Eclosian Dreams

Happy Beltane!

What a momentous time to signal the mid-spring, with new life sprouting all around us, we are asked to consider the strange chrysalis we find ourselves. Our emergence from this time is still coming, overhanging, pending—we’re in the strangest of holding patterns. Some restless and coming out too soon—the world on fire all around us–tensions flaming.

Now is still the time to dream our lives and society anew.

Even now, countless laborers are putting themselves at risk for the sake of others, whether it’s the primary care of health and hospitals, the food and sanitation chain, the constant and necessary functioning of what we have come to rely upon, to say nothing of so many unrecognized others putting care into the system for their family and friends–roots and foods, for strangers. Some of them are also on strike or working in organization and solidarity with those efforts to bring justice, equity, and inclusion in the face of all the ills that our current capitalistic and oligarchic system have done against the lives of these essential labors.

As we change our future from where we are, let us remember that our labors must be balanced with those that need reciprocity and recognition, food of different kinds, nectars of new kinds of health. It is an opportunity, I think many have seen it, to examine what it means to be essential.

The term eclose, the eclosion of a pupae from a chrysalis, to emerge as a full adult, is a helpful metaphor. We’re still changing, mutating, swapping the stored fats and knowledges of yesterday for legs and wings—buckled down in our homes and starting to get antsy. We face fears, distance, and death. We cannot possibly return to the world we left, we are so changing. We are dreaming a new world as we shelter in place and plan for where our wings can take us, how to remake and remediate our world. But what will it take to fly in the next? Will we know where to land?

To facilitate this feeling I have for Beltane and May Day this year, enjoy the fire of new growth, try to honor deaths and stillborn to close, and add some balm for the stretch marks and growing pains—and keep in solidarity that this is happening to us all in some way.

Some music to enjoy and guide that journey.

And an invitation to work on how to dream the future. From the reverberance of the Chrysalis Symposium last year and new work being done to articulate this world with some discussions and workshops online, below.

To celebrate the 1st of May in spite of the lock-out, @medialab_ScPo with @zkmkarlsruhe have made a new platform to follow thru the project “where to land after the pandemic?” A modest way to resist the return to the old ways.                   –from: BrunoLatour @BrunoLatourAIME · Apr 30

There’s a lot of us working on this. Feel free to reach out and get connected.




Off to the Races

I grew up on too many viewings of The Neverending Story. I mean, if there is such a thing. And try as I might, while there are snail race board games, I could not find any snail racing RPGs.

So I made one. It’s called Snail Trails.

It’s a small start, but I have the basics in there. It’s a simple one-shot based Fate Accelerated Edition entrant into the #EarthEmpathyJam over on I’m hoping to return to it soon and add more flesh to the bare-bones alpha version it is, but the concept is there with some imagination.

More info and downloads can be found here:

A table-top role-playing game using Fate Accelerated Edition module for 3-6 players and a GM.

Primary inspiration for this game came from watching The Neverending Story, reading about them in the book, and then getting increasingly imbued with them from my Environmental Arts and Humanities degree research. More on the latter later, but email me for more info.

There also don’t seem to be any RPGs out there that simulate the fun and dramatics of what a real fantasy racing-snail race would look like and could be.

Further inspiration comes from wanting to write stories and experience together with friends the impending changes coming from global climate change, the need for changes in culture to appreciate the problems we face collectively and individually in the Anthropocene. While even that moniker, the Anthropocene, is rife with problems, a more grounded, situated view from the perspective of a snail may help. I think racing through biomes of various degradation, encountering well-meaning and absent-minded (of snails especially) adversaries, and trying to figure out how to balance competition and collaboration during times of strife when the odds are so high may be meaningful and fun for many, at least a few snail aficionados.


I finished my MA in Environmental Arts and Humanities, officially!

Message me if you would like to read my thesis or get info on my defense presentation.

I’m still writing and understanding what to do with all the snails and philosophy and what form the research may continue to take. The AWP conference this past weekend helped get a few new areas moving, and I’ll be presenting at ASLE soon in June.

Thank you for all the support from whatever direction you may have assisted.

And, if you sign-up on Patreon (updates soon hopefully) or PayPal me a tip, I’ll send you a snail sticker.snail 5.png

Speaking of the Hearth

My thesis advisor suggests I stop looking for more things to read, but I must share this one.

