The Legacy of Trees: Purposefully Wandering Vancouver’s Stanley Park

Winter on Sea Wall StanleyPark

Winter on the sea wall (Heritage House)

“In the gorgeously colourful fall of 2017, I had a sudden thought: “I live next to Stanley Park, one of the world’s most beloved and best parks. How have I not noticed? Of course I had noticed, but I hadn’t taken that awareness inside. I barely knew the park. I have lived beside this park for twenty-five years. I first saw the crescent beach of English Bay and the storytelling totems in the park in 1961, fifty-nine years ago. Have I been asleep? Can I wake up? Is it time?

If I am going to get to know this park—this Stanley Park—and call it “my park,” I will have to wander it purposefully, path by path, plaque by plaque, monument by monument, rock by rock, tree by tree, blossom by flowering blossom, through every season, and allow its layers of history to seep into me as though it were a living, breathing being.

Actually, it is.

Legacy of Trees Nina Shoroplova

This is how Nina Shoroplova begins her book “The Legacy of Trees” by Heritage House, 2020, a book all about “Purposeful Wandering in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.”

The beautifully laid out 288-page book with colour photos is a feast for the mind and the heart. Although the book provides an excellent human and natural history of the park—from its pre-colonial existence, and logging history, to its creation and uses and description—at its root is an expression of wonder for this natural gem in the middle of a bustling city and a true love of trees.

Shoroplova approaches the forest with the heart of a poet. Her passion for nature—and trees, particularly—lights each page with joyful discovery. Shoroplova brings this passion to Stanley Park, one of Canada’s iconic parks, and one worth both visiting and knowing through many aspects from history to ecology and from forest ecosystem to legacy tree.

Each year, Stanley Park welcomes more than eight million visitors from around the world. In the summer of 2013, Travel & Leisure magazine ranked Stanley Park second among the world’s twenty-eight most beautiful city parks in the world. In 2014, TripAdvisor named Stanley Park the best park in the world. The park features 400-hectares of natural coastal temperate rainforest with 27 km of trails and scenic views of water, mountains, and truly majestic trees. The rainforest holds an old-growth forest of +400-year old Douglas-firs and some of the largest grand firs in the world. The park also features an 8.8 km seawall, totem poles and six beautiful gardens.

Map of Stanley Park

Map of Stanley Park, Vancouver

Early in the book, Shoroplova describes a particular experience with a weeping beech in Shakespeare Garden with something close to reverence:

“When I first walked under its canopy of falling dark green drapery, tears came to my eyes. Somehow, the generosity of that tree, offering its shade and comfort to all who stand, walk, and drive underneath its south-facing leaves, opened my heart.” She then added, “As a friend says, ‘trees are divine beings.’”

Shoroplova shares why she feels calmed, centred, and connected in a forest, particularly in Stanley Park:

Hemlock on Cedar StanleyPark

Hemlock growing on cedar stump (Heritage House)

Maybe it’s because the change in a forest is constant yet unobservable, unobtrusive. Maybe it’s because I, as a human being, am so insignificant in size compared with the giants around me. Or because I, as a human being, have lived for such a short time compared with the ancient living beings around me. Or the green and the tree pheromones are so calming…

I used to feel this way when I skied downhill and when I breastfed my babies. I feel this way when I stand in the ocean and await the next wave and the next. I feel this way with my grandchildren. That’s what being in the forest does for us…It brings us to the present moment. That’s the gift.”

Victorian woman giant trees 1901

Woman wanders among the Seven Sisters giants, 1901 (Heritage House)

There is an abiding quality about trees and a living forest that is reassuring. “Trees are supportive, yet ambitious,” writes Shoropova. They are “quiet yet communicative, flexible yet strong, adaptive yet true to type.” They connect us to a larger world in a way that is both awe-inspiring and familiar.

“Learning the histories of the legacy trees in Stanley Park deepens our knowledge of the people of Vancouver—our history, our origins, our values,” Shoroplova explains in her opening chapter. These stories also show how Vancouver is maturing and evolving alongside its park forests and gardens. “We are shaking off the colonial identity that the park exhibited for so many decades and embracing the values of reconciliation with the first inhabitants of this land, the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh. We are also reclaiming what we can of the original nature of this land while honouring our communal history.”

Loggers springboard system Douglas-fir-1890s

Loggers using springboards to chop down a Douglas-fir giant, Stanley Park, 1890s (Heritage House)

Shoroplova arranged her tree stories into three parts: Part 1: The Trees Were Always There—trees that were already growing on the peninsula headland that became the federal reserve and then Stanley Park; Part 2: The First Trees Are Planted—those that were planted during the colonial and imperial years of the park (up to 1960); Part 3: The Park Grows Up—the years of growing independence.

