lucifer’s hammer by larry niven and jerry pournelle

You want it in a nutshell, here it is. This book is fun to read. High cheese factor, shallow plastic characters, and hugely problematic depiction of women and anyone who isn’t white, but page turning.

But maybe you won’t think its cheesy.  Maybe you like electricity so much that you’d be swept up in the calls to “Give my children the lightning,” by the images of a hero on his death bed croaking about how important “the lightning” is before biting it in a dramatic public scene.  Ummm, “the lightning”?  What a romantic way to think of electricity.  Which brings me to the crux of this book: defending industrial civilization.  But let me back up.

Lucifer’s Hammer is a big fucking comet, and it hits earth.  Earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and floods destroy most of civilization.  A lot of people die, food is scarce, people start eating people—you know, the familiar backdrop and props of post-apocalyptic fiction.  We follow an almost George-Martinian number of characters as they flee from cities, looking for a safe place to bunker down, and most of them end up on Senator Jellison’s Ranch where a large group has organized in hopes of surviving the winter.

Meanwhile, a group that I thought of as Cannibals for Jesus believe that they have been called to complete God’s work and destroy the small pockets of civilization that have come through the crisis.  They attack the ranch, and then go after a nearby nuclear power plant that is, miraculously, still running.  And the people say, hark!  What devils are these that would dare attack the sacred nuclear power plant!  We shall band together, though it may mean the death of us all, to fight for the right to nuclear power!  Not only do Niven and Pournelle make nuclear power detractors (and environmentalists) completely unsympathetic, devilish lunatics, he makes sure to mention that even the hippies on the local commune change their back-to-the-earth tune once faced with the realities of a truly off-grid existence.  “Let me tell you, it doesn’t work,” says one ex-hippie character of the commune life.  Wa-waaah.

“It’s too much, don’t you see that?”  Owen demanded.  “Atomic power makes people think you can solve problems with technology.  Bigger and bigger.  More quick fixes.  You have the power so you use it and soon you need more and then you’re ripping ten billion tons a year of coal out of the earth.  Pollution.  Cities so big they rot in the center.  Ghettos.  Don’t you see?  Atomic power makes it easy to live out of balance with nature.  For a while.  Until finally you can’t get back in balance.  The Hammer gave us a chance to go back to living the way we were evolved to live, to be kind to the Earth.”

It sounds reasonable doesn’t it?  I happen to agree.  But I’d bet that Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle don’t, as they have one of the madmen Cannibals for Jesus saying it to ring in their unholy war on technology.  What the sympathetically portrayed characters say is, “Give us that electricity plant and twenty years and we’ll be in space again.”  Because the most important thing to consider when fighting for survival is getting the space program started again.  Religious zealotry and mania aside, I bet you can guess which side I thought the real lunatics were.

a feminist reading

And as for you, ladies, you’re just going to love living in the world of Lucifer’s Hammer.  There’s a lot of rape, and then, get this (says a largely respected and sympathetic character):

The only good thing about Hammerfall, women’s lib was dead milliseconds after Hammerstrike.

Wow, I’M SO GLAD.  That pesky women’s lib.  Umm?  Later a female character says: “It’s a man’s world now…So I guess I’ll just have to marry an important one.”  This book is a total feminist fail.  There are a number of female characters (though we only ever hear about the beautiful ones, and the women are always described in terms of beauty whereas the men are not), though what we see them doing most is having sex.  A few of them manage some heroics, but we never get to see this world through their eyes.

The only female perspective Niven gives us is Maureen, a beautiful (duh) woman who is thrust into the role of prize princess in the new group.  She battles with depression, particularly when she realizes that she is the trophy whose possession will determine the next ruler of the ranch once her father, the Senator, passes.  She is unhappy about it, but her criticism is fleeting and in the end she picks a mate and dons the new throne without complaint.  And did I mention the couple who didn’t get married before Hammerfall because the lady wanted to focus on her career?  But who get married and start having babies as soon as the world ends?  At the end of the story, it seems, marriage is a woman’s highest priority in this new, nuclear-powered world.  How very civilized.

