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Jul 18 09 1:23 AM

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Several science fiction novels and stories have recently been mentioned in other topic areas. I hope they are raised again here, in greater depth. To consolidate and focus this sort of interest here is a discussion thread dedicated to how science fiction has explored and perhaps informs various concepts of sensible simplicity and sustainability.

Science fiction often springboards into these explorations of sensible simplicity and sustainability in possible futures from a crisis event (usually a regional or global collapse of one sort or another, swift or slow), though this is not always the case.

My personal hope with this online discussion is to find some new novels and stories I’ve not yet encountered, share some of my favorites, and perhaps learn to think differently about some aspects of it all through reading others’ perspectives. If this eventually develops into face-to-face gatherings for discussions then even more is possible as an outcome.

To launch this topic here is not just an old favorite of mine, but in one sense the very oldest favorite of mine: it was the first SciFi story I ever remember reading as a boy. After this tale I was hooked on the genre, forevermore. This piece is a short story now considered a classic, commonly available in literature anthologies. As luck would have it a transcribed version is even currently available and freely accessible for reading online (just click the link).

“By the Water of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benét

Indeed, if there is interest among a subgroup of the Sensible Sustainability Forum community in discussing sustainability as seen through the various lenses and filters of science fiction then I would be enthusiastic about the group periodically choosing a story or book, all reading it, and then gathering in person to discuss our perspectives face to face. Such discussions could perhaps happen in the evening over chow and beverages after everyone has jointly lent a hand to assisting the group's host that particular day with some barn-raising, clearing, planting, weeding, harvesting, butchering or whatever other group-sized task. A group makes quick work of some tasks which are otherwise very difficult or impossible for an individual, couple, or small family. Rotating from one place to the next, we could become more familiar with one another and prosper from advice and exchanges of resources as such opportunities for mutual benefit come to light. Real tangible practical action performed jointly, sharing a potluck meal together, and exchanging perspectives on a story or book we have all read seems to me a pleasant and productive way to build community.

If you enjoy “By the Water of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benét (at least in the sense of finding value in it), then I also recommend a classic full length novel by George Stewart: Earth Abides

Of similar flavor but set farther in the future of a post-oil climate-changed world, Edgar Pangborn's collection of short stories Still I Persist in Wondering along with his novels Davy and The Company of Glory (all set in the same future reality) may also be of interest.

Please do post your own suggestions and comments on SciFi worth reading as connected to sensible simplicity and sustainability.

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#1 [url]

Jul 18 09 8:08 PM

I 've got  a couple of recently written interesting fictional futures to add to the list.

This one from the "left" :
"A World Made by Hand " by James H Kunstler who also wrote "The Long Emergency"
revealing Peak Oil problems .

This one from the "right" :
" One Second After " by William R Forstchen creates
 a picture of what
happens when an EMP is set off over the US.

Both stories conclude that survival is reliant upon communities of people
working together.

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Posts: 105

#3 [url]

Jul 18 09 10:50 PM

Steven, You beat me to it: Earth Abides, by George R Stewart is a long-time favorite of mine, written in 1949. I find it hopeful, that is if you're one of the survivors of the first catastrophe...

A different view in The Postman, by David Brin.

Again, both of these show community as being key, in very different forms though.

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."

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#4 [url]

Jul 19 09 12:22 AM

Hedra, Kunstler used to write for The Rolling Stone. I enjoy reading his blog every Monday at . The World Made by Hand presented several ways
things could go in the future. I found it interesting and had a  laugh or two also.

Yes I read The Road when it first came out about a year ago ??
It was very well written but pretty depressing.

Lizc , if you want to really go back in time, read On the Beach.

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#5 [url]

Jul 19 09 1:21 AM

Is it weird that Road didn't depress me? I thought the ending was so perfectly done. Turned it 180. Perception and intention goes an incredibly long way to creating something out of nothing ( I notice that in reality when I'm watching my life closely) and allowing life and hope to continue. Up till that the writing was so intriguing I was 100% in fictionland. 

I was wondering if you'd read it just to see if you felt the same that it was hard to get through. 


