New climate fiction! Celebrating Kurt Vonnegut!

I have two new short stories out! Both very different kinds of climate fiction…

So It Goes

Kurt Vonnegut

So It Goes Vol. 10 – The Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library, The Good Earth: Vonnegut and the Environment is a new compendium of stories honouring the wise fool’s commitment and advocacy for Our Good Earth.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote about the evolution of man and his destruction of the environment in his 1985 novel Galapagos.

This collection tackles everything from forest fires to floods to all kinds of environments as they relate to people and their struggles and joys.

My contribution is “The Sense of Smell”, a very short tale involving a little  girl lost, set in a future sustainable city neighbourhood. What could possibly go wrong?

Here’s a pre-order link: https://kvml.square.site/product/so-it-goes-vol-10-the-journal-of-the-kurt-vonnegut-museum-library/518

Teens Of Tomorrow: Stories of Near and Far-Flung Futures

AND… Teens Of Tomorrow: Stories of Near and Far-Flung Futures explores possible futures, near to today, through the stories of twelve courageous teens grappling with their realities and the roles they aspire to play as the future unfolds before them. Stories like that of:

  • a boy scientist battling lions in Kenya
  • a student activist taking on the caste system in India
  • a teen mother joining a climate strike (my contribution)
  • an anti-gun protester at a school shooter drill
  • a cyborg social media star striving to self-actualize
  • and a space colonist fighting corruption amongst her own crew.

Incorporating personal issues of race, sexuality, gender, ability, class, religion and politics with global matters such as the environment, technology, healthcare and social reform, these stories are as urgent right now as they will be in the turbulent years sure to come.

Buy on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Teens-Tomorrow-Stories-Far-Flung-Futures-ebook/dp/B096SCTWSW/

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In praise of the NHS

I’m in Glangwili hospital, Carmarthen, recuperating from a stroke. I’ve written this rap poem to say thank you to the incredible nursing, physio and OT staff, who every day go beyond duty to help all patients. I hope someone records this!

Scene: Hospital waiting room

Patients (slow intermittent chant throughout)

We are patients

we are patient

We are waiting

to be seen.

We are patients

we are patient

We are waiting

to be seen… [etc.]

 

Nurse

We treat all who come through our door

Don’t matter if you’re rich or you’re poor

Young, old, you’ll all get told

where your bed is and where your ward

 

Doctor

24/7 we’ll diagnose

Always open, we never close

Get you in triage, process you

You need a heart massage or an abcess removed

 

Nurse

Do our best whatever the cause

We’ll stop your clots and wash your sores

We’re overworked and underpaid

but we’ll make sure your bed is made

 

Doctor

X-ray, ultrasound, MRI

Our technicians’re always standing by

You’re in safe hands, we’re here to care

 

 

 

Don’t be scared, we are your prayer

 

Nurse

Got an allergy or a sports injury?

Maybe a Caesarian delivery?

Did you smoke or drink or work too much,

Get into a fight on Saturday night?

 

Doctor

We’ll treat you just the same

Whether you or no one is to blame

We won’t begrudge you, We won’t judge you

Whatever it is that now bugs you

 

Nurse and Doctor (together)

So come on in, wait your turn

All human life is our concern

Come on in, wait your turn

All human life is our concern…

 

All

We are patients

we are patient

We are waiting

to be seen

We are patients

we are patient

We are waiting

to be seen

We are patients

we are patient

We are waiting

to be seen…

 

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Despair at climate change, and how (maybe) to deal with it.

Woman despairing at burning forests

I feel so sad for the future of all life on Earth, and for my children’s future.

I’ve been involved in environmental activism, research and the business of testing and spreading solutions to environmental problems for 30 years.

I always thought we had a chance of saving ourselves and nature from the worst that could happen.

But today I am in despair.

Sir David King, a chief British climate scientist, knows that there are already enough greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to warm the planet to dangerous degree.

We’ve already passed scary tipping points.

We have the solutions

It’s not that we don’t have the solutions, we do have many of them.

I’ve got one here. And more here.