and as for the characters who aren’t white

The place Niven and Pournelle give black people (he doesn’t mention any other non-white races) is strange and baffling.  Some professional thieves (all black) survive and rape and pillage and join the Cannibals for Jesus.  There are a few sympathetic black characters, but racism is everywhere in the new world, as if everyone had been waiting for a disaster to allow them to really get down with their racist selves.  Sheesh, Niven/Pournelle, just because you published this in 1977 doesn’t mean you get to be assholes.  Minus twenty thousand points.  Worse are the reviewers all over the internet who chalk this up to “1970s politics.”  So Niven/Pournelle’s racism (NOTE: A commenter recently thought it was too much to call them racist, and maybe he’s right.  I do not know where that particular line in the sand should be drawn, nor do I feel particularly qualified to be drawing it.  I will say though, that Niven and Pournelle have written a white-centric book here, which makes me assume that they too see the world this way.) is ok to ignore because everybody was doing it in the 70s?  Umm, right.

read it or burn it?

Despite Lucifer’s Hammer’s many failings, I enjoyed reading it.  The post-civ scenario is one I haven’t read before, as is the look into a mind very different than my own.  It is pop-y and cheesy and totally ridiculous over and over again, but I enjoyed spending time between the pages and the title would make a great name for a metal band.  But a fun read does not a good book make, and if you were to use its pages to start your wood stove, I would totally understand.

Monday April 08th 2013, 8:00 am 9 Comments
Filed under: apocalypse now,books,conspiracies

(post) apocaylpse mix tape: dead flag blues

You might be asking yourself how it is that I came to be so obsessed with post-apocalyptic fiction and imagery. The answer is simple. I used to dream of revolution, but after a couple years I became very, very disillusioned. I just can’t believe we’re going to make it. I can’t believe that a revolution that could save us from this shit storm (environmentally, politically, etc) is possible, that we could pull it off without being slaughtered, every one, by the government strong arms. And if we did pull it off (whoever “we” are), would we be able to do so in such as way that we wouldn’t end up repeating all the same mistakes?

Forgive me for my lack of optimism.

The first time I heard the term “collapse” was in the work of Derrick Jensen. He spoke of an environmental collapse as the inevitable result of said shit storm. His logic made sense. Not only did it make sense, it gave me hope that there was a force in the world that could put a stop to a lot of the environmental devastation, among other things, that it didn’t rely on reaching a consensus at the coalition meeting. The world around us is not static. Every change inflicted results in further changes, like dominoes falling in line. The way it looks from here, those changes aren’t going to be too friendly for the like of humans or the like of our way of living up to now.  But still, in the prospect of destruction, I saw hope, gruesome though that hope may be.  See.

Then again, maybe I’m just a coward.  Maybe the focus on collapse is a complete cop out.

My love of post apocalyptic imagery writhes in ambivalence.  I want the apocalypse to come (by that I generally am thinking of the end of industrial civilization) because it breaks my heart into tiny little pieces thinking about all the creatures getting killed by human carelessness and stupidity on a daily basis.  The idea that we could actually start fresh, without a painfully slow political process for change, is incredibly appealing.  Yet I also don’t want it to come because, duh, I’ll be dead.  As much as I like to daydream that I survive, the odds are against it.  I live in a big city!  I’m 30!  I don’t know how to use any weapons!  The odds really, really aren’t in my favor.  That and I would probably never see all my America lovelies ever again.  And yet, the imagery remains appealing, beautiful to me in a sorrowful way that is hard to put into words.

Dead Flag Blues by Godspeed You Black Emporer is the queen, the king—no fuck gendered words—the monarch of post-apocalyptic songs.  It is devastatingly sad, yet beautiful in spite of itself.  It is a song full of wringing hands and failure, corpses and flames.  And yet love remains.

I’ve typed out the lyrics, for anyone who would rather read than listen…

The car is on fire and there is no driver at the wheel, and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides. And a dark wind blows. The government is corrupt, and we’re on so many drugs with the radio on and the curtains drawn. We’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death. The sun has fallen down, and the billboards are all leering, and the flags are all dead at the top of their poles.

It went like this:

The buildings tumbled in on themselves, mothers clutching babies picked through the rubble and pulled out their hair. The skyline was beautiful on fire all twisted metal stretching upwards, everything washed in a thin orange haze.

