YouTube: A War Beyond War, And I Am The Only Soldier

Here’s the third and the last of my “vaudios,” my author-read stories on the YouTube platform. A War Beyond War, and I Am the Only Soldier was the first (and so far only) fiction story I published in an anthology. It appeared in Satirica: An Anthology of Satirical Speculative Fiction in 2009. It’s not part of my Carbon Run series, so I’ve given the story its own playlist, Weird and Wondrous.

In the 13th century, Dominic de la Traversée is a young monk in a French monastery who undergoes a frightening transformation as he fights for the existence of our perceived universe.

I had some extra fun with Adobe Premiere’s special effects filters, mostly in the beginning of the video. Let me know what you think.

YouTube: Living in Infamy: A Carbon Run Story

Here’s the second of my YouTube “vaudios,” as I like to call my videos that are really audio stories. Living in Infamy is set in a future when fossil fuels are banned. The captain of a US Navy destroyer, plagued by guilt over a friendly-fire incident, hunts a dangerous carbon smuggler and gets help from a disgraced, dead relative. Carbon Run Stories are a series of short stories in text and audio set in a world wracked by climate change. You can also listen to the story on SoundCloud.

Let me know what you think.

YouTube: Zillah Harmonia, a Carbon Run story

In a future decade when fixing the environment is the world’s top priority, an elderly homeowner must decide whether to fight a citation that might mean the loss of her home.

I’ve been experimenting with alternate ways to present my fiction, and I’ve created what I call a “vaudio.” It’s intended for listening more than viewing, while offering a way for me to reach the huge YouTube audience with something unique. Others have tried an audio track with an image, but what I’ve seen on YouTube uses a single still image.

For Zillah Harmonia, in which roses play a prominent role, I took a brief video of a rose in my neighborhood with my smartphone, downloaded it to my laptop, and combined the video with the MP3 file I built for SoundCloud. Using Adobe Premiere Elements, I added the “facet” special effect to soften the image, slowed the original image down by 75 percent, put in a couple of simple titles, and voilà, a vaudio.

Are you trying anything like this? Let me know what you think of my experiment. I’ll be posting more of these soon.

Reading: Living In Infamy, a Carbon Run story

skullAs I mentioned in a previous post, I wrote two Carbon Run short stories, Zillah Harmonia, and Living in Infamy. I’ve recorded the second story and posted it on SoundCloud. In a future when fossil fuels are banned, the captain of a US Navy destroyer, plagued by guilt over a friendly-fire incident, hunts a dangerous carbon smuggler and gets help from a disgraced, dead relative.

Let me know what you think.

Are we creating the dystopia we’ve always feared?

Utopia, Texas, sign

Utopia, Texas. Image courtesy University of Houston, Clear Lake.

This weekend’s opening of Star Trek: Beyond and last week’s nomination of Donald Trump to the presidency puts an interesting spin on the utopia versus dystopia debate in the speculative fiction universe, at least for this writer. Star Trek and Trump appear unrelated, but they represent threads of American thinking about the future. Do we believe things are getting better or getting worse?

Technically, the words “utopia” and “dystopia” refer to an environment of governance, one positive, the other negative. A better pair of words for understanding the choice are “optimism” and “pessimism.” The original Star Trek series represents the former. After watching Kirk and Spock save the universe, nerds like myself wanted to go on a mission to discover new worlds or make the cool things we saw. The show was a product of its time (Vietnam, civil rights, the Cold War, the War on Poverty), but its premise came out of a core American value: That life could be better, delivered by amazing technology in a society that rejected poverty, racism, and armed conflict once and for all. The show expressed a core tenet of America’s genius: a profound, pervasive optimism. Continue reading

Review: Augments of Change salient in a time of racial tension

Augments of Change cover

Augments of Change

America is going through another paroxysm of racially tinged violence, reminding everyone of our failure to reconcile our history with our ideals. In my own lifetime, the country has experienced urban riots (e.g, Watts in Los Angeles), violence after the Rodney King verdict, and last week, two more in a long string of deaths of black men at the hands of police, followed by the mass murder of five Dallas policemen by a African-American assailant with a military-style assault rifle. It’s as if a murderous virus is spreading through the culture.

The news has left the country morose and pessimistic. People feel that the issues of race, as well as related issues of immigration and income inequality, will never be resolved or mitigated. As citizens of a democracy, we’ve entered a time of madness when everyone whom we don’t know and don’t agree with is The Other. We’ve lost the ability to listen to and respect other views. Demagogues such as Donald Trump say out loud what many people feel, forgetting that civilized behavior in the public sphere requires a certain suppression of thought and feeling in order to get along without fearing someone will strike back in anger. Respect and tolerance are out of style.

