First Week of Summer Break

This is the end of the first week of my summer break, where every year I plan to do amazing things: write deathless prose, discover the meaning of existence, get ready for all my fall and spring courses in the next academic year, and generally save the world.  Since none of that actually materializes, this time I’m keeping to modest weekly goals. 

One of my goals for this week was to get started on two short stories that had been languishing for several months.  Today I am feeling I’ve earned a halo around my head because I’ve actually managed to work on them enough that they need some fairly minor tweaking before I send them out into the world.  It is nice to feel like a writer again.

Another goal was to get started on trying to protect a local wetland not far from my house that, although protected by law, is not in good shape.  I’ve surveyed the area with a botanist friend, even going through tangled underbrush in her wake, which was quite an experience — and I’ve done a lot of internet research on community efforts for this sort of thing, and have some ideas, but they all involve my Emerging From Under my Rock, which can be discomfiting for me.  Sometimes you have to do it, though.

On a related note I have been thinking for some time about how one would write a positive story about a potentially catastropic ecological situation like global warming, so last October I wrote an essay about it as a guest blog on the site of the gracious and articulate Jeff VanderMeer.  Now I think I have some ideas but the way it’s going to work out is not merely through sitting and staring at the compuer screen and doing a ton of research on everything from ecological and social networks to the meaning of death, inertia and new technological advances.  I think I actually have to go out into the world and be involved in things directly.  I don’t know what that means yet, but we shall see.

Another writing goal this summer is to finally finish the third Younguncle book, of which I’ve written five chapters.  That was last summer, when I didn’t really know what the book was going to be about, since I was just following where the words led.  I almost always write like that and sometimes I get stuck.  During exam week last week I had a strangely clear moment in my head, late at night, when I knew just how the book had to flow.  Ofcourse I immediately forgot the details (it was late and I was tired) but I have enough to make a start.  There are lots of cardboard boxes in the story, with some possibly strange contents. 

I’ve been told in the past and also recently that actual grown-ups have greatly enjoyed my Younguncle books, as well as kids, and that is always nice to hear.

Other writing plans include re-writing a science fiction novella that might become a (short) novel and might be YA. 

I’m mentioning all this with the vague hope that if I write it down in a “public” space I might actually feel obliged  to accomplish some of it.  We’ll see.

And then of course there is the Kanpur trip and all that I hope to give to the workshop, and to learn from it.  I also want to write a post soon-ish about SF in other Indian languages versus SF in English, and possibile ways to start a dialogue between them — all this partly based on an email conversation with an SF writer and fan in India, but I need to think more deeply about it than I am able right now.

4 Responses to “First Week of Summer Break”

  1. Eadwacer Says:

    Ah, the good stuff always comes in late at night. Some quick comments:
    1. Sustainability. Deb Tolman, of PSU, did a book on how to maintain a susatainable lifestyle in Portland, and is now doing another one for Asheville NC. Something similar might work for Boston. (BTW, an early Neil Stephenson novel, Zodiac, is an ‘eco-thriller’ set in Boston).

    2. Positive disasters. I can think of three ways that an eco-disaster would have positive impact.
    (a) make good things happen somewhere — yes, we lose Bangladesh to global warming, but we gain the world’s largest wetland.
    (b) stop bad things from happening somewhere – yes, we run out of oil, but that will end those kleptocracies where oil money was used to suppress the population.
    (c) one way of achieving progress is to pass through an edge-of-chaos situation, where you unfreeze the current structure and refreeze it as something new – based on the American, French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions, this has about a fifty/fifty chance of working.

    None of these are fun to live through, but as they say, it’s an ill wind that blows no silver into my linings.

  2. vsinghsblog Says:

    Eadwacer, thanks for the comments. I checked out the Deb Tolman article and found it very interesting, and of much relevance to my modest local effort.

    I should clarify what I meant by “positive” in the context of global warming. I was thinking about Farah Mendlesohn’s comment to me some years ago that there wasn’t much YA SF that was about succesfully preventing the apocalypse; instead much of it was focused on surviving the apocalypse (of whatever kind) or picking up the pieces afterward. Now I know we are in deep trouble with regard to global warming and I don’t think there are any hand-waving, easy answers, and I know we have to prepare for a long period of enormous change, much suffering and so on, but I’d like to imagine, at least that there is hope on the other side of that long period. I hope that we will be able to set in motion events that would (maybe decades or centuries from now) be able to reverse global warming. But we have to imagine them now.

    I don’t see that sort of thing much in fiction, not that I read enough. Kim Stanley Robinson went part of the way, I think, but I don’t know of anyone else who has done it.

    My hypothesis is that this is partly because global climate is a complex systems issue, which we find hard to think about, and it is also interdisciplinary. Maybe you should have one of your students write a thesis on the systems science involved in tacking this problem!

  3. Eadwacer Says:

    Oh, you want to write about _solutions_? Yeah, that’s hard. Because, as you say, the problems come out of complex systems, and the solutions will have to be just as complex (see Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety). That’s hard to write about at a personal level. KSR did it, but he needed three volumes and a cast of dozens of near-immortals. What will save us is thousands of hours of incredibly boring meetings among mutually antagonistic egotists who’s idea of statesmanship is to act like it’s not a zero-sum game. As one of my friends in DC said years ago, “You get tired. You pull out the singing sword and it just hums, because it’s forgotten the words.”

    So, if one doesn’t want to write another Lord of the Rings, and one wants to write something that doesn’t read like the Silmarillion, what, as VI Lenin once said, is to be done? One way might be to write about a small subset of the problem, geographically limited. UKLG’s “The Word for World is Forest”, or CJ Cherrhy’s “Hestia”. Both are hard to read today, because they bludgeon yesterday’s problems. Another way might be to assume victory, then write about life in the new era. Howard Waldrop’s short story “The Lions Are Asleep This Night” is about a budding young Shakespeare in Nigeria, writing his plays in a chapbook. The backstory is that there were no Native Americans when Columbus arrived, so the Europeans didn’t have anyone to enslave, so they tried to expand into Africa and failed. You don’t see any of that in the story. It’s what he calls “neighborhood SF”.

    Now, I have to go back to grading papers who think it has to have a keyboard and mouse to be a system.

  4. vsinghsblog Says:

    Yes, you’ve put the entire problem/challenge in a nutshell! I think one of the things that might have to be done is to experiment with the form of story itself. Stories are traditionally linear and chronological, and follow one or a few characters. Stories are condensations of the complexities of the world, although the best ones have that un-pin-downable quality to them and hint at things between lines and beyond margins. How do you write a story that more accurately reflects the world’s complexity, without making it completely incoherent and incomprehensible?

    My current answer: I dunno.

    I guess I’ll have to try a different way of approaching story, letting the task go more fully to another complex system, my dreaming brain. That may, of course, produce pure drivel. But it will be interesting, nevertheless, even if mine are the only eyes that see it.

    Sympathies on the grading of papers and hope that you will emerge, as I did, scarred but alive from the ordeal.


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