Complete with old photos and original maps, Shoroplova offers several well-described and mapped routes to learn about and appreciate the beauty of the park. Her accurate science and historical accounts are dispensed in easily-digested and understood parcels through the language of conversation. The narrative is both charming and intriguing from the sad tale of the sentinel big Douglas-fir at the entrance to Stanley Park in 1894 to the princess-poet Pauline Johnson’s naming of Lost Lagoon and stories of historic events.

GeorgiaSt Entrance StanleyPark-bigfir-1894

Georgia Street entrance to Stanley Park in 1894 (Heritage House)

In a particularly engaging chapter of the book (Chapter 8), Shoroplova compares humans to trees and, through some interesting observations on tree physiology and behaviour, she draws some interesting conclusions. One example is her description of a tree’s heartbeat: how trunk and branches use a very slow pulse of contraction and expansion to send water up and out to every branchlet and leaf. Or how trees essentially breathe in more oxygen during the day (during active photosynthesis) and breathe out more carbon dioxide at night (during respiration without photosynthesis). Shoroplova likens it to “one slow breath for every twenty-four hours.” Shoroplova extends this fractal idea to the “suggestion that the northern hemisphere of Earth breathes in every summer and breathes out every winter. One slow planetary breath for every twelve months.”

Shoroplova also discusses two theories that explain the phenomenon of crown shyness, only seen in deciduous trees: “One is that trees of the same species avoid both being shaded by and shading each other. They take up space that is not already filled, allowing each other space to grow and breathe and capture the sun’s rays. The opposing theory is that stormy weather breaks off branches that are very close to each other. I suspect a mixture of both theories is at work.”

NurseryTree StanleyPark

Decaying log provides nutrients and substrate for other life (Heritage House)

Shoroplova continues her comparison in describing the life and death of a tree. “The death of a tree is a very drawn-out affair, taking years and even decades, as the tree changes from being healthy to having its health impinged on in some way, to losing more of its branches … to becoming a standing snag, and finally to falling to the forest floor. The decomposition—the composting—of one tree provides the soil for the birth and regeneration of many others. When a tree falls in the forest, its fallen form—minerals, fibre, and glucose—nourishes all the other life forms in its environment…Fallen trees become nurse logs for seedling trees, especially for western hemlocks.” In Chapter 9, Shoroplova shares how the forest—like the ocean—releases negative ions that help in general feelings of wellness as these ions “neutralize all the free radicals that result from our natural body processes or that exist as environmental toxins.”

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Western red cedar with burl, remaining Seven Sister in Stanley Park (Heritage House)

In Chapter 12, Shoroplova describes the cathedral-like grandeur of the Seven Sisters grove of western redcedars and Douglas-firs as witnessed by Mohawk poet E. Pauline Johnson in 1911 and the sad narrative that followed. The fame of this stately grove of giants became their undoing—in the early 1950s the Park Board cut them down, citing safety reasons. The seven stately trees became seven sad stumps—with just one western redcedar with a large burl of the originals remaining. In 1988 the Park Board planted seven young Douglas-fir trees to replace the Seven Sisters. It will take time but eventually they may rival the Seven Sisters in majestic height. The single original sister still stands, prompting Shoroplova to “return to feel the history embedded in this single sibling.”

PaulineJohnson feather

E. Pauline Johnson

“But in all the world there is no cathedral whose marble or onyx columns can vie with those straight, clean, brown tree-boles that team with the sap and blood of life. There is no fresco that can rival the delicacy of lace-work they have festooned between you and the far skies. No tiles, no mosaic or inlaid marbles are as fascinating as the bare, russet, fragrant floor outspreading about their feet. They are the acme of Nature’s architecture, and in building them she has outrivalled all her erstwhile conceptions. She will never originate a more faultless design, never erect a more perfect edifice. But the divinely moulded trees and the man-made cathedral have one exquisite characteristic in common. It is the atmosphere of holiness.”—E. Pauline Johnson, Legends of Vancouver, 1911.

ProspectPoint 1891

Prospect Point, Stanley Park, 1891 (Heritage House)

Subsequent chapters are devoted to singular trees and charming stories throughout the various gardens and paths of Stanley Park. Shoroplova brings them all to life with an animated history that weaves through the park to the present day.

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Nina Munteanu looks up at giant Douglas-fir in Lighthouse Park, BC (photo by M. Ross)

She ends on a high note for me by invoking the wisdom of UBC ecologist and forester Suzanne Simard, who parses out four simple solutions to forest managers. They include: 1) know the local region and ecology and act accordingly; 2) stop or at least curtail most logging of the old-growth forests; 3) save the legacies, the mother trees and networks so they can pass their wisdom onto the next generation of trees; 4) help regenerate the biodiversity of forest ecosystems by planting and allowing natural regeneration. “Forests aren’t just a bunch of trees competing with each other; they’re super-cooperators,” says Simard in a TED talk in June 2016. From Simard’s message I travelled to Ira Sutherland’s TEDx talk in October 2019, about the giant trees in Vancouver, which include Stanley Park; his message was also direct: 1) this is our story; and 2) Nature proves resilient.