I said, “Kiss me, you’re beautiful. These are truly the last days.” You grabbed my hand and we fell into it, like a daydream or a fever.

We woke up one morning and fell a little further down for sure it’s the valley of death. I open up my wallet and it’s full of blood.

Friday January 04th 2013, 9:00 am 4 Comments
Filed under: apocalypse now,conspiracies,music,post apocalypse mix tape

(post) apocalypse mix tape: the day the basement flooded

Phoebe Kreutz
Photo (cc) flickr user GeertBoog

It was John Darnielle’s dirty, fizzley, basement-boom-box recordings that first trained me to turn a deaf ear to scrappy guitar and to love music that did little more than tell a damn fine story.  The Mountain Goats’ early recordings are the music that macheted the way for what would come into my headphones after: anti-folk.  (They are also partially to blame for the folk punk, but that’s another story.)

Anti-folk music covers a whole range of sounds, but generally it’s silly and irreverent.  It usually isn’t the pristine guitar licks or a perfect melody, but the detailed, satirical lyrics that take center stage.  Though a lot of music snobs have a hard time getting past the musical hollowness of much of the genre, I fucking love it.  LOVE IT.  As a singer and a writer it was always the melodies and the lyrics that got me anyway.  Kimya Dawson is one of the genre’s royalty.  Jeffrey Lewis is another favorite of mine.  And then there’s Phoebe Kreutz.

I discovered Phoebe Kreutz’s music quite by accident.  Back when we used to be called Black Diamond Express Train to Hell, we played a show in Cologne with her.  She was awesome.  We played another show with her, years later, in Mainz.  She was still awesome.  Her lyrics were hilarious and tight.  She wrote songs about books (A Bad Feeling About Anna Karenina and The Lonesomest Dove on the F).  She wrote songs about straight edge kids and her ass and Queen Elizabeth and a lesbian cowgirl and someone pooping on her doorstep.  All of which were hilarious and fantastic.  We (being the Black Diamonds) quickly became the people at the show who could sing along to all the songs.

Well, Phoebe is back in Germany, on tour with her trumpeting companion Matt Colbourn.  Last night at No.2 Records in Frankfurt Sachsenhausen they played a few ditties while the Beard and I distracted Baby Pickles by letting her flip through the rows of CDs and plastic-covered vinyl.  And while they were playing, I realized that one of Phoebe’s newer songs is perfect for the apocalypse mix tape I’m always making in my head.

The apocalypse mix tape isn’t the sort of mix tape I’d play at the arrival of the end times.  It is the sort of tape I’d play now, while thinking about the end times.  The sort of tape filled with songs about the end times.  Post apocalyptic lit for your ears.  And sitting here this morning working on a blog about the concert for another website, I realized that cataloguing and sharing these songs would make a fun weekly addition to Click Clack Gorilla.  So here we are, lalalalalalaLA!

Phoebe’s addition to the mix tape is a song called The Day the Basement Flooded.  It starts with her basement in New York flooding, and ends with the thought that, well hell, if the world ends, I want to be with you, baby.  You wouldn’t think it would be possible to write a totally sweet, upbeat end times love song, but she did it.  Apocalypse or not, it is one of the sweetest love songs I’ve heard in a while. One of my favorite lines:

“If the planet floods I think our little basement probably is screwed.  We should move to higher ground in like a dryer latitude.  And I will be in charge of weeping, you’re in charge of finding food.  Cause the future’s pretty scary, and it may not be so great.  But if the end of times is coming then I’m glad I’ve got a date.  If we have to stat a new world cause the current one’s a dud, I hope that you’ll be with me in the flood.”

So have a watch.  Listen closely to the lyrics.  Enjoy.

While I’m selling Phoebe’s snake oil, there was another new(ish) song of hers that I thought you all might enjoy.  Called Frankenstein, it is about the perils of science.  How there are certain things that, when you investigate, turn out to be monsters.  It seems like it would be the perfect anthem for anti-GMO folks.  “We got what we want, just not the way we wanted.”  I’ve been listening to these two on repeat all morning.

