Climate Change Meets Sci-fi Dystopia in “The Martian Patriarch”

A few months ago, at about the time the most recent IPCC report was shifting closer and closer to a much needed alarm, at about the same time world ocean temperatures had, once again, broken a hottest (ever) monthly record, and at about the same time that consensus among scientists and meteorologists was rapidly shifting toward a new acceptance that climate change was making the world’s weather radically more dangerous, I picked up a little-known book called “The Martian Patriarch” by Robert Vella.

The Martian Patriarch

(Link: The Martian Patriarch by Robert Vella)

This diamond in the rough of a sci-fi novel was exactly what I needed to both put into context the strange and disturbing events affecting the world’s weather and the angst and anxiety-causing inaction and political blindness of many business and political leaders within the US and around the world.

Yet one more climate summit had passed without more than token action. The power of the world’s polluters — the fossil fuel companies — were as strong and entrenched as ever. A radical right-wing political ideology, backed by many of the world’s monied special interests, had taken root in many western nations, bent on austerity and deconstruction rather than effective action and progress. And the climate movement response, though strong, had yet to dislodge these enduring and powerful forces from their now globalized strongholds.

Fast forward for another 60-80 years of today’s terrible business as usual and we arrive at the future envisioned by Robert Vella’s “Martian Patriarch.” The world’s governments are a fractured coalition of totalitarian regimes. The United States is the victim of an extreme right-wing coup d’etat and now suffers in the iron grip of a predatory, fascist dictator. The world’s ice caps have undergone a rapid melt-down, resulting in the flooding of many coastal cities and weather events can only be described as strange and horrific, spawning periodic great disasters that serve as high points in an ongoing trend of climate degradation.

Thrown into this dark mix, however, are a few points of light. Far away on Mars, a colony of enlightened ecologists, scientists, egalitarians and space travelers have managed the scrape together a bright civilization that is the backdrop to Earth’s dark decline. Space travel between planets, though rare and expensive, has now expanded to the point that massive ships carrying hundreds of souls can leap the distance between planets. And our protagonist, a refreshingly down-to-earth man by the name of Marc Bolton, sets out on a journey that will unlock both the wisdom in his own heart and that of an ancient race who, unbelieving, still extends a helping hand to human beings in the hope that they will progress past their current age of darkness.

“The Martian Patriarch” is both visionary in its willingness to expand on the current troubles of our day and bring them to darker fruition as well as for its ability to provide heroes to give us hope that the future won’t be quite so dark as we fear, to give us hope that, somehow, we will find a way out of the terrible fix we’ve made for ourselves. So at its darkest, “The Martian Patriarch” is an unflinching expose of the most terrible demons of humankind while at its brightest, the book also manages to touch our highest ideals. It is a strange paradox of opposites that seems extraordinarily difficult to pull off, but Robert Vella manages with flying colors.

Last of all, the book is almost impossible to put down. The pacing demands that the next page be turned, and then the next, and then the next, until the book is finished and you are left with the wonderful mental aftertaste of space opera meets environmental catastrophe meets dystopian Earth, meets the seeding of a multi-planet humanity. There is romance (both tragic and otherworldly), there are battles in the dark of space between worlds, there are tales of disaster after disaster, and there is the shining hope of a new world and a new people willing to work together selflessly to help one another. All crammed into 300 pages in a way that gives the book a nigh-irresistible pull.

Though “The Martian Patriarch” possesses a few of the expected rough edges — a couple of grammar errors, a few awkward sentences, and a cover presentation that does this amazingly creative work little justice — they do not at all detract from this masterful story. In fact, I’ve read a number of mainstream novels that offend more in this regard. If I had one complaint it would be due to my effort to suspend disbelief that a humanity afflicted with the same small-minded, selfish, and brutish leaders of today would even be capable of organizing the resources needed to begin the arduous and complex process of interplanetary colonization. In my view, a civilization unable to tackle the simpler, though still very difficult, problems of climate change, resource depletion, overpopulation, and institutionalized human greed, would also be unable to mount the massive effort needed to reach new planets and develop effective civilizations there. In my view, the overthrow and diminishment of the brutes would have to happen first, not later.