Hearth, by Annick Smith and Susan O’Connor, looks to be a collection of essays, narratives, and poetry that aligns well with the mission of this blog space. I wish I had time to review it immediately, but it shall have to wait until I get the thesis done and defended. Soon, then, hopefully. But, you need not wait...

Getting close

I’m trying to graduate this spring, so I’m deep in thesis writing land [it’s kinda hot and full of brimstone, and monsters… terrible, unspeakable monsters].

So, for now, I give you a snail. Something I made for some of the intrusions of the lesser known voices of the world to complicate academia.


(and soon stickers too)

Published Works

Besides the blog here, I also have been writing over at my Environmental Arts and Humanities Program Blog. Many good voices of my cohorts there.

See my Published Works page for a few writings I’m offering online.

And you can find and follow my social media sites over on the right.

Teaching Portfolio

As a Graduate Student in the Environmental Arts and Humanities MA program at Oregon State University, I have had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant to several classes in the College of Science. For that and my future plans as an educator, check out the new Teaching tab and my Teaching Portfolio.


Giving Thanks, Braiding Sweetgrass

It’s been awhile since I have posted here. Graduate school has not left much time for writing extra posts for blog spaces, or I’ve been too exhausted to reformat them for other spaces here.

However, this book report turned out exceptionally well and I would love to share it with you. This was part of my Social and Environmental Justice in Education class. I hope you enjoy it, and please check out the Thanksgiving Address below and consider using it as part of your Thanksgiving grace and gratitude.


Braiding Sweetgrass

Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants

By Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013)

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a Ph.D botanist (currently a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology), a mother of two, and a member of the Potowatomi Nation. One of the important points of this book is that she uses these diverse perspectives simultaneously in presenting a worldview that integrates and draws from each one of them. I would argue that this book exactly is the identities that Kimmerer is, and therefore becomes a profound meditation on identity. In truly being herself, she presents a version and vision of seeing that benefits all of them and the reader alike.

This is a wonderful book. For me, at least, it inspires a kind of wonder that I am yet fully able to articulate. And this does not necessarily come easily for me. If I had to put my sense to it, this book accomplishes many of the aims I have with my own career; integration of wisdom traditions, the blending of science with traditional knowledges, the creative writing of personal experience, and a pedagogy of resilience.

I find myself deliberately avoiding the assignment prompts of this book report to try and capture and emulate even a shred of the creative narrative that Robin Wall Kimmerer accomplishes with almost every chapter. Each one, starting in such an easy and ordinary experience, soon blending into something between personal narrative, ecology lecture, Native story or tradition, slice-of-life on the farm, the toils of academics, and often all in the same breath. Where one direction belies the title of each section, “The Gift of Strawberries,” “A Mother’s Work,” “The Three Sisters,” the almost innocence of their starting leads trails and paths, a weaving of such amazing intricacy, depth and meaning that when those trails become clear and meet with the questions of life, animacy, and the necessity of reciprocity, she crafts a different kind of knowledge than you could expect from any one of them alone.

In “The Gift of Strawberries,” for example, we are introduced to Kimmerer’s father’s love of strawberries, stories of her harvesting them as a child to give to him on Father’s Day. It becomes soon a meditation on the ownership of plants and land, how to understand the gifts of Mother Earth, how the author feels when she sees these gifts in the supermarket, plastic wrapped and monetized. Wild strawberries can fit the definition of gift, but store-bought cannot. The nature of gift-giving changes how we understand the objects exchanged, and this realized reciprocity (or not) influences our understanding and cognizance of that reciprocity, and has effects in the real world. In the gift economy or in tending of sweet grass, the Native view of how to treat the world and the gifts of the land, we understand that the reciprocity attached to gifts is different than merely getting something for free. Responsibility for the gifts of the earth is the biggest message of Braiding Sweetgrass.