Friday November 09th 2012, 9:00 am 5 Comments
Filed under: apocalypse now,conspiracies,music,post apocalypse mix tape

the dog stars by peter heller

“A novel about the end of the world which makes you glad to be alive.”  That is what it says on the cover of my edition.  They had my at “end of the world,” but “glad to be alive”?  How was a novel about the end of the world going to make me feel glad to be alive?  Now?  With this earth-destroying, soul-sucking system in place?  With corporations pushing through legislation to ban the labeling of GMO foods?  With people being arrested because of the books they own?  With pollution and more pollution and even more pollution?  With factory farming and mountain-top removal and Mitt Romney?  Oh wait, maybe a novel about the end of the world is just what would make me feel glad all over.

So I bought it.  The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.  Even though I hated the title.  Even though I wasn’t entirely certain that this author wasn’t also the author of a lot of bad crime novels.  (He wasn’t.)  Buying a book on a whim is a calculated risk.  I don’t like to keep books around that I won’t read again and again, and I don’t like spending money on things I don’t really need.  But I had a gift certificate.  I took the risk; I played the lotto.  And I won, I won!

The Dog Stars is your classic post apocalypse (PA) story.  It is nine years out, and a few survivors are doing their rather lonely thing.  Some things are broken.  (Note to future PA-book-writing self: Heller mentions automobile gas going “stale” i.e. unusable after a few years.  True or false?)  Some things are not.  This book’s two star survivors, Hig and Bangley, happen to have a whole solar-powered airport as their batcave.  Besides being attacked from time to time, they seem to have the whole survival thing down.  Hig even has a working plane.  I suppose it is all plausible enough.

While the book was a fun and quick read, with a sparse, easy-to-swallow style, the author is a real subject of interest.  The Dog Stars is Heller’s first novel.  Usually he spends his time doing totally fucking nutso white water rafting trips, doing “adventure writing,” and secretly filming assholes who are (were?) murdering a  lot of dolphins in Japan (The Cove).  He built an off-grid adobe house in the middle of nowhere.  He certainly sounds like a man who is ready for whatever is coming, and it all felt like street cred that stood behind the book, making it stronger.

At the end of the story, some crazy shit happens and some nice shit happens.  And did I feel good about being alive?  I mean, I guess I don’t ever actually feel bad about being alive, but the thought that a book was going to create a deluge of posi-ness was going a bit far.  Sounded a bit cheesey.  Well, it was.  Cheesey.  It was.  Impossible.  But I really enjoyed the book, and the ending was fun and made me feel just fine.  Particularly as it involved a world that no longer contained a lot of the bullshit that makes me ache with sorrow for ours.  And maybe that is exactly what they meant.

Friday November 02nd 2012, 9:00 am 5 Comments
Filed under: apocalypse now,books,conspiracies

confessions of a wasteful builder

I admit it.  My hands are raised, my white flag is up: I am a wasteful builder. Even when I recycle scavenged materials. Even when I dumpster dive. I am still a product of this culture in this time. I still drop a screw and don’t run to find it in the grass.  Every time that it happens I see myself, as if from a cloud above my head, watching and shaking my head.  Watching from some time and place when screws aren’t a dime a dozen and the power tools have long since stopped functioning.  If the world ever really does go to shit then I am going to be lamenting just how wasteful I really was.  Then again, so will we all.  It’s the very rare person who lives in a way that wouldn’t be embarrassing to someone trying to survive post-industry.

Even when I am conscience of it, I still don’t climb down the ladder to pick up a dropped screw.  I see the screw fall, I see it disappear into the grass.  I shake my head at its loss, think about the implications, and then I take another screw out of the pouch attached to my belt and get on with it.  After all, I have 200 of them, and the building supply store has thousands and thousands more for a couple of bucks.  Why bother?  Climbing up and down the ladder is annoying, as it bending down, as is the fact that my baby-free time to build is far too short for any sort of interruption.  What absurdity!  What laziness!  And when I start thinking about all that had to happen for that screw to exist—mining, transport, creation, packaging, more transport—it all becomes more embarrassing and awful.  And I still don’t bend down to pick up that screw.

