Tag Archives: books

The Green Book

The Green BookTITLE: The Green Book
AUTHOR: Jill Paton Walsh
PUBLISHER: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
PUB DATE: 1982
DISASTER: Unspecified climate disaster
SECONDARY THREAT: Survival on a new planet

I hadn’t meant to segue into escaping to space when I started writing about Parable of the Sower, but sometimes that’s how things go. You find a thread and you follow it. And that thread lead me back to a book written for children that I read ages ago.

Father said, “We can take very little with us.”

Pattie and her family are among the last people evacuated from a dying Earth. The wealthy have already fled to more promising distant planets, while Pattie’s ship is old, small, and ill-fitted for exodus. Each family could bring only a very few things essential to survival, plus one book each.

The Green Book itself is small–only 69 pages of mid-sized text and meant for readers age 8 through 12. On the surface it’s about how Pattie and the other travelers adapt to a new planet that may or may not support life. The language is simple, the story is simple, but between the lines there is so much more:

  • Nods to socio-economic inequality in the conditions of the ship and the unspoken recognition of those left behind
  • References to climate change in comments about old photographs
  • The impact of selfishness when trying to build a community
  • How often children see more, feel more, and are willing to take more risks than the adults around them who are set in their ways

But truly, the strongest through-line is the power of story, how essential it is–for entertainment, bonding, and who we become.

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the SowerTITLE: Parable of the Sower
AUTHOR: Octavia E. Butler
PUBLISHER: Aspect/Warner Books
PUB DATE: 1993 (Trade)
DISASTER: Climate change, economic disaster

It’s 2024 and Lauren Olamina is 15 years old. She lives in a walled and gated suburb of Los Angeles. Water, food, and money are in short supply, and outside the wall people are waiting, trying to break in and steal the little they have.

Lauren’s father, the local minister, does his best to keep the community safe and together, but Lauren knows their shaky security isn’t going to last forever, and that she’s going to have to learn  everything she can to help her survive on the other side of the wall.

This book details the brutal, stark, reality of a world on the precipice of anarchy and violence, but unlike many in the genre, it’s about far more than terror and loss. It explores subtleties of race and gender, and the slender threads that separate the middle class from the poor, and the poor from the destitute, and the wide gap that separate them all from the rich. It calls out corporate greed, takes a searching look at religion, and asks questions about the morality and necessity of funding space programs while people are starving. But it is also about empathy and maintaining our humanity under the worst of circumstances.

Octavia Butler has received multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, a James Tiptree, Jr. Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award in Writing from the PEN American Center, a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant, and has been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.



Lessons from The City

The news our nameless girl arrived bearing, in The City, Not Long After, was that an army was on its way to San Francisco in the name of “reunification”–whether the city dwellers wanted to reunify or not.

They didn’t. The liked their freedom–freedom to create and to continue to live as they pleased. Unfortunately, they were going to have to fight to keep it.

This isn’t exactly a new scenario in apocalypse fiction, or in real life. And though we’ve seen it play out in a variety of ways, it’s still worth considering a couple of very important questions:

  • What kind of life do you want to live?
  • What are you willing to do to protect it?

A friend of mine tells me that if the world devolves into Mad Max, he’d rather not survive, and I can see his point. To live in constant fear and/or have to live with with the consequences of killing someone else is a devil’s bargain especially for a natural pacifist. And when the life you are fighting for isn’t one worth living, it may not be worth the fight.

But what if it is? What if armageddon comes and goes and you are happy in your off-grid, bug-out bunker growing veggies and raising chickens? Would you kill for that? Would you kill to protect your life? Your wife? Your child? And if not, might there be another way?

This is where creative thinking comes in–something it’s definitely worth practicing. Because even if you’re willing to kill, what happens if you can’t? Maybe you’ve run out of ammunition. Maybe the attacker is between you and your gun. Maybe the person you’re fighting is a kid you babysat when he was four. Maybe you don’t want your 2 year old daughter to be emotionally scarred by the gore. Maybe there’s a chip in your head that causes you debilitating pain when you act in violence (it could happen…).

So this is where we ask more questions.

  • If killing isn’t an option, what are the alternatives? Flee? Distract? Hide? Subvert? What else?
  • What can I do to prepare for these alternate options?

Because when disasters strike, they don’t usually like to conform to our ideas of how they should go, which means all your best plans probably won’t go as planned. The more ideas and options you have at your disposal the more likely it is that one of them will work.

Add more trusted people to the brainstorming mix, and you’ll have an even better chance. Especially if you make sure their answers to that first question are compatible with yours.