Liz, I've been wanting to read Earth abides, gotta get on that. Thanks for the reminder. 

Puna rain makes me feel rich!

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#6 [url]

Jul 19 09 1:30 AM

I’ll look for Forstchen’s One Second After; it is a book I’ve missed -thanks for the mention!

Yes, Nevil Shute’s On The Beach and Brin’s The Postman are epic. I far preferred the original novels to the film versions of both, as is almost always the way with adaptations. I'd very much enjoy discussing Stewart's Earth Abides, in particular, with others in person someday. Outstanding as Kunstler’s Long Emergency is (and perhaps directly because of unrealistically high expectations set up by Long Emergency’s very excellence) in truth I was a bit disappointed by World Made By Hand. While far easier to criticize than create it seemed to me like he missed the mark a bit in there; even so World Made By Hand is probably the most realistic take around and quite solid for the most part (...though parts of two novels by John Christopher are probably even more grounded in realism).

To play catch-up for a moment and list for the sake of the record those works already mentioned in other discussion threads (years from now this discussion may be keyword searched via "Science Fiction" and consulted in the archives, so mention here could be useful to a future reader):

After the Deluge: A novel of Post-Economic San Francisco by Chris Carlsson:
Follow the links at for a copy (in the mail or immediately downloadable online).

The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy

The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk

Always Coming Home by Ursula LeGuin

Dies The Fire by S.M. Stirling

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy

Some of these actually verge over into the territory of "fantasy" versus "science fiction," technically, because they incorporate some aspect or other for which no mechanism is provided (it just happens as if by magic) or they include some event or process outside of the laws of physics as currently understood (say, "magical beings" instead of "aliens" -this makes for fantasy instead of SciFi, just like "magical abilities" versus "brain function using tachyons" or somesuch: there is definitely a gray area).

While not the most well-written book ever, an interesting and little-known novel of this general sort has come to mind again and again since Obama’s election: Overshoot, by Mona Clee. In Overshoot the environmental consequences of climate change compounded by overpopulation strike home in this tale of daily life during the near future, set in Berkeley. Political and religious inter-group strife and turmoil exacerbate food shortages, economic and infrastructural failures, and other difficulties. A charismatic leader is elected president and millions of people invest great hope in his administration (as with the hopes of so many on Obama).

Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. JA

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#7 [url]

Jul 19 09 11:04 AM

If your local branch of the State Library doesn't have the books, you can always request them to be sent over.  I think they can also borrow from other state libraries, although that may require a small fee.

Otherwise, new and used books can be found at:

There is also Amazon, although I think they now have some sort of shipping-to-Hawaii issues which they didn't have before.  Something about tax on internet purchases, I think it was?

And for your bibliographical pleasure, an additional link:
Just browse through a few of these, you'll notice things just literally don't change.  There is a book written in 1820 discussing the recent booms and busts (late 1700's to early 1800's) and what caused them, generally which political brainstorm caused them.  Other than switching some names around, it could be contemporary writing.

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#8 [url]

Jul 20 09 10:59 AM

Thanks for mentioning those links, chooks. I have used but was unaware of the other two sources you listed.

I sometimes get lucky on eBay with finding a specific book at an affordable price, but the real advantage of eBay for buying books (over abebooks, at least) is in sometimes finding a "lot" of books by a certain author or of similar flavor.

Another way to get ahold of a loaner copy of any of these for reading is to borrow mine once the boxes are unpacked onto bookshelves. A a guess, that will probably be in March (which means it will actually happen by April or May, the way things always seem to take more time than I think they will).

Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. JA

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#9 [url]

Jul 20 09 12:00 PM

If you are looking for ticky-tacky sci-fi and fantasy, I've got shelves full of the stuff so you can borrow mine if you like.  Also gardening and herb books seem to multiply over here. 

I try to thin them out occasionally but they keep multiplying.  I've got two shelves for paperbacks made out of mahogany doorway molding.  It is just the right width for a paperback and the shelves are set so there is about a half inch clearance at the top of each line of books.  These bookshelves will fit nicely behind a door, generally the shelves are thin enough that the door can still swing completely open. This will store 300-400 paperbacks behind a door.  The rest of the bookshelves are the more traditional wider ones and are full of the bigger books.  If reading digital books wasn't so humbug, I'd have switched over to digital just to save space.