When we burn scavenged wood, I don’t pull all of the nails out of the ash tray later, straighten them, and keep them in a big jar.  (Though this guy does.)  Sometimes I think I should, but I’m just not that person yet.  I may never be that person.  The world is still full of things (that would be rendered completely irrelevant should a collapse ever occur) that keep me too busy to do scavenging on that level.  I don’t remember the last time I even used a nail.  As it is I am glad to know where I could get them, should that knowledge ever come in handy, and I continue to float down the easy-as-hell river that is life in the year 2012 (in this part of the world).

Sometimes I daydream about being that self-sufficient, that capable.  Then if industrial civilization were to end tomorrow, I could just continue on as I always had.  Ho-hum.  As it is that would not be the case, though part of me thinks, fuck it, I’ll enjoy what I can while I can.  I don’t hoard food, not on a meaningful level, though I’ve always been a bit of a squirrel when it comes to having a full pantry.  What I do hoard is knowledge.  I read books about storing root vegetables and building compost toilets.  I dabble in gardening.  I dabble in foraging.  I casually wonder if i should buy some sort of water filter someday, just in case.  I daydream.

Post-civ that sort of knowledge would be gold.  Then again, surviving something that disruptive of the status quo would also have a hell of a lot to do with luck.  No amount of knowledge is going to stop an accidental death, which can come so quickly, so easily, from so many angles.  We are certainly lucky to be living in times when death isn’t such a constant, in-your-face threat.  The more you get to the bones of what a life post-civ would be, the easier it becomes to appreciate the good bits of the world we live in now.  Though it still seems like a collapse might be our only chance—as a species to keep from fucking up the Earth beyond being able to support us, for people who would really like to see this form of government dead and buried—it would also mean a lot of sweat-blood-and-tears work.  I’m up for it, but I can admit something else: the lap of luxury isn’t such a bad place to be.  For now.

Tuesday August 28th 2012, 10:36 am 7 Comments
Filed under: apocalypse now,conspiracies

world made by hand by james howard kunstler

A world made by hand—the words first send visions of people sitting around knitting and doing handcrafts and then, perhaps more accurately and in the sense that it is used in the title of Kunstler’s book, of having a hand in creating a new society.  Agency!  Without it the world may feel secure in some way, stable, but thoroughly out of reach.  I want to have a say in how the little world I live in works.  Today society is set up in a way that makes individual agency practically null, that makes change something that has to be fought for with nails and teeth instead of an ingrained, organic part of the system, something that happens naturally with the coming of each new generation in order to ensure that the world fits those living in it. If it was possible to make the world like this without something huge—be it revolution or collapse–I would stop dreaming about apocalypse.  But for now individual agency in our communities feels like it is a thing of the past.  Or perhaps, if all the PA lit has it right, of the future.

James Howard Kunstler’s 2008 book World Made by Hand depicts just such a world.  Civilization and government have collapsed due to some global issues that arise due to squabbles over oil.  Though no date is ever mentioned, the world depicted is so close to our own—minus all the cracks in the pavement and trees growing through floors—that it could be a picture of next week or next year.

In a small community in upstate New York called Union Grove a group of people have survived and have refocused their efforts on agriculture and animal husbandry.  One group of people have taken over management of excavating the dump for useful items, any house not lived in has been stripped of useful materials, the local doctor experiments with the poppy in an attempt to manufacture sedatives, and fish are running the streams again in never-before-seen-by-civilized-eyes numbers due to the absence of new pollutants.  Though the electricity comes on again for a few minutes from time to time, the only thing left on the radio are the ramblings of religious zealots.

Kunstler’s book follows the day to life of folks in Union Grove, looking at how the people who have survived war and collapse and sorrow and a nasty strain of “Mexican flu” deal with things like crime, justice, religion, sorrow, and love.  The book is full of delightful little details: how a fish is gutted, how an outdoor shower works, what the people eat to get vitamin C.  And when PA (that stands for “post-apocalypse” for the non-PA-lit geeks reading) literature is full of accurate little details like that it starts to feel a little bit like an instruction manual for survival as well as a bit of fun mental exercise.