The City, Not Long After

The City, Not Long AfterTITLE: The City, Not Long After
AUTHOR: Pat Murphy
PUB DATE: February 1990
SECONDARY THREAT: Invasion, martial law

Of all the apocalypse novels I’ve read, and there have been many, this is the one most filled with beauty and hope. Not long after a plague decimates global populations, San Francisco has been taken over by artists–painters, writers, musicians, tinkerers, makers–who have crafted along the way a sort of utopia. What they can’t find, or make or grow, they trade for at Duff’s. And all seems well, until a nameless girl comes to town.

I had planned to give you the full run-down of the story, pointing out the pieces that most speak to me, the preps hidden within the story, but I just can’t. Not with this book. Because I want you to read it. With its magic untainted.

What I will tell you is that the book deals with themes that include robotics and humanity, love and loss, art and war, isolation and collaboration, pacifism, ghosts, angels, the consciousness of a place, creativity and freedom, and the costs of peace. It even includes a nod to one of my most personally treasured myths at the very end.

But I will give you this–a quick peek into the poetry of the work:

Her mother had told her about San Francisco. Bedtime stories always began, “Back in San Francisco before the plague…” The stories were odd and disjointed, fragments of her mother’s life. Bright memories of the Chinese New Year’s parade, touched with the scent of gunpowder from fireworks. Remembrances of neighbors: the old woman with twenty-nine cats, the young man who practiced Tai Chi on the roof.

From her mother’s memories, the girl had created her own picture of San Francisco: a place as exotic as Oz, with tremendous hills over which cable cars rolled. She had asked her mother once why they could not go back there. Her mother had shaken her head. “Too many ghosts there. I can’t go back.”

Pat Murphy is an award-winning writer, scientist, and occasional toy-maker. Learn more here.


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Art and The City

The City, Not Long AfterI have had a book stuck in my head for months. I’ve read the book before, at least once. but the more I dig into what exactly I want this blog to become, the more strongly I knew that it was time to re-read it. Unfortunately, my well-loved copy was in a box in my sister’s California basement, 1,200 miles away. At least it was until holiday visiting time. Now that book is sitting on the table beside me, bookmarked 155 pages in. Pages read on yesterday’s return flight home. That book is The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy.

When Danny-Boy was eight years old, he learned that art could change the world.

If Gene Wilder crooning Pure Imagination is the Apocalypse Garden’s theme song, then that line is its mantra. Art can change the world. In my world, art begins with story, and Pat’s is filled with magic and beauty, despite loss and fear and threat. Sure, it may not teach us how to build a crossbow, but it gives us survival skills just as important: community building and creativity, two traits that can serve us all well, be it the end of days, or everyday.

Gathering Resources

Some days, especially days when you’re trying desperately hard not to come down with the full-blown bronchitis that is knocking at the doors of your lungs, the only prep you can manage is getting to the pharmacy or grocery store to pick up cough syrup or chicken broth. But maybe, just maybe, if you go before you get too tired you can also swing by the library on your way there and pick up a couple of books at the Friends of the Library bag day sale. Which brings me to some actual prep advice for the day:

Library sales, thrift stores, and garage sales are great places to find low cost books and videos–prep or otherwise.

Library Book Sale Finds

In this case, I basically paid 13¢ per book, which for any book would be a steal. But given that the survival book alone retails for $24.95, I’d say it was an especially good deal. Bonus: I also picked up a couple of Le Guins, plus a few others I’ll write more about tomorrow.

Remembering Freedom

Today, one of my personal literary heroes summed up perfectly something I have been struggling to articulate–about this blog, about science fiction, and in particular apocalypse fiction, about writers and artists in general. About why we are the ones that will save the world.

I think that hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom.

Ursula K. LeGuin

I can’t remember the first time I read Le Guin’s work. Perhaps it was college, in a sci-fi lit class–The Left Hand of Darkness–the only book written by a woman that we read. What I do remember, distinctly, viscerally, was what that book did to me. Beyond the writing, which was stunning, beyond the setting, which was amazing, beyond completely changed the way I looked at gender. And it was this: it opened a door that I didn’t even know had been closed–a door through which I might some day become not just a writer, but a science fiction writer.