But this minor niggle of opinion did not at all detract from my enjoyment of what was, by equal parts, a visionary, entertaining, and masterful tale worthy of the greats of science fiction. Hats off to Robert who is obviously possessed of great heart, stunning imagination, and a vision for extraordinary tale-telling. I highly recommend the work to anyone interested in sci-fi, the environment, or humanity’s future.

Links: The Martian Patriarch

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Growth Shock Launch: “I Have a Confession to Make … We are in Trouble”

Some of you may have noted my absence. I’ve been nose-deep in completing the launch of a book that has been about 10 years in the making: Growth Shock. It developed both from my experience as an emerging threats expert for Jane’s Information Group and related consulting efforts, later from my connection to thousands of wonderful young people, many of them disadvantaged, through a 6 six year schools campaign, and finally through participation in the direct actions that were Occupy Wall Street and the 2012 Stop the Pipeline demonstration sponsored by 350.org in Washington, DC.

At some point, in the support of these direct actions for positive change, I developed the notion of channeling my energies and talents into works as actions. Growth Shock is the first of these. (Learn more in Growth Shock, Going on Offense and Setting an Example for Kindness Economics.)

Growth Shock Cover Art

(Growth Shock now available)

In support of these efforts, at least 60% of the book’s proceeds will go to 350.org (40%) and to direct funding for freedom from fossil fuels (FEFF) for individuals, localities and communities (20%). But I’m not stopping with these actions. An upcoming third speculative fiction novel in the Luthiel’s Song series will be re-named The Death of Winter and I will be organizing a campaign to raise energy transition funds for public schools around the sales campaign for this book (more on this later). Another publication effort examining the loss of glacial and sea ice and its consequences will direct funds to scientific research through the Dark Snow Project and to help support  James Hansen’s continued work at Columbia University. A fourth and still unnamed publication will also be directed toward reinvigorating policy efforts to rationally and benevolently restrain human population with an ultimate goal to bringing it, along with consumption, back into balance with Earth Systems and to back out of our current and dangerous overshoot. These efforts will likely take years to complete. But they are now on the table.

The Death of Winter

Luthiel’s Song Book III to be re-named: The Death of Winter

This is not at all to denigrate the need for direct action, campaigning, and demonstration. When possible, I will continue to participate in these efforts. But my goal will be to organize my life and my means of life support to also support systems that re-invigorate, restore, renew, and enlighten. This is the basis for the kindness economics proposed in Growth Shock — that our life works re-weave humankind back into the web of life, that we stop breaking it, and that we develop human technologies and thought systems that support life, rather than harm it.

But we’re a long, long way from any of that. And, at this very late hour, some of us are only just beginning to respond as others still languish or remain trapped, captives to systems of harmful consumption and harmful action. Meanwhile, climate change, overpopulation, resource depletion and the institutionalized and greed re-inforced systems that lock the technologies, policies, cultures and thought-systems that cause such harm in place are now in a critical phase of crisis, a phase where harm from these four forces is ramping ever higher, causing great fractures through the structures of modern civilization. Like the metaphorical lemmings, we still run headlong toward the precipice. Sooner or later, we will go over.

Unless we stop. Unless we back away.

We haven’t done this yet. We haven’t even slowed down. And, for this reason, we are in deep, deep trouble.