Kimmerer’s ecological knowledge, both from her training as a botanist in academia and the Native knowledges passed to her from her tribal peoples comes through in important ways. In “A Mother’s Work,” we are given her memoiric tales of wanting to be a good mother to her two daughters, and, as a recent single parent, decides to reclaim the pond in their new home to a swimming hole when they move. Her exuberance to give her daughters this gift turns quickly to environmental perspectives of what makes ecological restoration possible—the knowledge of Cladophora algae, eutrophication and nutrient enrichment cycles, tadpoles and pollywogs, and the scientific web of life that existed in her pond. If that weren’t enough, the natural cycles (phosphate cycling to pond succession) are mirrored in herself and her daughters as she tries to reclaim a potential of water quality that would benefit swimming in clear waters as much as her aging. But to do so, Kimmerer must confront how her own actions jeopardize the life that was in the pond, the webs of Hydrodictyon, the birds nesting in willow by its banks—she had become the destruction of other mothers’ hard-won life in pursuit of her own. With tending these waters, she invokes the interplay of ecologies, the webs and mothers at every stage, and even in that destruction, there is also new life, and new sweetgrass planted at the banks to teach children how to grow and tend the waters. And the algae grew back all the same the next year. The task, she claims, is to find out what the gifts of age bring rather than trying to turn back the succession of time, but what gets done matters, and tending to the water is both important to women’s work (explained not as gender role but as respected mantle) in the tribe and to teaching children that in death and upheaval, there are new gifts.

In “The Three Sisters” she explains the traditional native guild of Corn, Bean and Squash (capitalized, for all beings in the web of life attend recognition and respect as such). With botanist detail of growth cycles and nitrogen fixation, we learn too of the mythology of the Three Sisters that each of these plants exemplifies. How each role they play is important to that family of plants, a family that grows from the earth to completely feed and give life to its people. In understanding these gifts of Mother Earth, there is the embedded reminder that each person also must find the gift that they have to strengthen the family; that being a viny bean plant depending on Corn’s tall uprightness might just mean you have rhizomatic gifts that feed others’ deeper growth from your hidden nitrogen fixing. That being a roly-poly, vitamin-filled pumpkin means your broad, spiny leaves preserve soil moisture and deter hungry caterpillars, your flesh the balance of protein and starch. These are the stories of the tribal ancestors, the reason we pay respect and reciprocity to all our relations in the great web of life.

In the story of “Wendigo,” we have what might be called a cautionary faerytale (the old, gory, Grimm kind), warning of the dangers of thinking only of one’s self, only of fattening and excess (the root of Wendigo). This becomes the same cautionary tale of environmental exploitation and extractivism, the savageness of mountaintop removal, diamond mines in Rwanda, the complicity to market economies, the savageness of the Wendigo’s horror of consumption—and the imperative not to feed it.

When her daughters are caught silently protesting the pledge of allegiance in school, we are given the story of how Kimmerer too, as a kindergartener, felt part of something bigger through these group participations. But as she grew older, the justice implied by the pledge was questioned, and lacked; further too because such recitation rarely leads to adult allegiance, and less so too for Native children learning of that hypocrisy. We understand the importance of an “Allegiance to Gratitude” and the Thanksgiving Address (PDF) of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. This is how we can live and love our country, but recognize that our gratitude is bigger than political boundaries can hold. Our thanks to the land must also be included for all Creation.

I would love to go on and on about each chapter, but the original is far better and I think you get the sense. Others continue on the theme of gifts, reciprocity, and how to practice gratitude. How the patience to get through her writing (and perhaps even this essay) is a part of the process of learning how to understand that gratitude. Other meanderings end up being metaphorays, walks wherein the author, like a forager for new plants and foods, finds new connections and stories, some new, with Latin roots, some old, with ancient roots. Some are stories of her students, forays into botany classes—both from her harrowing, amateur time as a new teacher, and later as she spoke her truth, brought students to her world, as she does in this book. Some are stories of her ancestors, grandfathers that had to survive through Indian boarding schools, their language purged, their hair cut like their identities and stories cut from their lives. If there is any aspect of her speaking truth to power in this book, it is so utterly hidden behind every moss and meadow, and yet present in a truly alive and numinous way.

This is the way to walk with the ancestors, healing colonization and invasive species with First Man Nanabozho, the way of observing and changing that can be both Native and Western science, and how to learn to stay in this land we have called home; how to embrace indigenization, truly make it and respect it as a home, recognize the gifts around us, and be thankful.

Personally, I can find myself (if it wasn’t obvious) agreeing wholeheartedly with the author. The weaving of creative nonfiction with the storied life, the story of science, the story of activity in all the Relations, and the stories of the Native peoples of this land, are utterly compelling. In my own research and drive, this is demonstrative of that middle key, the tones and singing of spheres that transcend disciplinary boundaries and blinders to other ways of being in the world. It may be a pedagogy for a post-industrial, post-modern world.

