ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (JMG)
[personal profile] ecosophia
Just got my copy of the latest issue of Into the Ruins, the premier -- well, to be honest, also the only -- quarterly magazine of deindustrial SF.

Into the Ruins issue 5 cover

It's a good lively issue, with the usual assortment of highly readable stories, essays, letters to the editor, etc. (Full disclosure: I have a regular column in it talking about older works of deindustrial SF; in this issue, Stephen Vincent Benet's "By the Waters of Babylon," Clark Ashton Smith's "The Dark Age," and Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin's The Masters of Solitude get their place in the postcollapse sun.) Copies, for those who aren't already subscribers, can be gotten here.

One of the stories has me running a hand down my beard and considering a counter-story. Catherine McGuire, whose work I published in several of the After Oil deindustrial-SF anthologies, has a quasi-Utopian piece titled "Root and Branch;" it comes across as her idea of the good society, and strikes me as stunningly dystopian under a layer of warm emotional spraypaint. One way or another, it's thought-provoking...but as with most Utopian pieces, it leaves me thinking hard about what would happen once you add actual human beings to the picture. Hmm...


Date: 2017-05-30 05:28 pm (UTC)
collapsenc: Me (collapsenc)
From: [personal profile] collapsenc
Castalia NC or Castalia Ohio?


Date: 2017-06-03 02:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I on the other hand, saw "Castalia" and immediately thought of Hesse's "Glass Bead Game." Read that perhaps too many times in my now-distant youth. Big smiles. Perhaps I should read it again; still have my old battered copy...

(no subject)

Date: 2017-05-30 11:06 pm (UTC)
wire_mother: (Default)
From: [personal profile] wire_mother
To digress a bit, regarding older works of deindustrial SF, I think that the first time I recognized the genre (albeit without a name to give it) was Ursula LeGuin's Always Coming Home. At the time, I focused more on the culture-building than the wider world she implied. As I revisit it over the years, I am increasingly amazed by the feat she accomplished with that book.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-06-01 03:16 am (UTC)
wire_mother: (Default)
From: [personal profile] wire_mother
I think that it's quite possible to dislike it. The structure is "experimental", which basically means that it is told as a set of short stories, a novella, some poems and songs, a few pictures, and a number of what amount to worldbuilding essays told "in-character", with the novella split into parts (I think three, but I haven't read it in a little while) interrupted by the other elements. That structure won't necessarily work for everyone. Given the conceit that it is a story told as if by a real person, there are a number of plot holes, dangling threads, and other elements that are traditionally considered to be bad storytelling, but which simulate the things that happen to real people.

In addition, the culture depicted at the center of the work is something of LeGuin's idea of an idealized one, I think. The Kesh don't seem to have many cultural failings (though I would argue that this is due to the perspective of the fictional informants - certainly there are a few hints of less-savory individuals and attitudes in a few of Stone Telling's encounters, and of course the narrator would depict her own actions as entirely virtuous; there's also the fact that Pandora, the anthropologist who is LeGuin's direct stand-in, doesn't always agree with Kesh attitudes).

I haven't read that one by Anderson (thinking back, I'm actually not sure if I've read anything by him other than The High Crusade, the first couple of the Harvest of Stars series, one of the Flandry novels, and possibly Tau Zero though I remember nothing about it). I'll keep it in mind for the future.
Edited Date: 2017-06-01 03:18 am (UTC)

Always Coming Home

Date: 2017-06-03 02:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Count me as another fan of "Always Coming Home." I grew up in the Central Valley, so I particularly identified with the setting. Bought the copy that had an accompanying cassette tape with songs; alas, that tape expired after many plays, long before I could have ripped it to a computer... Hey yah...