It’s not even that the politicians and CEOs of corporations, who have the ability to do what’s needed, are still in denial.

It is that they pay lip service. They want to have business as usual and fix the problems. This is not possible.

It is possible for people to have a decent quality-of-life and to solve these problems.

But this entails a change in attitude and understanding. Such a culture change must come before the system can change.

Why isn’t this happening?

We can learn something from the so-called culture war going on in most developed countries nowadays.

The right wing is winning most of these culture war battles.

They win, not by saying that the so-called woke culture is wrong, i.e. racism does not exist.

They win by saying the woke people threaten your way of life. For example, immigrants threaten your jobs.

Take this approach by analogy to the subject of climate change.

Activists can say: we can create thousands of green jobs in eco-renovation. This is good news!

But it is not good news to mainstream business, or to the unions, upon whom both the Tories and the Labour Party depend in the UK.

Too many business models are threatened by the transition to a green economy. These businesses and unions have big lobbying power.

Extinction Rebellion achieved the goal of getting the government to declare the climate emergency and to have a citizens assembly.

The citizens assembly made its recommendations to the government.

You wouldn’t know it, would you?

These have been ignored, because the voices of business are louder in the ears of the Tory government and the voices of the unions are louder in the ears of the Labour opposition.

This is one reason why nothing is done about making existing buildings consume much less energy.

It is why nothing is done about making all new buildings zero carbon.

It is why they still building on greenbelt land, and planning new roads, and tearing up woodlands for HS2.

It is why we have a crazy trade deal with Australia to import sheep when we have plenty of sheep here.

The list of madness is endless.

Only when the fear of the effects of climate change is greater than the fear that their business model will suffer will the main political parties show the kind of leadership that they need to show.

By then it will be too late.

We have already passed the point at which we could make cheap, reasonable changes and still save civilisation from disaster, as suggested by Sir Nicholas Stern in 2006.

This is why Sir David King is proposing drastic geo-engineering.

I can’t seriously see this working. Can you?

So what can you do as an individual?

I can only suggest that you do your best to make where you live as resilient as possible, and start learning practical skills, like growing your own food.

When supply lines dry up because of extreme weather and the supermarket shelves are empty you will need all the skills you can master.

Please, if you feel the same way, I’d like to hear from you.

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How to keep cool in summer without using energy!

Woman using cold water to keep cool

Trying to keep cool in the hot weather? You’ll find many no- and low-cost tips in my book Solar Technology! Topics range from the simple and straightforward to the more advanced:

  • curtains
  • natural ventilation, such as cross ventilation and taking advantage of the stack effect
  • night cooling
  • shutters
  • greenery
  • overhangs
  • evapourative cooling
  • glass coatings
  • insulation
  • heat reflecting paints
  • and the more exotic topic of phase change materials!

Get Solar Technology: The Earthscan Expert Guide to Using Solar Power for Heating, Cooling and Electricity here!

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Log on to a table read of my rap musical Validation!

Poster for rap musical Validation by David thorpe table read from New Works Playhouse

I’m happy to invite you to a table read of my rap musical Validation! It’s on May 31 at 7.30pm on Zoom.

Tickets are available from here: https://www.thenewworksplayhouse.org/event-details/live-table-read-validation-a-rap-musical-by-david-thorpe.

It’s produced by the New Works Playhouse.

 

I had been hopeful that Validation could have been developed in the last year for actual theatres in Wales but the pandemic halted development funding.

The idea of this table read (there won’t be music unlike the above trailer) is to get feedback so that this can possibly happen as things open up again. So I’d like to ask you, that if you watch the reading, I’d be grateful for any feedback and advice on whether you think this is worth developing, and, if so, how. Thanks.

Spread the word!

The actors share out the ticket sales equally, so the more people watch/pay, the more they get! Please invite anybody you think might enjoy it. Thank you for your support.

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Support this Kickstarter campaign for climate stories for teens!

I’m one of 12 authors with a short story in a new book for teenagers.

Teens of Tomorrow book cover

Teens Of Tomorrow is filled with diverse voices about future scares. It’s about climate change and lots more – an anthology of exciting future-focused YA stories about issues affecting young people today and in the future.