I give Shoroplova a top score for ending her wonderful exposé on Stanley Park trees with action. Once we have connected with a forest and with a particular tree, we have walked through a door into awareness and ultimately responsibility. The wisdom and actionable message is clear. It isn’t enough to be a bystander. Just as E. Pauline Johnson raised the flag of awareness a hundred years ago for indigenous peoples and Nature by association, we must do the same. Or it will disappear. Sutherland points out that many of the sites where he has documented giant mother trees are not protected.

Bill Stephen, superintendent of urban forestry (retired), in his foreword to the book, wisely suggests how to use the book:

Read it first in a leisurely manner at home, and internalize the park’s history since its dedication in 1888. Then tuck it into your backpack and take it with you as a companion on your park wanderings. Take it on your smartphone or tablet as an ebook. Follow the maps, and use a maps app to enter the latitude/longitude coordinates of your place of interest for the day. Re-read its tales in the presence of the very trees about which it speaks, time travel with them, and return to the city with a richer sense of the connections between the trees of this great park and its human and animal actors. Then repeat…”

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North side of Sea Wall with view of north shore and Lion’s Gate Bridge, Stanley Park, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

References:

Johnson, E. Pauline 1911. “Legends of Vancouver.” Library of Alexandria. 196pp. E. Pauline Johnson (Takehionwake) was a daughter of a Mohawk Chief and a white mother.  She was one of Canada’s most famous performers, poet, feminist and indigenous activist of the Victorian era. Pauline Johnson documented legends, told to her by her great friend, Squamish Chief Joe Capilano, in the Vancouver newspaper, The Daily Province, and then a book, ‘Legends of Vancouver’, in print now for over 100 years.

Nombre, Antonio Donato. 2010. “The Magic of the Amazon: A river that flows invisibly all around us.” TEDx Talk, 21:27 min. November, 2010. The Amazon River is like a heart, pumping water from the seas through it, and up into the atmosphere through 600 billion trees, which act like lungs. Clouds form, rain falls and the forest thrives. In a lyrical talk, Antonio Donato Nobre talks us through the interconnected systems of this region, and how they provide environmental services to the entire world. A parable for the extraordinary symphony that is nature.

Simard, Suzanne. 2016. “How Trees Talk to Each Other.” TED Talk, 18:20 min. June, 2016. “A forest is much more than what you see,” says ecologist Suzanne Simard. Her 30 years of research in Canadian forests have led to an astounding discovery — trees talk, often and over vast distances. Learn more about the harmonious yet complicated social lives of trees and prepare to see the natural world with new eyes.

Shoroplova, Nina. 2020. “Legacy of Trees: Purposeful Wandering in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.” Heritage House Publishing Co.Ltd., Vancouver. 288pp.

Sutherland, Ira. 2019. “The Great Vancouver Forest: A Story of Place.” TEDx Talk, 21:04 min. Oct. 2019. Growing up among the tall forests near UBC, Ira Sutherland developed an appreciation and curiosity for forests early on. This talk invites his audience to explore Vancouver’s extensive forests and to hopefully see trees in a new light (for more information, see http://www.vancouversbigtrees.com)

 

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Waterwas released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

Craig Russell’s “Fragment” in the time of COVID-19

Fragment-CraigRussellCraig Russell begins his eco-thriller Fragment with a TV interview of glaciologist Kate Sexsmith in Scott Base Antarctica. The interview is interrupted by what turns out to be four runaway glaciers that have avalanched into the back of the Ross Ice Shelf and a fragment the size of Switzerland surges out into the open sea. Hence the title: Fragment.

The original slide / wave and ensuing tsunami wipes out both Scott Station and the American McMurdo Station. The TV station records the moment:

Where Kate had stood to touch the map of Antarctica moments before, something hit the wall like an artillery round. It left a ragged hole through wall and map alike, framing an eerie light-show. A sheet of jewels flickered, glinting greens and blues, until a white mountain appeared and the screen went black.

Ross Ice Shelf 4

Ross Ice Shelf, Antartica

With astute prescience, Russell reveals humanity’s behaviour in the stress of such a momentous event: from scientists who understand the global significance of this rogue fragment to those who minimize its effect such as the media and tourist industry who wish to exploit this anomaly and self-centred politicians obsessed with protecting their status.