She was the first in my triumvirate of strong women sci-fi warriors: Le Guin, Butler, Atwood. In each case, it still astonishes me that it took me so long to find them. In each case, I am incredibly grateful that I did. Within each, I found not just a universe of amazing stories, but dreamers, teachers, activists, and more. And so, of course I was overjoyed to learn that yesterday, author Neil Gaiman presented Ursula Le Guin with a National Book Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award:

In recognition of her transformative impact on American literature, Ursula K. Le Guin is the 2014 recipient of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She is the Foundation’s twenty-seventh award recipient.For more than forty years, Le Guin has defied conventions of narrative, language, character, and genre, as well as transcended the boundaries between fantasy and realism, to forge new paths for literary fiction.

Among the nation’s most revered writers of science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin’s fully imagined worlds challenge readers to consider profound philosophical and existential questions about gender, race, the environment, and society. Her boldly experimental and critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and children’s books, written in elegant prose, are popular with millions of readers around the world.

National Book Foundation press release

LeGuin is one of 9 women and only two science fiction authors to win this award which began in 1988. The other was Ray Bradbury (2000).*

Here is her acceptance speech.

* I also want to give a nod to Stephen King who, though he is considered a horror writer, has made forays into the realm of apocalypse fiction and therefore walks the borderlands adjacent to science fiction. He won the award in 2003.

The Calming Effect of Cleaning House

The last couple of weeks I have been insanely busy–work, events, project deadlines… As a result, this morning my place looked like it has experienced its own apocalypse. So when I sat down this afternoon to try and sort out my schedule and projects for the coming week, I became instantly overwhelmed. If I couldn’t even find my planner under the mountain of mess on my desk how was I supposed to get any planning done? The solution is obvious: clean the desk. But when you’re already feeling over-committed and behind schedule, taking time away from pressing projects can feel like a luxury you can’t afford. So forward we plow, not realizing that the 10, 15, 20 minutes it would have taken us to do a quick clean and organize would have been more than made up in saved time and enhanced focus.

The same can be true of prepping, especially for those of us who live in small spaces. The thought of trying to find space for gallons of water can just be too much when you barely have room for your shoes. Luckily the same steps that can clear your brain for the next important project can help make prepping easier, too:

  1. Stop thinking about prepping, or whatever your most pressing project/s may be.
  2. Look around your room, paying attention to which areas are most contributing to your stress levels.
  3. Choose one area that: is making you crazy, is manageable in size, and will not take a ton of brain power to complete–dishes are especially good for this, so are folding laundry and cleaning the bathroom. Cleaning your desk can work, too, if you focus on sorting and filing and don’t get caught up in everything that has to be done.
  4. Clear, clean, wash, dust, file or whatever your chosen spot requires your hands to do, while keeping your mind gently focused only on the specific task before you and your emotions detached from the action. If you chose dishes, for example, focus on the warmth of the water, the swirl of the sponge, and the methodical spread of open counter space.

As you work, a couple of things happen:

  1. The mess begins to disappear, taking at least one part of your stress with it.
  2. Your mind begins to relax and calm from the repetitive, meditative action of moving your body while giving your brain a break.
  3. Your pressing projects and problems are allowed to percolate just below your consciousness, making connections with possible solutions–like noticing a more space-efficient way to organize your kitchen cupboard as you put the dishes away, or realizing that you have two copies of a book that you don’t even need one of, which gives you more room on the shelf for a few of the books stacked on the floor.
  4. Cleaning and clearing can be contagious, and what starts at the kitchen sink can easily spread to the bedroom, office, family room, and beyond.

One last note: If you have time constraints due to other commitments, try setting a timer for 15 minutes and do as much as you can in that amount of time. While it does amp up the stress initially by adding the pressure of time, once you see how much can be accomplished in a short time span, it will actually decrease your stress over the long term.

Chop Wood, Carry WaterRecommended resources:


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The History of the Future

Dreaming the future, imagining the past, that’s what writers do. And apocalypse stories? They’ve been penned since early recorded history. Gilgamesh, Noah and his ark, the Dharmasastra. But what about science fiction, which has become a sort of parent category for modern-day apocalypse fiction?

According to a recent article on BBC’s iWonder:

Science fiction emerged nearly 300 years ago during a time of great advances in science. Since then authors have tried to make sense of their world by imagining what the future will look like.

Post-apocalyptic societies, alien invasions, robots and environmental catastrophes have all played out in this genre which is still popular today.

Dr. Caroline Edwards, “Writing the Future,” BBC.co.uk

The first example cited? Gulliver’s Travels, written in 1726 by Jonathan Swift, which includes a section feature a flying island populated by scientists.

The complete list features 20 sci-fi luminaries including three of my favorite: Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Margaret Atwood. The Left Hand of Darkness. The Parable of the Sower. The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s not just a history lesson, it’s a kick-ass reading list.