That’s what debut author Lydia Millet gives us in Pills and Starships, an engaging epistolary novel that’s part science fiction and part cautionary tale. It features Nat, a bright if detached 17-year-old girl living as one of the privileged few a couple of decades after the “tipping point,” when global warming finally pushes the earth over the edge. For the first half of Pills and Starships, Nat appears to take her world in stride, aware that things have gone to hell, compared to what the earth was like according to her elderly parents, but accepting things as they are. Don’t all old people claim that things were better in the past? All a young person knows is what they know. History is bunk. Continue reading
The narrative concerns Pen, short for Penelope, a geeky, art-loving, wisp of a girl whose mother, father, and little brother are feared dead after an enormous earthquake and follow-on tsunami that destroys Los Angeles and points inland. Pen likes nothing better than to immerse herself in the fantasies of the classical age, and her life soon mirrors Odysseus’ voyage from shipwreck to Ithaca. Sent on a journey in a VW bus that burns vegetable oil, Pen meets up with the requisite crew of other teenage misfits. They encounter their share of mythical creatures and magical humans, all straight from Homer, including 21st-century versions of Cyclops, Circe the witch, the Sirens, and the drugged-out Lotus Eaters. Continue reading
Published in 1997, Robinson’s story takes place more than 50 years later, just after the expiration of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. The treaty and several other agreements set aside the entire continent as a nature and science reserve. But the politics of preservation versus wealth creation stalls renewal of the treaty, and a series of unexplained incidents sparks an informal investigation by an aide of an influential senator with progressive leanings. Robinson weaves his trademark mix of science, history, politics, and human aspiration into a sprawling narrative. Climate change overhangs the novel, making it an early example of the climate fiction / nature fiction genre. Continue reading
Maritime heritage enthusiasts and scholars have pushed the idea of a national heritage area in western Washington for about 10 years. If enacted, the area would fall under the National Park Service’s Heritage Area program, which oversees 49 similar areas across the U.S., mostly east of the Mississippi River. The areas promote local economic growth and preserve sites and landmarks with cultural and historical significance. Each area is managed by local officials, with no new regulatory authority over management or preservation given to the National Park Service. Washington State supporters see a heritage area as a major tourism draw, especially to rural counties. A small amount of money for promoting the area comes with the designation.
The Kilmer/Heck/Cantwell proposal raises the profile of a heritage area in Washington State, but the legislation’s immediate prospects in Congress are dim. The Republican-controlled House opposes any new law perceived as an extension of federal power, no matter how benign. A heritage area is mostly an honorific, and as Brooks pointed out several times, carries no new regulatory authority.
Opponents have prevailed so far. For example, a proposal to create a similar area around the mouth of the Columbia River failed after conservative local residents used the weak, but effective “slippery slope” argument: If you let the feds declare a heritage area, what’s to stop them from confiscating your land, taking your guns, making you sign up for Obamacare, and similar silliness. The GOP wants to reform the law governing heritage areas, but a bill to do just that is stuck in committee, and the website GovTrack.us gives that measure an 11 percent chance of passage. Even state lawmakers are leery of the idea of a heritage area; A measure in the Washington Legislature to designate a state version died in the state senate earlier this year.
Despite the good a maritime heritage area would do for local communities, DC politics will likely keep the idea on the back-burner for a long time. Cantwell might be able to push a bill through the Senate, but the House is another matter entirely. Kilmer and Heck are Democratic newcomers to Congress, and their influence is limited. It’s going to be a case of introducing legislation every year until the Congress moves left or the supporters get lucky enough to find a majority.
Disclosure: I’m communications director for Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, which could benefit from a maritime heritage area. Opinions expressed here are my own.
The protagonist, Pete Andersen, is a middle-aged, mid-level bureaucrat in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sick of the insularity and unresponsiveness of Washington D.C. politics. He’s disillusioned by his careerist colleagues, whose drive for power leads to watered-down policies on combating climate change. And he suffers a guilt complex over the murder of his brother, which prevents him from taking on K Street lobbyists working for the coal and oil industries. Andersen is the cubicle drone ordinary people fear becoming. Continue reading
The story is simple and straightforward: Noria Kaitio, the 17-year-old daughter of a master in an ancient line of tea ceremony practitioners, is about to graduate into the family business. Her gruff, but loving father shows her the family secret, a freshwater spring hidden from the local village and the military, which controls all water resources. Her father dies and her emotionally distant mother departs the village, and Noria must decide whether to protect her secret and her own future, or reveal it to relieve a crisis in the village.