What follows is an opener to the book Growth Shock. But for you, I’ll provide a bit of qualification. The situation is a shade or two worse than even what I describe in the intro. Though I still believe it is possible for us to stop, to turn around and to make the needed changes, the effort required will be so great that the difference between the death-fed and destruction-creating human world of now and the vital, healthy, sustainable, and reinvigorating the heartbeat of nature human world of our best future is a vast chasm. A great rift that may well be impossible to cross for individuals, communities, and nations. This does not diminish our need to try, to at least make a grand attempt before being overwhelmed by the darkness. To level all our intellect, creativity and tool making abilities toward effecting a positive change, toward reversing the terrible disaster we’ve now set in motion that has already been, for many of the innocent creatures of our world, a horrible apocalypse…

***

Excerpted from Growth Shock:

I have a confession to make. One that is not easy to vocalize. One that is equally difficult to listen to. My confession is not one of a personal nature. I am not revealing my own, petty, individual sins. Instead, I’m making a confession for us all. A revelation of the ongoing and maturing tragedy of our race. One we will each need to be made aware of soon if we are to effectively act. For the age of excess is rapidly coming to a close and we are now entering a difficult and hard to manage age of consequences.

My confession is simply this: we are in trouble. A kind of trouble that is both typical to all living creatures and beyond the scope of anything we humans have yet witnessed. A kind of trouble that is both born of the natural world and directly caused by us.

Our trouble is that over the course of the next century we will run head-long into a number of very difficult to manage shocks that are the result of our unsustainable growth. How we confront these shocks will determine whether or not human civilization survives to reach the 22nd, 23rd, or 24th centuries or whether we, at the very least, encounter a coming age of darkness and decline.

That we will encounter some trouble is now unavoidable. At this point, all we can do is seek to reduce the scale of that trouble and lessen the harm that is its inevitable result. A decade or two ago, if we had acted sooner and with due urgency, we might have prevented harm. But harm is already upon us, growing worse with each passing year. And though our trouble has already become apparent to many, we still languish, squandering the time and effort needed to manage the emerging shocks even as they grow more deadly and dangerous.

If we decide to confront these troubles, what lies before us are many decades or more of sustained effort to reduce the damage we have inflicted upon ourselves efforts from which may arise a new golden age should we overcome these troubles. For pushing beyond our current limits through renewable energy systems, providing direct supports to heal the living world we depend on, establishing more kind and inclusive economic systems, and undergoing the general transition to sustainability necessary to deal with our current crisis results in an ever-expanding justice and prosperity. The potential for a true world without end.

If we do not act, a massive and rapid decline of human civilizations, a mass extinction in the oceans and on land, and a radical re-shaping of the Earth’s environment to a state far more hostile to humankind are all in the offing.

This is my confession. For it is the truth or our age. It is our dire tragedy, and our great hope. For we are living in the age of Growth Shock.

Total Failure of Integrity: Romney vs Romney

The following is an illustration of the Romney campaign’s endlessly changing stance on the issues in an attempt to manipulate voters. It also shows how it is basically impossible to determine what Mitt Romney stands for except his own personal advancement.

Mitt Romney on Women’s Rights:

“I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years we should sustain and support it.”

“Roe v. Wade has gone too far.”

“I respect and will protect a woman’s right to choose.”

“I never really called myself pro-choice.”

Mitt Romney on the Auto Bailout

“Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

“Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.”

“I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry’s come back.”

Mitt Romney on Privatizing Social Security:

“I’m not in favor of privatizing Social Security or making cuts.”

“Social Security’s the easiest and that’s because you can give people a personal account.”

Mitt Romney on Health Care Reform and the Affordable Care Act:

“If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it, then that will be a model for the nation.”

“What works in one state may not be the answer for another.”

Mitt Romney on Capital Gains Tax Cut:

“It’s a tax cut for fat cats.”

“I believe the tax on capital gains should be zero.”

Mitt Romney on Osama Bin Laden:

“It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”

“He’s going to pay, and he will die.”

Mitt Romney on How Conservative He is:

“I was a severely conservative governor…”

“Relative to the leading candidates, some people see me as being more conservative.”

“I’m not the most conservative candidate.” “I’m not the most conservative candidate.”

Mitt Romney on Bank Bailouts:

“The TARP program… was nevertheless necessary to keep banks from collapsing in a cascade of failures.”

“When government is… bailing out banks… we have every good reason to be alarmed.”

Mitt Romney on Desire to Serve in Vietnam:

“It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam.”