(no subject)

Date: 2017-06-12 06:27 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"to the extent that I remember, was the way that the Kesh and the bad-guy culture were such stereotypical stand-ins for left coast liberals and flyover-state conservatives."

huh, that's an interesting take. I didn't line it up quite like that (navel-gazing blindness? I hope not, but I guess it's a possibility) but instead more as: people who have figured out how to co-exist with their ecosystem (Kesh) vs. the old-American BAU conquer-it-and-gain-our-rightful-place type of culture (the warring Condor people)... Honestly, I would not have pegged either of those as liberal vs. conservative, but more as variations on the approach to dealing with limits and whether or not you pay attention to your environment.

Always Coming Homeq

Date: 2017-06-21 09:53 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I think the thing I liked about this novel was the spiritual connection the Kesh had with the world around them. It is something of a theme with three other books she has recently written for young adults, Gifts, Powers and Voices. I have enjoyed them very much.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-05-31 03:56 am (UTC)
oakmouse: (Default)
From: [personal profile] oakmouse
When I got and read my copy of Into the Ruins I thought Cathy McGuire's piece was a deliberate dystopian take on one version of the Control Left's desired future. Certainly I found her future culture to be stifling, misshapen, and corrupt; my sympathies ended up firmly with Assed. If she meant it to be a utopia, that makes the story all the more horrifying.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-06-10 06:27 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I too, found it painful to read, and not very plausible. It does seem a projection of leftist navel gazing, obsessive psychology, and not related to what a community living w/serious limits in a post-industrial future would look like. I just don't see how post-industrial people would have that much time for obsessive navel gazing and emotional binding/control. Feeding, clothing, and providing for everyone would be front and center, and obsessing over personal interactions would take a back seat to that. And I can't imagine that people would be that distraught/bent out of shape over death, since it will be much more commonplace than today, future people will learn how to deal with it more effectively than today's biophobic culture.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-05-31 05:46 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I can't decide for certain. When Catherine McGuire, so well-versed in the genre, veers so close to its most prevalent recent stereotypes (which go something like, "Welcome, traveling stranger(s) overcome by circumstance, to our small but self-sufficient community. How fortunate you've arrived on the eve of our semiannual Ceremony of Exposition..."), that suggests she does have a twist or deeper meaning in mind. Try comparing the story's final three sentences with those of Orwell's 1984. "Beloved," indeed?

Either way, I'd love to read your depiction of "what would happen once you add actual human beings."

- Walt

Social controls

Date: 2017-06-10 09:47 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
[gkb here]
I was struck by how realistically her town mingled some contemporary techniques for anger management and family therapy with historical techniques for social control.

Some African tribal groups and villages use mandatory marriage counseling by the whole community. The “what WE do” language and behavior mod is pretty much standard practice in kindergartens all over the U.S. The terms of discourse and rules of conduct in the counseling scene are drawn from formal mediation techniques used by trained professionals.

And the open confessional technique, combined with early training in habits of self-examination and empathic introspection are part of recently developed modes of family therapy and community conflict resolution as well as drawn directly from Native American and African tribal methods of re-including people who have violated social norms.

I missed the wilder style of inclusivity. I would have liked to see a trained pro cope with a bout of the free-for-all shouting that seems to be a part of the Circles for Everyday Conflict. But hey, when your neighbors are all ranged against you, there is nothing new in being run out of town. Shirley Jackson tells us of a bloodier alternative.

Javanese men have a stylized, ritual form of human cock-fighting as an outlet for aggressive impulses. They also have psychosomatic tremblings and mental withdrawals--I forget the name of the behavioral phenomenon, but it is like a fugue state in some ways.

As for the emotional warmth of the love story, I thought it was well nuanced – the tension between the maternal urge to nurture away old hurts and the hormone-driven hunger to seek passionate self-gratification. It also counterbalanced the plain fear bespoke by the tension in the woman of the dysfunctional dyad. I bet the protagonist discovers new internal tensions as her maternal and dyadic hormones come into conflict.

Or perhaps the main character is going move on to another town and see a different side of life, now that her eyes are open to the deeper stresses that made lots of people move out of small towns and head to the cities or, as Huck says, light out for the wilderness.