It’s on Kickstarter – why not back it and get a free copy?

Featured Stories and Writers:

The Brief Death Of Aparna by Shreyas Muthusankar
Maasai Lights by Mary Ball Howkins
Eye Of The Beholder by Alec James
School Strike For Baby Hope by David Thorpe
Crimson Constellations by Abby Mayers and Melody Lumb
Swamp Reeds by Mary Ball Howkins
The Zebra Genus by A. Rose
Pax Park by Margaret Forze
What We Do Know How To Do by Anneliese Schultz
Being Lavender Blue by Hannah Ray
True America by Kell Cowley
Reach Out And Touch Faith by K.C. Finn

Back it here!

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Loneliness and the friendship of technology

robot friend

I’m now reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel Klara and the Sun, which is about AI, and tonight I watched a webinar organised by the independent bookshops’ challenge to Amazon, bookshop.org, in which he was interviewed about it from his home by an independent bookseller in Bath.

He was fascinating. I’m half way through the book, and the themes are in a Venn diagram with my newest novel Perfect Girl’s simulants, which makes it especially pertinent to read.

Like Never Let Me Go, Klara and the Sun is emotional, deep, and about teenagers and technology.

Its narrator is an Artificial Friend, which are as common as perhaps games consoles nowadays. She is a robot designed to help teenagers not feel lonely. Her perspective on humans and on the world is illuminating.

In my novel Perfect Girl, simulants are artificial humans designed to be better than the humans they replace. I use it to discuss the effect this might have on our attitude to disability and illness. Its narrator is a teenager with cerebral palsy.

This evening, Ishiguro discussed loneliness, as a defining characteristic of what it is to be human.

Today, after one year of lockdown, I definitely feel lonely because I miss people. My partner goes to work, where she interacts with her clients and other staff, but I see no one but the odd shop keeper, apart from online.

As an only child I’m perhaps better equipped than most to handle solitude, and don’t mind it that much. In fact being an only child probably helps a person to be a writer, as it is a lonely activity specialising in inventing imaginary people.

But all the same, this lockdown is, in Wales, now almost 4 months old, and the lack of real human connection, one year since the start of the first lockdown, is wearing.

Still, at least I am healthy and fit, and not living alone but with someone who loves me, and I have not lost anyone close to the virus, all things to be grateful for, but I miss my sons very much and look forward to the time when I can see them in person again.

If I were living alone, I might be grateful to be able to buy or hire a Klara, as long as I were sure my personal data were not being collected.

I know people who treat Siri or Alexa as a companion, sharing things with them that I would find impossible to share with a corporation. It doesn’t seem to bother them.

I am grateful instead that I can imagine characters and scenarios, as a way of connecting with what it means to be human.

And I am grateful for technology like Zoom and Telegram, that enables connection. They are now our firm social scaffolding, despite, pre-pandemic, being blamed by some for being used by teenagers as a substitute for face-to-face communication, and so being anti-social.

If Ishiguro is correct, and loneliness is a baseline human quality, anything which makes us feel less lonely is welcome. The question of whether we can ever really know another person, which Ishiguro also raised in the webinar, remains open.

For those who do treat Siri or Alexa as a companion, Apple or Amazon may know them better than they know themselves… or at least differently.

Technology is a boon in many ways. But, as present opposition to Facebook shows, we also need strong legislatures who are able to curb the anti-social, or exploitative tendencies of some who wield it.

This is also a theme of Perfect Girl. I hope Ishiguro also discusses it in the remaining half of Klara I have yet to read.

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How I created Marvel Universe Earth-616

How I created the Marvel Universe (and see! I was into green energy even in the early ’80s!).

Saturnyne-Captain-Britain-Earth-616

See? I was into solar and wind power even then!

With a new series from Disney/Marvel called Earth-616 out, it’s a great opportunity to talk about how I came up with an alternate universe that became the main Marvel Universe.