“I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there.”

Mitt Romney on the Minimum Wage

“I think the minimum wage ought to keep pace with inflation.”

“There’s no question raising the minimum wage… causes a loss of jobs.”

Mitt Romney on the NRA, the Second Amendment and Firearms

“I don’t line up with the NRA.”

“I’m a member of the [NRA].”

“I supported the assault weapon ban.”

“I don’t support any gun control legislation.”

“I’ve been a hunter pretty much all my life.”

“Any description of my being a hunter is an overstatement of capability.”

Mitt Romney on Carbon Emissions:

“These carbon emission limits will provide real and immediate progress.”

“Republicans should never abandon pro-growth conservative principles in an effort to embrace the ideas of Al Gore.”

Mitt Romney on ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’:

“When I first heard of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, I thought it sounded awfully silly.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has worked well.”

The Republicans Turned Obama into an Invisible Man; And Now You Can Follow Him on Twitter

Perhaps the most bizarre event at this week’s republican convention was Clint Eastwood’s surprise speech. The supposed republican ace in the hole. Their coupe de gras. Their outflanking maneuver to send the democrats running.

Yet this speech was both far more and far less than what they intended. Instead of sending democrats running in route, the surprise speech was, instead, a self-inflicted wound. And the speech was nothing short of surprising. It included, among other things, a down-talking ramble to an invisible Obama sitting in a chair on stage.

Clint asked the invisible, mute, captive Obama a number of off-color and degrading questions. It was a sort of odd massacre of beat-nick humor, stand-up comedy, acrid politics, and ad-lib all recast to appeal to the narrow persuasions of the Republican Convention audience.

Clint’s invention of the invisible Obama is like an odd melding of the sock puppet, the effigy, and the straw man. All are tools that republicans would be familiar with. The first being the oft-seen anonymous troll in political chat rooms who seems to endlessly spout, line-for-line and without deviation the most recently packaged set of republican misinformation. In this case, however, the sock puppet was produced to serve as an object of mockery. A mental outcast of Clint Eastwood and a reflection of republicans deep denigration of Obama.

As such, Invisible Obama absorbed the painted faces held aloft by tea party supporters, becoming a form of grotesque mental effigy that accurately portrayed the cognitive dissonance projected by a party motivated by disdain, increasingly disconnected from reality. Which brings us full circle to the ‘straw man.’ Poor invisible Obama was just an empty chair erected to contain all the fallacious arguments Clint or other republicans might dream up to throw at an imaginary object. One with no ability to respond to the oft-tossed barb.

In short, Invisible Obama is the dream opponent for republicans. He conforms to all their darkest fantasies. He doesn’t talk back. He looks as scarey as they can imagine in their most horrifying nightmares. And, last of all, he doesn’t respond. He is their invisible, mute, derided, painted punching bag.

But the deepest irony of Invisible Obama is an unintentional channeling of the seminal literary masterpiece by Ralph Ellison. The Invisible Man is a story about a man robbed of identity by an adversarial culture. A man whose achievements, brilliance, and talents go unrecognized. A man forced to live like a troglodyte, underground.

A more perfect allegory to what republicans have attempted to do to Obama could not have been crafted by the political and literary geniuses of our time. It took Clint Eastwood to tell the truth. To summarize for us all the detractions of Obama’s critical achievements, to reveal for us their downplaying of his eloquence, to unmask their denial of his sound and solid leadership. First they character assassinated him. Now they turn him into a wraith whom they exhibit, circus-like at their convention.

It took Clint Eastwood to unintentionally part the curtain on the republican psyche and reveal for us its ugly, bizarre and repressive inner workings. It took Clint Eastwood to show that the man republicans are running against isn’t our president at all, that it is, instead, a mute, invisible, hated contrivance. A Gollum-like creature enslaved, corrupted, and made permanently invisible. A fantasy foe for a party that can’t quite come to terms with the reality of Obama our President.