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#10 [url]

Jul 20 09 1:38 PM

Making the jump to digital with books is something I keep going back and forth about for myself.

On the one hand there are so many books which are not digitized (witness the recent flap about Orwell's 1984 not being available on Kindle) that I might have to rip a hard copy apart and scan the pages myself --even with an autoloading scanner this is somewhat laborious-- in order to digitize most of my library. And what if the high tech world really does go to Hell in a handbasket, rapidly, and one's library is then always only just one microprocessing circuit failure or cosmic ray transistor strike away from oblivion?

On the other hand, though, books do seem to tend to mildew in Puna (and I have seen bookworm holes --or are they from termites?-- in some old Puna books too), take up a great deal of space, are heavy and expensive to move in quantity, and are flammable. Plus which is it great to be able to send a class or reading circle the text of a story as an attachment versus making photocopies or everyone buying a book.

Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. JA

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#11 [url]

Jul 20 09 4:39 PM

Off subject, But have you guys read "The brief wonderous life of Oscar Wao?" It's brilliantly entertaining and so damn alive it's awesome. 

Soooooo awesome. Really. So awesome. Magical writer. His voice is so authentic, I couldn't put that thing down. 

Puna rain makes me feel rich!

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#13 [url]

Jul 21 09 1:08 PM

Buffy, it's about a Dominican Nerd living in new Jersey who is caught up in this long standing family curse with a Fuku, which is "the original bad spirit." All he wants is love but he can't have it. 

Mostly though it's Junot Diazes voice that makes it amazing. It's fresh but completely intelligent and authentic even when using slang, so it reads incredibly cleanly. 

I highly highly recommend it. I got his short story collection drown yesterday and it's kicking my ass right now too it's sooooooooo good as well. 

Puna rain makes me feel rich!

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#14 [url]

Jul 27 09 2:06 AM


Christopher, John:

No Blade of Grass - an extremely grim and powerful (and extremely out-of-print: I have only seen three copies) adult SF book describing life in England soon after a plant virus wipes out all members of the grass family (which includes wheat, rice, corn, bamboo and so on). Famine brings out the worst and the best in people as they go from living to surviving in the new situation. [Note: the film adaptation is pathetic, worse than an utterly inept high school production of Shakespeare -or just about anything else.]

The Silent Earth
– I have only ever seen one copy of this, in hardback. A virus kills almost everyone and there are only a few scattered survivors of the human race remaining. Remarkable writing, though very grim. Reminds one of Earth Abides by George Stewart or On The Beach by Nevil Shute, but set in England and with the wry English twist. Christopher envisions realistic ecological cascades of events in a remarkably adroit manner.

Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. JA

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#15 [url]

Aug 12 09 10:46 AM

The Colony post-apocalyptic-scenario "reality" show currently playing out on Discovery channel increasingly sounds like it might be interesting. I am wondering if anyone here watching this series has been recording episodes on VHS or TIVO, since it may be a year or so before a DVD version is available?

Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. JA

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#16 [url]

Aug 12 09 7:29 PM

Unfortunately I'm not that organized. ;) 
It does play twice on Tuesdays though, 7 and again at 10 pm. And if you're willing to give it a chance it is rather interesting. It's not a perfect scenario, it's a TV show after all, but I haven't found it cheesy in any way yet and recognizing the emotions that arise over different personalities reactions to scenarios is very illuminating. To me anyway. 

There's stuff I could roll my eyes at, that there are a doctor, an er nurse, electricians, machinists, a self defense instructor, a builder etc.. amongst the cast, but then again, whatever. It's a scenario that still deals with trying to reestablish liveable basics after a collapse -and maybe thats the angle the producers wanted to share with the public...

Puna rain makes me feel rich!