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Antartica

 

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Senator Inhofe and infamous snow ball

My first thought was: he’s stereotyping a little. Then COVID-19 broke out to become a global pandemic. The reactions of scientists, media and certain politicians (e.g. the Trumps of the world) have played out with COVID-19 just as Russell had predicted with Fragment. Then again, good science fiction reaches deeply into a society’s core being, our motivations, fears and strengths; this is why science fiction is so eerily good at predicting. The best way to predict possibilities of the future is to understand the present and, as Russell demonstrates, science fiction writers are in touch with the zeitgeist of the world.

Reflecting the American government’s ridiculous denial of climate change, and calling to mind Republican Senator Inhofe’s snow ball in the senate scene, Russell’s character David Rookland (Washington’s Science Advisor) uses the glacier avalanche and fragment that he (purposely) misunderstands to illustrate with equal lack of logic the same misguided myth: “these theorists claim that around the world, glaciers have been receding. Thankfully, as you can see in the second photo, dear old Mother Nature has proven them wrong again.”

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Blue whale

 

Russell’s chapters devoted to the POV of character Ring, a young blue whale also fragmented from his pod, are particularly touching and powerful. Chased alternatively by Killer whales and human hunters, Ring must warn his kind of the danger posed by the fragment. In one chapter Ring observes that “there’s a special taste to the air here, a tang carried north from the twin Smoking Mountains, which send their steamy vapors into the sky forever.”

Russell then weaves an inspiring legend among the blues about a whale named Long-Throat and the “hard/noisy things” that came to hunt. Men slaughtered so many and scattered the pods in all directions. According to the legend of Long-Throat, the faint bitter smell of the Smoking Mountains brought the pods together again. This had been a time, thinks Ring, when the pods were not afraid to be different, or of new places and strange experiences. But no more. “The Slaughter scarred his race and young Blues are fed fear with their mother’s milk. Fear that never heals, never sleeps. Fight it though he may, that fear lives inside him too.” Ring hopes that, by facing this new fear of the fragment and its incredible power to devastate (any whale caught under its massive moving force will drown), “the old fear can be allowed to sink away.” His course is clear: he must compose a new song to warn other blues. Ring ends up doing far more than sound the warning of the moving behemoth to his people when he is discovered by an American nuclear missile submarine. What follows is what I think is the real story and its magic.

Ross Ice Shelf

Ross ice shelf, Antarctica

The book is appropriately titled Fragment because in some ways the fragment is a main character, carrying the theme. It is herald, harbinger, and misunderstood by many. Its power is greatly underestimated by others, and it is set apart from its fold to become something else. Like Ring and his people. Like humanity, even. Just as the Corona virus pandemic (currently ravaging the world as I write this article) promises to change every aspect of our world, so too does the fragment.

The fragment: “….Its northern rim is a world of chaos. Pack-ice, bulldozed by the Fragment, has been swept up into a bramble, miles deep, piled up and over itself in a frozen explosion. The corpses of countless penguins lie within, broken by the onslaught. Behind this jumble rises the Wall. A hundred metres above the water line and six hundred below, the Shelf is old, formed before Columbus stumbled his way across the Atlantic. In the Fragment’s back, imbedded like spears, are vast sections of the four glaciers. Byrd, Nimrod, Beardmore, and Shackleton. Truly ancient, each is a fortress, hard as granite, laminated layer upon layer over millennia…The creatures of the sea meet the wall in their millions. The air breathers, penguins, seals, dolphins, and so on, have no hope. They swim and die, exhausted and drowned. For many of the water breathers like fish and squid, the drop in temperature near the Fragment is too much…Some species of fish, well able to withstand the cold, succumb instead to the unfamiliar fresh water that has begun to pool around the Fragment.”–Craig Russell, Fragment

In a scene near the end of the book, which could be taken out of our current COVID-19 crisis, Russell describes how carefully considered warnings by scientists are downplayed as “alarmist” resulting in devastating inaction:

When Kate Sexsmith presents a possible scenario of the Fragment smashing into Europe, the Chairman of the European Fragment Conference counters with “in that highly unlikely event” all is under control by the world community. To this dangerous platitude, Sexsmith challenges (only to receive a mealy-mouthed double-speak reply):

“Respectfully, Mr. Chairman, [says Sexsmith] the world has faced plenty of hurricanes, tidal waves, and earthquakes. But we have no historical event to compare with the Fragment. And Europe isn’t the only place in danger. There are millions of people at risk on the Caribeean islands. Many are poorly educated and have no resources of their own. When do we mov them? How do we move them? Who is prepared to take them in? And based on Stanley [which was totally destroyed by the Fragment] who is prepared to take them in on a permanent basis?”

“We are not blind to these concerns, Doctor [says the chairman]. But we must take a balanced view. We cannot simply adopt an alarmist approach. Our scientific community’s reputation for sound council is too important to risk…”

But when great disaster strikes, all peoples (whales and humanity) come together in solidarity. With new humility, kindness and wisdom. I was astonished at the way Russell pulled things together toward a unique resolution. I give Craig Russell five stars for the courage to end his book the way he did. It was pure magic. The kind of magic we all want to see more of in this currently beleaguered, divisive and consumer-obsessed world.