But perhaps the republicans have unintentionally invented something worthwhile here. Worthwhile at least in the way The Onion may find worthwhile. An Invisible Obama does have a certain appeal as parody of the republican psyche. As a revelation of their fears, racism, narrow-mindedness, and great lack of capacity to handle change. And, for this reason, it is likely that Invisible Obama has received over 45,000 followers on Twitter.

Open Letter to Lionsgate Films — Let Hunger Games Fans Fight World Hunger!

Dear Lionsgate Films, Executives, Producers, Owners,

We recognize that art has a right to be rewarded — both through purchases of art, and through public acclaim. That said, we also recognize that art has intangible cultural value as a reflection of a society’s hopes, aspirations, fears and, in the case of “Hunger Games,” as a revelation of the threat of world hunger.

There are few greater threats to the lives and happiness of the inhabitants of Earth than world hunger. It is a threat that affects every nation — no matter how rich or poor. And it is a threat that the popular novel “Hunger Games” helped to shine a light on. Inspired by the intrinsic and unique message of this story, the fans of this novel have, they feel, received a call to action and have directly answered that call in order to help the very real people of this world, not the inhabitants of some imaginary future land.

So we are asking that you cease and desist in all letters or other legal action against Hunger is Not A Game. It is a charity organization that in no way competes with or detracts from the potential for film-making profits. To the contrary, the existence of Hunger is Not A Game lends legitimacy to a film that would, otherwise, merely be an expression of entertainment for profit. But, because of the heartfelt action of responsible “Hunger Games” fans, this work of commercial art has been elevated to the level of a public cause for economic justice.

Therefore, we believe, that the myopic special interests of a commercial, for profit, endeavor should not supercede an action in the public interest. Rather, we believe that Lionsgate should embrace, validate, and, when possible, promote the valid action to end world hunger that Hunger is Not A Game represents. We believe, that should Lionsgate act in this fashion, both commercial interests and the public good can benefit. But a commercial interest attacking a public good in pursuit of profits is exactly what one would expect of the oppressive and selfish rulers of the “Hunger Games” world.

Sincerely,

Hunger Games Fans Everywhere

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION:

http://www.change.org/petitions/lionsgate-don-t-stop-hunger-games-fans-from-fighting-hunger

UPDATE:

Lionsgate Films has stopped legal action against Hunger is Not a Game. A victory for all those who oppose hunger everywhere.

 

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Hunger Games — A World Suffering From the Devastating Aftermath of Climate Change and Resource Depletion

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This week, the long awaited Hunger Games by Susanne Collins will grace the silver screen. A popular dystopia novel, Hunger Games is set in an all-too-possible future world. A combination of climate change and resource depletion result in a United States shattered into 12 districts ruled by a dictatorial and repressive regime.

In the world of Hunger Games children are required to be sent as tribute to fight in a Battle Royale to the death. Katnis, the main character finds herself in the unique position of deciding to take her sister’s place when she’s chosen to fight in the games (Yes, I know, but Hunger Games was published three years after Luthiel’s Song. So it appears the inspiration may be running the other way).

But what’s most uncanny about this amazing series is that it occurs in an, entirely possible, future world. The climate is hot, the coastlines receded, and resources are scarce and growing ever moreso. A greedy and insulated ruling city lords its power over its subject districts in a reinvented feudalism. The subjects of these outlying districts are pressed into slave labor even as they are slowly starved. Though unrealistic, the map below is a dark vision of a world ravaged by these ills:

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In stark contrast to the hundreds of millions now living in the continental US, only hundreds of thousands remain. It is clearly a world that has suffered a devastating collapse brought on, at least in part, by an irresponsible and self-serving leadership.

What makes the story most compelling is Katnis’s struggles against a leadership that continuously preys on the people under its rule and against the corruption that seems to crop up each time a hand reaches out to grasp power. The books painted a well-rendered and deeply compelling story about a world that could be. I sincerely hope the movies live up to the spirit of the originating vision.

 

Please help support our continuing efforts.

Please help support our continuing efforts.

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