That said, I also find myself leaving the animus of Native traditions to my agnosticism. I know how to give thanks to those stories, to see their usefulness and appreciate the mythology, but I also know how my own metaphysics must leave some of that mythology to useful stories and not fully reified. I’m also a chemist by training, and while I know that the disenchantment of the world has been shown in my research to be one of the primary problems with our current environmental predicament, I know too that over-animating and relying on any unknown Providence may be unwise. I’m arguing for a living world, not a new god or Gaia of totality, but one that recognizes the animation, the activity in everything. This is the Latourian Gaia I look forward to understanding more, and this is the Mother Earth that I can support and give my thanks to—and see Kimmerer having written here.

I find it difficult to ask questions of an audience so seemingly distant behind screens, but I have also embraced my technopaganism—and you have read thus far some small shred of this dense book. If this prose has been any use to you, I would wonder how. How can a book like this be transformative as we understand how to become more rooted in place, how to be at home on the Earth, and the implications for all of our actions and beliefs? Does gratitude fill the gap and satisfy the relentless hunger of our supposed consumerist society? How long would that take, to see the land and our brother Squash and sister Moon as a relation? Will that make our minds one, or are there other, important perspectives that need to be voiced, hurdles to the story? What voices do you hear, or more mundanely, from what modes of existence do you see that challenge the importance of gratitude and some greater sense of reciprocity?

A quick postscript in that Kimmerer also acknowledges importantly the work of many of our OSU elders and associates: Kathleen Dean Moore, Charles Goodrich (both having worked extensively to form the program I’m currently in), Michael Nelson, Robert Michael Pyle, and many others. My thanks to them also, again, as well.

Opening the Grate

I’d like to welcome you to my Patreon page! I decided to finally go live with my writing endeavours online with some hope of getting some support.

As a reader, follower or patron, I’d first like to thank you by sharing one of my older stories. These are old fires, almost dust at this point, but the warmth warped a bit of the metal that we have to work with now.

I wrote this a while ago in college for my first short story fiction writing class. It was a good first, arguably literate foray into strange fiction. I later got it published at my college Literary Arts magazine Prism.

There’s not a lot of other comments or annotations to make on it yet, but I’d be happy to answer questions about what you think about it. I was generally inspired by Raymond Carver’s Cathedral and the history of science I was learning of at the time.

How we treat the downtrodden of the world is important to me.

Here is Grotto, circa 1999, published in 2002

I’m going to start with posting .epub and .pdf files of my works for now, which should work on most e-readers, computers, and reading options. However, if I get some feedback, I’d be happy to make other formats available (Kindle, etc.).

Check out my Patreon share folder on dropbox. This will be the place to check for all the free offerings I have.

Supporting patrons will get a separate link for supported posts and pieces. They’ll look much the same, and have other patron only offerings.

Thanks everyone! More writings coming soon!


Steeped in Supernatural Chicago

SummerKnight_Paperback_12-120DeathMasks_Paperback_13-120BloodRites_Paperback_14-120I’ve been listening to a lot of Dresden Files audiobooks recently in hopes to catch up on the series (Summer Knight, Death Masks, and Blood Rites). These are not terribly short books, nor so dense that it is hard to listen to them while I do other work around the house, garden, or otherwise drive around. Part of me wishes I could read them as it would probably be faster, though the audio is well enacted and produced, and worth the joy of taking the time to listen.

I like what Jim Butcher does. They are perhaps not high literature, but they have complex characters, curious magical politics, and re-envisioned mythology in every book that rounds the bases quite well.

I originally saw the TV series back on Sci-fi Channel, which, perhaps surprisingly, got me interested in the series. I love modern fantasy retellings as much as the next nerd, and these have been popular for good reason. Well paced dramatic storylines, realistic modern magic in a context that at least makes sense. I’ve never been much interested in hard-boiled detective stories, but this one has a flair that pleases. And recurring sidekick that does Aikido (however inaccurately and competitively) is a perk.

As a tabletop roleplayer from time to time too, I further got on board when one of my favorite game companies (Evil Hat Games) decided to come out with their FATE version of the Dresden Files RPG. I haven’t had time to extensively play the game as I try to get further into the setting so I can more fully appreciate how to set-up further games in the Dresdenverse.

