Author Archives: lydias

5 Sci-fi and Fantasy Novels About Climate Change That Everyone Should Read

Spring was technically supposed to begin in Ontario almost a month ago, but I don’t think Old Man Winter ever received that memo. The last several weeks have been filled with snow, sleet, cold temperatures, and the annoyed mutterings of millions of Canadians who are beyond ready for a proper spring now.

While we’re waiting for the snow to melt away for good and the sun to eventually peek out from behind the clouds again, I’ve been thinking about how often climate change is talked about in the SFF genre. All of the books I’m about to discuss today show what happens to a civilization (or the lack thereof) long after the weather patterns destabilized and the seasons people thought they could count on became unpredictable.

1. The Book of Dave: A Revelation of the Recent Past and the Distant Future by Will Self.

It’s easy to forget what the past was really like when a society has to struggle to survive every day. This is even more true when it comes to documents that aren’t easy to understand to begin with and when the people reading them are only barely literate at all. This tale showed what happened when the journal of an frustrated cab driver was accidentally discovered five hundred years after his death and fashioned into a harsh, new religion.
The satirical elements made me laugh, but it also made me think about how easy it is to misinterpret something that was written a long time ago in a culture that was nothing at all like your own.

2. Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1) by Octavia E. Butler.

I must be honest with you here. Water isn’t something I ever worry about running out of in Ontario. It’s so abundant here that I can’t see us running out of it anytime soon.
Not everywhere on Earth is like this, though. There are places like California that are using water faster than it can be replenished. They’d be in trouble even if the climate in their area wasn’t already becoming drier than it has been before.
The characters in this book had to face the threat of running out of water at the same time their government collapsed, their home was destroyed, and their family was torn apart.
3. Mara and Dann  A Novel by Doris Lessing.
Take the crises of one country in Parable of the Sower and expand them to the experiences of millions of people across an entire dying continent in the distant future.
This was actually the first science fiction book about climate change that I ever remember reading. The fact that it was told through the perspective of an orphaned and often painfully hungry child only made her observances of how climate change can destroy entire civilizations even more poignant. Mara and her brother did nothing to deserve all of the suffering they experienced, and yet that couldn’t save their parents’ lives or fill their stomachs with food when all of the rivers dried up and the crops failed.
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  by Philip K. Dick.
Climate change has already begun driving far more species to extinction than is typical in our world. How many more species we’ll lose forever depends on many factors, and I can’t even begin to guess what the final tally will be.
The interesting thing about the setting in this book is that it happened after humans have killed off so many other species that we began making robotic versions of various animals to keep us company. There were even robotic people who had no idea they were robots because they looked, felt, and sounded exactly like biological people.
 It wasn’t addressed clearly in the plot from what I can recall, but I always wondered what everyone was eating to stay alive in this universe after all of the old ecosystems had been destroyed.
5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
Only read this book if you’re comfortable with very dark and disturbing plots. I’m glad I read it once, but I was so saddened and horrified by certain plot twists that I don’t think I could stomach them again.
The Road could be the logical conclusion to any of the books listed above. It was set at a time when there were no plants and animals left on Earth and the few remaining humans were all slowly starving to death. The main character, an unnamed father, must try to keep himself and his young son alive against impossible odds.
What is your favourite science fiction or fantasy novel about climate change?

It’s More Than Just Survival: A Review of Into the Forest

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the never-ending list of films I’d like to see someday. Into the Forest was the first movie from that list I’ve watched since then, and I liked it so much that I decided to review it today.  This story does include a rape scene that I will be discussing briefly later on in this post, so consider this a spoiler warning and a trigger warning (if needed). 

 Into the Forest is a Canadian film based on a young adult book by the same title by Jean Hegland. It followed the lives of two sisters, Nell and Eva, after the west coast of the United States permanently lost power for unknown reasons and society fell apart.

One of the things that made this story unique was how few characters it has. While there were a handful of people who were briefly part of the time in Eva and Nell’s lives that was covered in this film, the vast majority of the storyline was about the complex relationship between these sisters and how hard they worked to survive on their own at their rural home.