When I was working at Marvel UK editing and laying out the monthly and weekly comics, and we decided to relaunch Captain Britain, the managing editor Paul Neary stipulated that he wanted our stories to take place in an alternate universe.

Paul had just put artist Alan Davis and myself as writer together as a team. Both and Alan and myself were starting out as comics creators, it was our first gig.

Privately, I believe Paul was thinking to set our tales in an alternate universe and not the ‘real’ Marvel one, as it was then, in case the whole thing went belly up, and so we could use Marvel US characters without messing up their continuity. We could always say that our stories didn’t really happen and didn’t affect anything else in what was at the time seen as the mainstream Marvel universe.

The Captain Britain relaunch was meant to mark a decisive break from the Steve Parkhouse historical Black Knight version of the character, which was his last manifestation a few years previously.

MSH377 cover

So we had the rebirth origin story depict Merlin sending the new Captain to this alternate universe deliberately, with a mission to sort it out.

But why did he do this? I had to come up with a reason.

So I came up with 616 being just one of many universes each containing different versions of Earth.

Earth 616 was the most retrograde and regressive. Wars, disease, poverty, hunger, inequality, environmental destruction, etc. And a fascist government in control of the UK. Not at all like ours, no.

Why 616? Read on.

This Earth 616 was holding back all of the others – which are all connected in a trans-dimensional string – from moving into the next evolutionary stage of development.

If you read the stories that I wrote you will find out more, and why the pan-dimensional being Saturnyne was sent to administer the evolutionary fluid to humanity to push us on to the next level – so that all Earths could be released to ascend onto the next stage of heightened consciousness.

Sometime later another writer (Chis Claremont?) postulated many Captain Britains on each alternate Earth – a Corps of them.

Even later, unbeknownst to me until recently, instead of the tiny universe we had created being a minor player in relation to the majority of the Marvel universe, the whole of the Marvel universe moved into Earth-616.

It’s ironic too, considering that 616 was only meant to be a temporary universe created partly as a precaution.

But who knows? Perhaps the universe that we inhabit is also only a temporary one created as a precaution by somebody else…

Wow. And super-weird. It is truly awesome.

Big confession. I’ve not read every Marvel comic ever written. (Who has?) So I don’t know how or when this happened and which creators were involved. There must have been an editorial decision made. A no-prize (I still got one here that Stan the Man gave me) for anyone who can tell me.

Oh yes. Why 616? Every now and then I get email from a fan asking me this, and each time I give a different reply. But pretty much all of them have to do with Alistair Crowley and the number of the beast…

(Contrary to rumours, it has little to do with a dislike of superhero comics as such, more the state of most superhero comics at the time, and I wanted to avoid any idea that a character draped in a Union Jack might be associated with fascism and nationalism. I think Alan Moore and I agreed on that point. Alan took over from me on the title. He and I often met in the office or at conventions throughout the 80s.)

Although the story by Alan in British Marvel monthly Daredevil #7 contains the first printed designation of Earth-616, I came up with the name earlier when I introduced Saturnyne, as Alan Davis corroborates.

It was in my notes but never made it into the published scripts, which often had to be cut for reasons of space. We were only allowed five or six pages per monthly story and a lot of things ended up on the cutting room floor.

Now, if only I can figure how to get some more of that evolutionary fluid. I can think of some people I’d like to give it to…

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Separating truth from lies in the causes of the Covid-19 pandemic

Covid-19: after Hokusai

What’s caused this devastating pandemic that’s so far cost at least 207,000 lives (and it’s hardly begun) and wrecked the global economy? If, like me, you’ve been on the receiving end of a blizzard of bizarre messages claiming to reveal the truth behind the pandemic you might be forgiven for feeling confused, so here’s your handy guide to what isn’t the cause and what is.

Disinformation wars

Right from the start misinformation was rife: there was no virus; the disease was like flu and wouldn’t cause significant harm; emails offered baseless cures and treatments; and conspiracy theories spread like wildfire about its origin.