The people of Union Grove have it pretty good, though the one thing they don’t have much of is community cohesion.  When I imagine a world post-apocalypse, I imagine finally getting the chance to work things out from scratch: to build a world based on mutual respect and aid.  But this almost never happens in PA lit.  In PA lit people revert to a lot of raping and violence, and then they get on with the business of trying to recreate the world that has left them.  But why?  The situation in every single one of these books makes it more than obvious that there was something seriously wrong with the world that has passed, that has been a part of its passing.  So why settle for mimicry when presented with the first real chance for meaningful agency, for radical chance and experimentation?  Why are so many authors certain that people would revert to the worst parts of themselves?  (I am constantly wondering why PA authors always make rape a huge part of any PA world.  I think it’s important to ask ourselves why we can’t seem to imagine a world without it.)  Why not try to build something that makes a little more sense?  Sure, people are going to be traumatized and wallowing in fear and nostalgia in a PA situation.  But this seems to be a line of thought largely unexplored in PA lit, the one exception being Jean Hegland’s Into the Forest, which is probably the most beautiful and inspiring PA novel I have ever read.

Overall World Made by Hand was an enjoyable read.  The writing is simple, but the story propels you quickly through the book’s 300 pages.  At its close, the story takes a strangely woo-woo occult-ish turn which might have put me off if I didn’t believe that we are not necessarily meant to take it literally, but as a reflection on the supernatural’s place in the novel’s handmade world.  As in The Year of the Flood, religion plays a large role in the story—this time in the form of a strange hive community who call themselves “New Faith”—though it is the role of religion rather than the inner workings of the sekt that take center stage.  Though it wasn’t an instant favorite, and I look forward to reading the sequel The Witch of Hebron as well as Kunstler’s nonfiction.

Have any of you read this book or any of his others?  What did you think?  I’m particularly looking forward to checking out Home from Nowhere and The Geography of Nowhere, two of his nonfiction works on the problems of urbanity.

Monday July 30th 2012, 10:38 am 9 Comments
Filed under: apocalypse now,books,conspiracies

the year of the flood by margaret atwood

Why exactly has it taken me so long to read any Margaret Atwood books?  It’s a question I’ve been asking myself ever since I realized that she’s written a shit ton of post-apocalypse, dystopian stuff.  An educated guess would point to potential writer-reader soul mate-dom.  But a feeling has kept me away for years, a feeling that I wouldn’t like her work, appearances be damned.  With no hard evidence to support that feeling, and a sneaking suspicion that I might have just made it up, I decided to finally give her work a try.  And so my last trip to the best English-language book store in the region (in the Frankfurt Hugendubel) ended with a copy of The Year of the Flood.

The Year of the Flood takes place in a not-too-distant future.  You might even call it “practically now,” as the book’s world sounds very much like the present, give or take a few years, but with a different set of vocabulary to describe it—a trick that simply allows us to look at our now the way we would look at something foreign.  That is, with new eyes.  In this world, the middle and upper class intellectuals (mostly scientists and computer geeks from the sounds of it) live in gated communities, the ghettos (called pleebs) are full of shopping and violence and abandoned buildings, and an eco-Christian sect called the Gardeners are growing plants on rooves, stockpiling rations, and teaching their followers about foraging and self-defense.  They sound quite a lot like a lot of the anarcho primitivists I know, but quoting the Bible instead of Emma Goldman or Derrick Jensen.

The Gardeners refer to the bible as the “Human Word of God,” and interpret it the way you might imagine a hardcore animal rights activist would.  They preach vegetarianism and warn of the “Waterless Flood” to come.  Their entire creed is based around respecting the earth, vegetarianism, and teaching their followers skills that will help them survive the coming “flood.”  On their rooftop garden they grow their own food, and in the basements of damp abandoned buildings they make vinegar and grow mushrooms.  In little hidden pantries called ararats, they are stowing away food to help them survive the crisis that they are sure is coming.  They take in outcasts from society at large, and though this aspect is never divulged more deeply, they have spies within the corporations who give them information.

The book follows Ren and Toby, two characters whose lives have been intertwined through their experience with the Gardeners, and who have both survived the flood—which turns out to be a pandemic plague that takes down most of humanity—though separately.  Between their alternating tales are sermons by Adam One, the founder of the Gardeners, as well as hymns from their worship services.  (Songs which, by the way, have since been made into actual music.)

