchise. There is nothing like an isolated, closed-off rats nest of tunnels to set the stage for alien horror and carnage.
There is even a 5 part comic book series of the Gibson screenplay (https://aiptcomics.com/2019/03/27/william-gibsons-alien-3-5-review/)
..a random walk from Asa Argento...
Alien Crystal Palace - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7254808/
This reminds me very much of the dramatization of Jeff Vandermeer's Annihilation. A possible future read for the group could even be his new children's book, A Peculiar Peril.
Two of VanderMeer's newer titles were on the list for the next book. We considered Borne and Dead Astronauts, but a fair number of the group has already read them and recommends them. So these will have to be extra credit assignments.
Not to be outdone on weirdness, we decided to really shift things up this time around and go with non-fiction (if there really is such a thing these days) and read Donna Haraway's, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Experimental Futures). After writing in the whole name I am thinking "non-fiction" might be a bit of a stretch here. I am excited to sink my teeth into it, once I can get back into a reading habit. I am starting to miss that daily subway time for crunching through a few pages.
Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene - Donna Haraway
A talk by Haraway: https://vimeo.com/97663518
I am planning to pair this up with the sequel to Sower, Parable of the Talents. Spolier, I have already started and it brings a whole new level of uncanny temporality. Let's just say that it would be a great irony if the "Make America Great Again" campaign were architected after a reading of Octavia Butler from a book published in 1998.
One of these days we plan to take another journey with Neil Stevenson and his (not so new anymore) book, Fall: or Dodge in Hell. It is on the table every meeting, but the page count is always a little too daunting.
Until next time, keep reading and stay weird.