I’ve always loved films and books from Scandinavian countries for their moody atmospherics, and Itäranta does not disappoint. Her style is light, almost contemplative, even as the inevitable consequences of Noria’s choice bear down on her. The primary color of Memory of Water is blue: the blue of a Scandinavian sky, the blue of sky reflected on water, and the blue of the circle painted on the doors of water law breakers. But blue does not describe Noria’s mood. She is remarkably serene as her world falls apart. Continue reading
Who: Tell the editor who you are in one paragraph, sticking to facts relevant to your book. What other books have you written? How long have you been writing? What makes you qualified to write this book?
What: Tell the editor about your book in a single paragraph. What is the title? What is a one-sentence summary of your book? What is its genre? How long is it? What are the other books in the series?
When: The time elements of your news release take two forms, those related to the release of your book, and those related to promotional events, such as signings or readings. When will your book be available for purchase? When will you appear for author signings? (“Where” is also important for the latter element.) Continue reading
Pink Floyd’s Time reminds us that time is limited. But false starts offer the promise of a second chance.
I scribbled my way through the first six and a half chapters of my latest project, The Princes of Antarctica, when I ran out of gas this week. The feeling was just like the shock and disappointment I had in 1987 as I drove up Interstate 5 from Redding, Calif., to see my girlfriend in Ashland, Ore. With no warning, the motor in my cherry red ‘66 Impala gave a few lurches and quit, forcing me to the shoulder. Gas was not reaching the carburetor. I was going nowhere. The same happened with the draft. Halfway through chapter seven, the motor in my head failed. I had to abandon 30-odd pages by the side of the road.
Inspiration is a devil armed with false promises. It shows you a shiny object but doesn’t tell you its worthless until you’ve played with it, sometimes for weeks or months. You can see the result in any writer’s trash, virtual or otherwise. Disgusted with what he sees, he rips the “half a page of scribbled lines” from the yellow pad and tosses it into the pile of other “plans that have come to naught.” (Thank you, Pink Floyd.) Understanding that the story is implausible or the characters boring can tear at a writers’ confidence. He may think the dream is lost, that the great thing he wanted to say is not so important.
Is a false start a sign of failure? No, it’s a signal for patience. You’ve left the starting block prematurely. Your idea may be sound, but the execution is broken. It’s okay to quit and begin again. For one writer’s perspective on false starts, read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s essay, “One Hundred False Starts,” published in 1933. For him, starting over was part of the game.
Fitzgerald advises to start with a compelling emotion from the writer’s experience. He doesn’t mean autobiography, but it helps if you know what you’re talking about. That’s what I did with the latest re-start of The Princes of Antarctica. With the emotion in mind (no spoilers), I plunged into a new opening on Thursday, and found the words flowing from my fingers. Here’s hoping for a fair start.
Martin Scribb sat in the captain’s great cabin, sweating. Extinction’s air was kept at a low humidity to resist corrosion, but here in Gore’s living space, the humidity had to be 90 to 100 percent, Martin thought. Tropical plants lined the walls, some with huge flowers with exotic scents that matched the thickness of the air. Mixed with the moisture and perfume was a whiff of decaying leaf litter. It was the smell of slow death. The only thing missing was the cacophony of insects mating, killing, and dying in a true jungle. The metal walls and deck were clear of the rust Martin would’ve expected in a humid environment. A special paint or coating fought off the inevitable oxidation.
Gore tapped at a tablet keyboard, his fingers dexterous despite their thickness and covering of tawny hair. The curved claws that the creature showed on Martin’s arrival were retracted, much like a real cat’s. Gore’s green-yellow eyes bored into Martin. “Well, Mr. Scribb. It seems you have saved Extinction.”
“Please, sir.” Martin picked up on the military forms of address favored on the sub. “I’m a brother of the Penitents of Saint Francis.”
“I see… Brother Scribb.” Gore grimaced, which Martin took as a kind of smile, though the teeth were that of a carnivore, not an omnivore. “Allow me to say thank-you. You are the hero of the hour.”
Martin, like most people who act quickly in an emergency, did not feel himself a hero. “If I had not acted, everyone on board might’ve died, myself included.”
“Indeed. And you are responsible for enough death, aren’t you?” Continue reading