Book Thoughts

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Someone mentioned recently that this is the book for the present times, even more so than 1984 or the Handmaid’s Tale. I can see why. This book gave me nightmares.

The book is set in California in the near future (2024). Climate change has made food too expensive even for the well off. There isn’t really a middle class, only the destitute, and the working poor. Small towns have turned into corporations where people are paid less than the price to get ahead, and are forced into indentured servitude by the debts this presents. Government policies have made it impossible for anyone to get ahead, and outside gated communities there’s a good chance you’ll be murdered by either the desperate or the drug addled. Nowhere is safe.

It follows Lauren as she grows up in one of those gated communities, struggling to make sense of the world as it fractures around her. To make sense of it, she creates her own religion that worships ‘god as change’.

This word is Lauren’s normal, everything she has always known, even though she knows it’s only going to get worse. The result is a strange disconnect between Lauren’s calm and measured view of the world and all the terrible things that happen. The pace is at times excruciatingly slow, and the story spans years of Lauren’s life. This removes a feeling of immediacy to the horrors to come. Combined, these two techniques created an eerie effect as I read the book.

If this were made into a movie it could be shot as a zombie film, complete with gun fights, severed limbs, and cannibals. It is a survival story at its core, as much as it is Lauren’s origin story.

This novel feels scarily plausible given the trajectory of world politics today, and this was published in 2000. It’s not that bad yet, but it could be. I can’t get it out of my head, but I sometimes wish I could.

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The Happy Writer

Every morning I turn on my computer, check my email, log on to Twitter, and get sucked into a vortex of horrors. It’s been really hard to stay positive and hopeful lately. I know more than one person who’s found it hard to write because there’s a constant barrage of terrible news.

There are numerous studies like this one, that correlate hearing/reading/viewing bad news with a decrease in productivity and overall happiness. In other words, if you read bad news in the morning, it can keep you feeling down or anxious for the entire day.

I think I curate my social media pretty mercilessly. No auto follow backs. I will check out profiles and tweets before following. All retweets are off unless you’re someone I know and trust. I sort almost everyone into private lists, so that I can only view minor controversies when I have the mental stamina for it. A few weeks ago I installed Self-Control in my browser (because I have none) so I limit my social media time.

Regardless, when the world’s gone mad, you can’t avoid the world. I hear coworkers talking about T*mp in the lunch room, or in the desks across from mine, at the next table when I go out for coffee. CNN is on the TV when I walk into the kitchen to get TV at work.

But the opposite of despair is hope.

Sometimes I fall into despair because it feels like I have no control over my life or the world. Finding something small I can do can give me back one fresh breath of air to suck on before I go under again.

Today my one tiny first action was to make a list of all the things I can do to help make the world better, now and in the future. It was just a list of possibilities, but by their nature, all possibilities are hopes.  Now I have a plan, a direction to move in, a light to turn my head towards. It’s a small step, but it’s going somewhere.

Sometimes you only need to wedge the door open, so that a little light can spill through.  It doesn’t take much to let the hope in.

So I hope you scrape, claw, write, your way back to hope, because every small step is still a step towards something new. There are still things worth fighting for. I still have hope.

(And when you do find that light again, it’s time to get to work)

Additional reading: 

  • Productivity in terrible times. “All of our work is capable of enabling righteous acts.”
  • Small Protests via Kristan Hoffman “Art reminds us of our humanity. Art broadens our humanity. Because art strengthens our empathy.”

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Journal

This month. This month! It’s been up and down, and sideways and everywhere. Some of it was day jobbery gone sideways, but that’s resolved. Some of it was just the long slog. I love tinkering with my stories and making them better, but I’ve been running low on steam and needed a bit of a break.

I didn’t read any books this months, but I’ve been beta reading. I think that it takes work to become a better beta reader, just like it takes work to be a better writer. I’ve been experimenting with a new beta reading feedback format based on Jami Gold’s template. So far it’s working out better for me. I appreciate that it has structure and covers most points you’d want addressed in a developmental edits.

And that’s all I’ve got for you today. Do you have anything good to share? I’d love to know, no matter how silly. I could use a little injection of positivity. I think we all could, lately!

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