Eva, the older sister, had been studying to become a professional dancer before the blackout. Nell, the younger sister, was preparing to take her SATs and apply for college. They were smart young women, but neither one of them had any experience in practical skills like hunting, first aid, farming, or self defence before this adventure began.

 

Ellen Page as Nell and Evan Rachel Wood as Eva in Into the Woods. ©Elevation Pictures.

 

One of my favourite parts of this  film was the strong pacing of it in the beginning. The electricity went out a few minutes into the story without any advanced warning, so the characters almost immediately needed to make major adjustments to their lifestyle. Nell and Eva had been so loved and sheltered that neither of them really understood how much their lives changed in that moment, but they were about to find out.

I’ll be honest with you: it took a while for these characters to grow on me. They were young and a little entitled in the beginning. I didn’t appreciate the way they complained about small inconveniences like not having enough spare power to play music when there were far more important things in be for them to be worried about.

With that being said, I adored the complex relationship between these sisters. Eva and Nell argued, played, dreamed, and schemed with each other just like all siblings have since the beginning of time. They had a bond that was stronger than anything else in their little world. Watching them both mature from girls into confident women together was a highlight of this story for me.

Since they hadn’t known that the blackout was coming, there was no logical way for their family to stock up on food, basic medical supplies, gasoline, or anything else that would have made their lives easier once all of the stores shut down. The few items they were able to buy shortly after the power grid failed were precious, but they were a drop in the bucket when compared to what this family actually needed in the longterm.

While I would have liked to see a little more character development, I did end up liking Nell and Eva quite a bit by the end. They proved just how resourceful they could be in a world where they could only rely on themselves and each other to stay safe. As young women who were living in an incredibly isolated area, they either had to learn to work together or risk dying alone from starvation, injuries, or the violent urges of other human beings.

Yes, that was a reference to the rape scene. I hated the fact that one of these characters had to add that traumatic experience to all of the other awful things they went through as they struggled to survive, but this is something that  regularly happens to people even when police officers still exist and can be called for help. From what I’ve read, the risk of sexual assault skyrockets after disasters of any kind.

The foreshadowing in this film was really well done in general. It was subtle, but any attentive viewer could find satisfying hints about what will happen later on if they paid close attention to the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the storyline. Since this was originally written for teenagers, I liked the fact that there were so many hints about what these sisters were about to experience. It was the right choice for this age group.

I also appreciated the fact that Nell and Eva knew almost nothing about what was going on in the outside world. As much as I wanted to know what caused the power outage and whether cities and towns had begun to get back to normal after a year or two had passed, it made sense that two young people who were living in a house in the woods far away from the nearest community wouldn’t have any way of knowing for sure what was happening elsewhere or whether the few vague rumours they’d heard were at all true.

 

Potentially Sensitive Content

As I mentioned earlier on, this film does contain a rape scene. While it was shot in an artistic manner that focused on the victim’s face instead of more graphic material, this is something that viewers who are sensitive to this topic should be aware of in advance. The rape played an important role in what happened later on in the storyline, and it was referenced later on multiple times as the characters reacted to it and the victim healed from it.

The gore factor was pretty low in general, although one character did die in a brief but bloody accident early on and there was a hunting scene later on that showed a wild animal being butchered after it was shot.

Should You Watch It?

Yes, I would recommend watching Into the Forest to both teen and adult viewers. Due to the mature themes, I wouldn’t recommend to anyone under the age of fourteen.

Saturday Seven: Books That Might Give You Cravings

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

I’m a pretty quiet person in real life. One of the topics that I always like to talk about with anyone who is interested, though, is food. For example, I might ask you what your favourite food is or talk about a delicious meal I made last week. This week’s list is all about books that gave me cravings when I read them.

1. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan.

I could almost do an entire Saturday Seven post on Michael Pollan’s books alone. I really appreciate the fact that he takes such a well-rounded approach to figuring out what and how humans should eat from a nutritional, environmental, and cultural perspective. Then you also need to factor in any medical restrictions (diabetes, food allergies, interactions with certain drugs, etc) you might have on what you can eat.  The answer won’t be exactly the same for every person or geographical region on Earth. I like the flexibility of that. It makes me hungry! Hehe.