Antarctica ice

Antartica

As Dutch trends forecaster Li Edelkoort said of COVID-19, the Fragment “might just turn the world around for the better [as] an amazing grace for the planet.”

Antarctica melting

Antarctica melting

 

Whales and Intelligence:

Scientists are still finding ways to assess “intelligence”, particularly in life that isn’t human. Whales have been shown to have emotional intelligence. They show signs of empathy, grief, joy, and playfulness. All of these learned behaviors, types of intelligence, and signs of teamwork have led scientists to think about groups of whales in new ways.

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Blue whale

Most humans believe that our ability to communicate is far more complex and evolved than that of other animals, but cetaceans may be superior. According to a comparison of cetacean to primate brains from Michigan State University, “They have the distinct advantage over us in that their primary sense is the same as their primary means of communication, both are auditory. With primates, the primary sense is visual and the primary means of communication is auditory.” Communication is so great in cetaceans that there is a strong possibility they are able to literally project an “auditory image” that replicates a sonar message they may receive.  MSU describes it this way: “So a dolphin wishing to convey the image of a fish to another dolphin can literally send the image of a fish to the other animal. The equivalent of this in humans would be the ability to create instantaneous holographic pictures to convey images to other people.”

Specialized brain cells called spindle neurons are most often associated with an organism’s ability to “recognize, remember, reason, communicate, perceive, adapt to change, problem solve and understand.” Spindle neurons have been isolated in the brains of both whales and dolphins, which suggests that whales do a lot more thinking than previously thought. Dolphins, for example, have been known to recognize themselves in mirrors, solve problems, follow recipes, and associate a part of their anatomy with that of a human’s (such as when a dolphin waves it’s fin whenever a trainer waves their arm). Recent studies even indicate that dolphins are capable of creating personalized whistles that act as names for individual members of a pod. With this name, dolphins are able to communicate more efficiently while roaming the open seas.

mother calf humpback whale

Mother humpback and her calf

In a Scientific American article entitled “Are Whales Smarter Then We Are?” R. Douglas Fields writes: Logically, brain function and intelligence must relate to the number of neurons. Intelligence resides in the neocortex (the thin, convuluted “rind” of the brain) rather than in other, underlying areas devoted to controlling vital housekeeping functions for the body, so Eriksen and Pakkenberg focused their investigation there. The frontal lobes of the dolphin brain are comparatively smaller than in other mammals, but the researchers found that the neocortex of the Minke whale was surprisingly thick. The whale neocortex is thicker than that of other mammals and roughly equal to that of humans (2.63 mm). However, the layered structure of the whale neocortex is known to be simpler than that of humans and most other mammals. In particular, whales lack cortical layer IV, and thus have five neocortical layers to humankind’s six. This means that the wiring of connections into and out of the neocortex is much different in whales than in other mammals. The researchers’ cellular census revealed that the total number of neocortical neurons in the Minke whale was 12.8 billion. This is 13 times that of the rhesus monkey and 500 times more than rats, but only 2/3 that of the human neocortex. What can account for the fact that whales have bigger brains — and similarly thick neocortexes — but fewer neurons? Eriksen and Pakkenberg found that there were 98.2 billion non-neuronal cells, called glia, in the Minke whale neocortex. This is the highest number of glial cells in neocortex seen in any mammal studied to date. The ratio of neocortical glial cells to neocortical neurons is 7.7 to 1 in Minke whales and only 1.4 to 1 in humans. This finding may indicate a tendency for larger glia/neuron ratios as brain mass increases to support the growing neurons. But when one considers other recent research revealing that glia play an important role in information processing (see “The Other Half of the Brain,” fromn Sci. Am. April 2004), one is left to wonder. Is the whale brain intellectually weaker than the human brain, or just different? They have fewer neurons but more glia, and in traditional views of the glia, the neurons count for much more.

In her article in One Green Planet entitled “Whales and Dolphins Might Be The Smartest Animals”, Madison Montgomery leaves us a strong message and exhortation: “While it appears that cetaceans have incredible abilities to feel emotions, understand complex problems and communicate in ways we can’t even imagine, humans don’t seem to value this. Because we assume we are so smart, we put the other creatures of the world underneath us. Knowing how dynamic cetaceans are, keeping them in glorified bathtubs and forcing them to do tricks for food is insulting and cruel. Could you imagine the pain of living in a small room your entire life and having to do flips to be fed? Sounds like a miserable existence, doesn’t it?”

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Waterwill be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

 

The Splintered Universe, Book 3: “Metaverse” Audiobook

 

Metaverse-FRONT-web copyIn Metaverse, the third and last book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy, Detective Rhea Hawke travels back to Earth, hoping to convince an eccentric mystic to help her defend humanity from an impending Vos attack—only to find herself trapped in a deception that promises to change her and her two worlds forever.