The stifling quality of small towns is legendary in much 19th and 20th century literature. Cowboys complaining that “the town is too settled” is a movie cliché. But from the perspective of the town, maybe the cowboys need to grow up? Don't come back, Shane. (meaning the fictional character, not the commenter who frequents this forum)

Social control is not pretty in any of its forms. Modesty imposed on women by dress codes and religio-political laws. Fashion. Women excluded from money and power by male fiat. Women hurting their own girls. Genital cutting as a cultural mandate. Bound feet. The Inuit’s cruel laughter at children who whine and complain to drive them out on a habit that can irritate during long cold winters confined to a small space. Some of the preBritish Eastern tribes used to mock their young men mercilessly for boasting about their hunting skills. Successful hunters were required to sit quietly in the campgrounds until someone came along and asked them how their hunt had been. They too had to stifle themselves.

All that aside, I eagerly await an exposition of your criticisms, either in fiction or straight-up political analysis. I always learn a tremendous amount from your perspective.

Further thoughts

Date: 2017-06-12 01:54 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Come to think of it, I do not see anything in the world of this story that precludes the possibility of people getting angry and having heated exchanges on other topics of less moment, such as daily chores. Nor of mid-level interventions such as Third Party Listeners for issues of a less violent or chronic classification. There could be angry language spoken in private to one’s mates about a slacker or a crafty and deliberate violation of the rules for grazing on the Commons. Yet when an aggrieved party goes to the Commons Boards requesting that the next highest level of fines be imposed on the offender, they could still use more carefully anger-neutered language, just as people are expected to tone down their anger when addressing judges and police or use curse-free language in public discourse. (I typo’d ‘public discurse’-- hail Freud!) Maybe the town has been spit-slinging and muttering to one another for some time before they went into conscious cool-down and lid-capping mode about this recurrent issue. I believe something of the sort is implied. I will have to re-read the story to check my impressions. [gkb]

(no subject)

Date: 2017-06-12 03:30 pm (UTC)
ext_2384642: Black-and-white photo of me wearing a cap (Default)
From: [identity profile]
I finally got around to reading "Root and Branch". It is an interesting take on the popular post-industrial Gaia-worshipping society motif that one sees a lot of in de-industrial SF.

I'm undecided on whether it's supposed to be a deliberate dystopia. It seemed that way at first, as it seemed pretty clear that the main character's misery and insecurities could largely be blamed on the repressive and stifling culture portrayed in the story. But the ending seemed to give the author's stamp of approval to the society, so I dunno. But it was, as I say, an interesting story.

Repressive societies are a thing that can exist. Indeed in small towns anywhere, everyone is all up in everyone else's business to at least some degree, and there's a lot of pressure to conform. So a culture like the one in "Root and Branch" is not entirely outside the realm of possibility. I would not like to live there though.

Author responds

Date: 2017-06-12 11:11 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Hi, all -
I had no idea there was this much controversy over my story! (Actually, it's very cool that people are discussing it, pro or con). I'm finding the comments very interesting and thought-provoking.

Probably the closest perception is gkb below, who points out that there are already many societies using social controls such as I mention. I guess I wasn't judging pro/con whether I'd enjoy being there, but trying to describe a place where social controls were just as important as physical needs like food/housing for the life of the society. Old Japanese societies were similar - because "wildcards" could quickly cause disasters, such actions would be suppressed, and soon (almost)everyone would consider acting out to be very toxic. I believe it's clear that people are free to leave and go to other towns, where things are handled differently. That way, those who prefer harmony of the sort mentioned could self-select. (And don't think there aren't those types - check out some cohousing and communes - they exist even today).

I realize it's far from the free culture we have today, but I wouldn't consider it dystopian (unless I have the definition wrong). It's about the kinds of limits we will/may encounter - and social limits (and the society's ways of handling those)would seem just as limiting to our society as the absence of electricity, plastic, etc. We have an abnormal amount of freedom these days, and I don't think that will last any more than the fossil fuels will.

And I'd love to see stories take on this theme and show how people would handle the social limits that living far in the deindustrial future bring. My thanks to everyone who commented.
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