These jumps in perspective made the narrative jumpy, hard for me to lose myself in.  Especially in the beginning, I found myself grumbling every time I reached another sermon chapter, though those chapters did convey information important to our understanding of the religion and, later, to the plot development.  Having bought the book solely based on my love of post-apocalyptic fiction, I was also incredibly disappointed to find that The Year of the Flood is more about the time before the end of civilization than it is about how people go about surviving afterwards.  No, despite a book-back-blurb that implies otherwise, this book doesn’t seem to be about the apocalypse at all.  Though I ultimately found myself drawn into the story enough to finish it, it was a huge draw-back as a reader who had purchased the book with very different expectations.

Though Atwood has been praised for her insight into the female psyche, I found myself unable to really relate to either of the characters.  They felt ephemeral to me, almost like ghosts, though without going back and re-reading I could not tell you if this was due to the writing or my reading.  But when near the end of the book (sorry, I forgot to note the page and now can’t find it for a quote) one of the female narrators says something along the lines of “Maybe we were ghosts,” I started to wonder if this was intentional.  Then again, the problem may have simply been that I found them uninteresting.

On the whole Year of the Flood was a pleasant read.  It didn’t blow my mind, but I did enjoy reading it.  I don’t think it is a book that I will necessarily read again and again, but it does offer a few interesting thoughts to the post-apo lit discussion—particularly in the form of the Gardeners.

Are you a Margaret Atwood fan?  Did you love this book?  Or has she written others you’d recommend?  I’m trying to decide if/what of hers I should read next.

Above photo of Margaret Atwood (cc) flickr user mabel.sound

Monday July 09th 2012, 9:00 am 23 Comments
Filed under: apocalypse now,books,conspiracies

recycling for the apocalypse: things to do with old tires

Oh plastic. The plastic that industrial cultures have been diligently filling the world with since Alexander Parkes created parkesine—the first man-made plastic—in 1862 isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Your average hard plastic thing-a-ma-bob could take up to 500 years to decompose. But as most plastics don’t actually decompose as we understand the term—instead just breaking into smaller and smaller pieces—they are even going to be with us after that. So we might as well find something useful to do with them, eh?

Take old tires. What the hell can you do with old tires? Well, you can build playground equipment out of them. (I loved me some tire swinging when I was a kid.) You can use them to make growing potatoes easier. You can make shoe soles. You can even build houses out of them. Luckily—if you can call it luck—creative recycling options for them are about as plentiful as discarded tires are.

Recently I came across a new tire-recycling idea. This tire basket belongs to Mama Beard, but as I only noticed it as we were leaving her house, I didn’t get a chance to ask for the story behind it. Still an inspiring idea for re-purposing old treads.

Have you seen any other resourceful ways to recycle old tires?

Postscript: I wanted to note that a high school student named Daniel Burd appears to have discovered that some types of bacteria, in the right circumstances, can biodegrade plastics. Fascinating stuff. But still not a good reason to keep making so much of the stuff.

Wednesday April 04th 2012, 9:00 am 1 Comment
Filed under: apocalypse now,conspiracies,diy,freegan,recycling for the apocalypse

dumpster find of the week: apocalypse, dark mountain, and rima staines

“Welcome to the end of the world as we know it.  The advertised future has been canceled, due to unforseen circumstances.  All around us there are signs that our whole way of living is passing into histoy.  This is a book about what we do next.”

What could I say about this passage, about my excitment for the book that this statement graces the back of, that wouldn’t sound cliche, that could really communicate the excitment that I feel fluttering in the marrow of my bones at reading these words?  Nothing.  Silence, in fact, is the answer.  A quiet nod at what I can only imagine is a damn fine publication created by people who I would really enjoy sharing an evening with.  Meet the Dark Mountain Project.

Being hopelessly out of touch with everything—even things that interest me passionately—I first heard about the project over a year after the second Dark Mountain anthology was complete, from fellow sometimes-small-houser writer dreamer painter and dream weaver Rima Staines.  (Whose work you might remember from this post.)  The group publishes hardcover anthologies of end-of-civilization writing and art, puts on festivals, and generally deserves a lot of hat-tipping and praise.  As usual, they’ve already described the project well themselves, and I quote:

“We are citizens of the most destructive civilisation in human history. That civilisation is in the process of destroying much of life on Earth in order to feed its ever-advancing appetites. As it does so, it appears to be destroying itself.  All around us are signs that our whole way of life is passing into history.