Lilly’s Book World summarizes the audiobook:

Oh, Yes! An explosive ending indeed! This was such a great series, with such great world development and great characters, full of action and with an amazing narration! I am sorry it’s over! (but I still have the books!)

“Metaverse” concludes so many open points from the previous books.  Some may say the blurb is evasive, but with so much going on, it’s great we have no spoilers in there. However, I can tell you that our main character Rhea is in for a treat! The same goes to her amazing companions.

Rhea develops even more; she manages to discover so much about her heritage and her role in this war that has enveloped the universe. Her story transcends planets and she becomes so much more than a simple presence. I like her and I admire her power.  I’m sorry, I’m being cryptic here. But if you have read or listened to books 1 and 2, you are compelled to see how it all ends. And you already know how great the story is.

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Rhea Hawke (Vali Gurgu)

 

The narration is as amazing as in the other two books. Dawn Harvey has done an amazing job giving life to Rhea, making all this action real and palpable. At times, I was listening to her breathlessly. Everything was enhanced due to the narration!

I have little else to add, except that maybe one day I will see this series in our Romanian libraries, so that my fellow countrymen can enjoy Nina Munteanu’s writing. 5 stars!

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This episode of the space trilogy is everything I wanted and more… Rhea and her helpers are running out of time to save the outer verse from war. There is so much happening in this book it keeps you listening far into the night—Book Addict

 

Dawn Harvey continues to bring a great performance to this series. Her narration is so well done. She’s got the perfect voice for Rhea Hawke. I love how she manages all the different alien voices. Truly, I don’t know how she pulled some of them off, and with such consistency across all three books. 5/5 stars—Dab of Darkness

The trilogy consists of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse. and is available in ALL THREE FORMATS: print, ebook, and audiobook. You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

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GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

 

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

The Splintered Universe, Book 2: “Inner Diverse” Audiobook

 

Inner-diverse-front-cover-WEBIn Inner Diverse, the second book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy, Detective Rhea Hawke continues her quest for truth and justice in a world that is not what it seems. Rhea’s search takes her to the far reaches of the known universe from the Weeping Mountains of Horus to the blistering deserts of Upsilon 3. Amidst the turmoil of an imminent extra-galactic war, Rhea holds the key even as those she trusts betray her. No one is what they seem…

Lilly’s Book World summarizes the audiobook:

A great follow up to Book 1 of this series; we see Rhea more and more involved in the politics of the world. Again, I liked how much she developed from Book 1 and her search for the truth leads her to unexpected discoveries.

What I mostly enjoyed about “Inner Diverse” was seeing our main character face the true personalities of the people she thought she could trust. Her reactions were very believable and her character is shaped by them in more ways than one. The plot intensifies and the war is even more complex than what we thought initially. Faced with protecting humans from extinction, is Rhea capable of using her abilities to the fullest?

The narration was exceptional. We have incredible voice acting and even if this was expected, since Book 1 was narrated by the same person, I loved discovering Dawn Harvey’s new voices. She managed to bring sound and life into a story that was already great. She transformed it into an amazing audiobook.

To quickly summarize, I loved Book 2 even more than Book 1. “Inner Diverse” is exactly as the title says – a deeper and deeper immersion into a universe so complicated and complex. The ending left me yearning for Book 3, so excuse me while I do some more reading, or listening!

SplinteredUniverseTrilogy-Amazon

iota-hor-rhea_edited-1 copyThere’s so much I have enjoyed about this series so far. Rhea is a fascinating character from the start and she continues to grow throughout the tale. There’s her AI ship, Benny, her sentient great coat, her special made gun, and her own hidden shapeshifting abilities. Then there’s a cast of interesting characters, good guys and bad guys. I love that I don’t know how things will turn out; the plot keeps me guessing—Dab of Darkness

 

A great amount of action to keep me interested the whole time—Book Addict

The trilogy consists of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse. and is available in ALL THREE FORMATS: print, ebook, and audiobook. You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

audible listen

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

Review of “Outer Diverse” Audiobook by Martha’s Bookshelf

MarthasBookshelf-banner

OD-review-MarthasBookshelf

Review by Martha’s Bookshelf:

Rhea Hawke is some tough cookie… well – I guess you wouldn’t call a Galactic Guardian Enforcer, a “cookie”. Rhea has a strong sense of justice and is prepared to kill in the line of duty. The problem is that she killed an innocent man by accident when she was just a child and that still haunts her.  That event has shaped her life, leading her to become the only human law enforcement officer on the Eosian force. Now it is the reason she is on leave from her job and has enemies hunting her out of fear and for revenge.