It turns out that many of those who circulated such misinformation have a history of casting doubt on climate science or seeking to debate issues that were already laid to rest within the scientific community, according to DeSmog.org:

“The decades that fossil fuel companies spent funding organizations that sought to undermine the conclusions of credible climate scientists and building up doubt about science itself ultimately created a network of professional science deniers who are now deploying some of the same skills they honed on climate against the public health crisis at the centre of our attention today.”

Some of this disinformation was/is channelled by Presidents Trump and Bolsanaro. Others by think tanks, experts (some self-proclaimed), academics, and professional right-wing activists who are also climate change denialists.

After taking apart all of these arguments, DeSmog asserts: “COVID denial should forever discredit climate science deniers”.

Former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s brother Piers Corbyn tweeted that the pandemic is a “world population cull” backed by Bill Gates and George Soros, who had secretly bankrolled the Chinese with American dollars to create a bio-weapon. He called for them, along with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, to be sent to Guantanamo Bay.

A lot of people have been forwarding David Icke’s video, which is astonishing given that here is a narcissistic con artist who believes the moon is hollow and the world is ruled by shape shifting reptiles from another planet, and who was banned from entering Australia because he’s a Holocaust denier who argued the September 11 terrorist attacks were a government hoax.

If other people’s motivations for spreading pandemic misinformation are political, what is Icke’s? Easy. Self marketing: I’m sure his book and merchandising sales are doing very well, thank you.

Meanwhile Bill Gates himself has commercial reasons for his pledge to produce a vaccine, which I guess is acceptable, but this has been hijacked by both Russian propaganda channel RT and David Icke to hint/claim that Gates would insert human-controlling nanobots into the vaccine. Again, nonsense.

Many right-wingers are attacking lockdown measures, and not just Republicans in US states. A friend in Berlin tells me that right wing groups in Germany “don’t quite call for a total lifting of restrictions but query every single measure, along the lines if that’s allowed, why not that”.

Personal freedom is touted by them as a more fundamental right than social consensus for the sake of health, as if the right to infect others (or be infected) was at the forefront of the minds of the Founding Fathers. This is another ideologically motivated attack on science which has backfired on the proponents because its stupidity is self-evident.

Anti-Semitism has also got mixed up with claims that the 5G network is responsible for the virus. This claim resulted in people attacking 5G towers in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the mistaken belief this would stop them from being infected – never mind that it started in a place where 5G didn’t exist. Early on in the pandemic I was sent an email suggesting that “G5 [sic] was invented in Israel, then exported to other countries whilst banned in Israel”.

How to refute conspiracy theories

In the absence of a known medical cause, people invent causes for illnesses which are “a sign of the times and not a reason for the disease”, wrote New York intellectual Susan Sontag way back in 1978 in her book Illness as Metaphor. This analysed how victims of illnesses like tuberculosis and cancer were blamed for catching the disease before science caught up with an explanation.

When HIV came along, early victims were likewise blamed, for a lifestyle that moralists and ideologues disapproved of.

What we’re finding now is that fake theories and conspiracy theories are similarly pushed around by people seeking to further their own agendas – whether is anti-American, pro-American, anti-WHO, anti-capitalist, anti-left-wing, anti-Semitic, anti-Chinese or pro-Chinese.

The recently published book Conspiracy Theories by Quassim Cassam identifies two sorts of people who push these kinds of fake rumours: those who invented the theories, like David Icke and Donald Trump, and their hard-core supporters; and lesser followers, or the more innocent – maybe they are just seeking to understand what’s going on and gain ‘likes’ for forwarding.

Cassam’s lucidly argued book succinctly takes apart what all conspiracy theories do, and offers advice for counteracting them – which he says is absolutely necessary in order to fight fake news and educate the public.

It’s very hard to argue with the hard-cores because any attempt to do so usually only reinforces their belief that you are yourself a victim of brainwashing by the establishment. However, it does help, Cassam says, to point out the occasions when you yourself have criticised the establishment to prove that you are not an establishment stooge.

For everybody else, which is the majority of people who forward these messages, Cassam advocates pointing out to them the company they keep by doing so – they may not really wish to be associated with loonies or anti-Semitic/anti-liberal democracy extremists.

