Tag Archives: Climate Change

Hopeful Science Fiction: Monsters Come Howling in Their Season

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Recently, I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the fourth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

There are mild spoilers in this post. 

Monsters Come Howling in Their Season

Like many of the other stories in my Hopeful Science Fiction series, this might not sound like a particularly hopeful place to begin. Keep reading.

The characters in this tale were ordinary, mostly working class people who pooled their resources together for the greater good. I love seeing this perspective in the science fiction genre. There’s something heartwarming about finding out how characters who aren’t wealthy or powerful protect their community from climate change.

Some of the most compelling scenes were the ones that described how the AI was designed to function, especially once it became too complex even for programmers to fully understand. It truly had everyone’s best intentions in mind.

Technology might have caused climate change, but it was also a force for a lot of good in this world. That is such a refreshing change for this genre.

I also appreciated the way the characters’ emotional reactions to hurricane season were portrayed. Violent storms like that are dangerous as Dr. Stevens and her community were far too aware of already. The act of finding hope for people whose lives had been turned upside down by hurricanes that happened before the AI was developed only made these changes in their lives more poignant.

As complete as it story felt in and of itself, I wished it could have been expanded into a full-length novel. There was so much more I wanted to know about the characters and the artificial intelligence they’d created to protect and provide for them during hurricane season.

Maybe someday we’ll get that sequel. In the meantime, this was such a soothing thing to read.

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Theory of Flight

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Recently, I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago.

A Theory of Flight

Justina Ireland’s “A Theory of Flight” is the first instalment of this series. It was about a daring plan to build an open-source rocket could help more people escape Earth. Click on the link in the first sentence of this paragraph to read it for free or scroll to the bottom of this post to watch the short film version of it. There are mild spoilers in this post, so reader beware after this sentence.

Photo of Earth taken from space. The largest continent in view is Africa.

When I first began this series, I talked about  my expectations for hopeful science fiction.

This type of sci-fi isn’t about creating a utopia or brushing aside the very real challenges people face. It’s about finding hope and fighting for a happy ending no matter what the circumstances are.

Carlinda was no stranger to conflict or struggling. She was a black woman who’d grown up in a low-income neighbourhood. This may have been set in a future version of Earth, but the obstacles she faced were the same ones that people from all of these groups face today.

The big difference between her time and ours had to do with how much the environment had degraded thanks to climate change. Life on a hot, polluted planet was beyond difficult, especially for people who didn’t have the money or social clout to get away from Earth.

Cooperation

Carlinda had some money saved up from a well-paid job building spaceships for the wealthy folks who were fleeing Earth for safe colonies on Mars and Europa.

Her funds weren’t enough to get her to either of those places, though, much less help anyone else to join her. This futuristic version of society was so economically stratified that the vast majority of people were doomed to live out short, painful, poverty-stricken lives on Earth.

Or were they?

The beautiful thing about Carlinda’s open-sourced plans for rocket ships was that they could be built out of trash. Very little money was required to create them. All you needed were some workers who understood how to follow the plans and build something that could safely bring a few hundred folks to Europa.

There are some plot twists related to the political ramifications of this plan that are best left up to new readers to discover for themselves. Still, I loved seeing how the small percentage of humans who were wealthy and politically powerful reacted to the idea of ordinary folks taking their own fates into their hands.

Not only did it add a layer of urgency to the plot, it gave Carlinda and the people working with her even more of an incentive to keep building and to share their knowledge with as many other poor folks as possible.

A better world is possible, and it all begins with regular people banding together to creatively solve problems that are too big for any one person to fix on their own.

A Theory of Flight

Good Things Come in Small Packages: A Review of Downsizing

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction films. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, CocoWinchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, The House with a Clock in Its WallsA Dog’s Purpose, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Content warning: needles, substance abuse, and dental work. I will make a brief reference to the substance abuse but will otherwise steer clear of these topics in my review.

Downsizing is a 2017 science fiction film about a suburban couple who decided to undergo a new medical procedure in order to shrink their bodies to about five inches tall each in order to help the environment and live a more luxurious lifestyle on whatever savings they’d accumulated before being downsized.