 2. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver.

Imagine spending an entire year trying to eat nothing but food you’ve either grown or bought from people who lived nearby. It’s not something I could do year-round in Canada without risking vitamin deficiencies from barely having any vegetables or fruit to eat for months on end, but I do follow many of this author’s principles when the weather allows for it. And now I’m craving Ontario-grown strawberries. They’re mouthwateringly delicious, and they’ll be in season in a few short months.

3. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky.

Salt is common and inexpensive now, but it used to be so valuable that it was used as a form of currency. This is the kind of book I’d only recommend to people who are extremely interested in this topic. It wasn’t a light, fluffy read at all, but it did make me crave salty foods like homemade soft pretzels.

4. French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano.

I loved the common sense messages in this book about moderation, fitting walking and other forms of exercise into your daily routine, and never being afraid to enjoy what you eat. There’s something about this easy-going approach to life that makes me look forward to my next meal regardless of what it happens to be.

5. Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel.

When I first read this a decade ago, I wondered if I’d live to see the day when the Cavendish banana went extinct. It hasn’t happened yet, and I sure hope it never does. Doesn’t the banana on the cover make you wish you could eat a banana right this second? That sure was my reaction to it.

6. Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook.

This actually made me seek out one of those old-fashioned tomatoes that hadn’t had so much of its flavour bred out of it. It was really good. If only that kind of tomato wasn’t in season for such a short time. I could go for one of them right about now.

7. Tea: The Drink That Changed the World by Laura C. Martin. 

I drink a decent amount of caffeine-free herbal tea, especially during the winter when I want to warm up. If caffeine didn’t make me so jittery, I’d branch out and try more of the teas that this author talked about. They sounded delicious.

Do you read nonfiction books about food or beverages? What are you craving right now?

 

Suggestion Saturday: April 14, 2018

Here is this week’s list of comic strips, poems, and other links from my favourite corners of the web.

Why I Love Maps via sbrown9710. Seventy percent of the reason why I’m including this link in today’s post is because my mother loves maps, too. She reads my blog, and there’s an excellent chance that this will be the first link she clicks on from it today. Hopefully, other folks will enjoy it as well.

Top Ten Dark Fiction Books via ajseftonauthor. Other than The Wasp Factory and Crime and Punishment, I’ve read everything on this list and agree that it’s good material for people who like dark stories.

Learn to Zoop! (Argument De-Escalation). This is excellent advice.

Life Was Not Always Better. Occasionally, I like to walk through old cemeteries and read the headstones I find there. It’s fascinating to see what names were popular decades or centuries ago that you don’t see being given to newborns these days. This post touches on another reason why walking through old graveyards is educational, and it has to do with what parents expected to happen to their children. Let’s just say that it’s only been in the last few generations that the vast majority of families in western countries could assume all of the children they brought into the world would survive to adulthood. I hope that this will someday be something that people in every country on Earth can assume.

The Creation of the Universe. Despite the title, there’s nothing religious or scientific about the nature of this link at all. It’s pure silliness, but it did make me laugh.

Honoring Earth Day by Saving Money via SLMarchisello.  I especially liked this blogger’s tips about food. I know I occasionally have trouble finishing everything I’ve bought before it goes bad.

What the Hospitals of the Future Look Like. Wow, this was interesting. I never would have guessed that the idea of convalescing at home with daily visits from your family doctor would come back into fashion. It seems like such an old-fashioned idea, and yet the reasons for going back to that kind of care do make sense.

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5 Things I Want from Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale

Disclaimer: there are mild spoilers for the book and major spoilers for the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale in this post.

How is it possible that almost an entire year has passed since the release of the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale? It honestly feels like I just finished watching this show.

I used to roll my eyes when adults said that time sped up as they grew older, but now I completely understand where they’re coming from.

