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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Anne-Helene was Dr. Asbjørnsen’s wife.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 Futureby 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 Roadby 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?