Global Solutions was the research institute they turn to in order to make this procedure possible. It was founded in order to use science to make life better for humanity, and the director of this organization was certain he’d found the perfect way to solve human overpopulation and climate change simultaneously.

As always, I will be discussing every character in the past  tense in order to avoid spoilers about what their fates may be. Some of the other films I’ve reviewed here have included character deaths. I stick to this rule in all of my reviews so that I’ll never inadvertently give away any spoilers other than the potentially triggering material I share in my content warnings.

Characters

Matt Damon as Paul Safranek
Matt Damon as Paul Norris Safranek

Paul worked as an occupational therapist for a meat packing plant when this film began. He was committed to helping everyone he met feel as mobile and healthy as possible, although he also worried about falling behind financially speaking when compared to other households.

Kristen Wiig as Audrey Lustig Safranek

Audrey was Paul’s wife. She was a little nervous about being downsized and moving to Leisureland Estates, a community built specifically for five inch tall humans.

Yes, there are reasons why the descriptions of most of the female characters in this post are so sparse. I will discuss that in detail in my review below.

 

Christoph Waltz as Dusan Mirkovich
Christoph Waltz as Dušan Mirković

Dušan was an outgoing, friendly, and exuberant upstairs neighbour in Leisureland Estates who fully embraced his life as a small person. That is, he was well-known for his  late-night loud parties, substance abuse, and loud music.

 

Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran
Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran

Ngoc Lan was one of the workers who cleaned the houses of the wealthy people in Leisureland. She had an assertive and sometimes blunt personality that was well explained by her backstory.

 

Rolf Lassgård as  Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen
Rolf Lassgård as  Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen

 

Dr. Asbjørnsen worked for Global Solutions. He was the first scientist to discover how to safely and effectively shrink humans to a fraction of their former size. His wife, Anne-Helene, joined him and 34 other volunteers to be the first humans to undergo this process long before Paul and Audrey signed up for it.

Ingjerd Egeberg as Anne-Helene Asbjørnsen

 

Anne-Helene was Dr. Asbjørnsen’s wife.

 

Udo Kier as Konrad
Udo Kier (centre) as Joris Konrad

Joris was Dušan’s companion. Like Dušan, he’d spent many years partying hard and sucking every last moment of joy out of life. There was nothing more important to him than having a good time with likeminded people.

 

Søren Pilmark as Dr. Andreas Jacobsen
Søren Pilmark as Dr. Andreas Jacobsen

 

Dr. Jacobsen was the director of Global Solutions. He excelled at putting on presentations for investors and the media in order to bring in more money and hopefully attract new people to the downsizing movement.

Neil Patrick Harris as Jeff Lonowski

 

Jeff was the Senior Product Specialist at Leisureland Estates.  He and his wife, Laura, did live demonstrations about their lifestyle to convince big people to sign up for the downsizing procedure.

My Review

It took a while to gather my thoughts about this film. There were parts of it I loved and parts of it that made me want to stop watching it altogether.

The trailer for it will make it sound like a comedy. While there were some humorous moments, this was a pretty serious story in general. Climate change is no laughing matter, and the creators hammered that point home clearly. This was actually something I really liked about the plot. It didn’t hesitate to shy away from the serious repercussions humans are going to face as the polar ice caps melt and our weather becomes even more unpredictable.

Shrinking humans to a fraction of their original size was a creative response to this crisis. A human who is less than six inches tall is obviously to need much less food, fuel, clothing, and other supplies to stay alive than one that is six feet tall. While the science behind shrinking someone to such a small size was never really explained, I enjoyed seeing as much of that process as the characters were aware of.

There were a few details about the downsizing procedure and how it worked that never occurred to me. It’s effect on the environment – and the environment’s potential effect on humans that are essentially the size of hamsters – was another part of the storytelling that I thought was really well done. The repercussions of both of those things spread further than I ever would have imagined.

I also liked the fact that the plot spent so much time exploring why downsizing will be the only way humans can hope to survive in the longterm. The scientists had excellent reasons for believing that big humans will die out as a result of climate change. While I was originally expecting something with a faster pace, it was nice to dig so deeply into all of the ways the planet will become uninhabitable for so many different species in coming generations.