“In times like these, an honest cultural response is needed. It is through stories that we weave reality. The progress of civilisation itself is a story; as is the centrality of homo sapiens to life on Earth, as is the inevitability of human life getting better, of technology and science digging us out of the hole we are in. These old, creaking stories are now killing us. We need new ones.

“The Dark Mountain Project exists to write them. We aim to question the stories that underpin our failing civilisation, to craft new ones for the age ahead and to reflect clearly and honestly on our place in the world. We call this process Uncivilisation.”

dark mountain and dumpster diving

In a roundabout way, it all comes back to dumpster diving.  Rima painted the cover for the first Dark Mountain Anthology.  On a piece of wood she found in the trash.  And another dumpster find of the week post was born.  Isn’t it purdy?

As for where she scavenged the wood, Rima had this to say:

“As for the Dark Mountain painting….well the piece of wood came from a skip in a rather special place we have in our community called Proper Job.  It’s a community recycling yard or landfill redirection—basically, a kind of heavenly junk yard with piles of old stuff, portacabins and compost… they take all the stuff we don’t want any more, and do house clearances too, and then sell it back to people who do want it.  There are books, clothes, textiles, antiques, old tools, furniture, compost, and all manner of unnamable items, bits of metal, wood, and more…

“If you live round here, you generally tend to go there every week or few to see what’s appeared, and the longer you live in this area, the more you see items passing round to other people. Most of my clothes these days come from there, and friends exclaim when they see their old garments on me. Pieces of furniture make their way round many households in the village, and all in all it’s a great place. They have a skip for old wood that’s not obviously usable and people can take it for firewood for a donation (you can see where the skips are here).

“And that’s where I found the piece of wood for the painting. I love to paint on wood best of all—canvas is too springy, and often I like to keep the bark on (as with my handmade wooden clocks).  Also, I really really love the worn wood aesthestic, flaking paint, and mottled broken colour. The older and more weathered the wood the better, which is why a skip is a better place to find wood for a painting than a wood yard. The weathering gives it soul I think.”

You can see more photos of the painting, as well as read more of Rima’s magical words over at Into the Hermitage.

Have you ever turned scavenged materials into art?

all hail ye, mighty eyjafjallajokull

I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you: for the last week Eyjafjallajokull the Friendly Icelandic Volcano has been spewing 14-kilometer columns of ash into the air. The ash created clouds that in turn smoked all of Europe’s airplanes right out of the sky.

The skies were blue, not tic-tac-toed with plane-exhaust lines, they were empty, and they were quiet. And I secretly wished it would go on forever, despite the fun and exciting plans it would displace, wished that it would smoke on and on and on until the entire airline industry went out of business.

Imagine wars with no bomber planes! Imagine the skies with no jumbo jets! Imagine all the communities surrounding airports that would finally have peace and quiet! Imagine the reduction in CO2 emissions! Imagine taking three-week-long boat trips in order to get to other continents!

Instead, the flying bans were lifted yesterday and the sky is once again streaked with puffy white lines. I was disappointed. This probably makes me some sort of Luddite.

Then a delightfully apocalyptic article on a website called The Times Online bolstered my end-time reverie with the headline “This is just the beginning, warn scientists.”

Apparently Eyjafjallajokull has a history of, once it gets started spewing smoke, doing so intermittently for several years afterward. Not to mention the way the eruptions have upset the neighboring volcano Katla.

Katla’s eruptions, according to the article, have “a far greater potential for disrupting travel and the climate.” Maybe there is still some small chance that the airplane industry will go down in a ball of volcanic flame, making the whole transition period that will come after the inevitable oil crash that much easier.

So if you live near Eyjafjallajokull, please keep an eye on the local virgin maidens. We can’t afford to have somebody pacifying the mountain with a sacrifice just when nature is so close to accomplishing what decades of activism have failed to achieve.

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Thursday April 22nd 2010, 10:18 pm 9 Comments
Filed under: apocalypse now,conspiracies