April 25 is the release date for the second season in the United States. Last year, Canada was about a week and a half behind the United States on new episodes. That meant that by the time I saw episode three, for example, people in the US had already seen episode five.

It looks like that waiting period for those of us in Canada will be shortened to about five days this year. Avoiding spoilers is going to be easier this time around, and I’m very grateful for that!

While we’re counting down the last few weeks until season two begins, I thought I’d list five things I’m hoping to see in it.

1. A Detailed Look at How the U.S. Government Was Overthrown

The first season spent a decent amount of time showing how Commander Fred and his associates built up the social and practical support they’d need for the moment when the United States ceased to exist and the Republic of Gilead was born, but we still don’t know the logistics of how a small percentage of the population was able to take control of one of the most powerful countries in the world.

Without giving away too many details for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet, this was something that was briefly addressed in The Handmaid’s Tale. However, Offred was such an ordinary, non-political person before all of this began that she only knew the basics of how her government replaced. She was not privy to any of the details of what exactly happened or how it was planned out.

On a positive note, this means that the screenwriters will have a lot of leeway in showing what happened to the previous leaders of the country formerly known as the United States.

2. Happy Baby News for Offred

In the first season we learned that 80% of pregnancies in this universe are now ending in a miscarriage, stillbirth, or serious birth defects for reasons that no one has been able to figure out. The odds aren’t in her favour, but I’m hoping that Offred being the protagonist of a beloved show will make the writers hesitant to kill off her child.

Babies who were born with birth defects in the novel version of The Handmaid’s Tale never grew up. It was heavily implied that this was due to at least some of them not being allowed to live instead of their health issues being too difficult to treat. As curious as I am to know how such a baby-obsessed society would rationalize killing an infant who could have lived if they were given medical treatments, I’m crossing my fingers that Offred’s child won’t be the one to show us how this system works if she doesn’t make it to Canada before she gives birth.

3. Reunions with Hannah and Luke

Is seeing Offred reuniting with her daughter and husband too much to ask for season two? We know that all three of them are still alive as of the end of the first season. Luke is safe in Canada, Hannah is living with a high-ranking official in Gilead, and Offred has possibly been rescued by the Resistance.

My fingers are crossed that they’ll be together again soon, even if it turns out to be a temporary reunion for the sake of future plot twists.

4. Scenes From the Colonies

The Colonies were describe in the book as a place that rebellious, infertile, elderly, sick, and/or politically useless people were sent. Some of them cleaned up toxic waste while others were responsible for tasks like farming. They were a quiet threat to the life of anyone who wasn’t wealthy and powerful who fought back against their assigned role or who had the bad luck of being diagnosed with a serious illness.

Based on the previews, we will be seeing The Colonies at some point. Any scenes set there are almost certainly going to make me cry, but I still want to know exactly what life was like for Offred’s mother and other people who were deemed not worthy of being kept around.

5. What’s Going On in the Rest of the World?

We already know that Mexico is suffering similar problems with infertility, miscarriages, stillbirths, and life-threatening birth defects in this universe.

If the reproductive issues are limited to these two countries, it could point to a specific environmental cause that the characters in this show will eventually be able to fix.

On the other hand, we might find out that many other countries are suffering in the same way. My fingers are crossed that we’ll get a peek at what’s going on in Africa, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, and the rest of North America.

I was always a little frustrated with how vague the book was about this part of the plot even though I understood why Offred couldn’t possibly know what life was like thousands of miles away when the news was so heavily propagandized and filtered.

If you’re watching this show, what do you hope will happen in the second season?

Saturday Seven: Humorous Book Titles

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews. Disclaimer: I haven’t read any of these books yet, so I can’t vouch for their content in any way. I’m sharing them only because their titles are eye-catching and made me giggle when I found them. 1. Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley. 2. HELP! A… Read More

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Suggestion Saturday: April 7, 2018

Here is this week’s list of short stories and other links from my favourite corners of the web. How to Build Muscle as Age Tears It Down. If you’re not currently doing weight training exercises, this article might make you want to begin. If you’re already doing this kind of exercise, this article will make you… Read More

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