What bothered me about this film was the way it treated the female characters. Despite having backstories that were just as, and in some cases far more, interesting than the male characters, the vast majority of them were given much less screen time than their male costars. I still don’t know what Audrey, Anne-Helene, or Laura’s professions, interests, hobbies were. Everything the audience learned about them was somehow connected to the men who married them.

Ngoc Lan’s personality and backstory were developed better, but even she was framed as a love interest despite everything else that was happening in her life that would have made for great storytelling. She had a lot of responsibilities to juggle for reasons I can’t disclose here without wandering into spoiler territory.

It is very odd to take someone whose life is filled with serious problems that have no easy solutions only to reduce all of that beautiful complexity to wondering whether she’s going to fall in love when and with whom the audience wants her to.

If this had happened to one female character who had been longing for a life partner, it wouldn’t have been an issue. The fact that the writers did it with the only woman who had an identity outside of being someone’s wife really rubbed me the wrong way, especially since she didn’t show any interest in romance when we first met her. Her life was so full already that I shuddered at the thought of her having to fall in love in order to live happily ever after.

There is nothing wrong with showing characters falling in love. What bothers me is when films shoehorn characters into that subplot or only show the parts of their lives that have to do with who they’re in a relationship with when none of their male counterparts were treated the same way.

To contrast this complaint, Paul had great character development during the course of this film. He started off as someone who had good intentions but who could be a little oblivious to other people’s perspectives at times. Seeing how he changed as a result of his decision to be downsized was a thrill. He took his experiences to heart and genuinely grew and changed as a result of the things he learned.

While the secondary male characters didn’t show as much development due to the smaller amounts of time they had on stage, they did have some of it. And they were also shown having interests, hobbies, and dreams that had nothing to do with whether or not they were married or had fallen in love.

If only the women in Leisureland Estates had been given the same opportunity.

Downsizing is available on Netflix and Apple TV.

How Winter Has Changed Over My Lifetime

Lately, I’ve been thinking about climate change and how the expectations of what winter, or any other season, will be like in the average year are changing.

The official graphs and charts that show how rapidly the average temperatures are climbing from one decade to the next are obviously quite important, but I think there’s something to be said for listening to and writing down anecdotes about the climate as well. Future generations might like to know what things were like when we were young and the Earth was colder.

My first clear memories of winter happened in the early 1990s. My family lived in Wyoming then, and our town was nestled so close to the Rocky Mountains that we regularly saw heavy snowstorms between the months of October and May.

I think my family was snowed in at least once during these storms. There is only so much plowing that can be done before the blizzard wins and everyone needs to stay off those slippery roads for safety reasons.

Before I tell this next story, keep in mind that I was always petite for my age growing up. Not every child would have been light enough to pull this off, but I do have memories of walking on top of frozen snowbanks when I was about seven or eight years old. The snow had melted a little, and when it refroze it created a sort of crust on top of it that I could just barely walk on top of. I felt like a superhero and was a little disappointed the next winter when I realized that I was too heavy to do that trick again. (The funny thing was, I remained one of smallest kids in my class all the way through to high school graduation!)

In the mid-1990s, my family moved back to Ohio. Every year we’d generally have at least a few days cancelled due to snow or ice storms. Ohio was a less snowy place than Wyoming, so I don’t remember quite as many times when the roads were closed due to storms as they did when we lived out west.

I do remember feeling a little surprised by the lessening amounts of snow as the years rolled on. Part of it was almost certainly due to the fact that I was growing into my full adult height and viewing snowdrifts from that perspective instead of the point of view of a young child, but I also wonder if I wasn’t noticing the effects of climate change.

The winter of 1998-1999 was an exception to that trend. We had a huge snowstorm at the tail end of Christmas break that delayed the reopening of school by about two weeks. My family just so happened to be moving into a new house then, so my first recollections of 1999 were of perpetually-damp boots, gloves, and hats drying by the radiator while we unpacked our belongings one minivan full of them at a time.