Rhea has kickin’ weapons, including a Guardian Great Coat that is a shield, weapon cache and healing cover. But her most significant weapon is the ‘MEC” (Magnetic-Electro Concussion) pistol that she designed herself. The gun is technically outlawed but it is being sought by many because it is so powerful. She has created it so it can’t be dismantled and copied and the only design schematics are in her head.

Rhea is frustrated that her Eosian boss doesn’t believe her arguments that the Vos, a brutal alien race that attacked Earth, pose a real terrorist threat to the galaxy. She continues the investigation on her own and with the help of another Guardian, Basileus, she steals Benny, her beloved little ship, (saving him from the junk heap) and heads off to face more danger.

Whew- this one takes some concentration. I had a little confusion getting the characters, races, friends – well mostly foes – sorted out.  There is wonderful world building with fascinating aliens and planets, along with detailed weapons, missions, errors, and blunders. I was a bit frustrated about a third into the book when Rhea falls in lust with a stranger and begins a heavy romantic relationship. Although Serge seems loving and caring it puzzled me that Rhea totally failed to use her police smarts in getting involved with this handsome guy.  Is he safe or not; lover or the worst sort of enemy?

Rhea faces one perilous situation after another. Some she is led into and others she plunges head long into. There are ideological twists and parallel world theories at the root of the terrorist threat that Rhea seeks to thwart. As her investigation proceeds the issues become even more complex. This isn’t a light read but it sure kept my attention as I listened to see who was really a foe or a friend and what Rhea’s ultimate fate might be.  This is the first book of the Splintered Universe Trilogy. I hope the next book will be available soon so I can continue to follow Rhea and Bennie on their dangerous adventures.

Audio Notes:
Ms. Harvey did a superb job with the narration. She manages to enthuse the personality of the characters into each voice. The wise, gentle Ka has a soft, strong sound that reminds you of a wise old bird. Shlsh Shle She, a slippery, slimy creature has a slurry, garbled voice like a mouthful of mushy, wet food.  Dawn’s reading conveys the loneliness in Rhea, the sexiness of Serge, the frustrated, friendliness of Bas, and the faithful, coziness of Benny. She is able to bring emphasis to the action or romance, weariness or fear elements of the story. The narration never takes over the story but rather enhances it.

Thought words jotted while listening:   Harsh, lonely, intense, complex, naive, betrayal, secrets.  Some sexual content.

Listen to an excerpt of Outer Diverse:

Get the complete Splintered Universe Trilogy. Available in ALL THREE FORMATS: print, ebook, and audiobook. Listen to a sample from the three audiobooks below:

audible listen

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

 

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

What Kind of Hero is Rhea Hawke?

OuterDiverse-front cover

Rhea Hawke on the cover of Outer Diverse

“Rhea Hawke…I want to be her when I grow up.”—Amazon Review

Something is changing for women—and for men too. I’m talking about storytelling—and what makes a hero. Only a few years ago, no one would have predicted the success of Wonder Woman, which portrays a well-rounded female hero as both “badass” warrior (strong, determined and violent) and kind (compassionate, nurturing, empathetic and inclusive).

The male hero stereotype of western neoliberal-corporate culture—and science fiction particularly—has often been characterized by strength, courage, honor, intelligence, and assertive single-mindedness. He is the altruist warrior, often acting alone against an unfair society: all traits honored, respected and esteemed in men. In a woman, these Boadicean qualities often taint her as “bitch”, “bossy”, “cold” or even heartless. She may be considered unwomanly, unlady-like, intimidating, and untouchable (as in lesbian).

In the patriarchal model, a woman “hero” must shed her feminine nurturing qualities of kindness, tenderness, and inclusion, to express those hero-defining qualities that are typically considered male. I have seen too many 2-dimensional female characters limited by their own stereotype in the science fiction genre—particularly in the adventure/thriller sub-genre. If they aren’t untouchable goddesses or “witches”, they are often delegated to enabling the “real hero” on his journey through their belief in him: as Trinity enables Neo; Hermione enables Harry; and Lois enables Superman. In so many of these storylines, the female—no matter how complex, interesting and tough she starts out being—demures to the male lead to support his hero’s journey—without considering her own. And this often means serving as the prize for his chivalry. There’s even a name for it: the Trinity Syndrome.

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Rita Vratasky (Emily Blunt) in Edge of Tomorrow

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Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) in The Expanse

A different kind of hero is gaining momentum in science fiction and action-thrillers in which the heroic gifts of altruism, compassion, faith, courage, passion, and endurance drive the female lead. We see her in movies and TV shows like Edge of Tomorrow, Hunger Games, Divergence, Orphan Black, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica and The Expanse. Even Game of Thrones.

She fights the dragons of prejudice, ignorance, cruelty, greed and intolerance–either in partnership with her male counterpart or alone.