My one complaint is that, as each novel stands on its own but builds on the last, there’s the requisite re-hashing of his magical concept set-up. It helps for the most part, but can induce a kind of soporific reading (or listening). Easy enough to get through. I do also find I have to read or listen to something else between novels lest they blend too much together. Luckily, I have little worry about finding other books.

The series continues to deliver otherwise as I rounded out the first half-dozen. Butcher continues to hone his craft and weave a compelling web. The next half-half dozen, short-stories, graphic novels, and book 14 impend upon me—with delight.

Telling Long Stories

Just a little comment about this piece from Brainpickings, Neil Gaiman, and The Long Now Foundation.

The chemist in me was in glee when Neil was talking about research into an imminent atomic priesthood charged with creating a lasting mythology and ritual system to preserve the knowledge about how not to dig, drill or otherwise exhume atomic waste disposal sites millions of years into our future (wherein it may not be possible to actually read or understand any form of language we depict upon it currently).

And then that was related to how the first emperor of China‘s tomb has still yet to be fully excavated because the lakes of liquid mercury are indeed providing an adequate challenge to get past.

Which then makes me think of Numenera, a reasonably well executed RPG-cum-thought-experiment set a billion years in the future, replete with a scientific priesthood and science-as-magic storytelling.

Worth an hour of listening.

How to read a book written by Mark Z. Danielewski

[this is the book review I did for my local bookstore]

If you’re wondering what that book is on the shelf, the one with the cutout, colorful and comic ‘1’, getting some acclaim and attention, colored dog ears on the pages, weird fonts, layouts and electronic scribbles in the gutter of the spine, you have found The Familiar. Volume 1 to be exact. Of twenty-seven. And you thought John Scalzi had some books to write.

Yes. 27. That’s 880 pages promised for each volume. Doing that math means you’re in for quite a ride—23,760 pages to be exact. Don’t worry though, with Mark’s writing style, formatted uniquely for each character of the story, for each mood and scene, for each transcendental symbol, some, nay, many, of those pages may only contain an ellipsis. If MZD’s past success (or infamy) with his ergodic, jackdaw first novel House of Leaves; his sophmore release, National Book Award-nominee Only Revolutions; or his prose-poem-performed-stitched-story ofThe Fifty Year Sword is any testament, his current attempt at re-inventing the novel aims to bemuse, befuddle and delight.

Ostensibly centering around a girl on a rainy day on her way to get a pet dog her computer programmer father wants as her companion, her mother her own, the rainy day brings the girl instead to find a kitten. Other characters (an L.A. Gangster, an L.A. Cop, a Filipino acolyte, a South American fixer, a N.Y. cabbie, and a technocratic mystic…) complicate and promise, later, to interact, though for this volume, their stories are curious and add layers of mystery, mundanity and science fiction yet to be answered, though fully engrossing in their own rights.

To read this book, one could first follow MZD on forums, Twitter and Facebook like a good internet fan-boy, painstakingly cataloging andrecounting all such strange missives the hermetic Z has released in his writing frenzy. Then, every fortnight, parse and map each strange code, making a patchwork of places. And then star fields, broken and puzzle-like, containing embedded and cyphered text files previewing the first contents, and arguably relevant to the elusive and alien(-like? A.I.) VEM and the entirety of the series. Then, planning your reading chronologically (tagged for ease with the colored dog-ears), or character threaded (again, the colors… so many colors!), embrace the rabbit hole of bracketed, parsed, stream-of-consciousness oddity that this book-cum-artwork only begins to encompass.

Or, like a sane person, you could just start at the chilling preview material those tweets encoded, included for your edification before chapter one, and begin to count the raindrops for yourself. Again, whatever you bring to The Familiar becomes a part of what you get to understand about the Familiar.

MZD himself has said this is his homage to television series, each five volumes roughly equaling a “season”, to be released two to three volumes a year until completion—or failure if it does not live up to it’s namesake. As the current success and bestseller status seem to indicate, he’s got a good shot. A long shot as magnum opi go, but it is truly epic, replete with its own Grecian style chorus commenting throughout, and begins to deliver much. I can attest from a first reading that there is much here left unanswered, but also much to enjoy and tantalize, like pilot episodes: they hook you to read more, and I’m hooked. Danielewski makes works of text fusing to become art, and in the above ergodic sense, one that you must work for, knead even, to get the layers and meanings hidden within to come to the fore.