He says, “By endorsing conspiracy theories, one can’t help associating with the causes that these theories have traditionally promoted”.

The 5G connection is an example. While there are some legitimate reasons for you to oppose the 5G roll-out (e.g. the higher environmental and carbon footprint it will bring), associating your opposition to it with baseless claims about the coronavirus will do your cause no good at all.

Cassam also advises to use evidence and proper arguments to refute the theories, and try to educate people in how to check information on the Internet, as they may not know how to be discerning about their sources.

The truth about the origins of Covid-19

In the last few weeks, many of us have encountered what our comfortable lifestyle had kept from view: our supply chains and economies are built on shaky foundations.

Even the most powerful economies have proved to be inadequately prepared. And we’ve hardly begun to see the effect on the poor countries, with no healthcare infrastructure, no welfare safety net, and no possibility of social distancing.

A recent Financial Times article stated: “Covid-19 began as a disease of the rich but will devastate the poor far more.”

It spread fast because the rich fly everywhere.

It most probably began, although this has yet to be finally determined, with a virus that leapt from a trafficked animal, the extremely endangered and beautiful, harmless pangolin, whose illegal trade to China conservation groups have long campaigned against.

Scientists have been warning about this type of virus transmission and this type of pandemic for many years – just watch the 2011 film Contagion, which was based on such warnings, for a prescient glimpse of what has just happened.

The trade in animals is just one part of humanity’s war on nature. As the IPBES’ Global Assessment Report says (the organisation is to biodiversity what the IPCC is to climate change): we have in the last 50 years lost 60 per cent of nature.

Last week we celebrated Earth Day’s 50th birthday. Over the same time period, humanity’s overall ecological footprint has increased from one planet to 1.7 times what Earth can renew. We’ve been living on borrowed time and asking for trouble.

As the Footprint Network says: “The Ecological Footprint is one of the metrics that already exist to provide the necessary tracking of human demand on nature and of the ability for natural ecosystems to meet that demand.”

“COVID-19 has made obvious that “we are in it together’,” they say. “This is straight biology. This means that justice, prosperity, public health, and ecological balance are not separate issues. The neglect of our biological dependence has become the Achilles’ heel of our modern existence.”

As my colleague in Berlin, the writer Kurtis Sunday, observes, “Covid-19 attacked a global system which was already fragile in all sorts of ways … people are freaking out for all sorts of reasons and think one can go back to a pre-Covid normality. Some business interests simply want to get the tills ringing again but are also freaked out by seeing that society can get along with a much lower level of consumption/work and contrail-less skies.”

So what should we do? “We have the power to build a world that thrives within the means of our planet,” concludes the Footprint Network. This is what any nation’s recovery programme needs to have at its heart.

Yes, this is obviously in keeping with their agenda, and mine, but it happens to be based on science.

David Thorpe is author of ‘One Planet’ Cities: Sustaining Humanity within Planetary Limits. He also runs online courses such as Post-Graduate Certificate in One Planet Governance.

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When reality merges with fiction…

 

This is not the future we imagined

A pandemic with no known cure has put the country in lockdown and economic meltdown. We are scared. We don’t know when it will end. We’re sharing dark humour, supporting each other, trying to stay safe. I wish you all the best.

As you may know, writers often have the feeling that reality is starting to merge with a fiction they’re working on – and that’s when they know the writing is going well. I got it while writing Hybrids, which is a novel that won a national contest run by HarperCollins. And I’m getting it now.

<![endif]–>

The virus may be different, the situation less dire. But images like this are just like what I imagined. Spot the difference between reality and images I created while working on it:
People wering face masks outside on the street

I wrote Hybrids partly as metaphor – for our relationship with technology and my own relationship with my body – I have cerebral palsy and use assistive technology. And now we’re using technology more and more, as the lockdown continues…

Many of us have more time to read now. Whether you read for escapism or to understand more about the world, if you haven’t read the book, now is the time. And tell your friends… All of you, be safe, show love, and follow the medical guidelines.

Get the book here: https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780007349968/hybrids/

Like the Hybrids Facebook page.

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