Speculative fiction writers have long tried to tell stories of race. In an genre dominated until recently by white men, only a few black voices have stood out, among them Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delaney, and N.K. Jemisin. Less well-known in the sci-fi mainstream is Kelvin Christopher James, whose most recent novel, Augments of Change, takes the myth of race, as well as it taboos and tropes, and turns it on its head. His unique voice brings a new clarity to race as an illusion that influences daily thought. Continue reading

What is the role of a writer as climate change creeps up on us?


People in suits gather in Paris to decide the fate of a climate-change world.

It’s a ripe scene for satire. Twenty-five thousand bureaucrats and another 25,000 hangers-on are gathered in Paris at COP21 to exchange climate change jargon over sustainable wine and cheese. It’s hard, however, to ignore the seriousness of their effort, especially as a pall lingers over the city three weeks after the November 13 terror attacks. The spectacle of so many people in sensible shoes working as one reminds me that most problems are solvable with elbow grease and cooperation. Best to leave them alone to do their jobs.

Maybe I’m a little jealous. It must be exciting to be part of an effort that could save the planet while exchanging tips on the best places in France for glamping. Instead, my head is buried in my laptop as I try to tell stories about survival in a future that no one can predict with any certainty. Even if COP21 is wildly successful, the planet will still warm by a couple of degrees, and millions of mostly poor people will have to cope with the changes. Continue reading

Review: Gold Fame Citrus is tangy, acidic, and tasty

Gold Fame Citrus cover

Gold Fame Citrus is as tangy and acidic as a California orange.

Climate science encourages the public to imagine global warming as a decades-long desiccation, a slow transformation of liquid water to vapor locked in the atmosphere, turning the planet into a wasteland of deserts, as if everything is dropped into a saucepan over high heat and cooked into Nevada. In speculative fiction and fantasy, the image often plays out in the planet-girdling sand dune, whether it’s Frank Herbert’s Dune or George Lucas’ Tatooine. Claire Vaye Watkins finds the metaphor useful in her debut novel Gold Fame Citrus, in which the Amargosa, a dune sea that covers much of the Southwest, is central to her dystopian world of prophets, prostitutes, survivors, and assorted characters at home in a Mad Max movie.

The Amargosa Desert is a real place, which Watkins knows, having grown up in the Mojave Desert and in Pahrump, Nev., a stone’s throw from Death Valley. Her intimacy with these landscapes puts her prose on a par with other great Western writers, such as Edward AbbeyJohn Steinbeck, and Ivan Doig. Almost no other writer captures the utter desolation of these places without a hint of romantic disrespect; Watkins loves and fears the desert in the same breath. Continue reading

Thoughts on climate fiction from a writer and a publisher

Climate fiction books

A table of climate fiction books at Foyles’ bookstore in London. Photo courtesy Dan Bloom.

Mark Nykanen, author of Primitive, Carry the Flame, and other environmentally themed novels, and Mary Sands Woodbury, editor at Moon Willow Press and the website, offered their thoughts on climate fiction and its future in publishing. (Material is edited.)

What is “climate fiction,” and is it a new genre of fiction?

Nykanen: I like “climate fiction” as a separate category of fiction entirely. I don’t think it works as a sub-genre of sci-fi. Cli-fi can have roots in sci-fi, of course, but also in thrillers and literary fiction. Right now there’s a fuzziness about cli-fi, though the term is clearly gaining traction. But I also think sales will dictate whether cli-fi gains a sharper profile.

Woodbury: Climate fiction is fiction related to climate change, usually anthropogenic. It’s a genre by itself but can overlap with speculative, literary, and science fiction. And even though it’s new, some critics call the very term “climate change” a tired trope, and some climate change authors might not even totally identify with the genre (yet), seeing it more as a motif than a genre. Continue reading

Review: Hot Mess

Hot Mess cover

Hot Mess: Speculative Fiction About Climate Change

Climate change is relatively unexplored territory in fiction, including speculative fiction, and most of the pioneers in this area have investigated the subject via the novel. Relatively few writers have tackled it with the short story and other short forms. One collection, however, corrects this mistake. Hot Mess: Speculative Fiction About Climate Change, edited by Rachel Lynn Brody, brings together six stories by five writers (including Brody) into a diminutive and intriguing look at how global warming might affect the lives of ordinary people.

The stories range from classic dystopia to allegory to biting satire, all with a warming world as a driving force behind the narrative. The lead story, Eric Sipple’s “She Says Goodbye Tomorrow,” tackles the impact of the warming on winemakers who see the climate slowing killing their legacy, though family tensions play their usual insidious role. Miranda Doerfler’s “In Between the Light and the Dark” demonstrates a frightening outcome to climate change as an opportunity for murderous authoritarianism. And in “Haute Mess,” Brody skewers the fashion industry and commercial enterprise in general, which is ready to appropriate anything, including a climate disaster, to influence the all-important decision of what to put in our armoires. Continue reading