And, as he encourages from his letter about this first volume:

In one way, The Familiar comes down to a large family, as disparate in background as it is forever bound together. In another way, though, it is just about one remarkable girl, who is as much an act of fiction as she is the daughter I’ve never had, the daughter we together have never had, blindly befriending those who dare encounter her, but most of all befriending the remarkable creature called forth from a place beyond language, maybe even beyond life itself, the necessity we never knew we needed, and just starting to yowl.

Not for its own needs.

But for ours — for we who have forgotten we’re hungry.

Not a light read, but like life—potentially rewarding.

The Need for Flavor

On Being with Krista Tippett – interview with Dan Barber Driven By Flavor

I was listening to Krista Tippett‘s On Being radio show/podcast interview with Dan Barber last night driving home to have dinner with my mom. She made a zucchini lasagna without pasta. Amazing!

It was a great episode exploring the reasons behind flavor and sustainable agriculture. For many years we humans have selected seeds to grow differently for different reasons. Are those reasons ultimately good?

Well, of course the answer is you get what you select for. Select for more production, and you dilute the nutritive fruits of the plants you cultivate. Like in growing tomatoes: the breed of your tomatoes will dramatically impact their flavor and quality. Their breed comes from years and generations of selection, much from nature, some from humans. If productivity becomes stressed over quality of flavor and nutritive value, the same amount of possible nutrients the plant can provide gets spread over more tomatoes. Sure, you’ll have more tomatoes, and those tomatoes will have some nutritive value, but maybe you would like tomatoes better if they had more nutrients, they’d taste better, probably provide more nutrition, and you could probably be okay just having fewer.

I can’t help but see the correlations to our modern society, and I’ve long struggled with the drive to produce more drivel at the cost of any shred of quality. While you can be a productive human and make a lot of things happen, it is likely that if you over stress production, have any lack of focus, the quality and importance of those actions become more diluted and meaningless. With too much production, those projects that are attended to will be of less quality if production is forced over the nutritive and functional value of a few, important projects. The most difficult step is understanding how to find that balance, understand what is truly of importance, for in the grand scheme of things, a lot of things aren’t, and still others may be but are neglected. Hence, the relationship with understanding being and the role of sustainable agriculture and the joys of life with flavor.

Yes, there is always a balance to our act. I would argue that our modern culture is far out of balance considering the needs of global sustainability, energy consumption and completing the regenerative loop. The information age and smart phone economy may be a necessary development of the consciousness of the planet, but it is at the cost of China’s environment bleeding into global climate change and plunging us into an environmental and economic collapse. Economies and money-grubbing encourage a certain kind of uselessness, and just following one’s passions without regard to the implications in the rest of the world is equally dangerous.

The balance between the produced and imminent is always at key. If you’ve got it, I believe you get into the flow of love, be it romance or scrumptiousness. There’s nothing wrong with productivity, abundance either, but quality and balance in that experience, exposition and export is important.

Will we take the time to slow down and taste the carrots?

Towards New Lexicons

Towards New Lexicons: understanding @MaxBarry’s book #Lexicon and why linguistics and semiotics are troubling

lexicon_usa_hb_bigI finished listening to Lexicon by Max Barry (@MaxBarry) recently.

It is a worthy book and you should read it (or listen); the others lauding it are fairly correct. It has succinct prose and an engaging story examining the meaning of words, what power they have, and what’s important in the grand scheme of free will and convincing other people to do one’s will.

Myself a student of words and symbols, a padawan of semiotics, it still irks me a little bit as writers get lost in the aggrandizement of words as magic and power. True, Barry and others are right to reference the word in its historical and magical underpinnings, and that does work to a fair extent. However, it is, I feel, too easy to fall prey to the fallacy that words contain the meaning, and by result, can have such blatant and overreaching power.

Barry conjures the greatest of power words in his story. True, words have a power. People might not be willing to give them power, may continue to give them subconscious reactions even, but as has always been, fundamentally, words have only as much power as society and people willingly give them. Words have a very recent origination, and, as in Lexicon, I find it a mistake to ignore that rather important point. Words and utterances postdate human consciousness, though inform it to such a degree as to surely propel it, and are now confoundingly intertwined.