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#17 [url]

Aug 15 09 9:00 AM

I don't live in Big Island, but I've been there quite a few times over the years, most recently to visit Jay and check out the sweet potato farm.  Great little community you are building here..
The post-apocalyptic science fiction sub-genre has always been a popular thread in the main fabric of the genre.  No list would be complete without 
"A Canticle For Leibowitz" by Walter Miller Jr. - considered by many to be not only one of the best in the sub-genre, but one of science fiction's greatist novels.
My own personal favorite remains, after a life time of reading such works, the incredible little novel "Engine Summer" by John Crowley,  I consider this short novel to be up there in the stratosphere along with the best of Nabokov, Conrad and the like. I can't say enough about this hard to find little gem, which must be read carefully, and several times to be truly appreciated.  Crowley's blog here:   is also a literary delight.
I hope to join one of your gatherings on a visit in the not too distant future!

"Everybody does what nobody will allow."  Stan Ridgway (Wall of Voodoo, etc.)

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#18 [url]

Aug 18 09 3:51 PM

Just finished Malevil by Robert Merle (translated from the French original by Derek Coltman), copyright 1972. The novel is an interesting study in small group dynamics, based on the premise only a handful of survivors remain in rural France after a massive fireball. As nature recovers and agrarian life begins to re-establish itself each character must change and stretch to be "more" than he or she was before. Many social and religious conventions crumble to dust in the face of pragmatic reality, while other social conventions (irrational and superstitious as some may be) are redoubled in potency.

This book was an international bestseller for 23 weeks way back when (...which I sincerely doubt it would have been if the 40 year old man who is the main character had conducted the relationship he enjoys with a 15 or 16 year old lad instead of a young lass, as well as with various other women). The style of the writing is quite overtly chauvinist, as if written by Heinlein or H. Beam Piper, yet also quite good (Proustian, even).  I particularly appreciate his highly realistic depictions of paramilitary efforts and other best-laid-plans of mice and men turning into total FUBARed furball cluster-fucqs in actual execution. Here are three sample excepts from relatively introspective passages which struck me:

The night after my election the rain continued to bucket down, so much so that it kept me awake for several hours, not because of the noise but because of the almost personal sense of gratitude I was feeling toward it. I have always loved moving water but it had been a careless kind of love till now. It is so easy to grow accustomed to the things your life depends on. You end up taking them for granted. And that's an error, because nothing is given for all time; there is nothing that could not disappear one day.

After all, it's not necessary to believe in God to have a sense of divinity in the world.

I could have married her, and yet I didn't ...every time I met her I always thought, and not without regret, 'There is is one of the possible paths my life could have taken.' And I would wonder once again what it would have been like. A futile yet tantalizing occupation, because how was it possible to tell? How can any man ever say that he would have been happy with some particular woman without trying the experiment? And if he does try it, why then, however it turns out, however well or badly, the experiment has by then ceased to be an experiment, because it is his life.

(...This last bit reminds me of an absolute favorite from among Sci Fi more broadly: the poignant novel Replay, by the late great Ken Grimwood).

I've just purchased a copy of Into The Woods and it is now queued in the gym-reading stack. Thanks for mentions of that and Engine Summer -somehow I've missed reading those. Canticle for Liebowitz is a true enduring classic.

Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. JA

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#19 [url]

Aug 19 09 4:01 PM

I mis-spoke (typed?), as it is actually The Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing I just purchased a copy of and am still looking for copies of Into the Woods (Jean Heglund) and One Second After (William R. Forstchen). These days I am mainly reading while at the gym exercising so it seems to take forever to get through a book. Once we are relocated to Hawaii and the schedule is (hopefully) not so hectic I look forward to more reading time.

A professor of mine made a point to read a book for half an hour each night just before turning off the light, a habit which allowed her to make significant progress with her reading list. A medical research friend says this is a good idea in several different ways, especially versus looking at a computer screen just before sleeping. Apparently there is a big difference in terms of neural stimulation between looking at print on a page (calming) and a bazillion RGB pixel dots being re-zapped onto a computer screen however many times per second (excitatory): in a study with the same material read in a book versus being read on a computer, the former did not interfere with or delay sleep while the latter did.

Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. JA

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