I moved to Toronto in 2005. The climate was fairly similar to Ohio, but I’ve noticed winters seem to be morphing into drier and more erratic versions of themselves here over time. We still have some snowstorms, but we’ve also had weird weeks in the dead of January or February where the temperatures climb into early spring numbers (10-15C, or roughly 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit for you Americans) for a day or even a week before growing cold again.

This is truly bizarre, and I wonder if it will become the new normal for future generations. Will they no longer need heavy winter jackets, gloves, hats, and scarves? How will they react to the thought of a winter that doesn’t thaw out again until March? I suspect they won’t understand that concept at all, except as an academic exercise when they read about what life was like before climate change.

I’m interested in hearing your stories about how winter has changed and is changing where you live. If you live in a climate that doesn’t have winter, feel free to talk about how the weather is changing in whatever ways you might have noticed since you were a kid.

3 Things I Love About Autumn Hikes

This autumn has been an odd one so far here in Ontario as climate change continues to disrupt our normal weather patterns.

Early September is often still hot here, but the heat continued on through October this year. I was actually still wearing shorts and other summer gear as recently as a week ago!

Now the weather is jumping back and forth between unseasonably warm and cold temperatures from one day to the next.

One of the most noticeable side effects of this strange weather has been a delay in when the leaves began to change colour and fall off for the year. There are still quite a few trees with green leaves in southern Ontario even though we’re already more than halfway through October.

I’m hoping this will mean that we’ll have a delayed beginning of winter as well. There hasn’t been enough time to spend exercising while out in nature as I like to have when the weather is mild.

Hidden Details Being Revealed

Some of the trees in my neighbourhood have begun to change colour. Once the weather cools down enough for other species to join them, the landscape changes quickly as other trees follow in their footsteps. At some point, all of the non-evergreen

As much as I’ll miss the sight of green plants this winter, it’s always interesting to spot the now-abandoned nests that birds created when no one could see what they were doing up in those branches or to see how sparse a forest can look when all of the plants go dormant for the winter.

If I still wrote poetry, I’d write a poem about all of the things we might not have noticed when the year was still young. There’s so much room for inspiration when you visit a place you’ve been to many times before and notice something there that you hadn’t picked up on before.

Friendly Weather

I was originally going to call this section mild weather, but it honestly feels downright friendly to me after the long, hot summer we had. It’s so nice to go outside again without feeling like you’ve stuck your head in an oven.

Not only are the chances of suffering frostbite or a sunburn are lower than usual at this time of the year, October is a pretty pleasant month if you like spending a lot of time outdoors. Any shivering or perspiring is generally kept to a minimum, especially if you dress in layers and remove or add them as needed.

Despite my interest in fitness and nature, I’m not the sort of person who enjoys spending a lot of time outside when it is very hot or cold outside. This is something that confuses certain folks when they first get to know me, but there’s a massive quality of life difference between spending hours in the woods when it’s 15 degrees Celcius (60 Fahrenheit) versus -15 C (5 F) or 45 C (113 F).

To me, nature is something best explored during moderate seasons like spring and fall. Yes, they can both be unpredictable at times as far how quickly their temperatures can shift, but they’re generally the best times of the year to spend hours outside without suffering too many negative health consequences for that decision.

Mentally Stimulating Exercise

There’s a huge difference between exercising to a pre-recorded video indoors on a cold winter day and getting to explore the world around you when the weather is more agreeable.

I’ll get my workouts in either way, but I have to say that I find a lot more pleasure in exercising at the park where I’m surrounded by the sights, smells, and sounds of autumn.

Something as simple as hearing the crunch of leaves as I pass through them or seeing a neighbour’s dog stubbornly chase squirrels adds a little bit of joy to my normal routine. (Don’t worry – I’ve never seen a single dog catch a squirrel at my local park. The wildlife here is too smart and fast for pampered city pets to keep up with).

It doesn’t have to be anything exciting in order to catch my attention. Even subtle changes are enough to keep me interested in my surroundings as I exercise.

How does the changing of the seasons affect your workout routine? Will you be hiking or walking anywhere interesting over the next few months?

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… Read More