The trap that this novel falls into then is that there might exist words and utterances that can affect people so deeply as to compel them completely to do whatever is bid. A fundamental linguistic machine code to consciousness, while wonderful in theory, holds less weight in my understanding (emphasis on the linguistic). As any competent psychonaut and student of mystical experience will tell you, experience of perception and consciousness, other worldly or not, is often un-verifiable and un-utterable, and therefore words can no longer penetrate to many (arguably any) corners of the void actually worth going to. This is what new lexicons are for as the inward and outer cosmos is mapped further. And yet, the void remains.

Why, and importantly how, would so-called power-words exist? The novel argues them, and work well as merely a fictional underpinning, but falls short of competently explaining them in the context of further holonic dependencies, networks, and the deeper points of neurology without inciting true mystical powers and the ineffable, inscrutable. It does touch on some important and relevant neurolinguistics, but the story there is far from done.

Joyce and Campbell talk of the aesthetic arrest that high-art, indeed words, could have, but that arrest is still dependent on one’s understanding of and execution of perception, awareness, and consciousness. I find it difficult to imagine the possibility of any word, even if it is exquisitely depicted as Barry has, to be compelling enough for almost everyone—and indeed, that is what we find in the story (though I would argue that even a small town would be less likely to suffer it so violently as Broken Hill).

I suspect Barry knows most of this meta-linguistic problem well enough himself. He’s a writer and must employ words to get his story across. He continues to point at the power-words with other words, as one mystically describes the depths of the void with what few map points we have. And, in that, he executes, with the brevity of a single novel for what he tries to accomplish: a meaningful and thrilling story, believable characters, clandestine illuminated organizations, and food for thought that rival some of the greats of Stephenson, et. al.

Living by the Light of Starry Swirl

dark eden

I recently finished listening to the audiobook Dark Eden by Chris Beckett. To be honest, I was attracted by the paperback cover of the book at my local bookstore—holographic shimmer on black background with fireflies—yes please! I found it excellent listening while I gardened and shoveled gravel.

(possible spoilers, though nothing terrible)

Chris Beckett conjures a dark and distant world heated by geothermal trees, lit by only the Milky Way (now called Starry Swirl for lack of lexical continuity from Earth), small lantern flowers and the occasional angler-fish-wooly-herd-animal (with six legs, mind you). There, a colony of humans stranded after their forebears escaped/fled/absconded from the Earth is finding their expanding family is having to repeat a number of human civilization milestones as it grows beyond the small valley, limited food and resources, and lack of creative thinking.

Where six-legged “Leopards” with shimmering coats of cascading light wail like dying children disappearing in the night right before they pounce, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. All the creatures on Dark Eden seem like something out of a dark Starship troopers novel: lots of legs, strange mouth-parts, clearly unearthly, and yet have been named with such basic terms like Bat or Buck or Slinker, giving a cosy feel to the narrative.

My only complaint of the novel, especially as a scientist, is how a world ecology could evolve to be sustainable for human life without a star to power it. While Beckett explains some of its plausibility, and I’m willing to give a fair bit of slack for the sake of an interesting world and social allegory, pulling off a coherent ecology requires the right character and verbiage that the characters literally do not have.

Where Beckett soars, as is no surprise for his background as a social worker in England, is his role as social analyst, and he does a rather magnificent job of blending both simple language (akin to the low educated future tribe of Cloud Atlas) and sociological commentary on the role of conservatism and iconoclasm in the microcosm of his 500 person inbred colony. As the colony loses touch with the written word and can’t seem to remember how to invent new language (or anything else for that matter), their social structure handed down through five generations begins to fail as they have no method of creative renewal, constantly waiting for the return of their Earthen relief and salvation.

The multi-thematic story touches on both Christian mythology and Human societal urges without being overt, inauthentic, or dogmatic. The colony begins to understand the betrayal of tradition, even murder, and the twisted and imperfect mythology handed down from Earth (Hitler killed Jesus, you know). Chapters from different character points of view help shed the story and confound the conflicting perspectives wonderfully. All this blends seamlessly in adventure as exiled youth drive to discover novel and sustainable lands while yearning to stay connected with people who no longer respect them and their new ideas.

The novel was regarded with an Arthur C. Clarke award and made some other lists of best novels when it was first published in 2012. The paperback hit stateside this last April and is worth a read or listen.