****

Enter Rhea Hawke, Galactic Guardian: wounded hero with a massive grudge. She’s the only human in a galactic police force of giant alien Eosians (who she despises). In the early scenes of Outer Diverse, Rhea is a “badass”; but she’s also far from heroic—displaying cynicism, open racism and even cruelty to her own colleagues. And yet, in her stubborn resolve to solve the massacre of a spiritual sect—even after she’s fired for killing her suspect—and to solve the mystery of the alien spectre of the Vos (who destroyed her home planet Earth), Rhea betrays a humane need to right all wrongs, including her own.

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Rhea Hawke (Vali Gurgu)

Rhea’s journey is large—epic, even. It’s a journey of transformation, both literally and figuratively. Her journey of self-discovery will take her across the galaxy, only to find that compassion and forgiveness were with her all along. She just needed to uncover them to find her whole self. Her sometimes foil and love-interest, Serge, continually bates her, challenges her and even betrays her. By turns a foil and an ally, Serge is Rhea’s perfect counterpart; not weaker or stronger, he is an equal to her. A true partner. And their banter is some of the most rewarding writing I’ve done in my career.

 

When Galactic Guardian Rhea Hawke investigates the genocide of an entire spiritual sect, she collides not only with dark intrigue but with her own tarnished past. Her quest for justice catapults Rhea into the heart of a universal struggle across alien landscapes of cruel beauty and toward an unbearable truth she’s hidden from herself since she murdered an innocent man.

Get the complete Splintered Universe Trilogy. Available in ALL THREE FORMATS: print, ebook, and audiobook.

audible listen

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

 

The Splintered Universe, Book 1: “Outer Diverse” Audiobook

 

 

OuterDiverse-front coverOuter Diverse is the first book of the Splintered Universe Trilogy, set in and around the Milky Way Galaxy. The first book begins as Galactic Guardian Detective Rhea Hawke investigates the massacre of an entire religious sect, catapulting her into a treacherous storm of politics, conspiracy and self-discovery. Her quest for justice leads her into the heart of a universal struggle and toward an unbearable truth she’s hidden from herself since she murdered an innocent man.

Dab of Darkness summarizes the audiobook:

I had the pleasure to listen to this book 5 or 6 years ago, and I really enjoyed it then. I’m very pleased to say that this book has stood up well over the years. Rhea Hawke is still the bad ass I want to be when I grow up. I love her dress sense (boots, weapons, sentient great coat), her sorta pet tappin (kinda a cat with 3 tails), and her best friend Benny, who is the AI on her little work-issued spaceship. Alas, she messed up big time at work (the Galactic Guardians, which is way more bureaucratic than it sounds), and she lost all but her boot and her sorta cat.

rhea-contemplative01

Rhea Hawke (Vali Gurgu)

While wallowing in her self-pity, wondering what to do with her life now, she joins a gym where she meets Serge. He’s way more sexy than his name hints at. Pretty soon, she’s spending nearly all her time at his place. She’s held back from snooping into his past, as she would have done in a heart beat when she worked for the Guardians. That’s going to come back to bite her in the butt.

 

I especially enjoyed the tangled relationship she has with her mom. She loves her (maybe) but hates her too (and definitely hates that she sleeps around so much!). But her mom has kept some really big secrets from her and that had to sting, so I see her point most of the time.

So many aliens! I love this aspect to the story because humans aren’t the focus. In fact, they are basically an endangered species. Barely tolerated in most civilized places, Rhea has had to work twice as hard to prove herself worthy. She’d rather do that than take the path her mom did (free love).

Then there’s the evil Vos. Cue evil laughter. So many rumors about what they can do, what atrocities they have done. I know it’s quite silly, but I love this because that’s my last name, minus and S, pronounced the same way. Hahaha! If I lived in Rhea’s universe, I’d have to change my last name or risk being shot on sight…

Dawn Harvey does a great job with all the different alien voices. She really went the extra mile, making them sound as described in the text of the story. I don’t know how she made some of those voices, but they really worked!…The pacing is perfect. Her voice for Rhea is spot on – a hero that is sometimes vulnerable.

SplinteredUniverseTrilogy-Amazon

The trilogy consists of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse. and is available in ALL THREE FORMATS: print, ebook, and audiobook.

You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

audible listen

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

Nina Munteanu’s story is full of surprises, full of action and twists and I liked it so much!Lilly’s Book World

 

An addictive start to the trilogy!Book Addict

 

A feast for the senses; glorious worlds with complex inhabitants hurtle towards our unprepared ears—QuirkyMezzo23

 

I want to grow up to be Rhea HawkeDabOfDarkness

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

The Splintered Universe Audiobook Series–at When Words Collide, 2019

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Rhea Hawke (Vali Gurgu)

In August 2019 I participated in several panels and workshops at Calgary’s writer and reader festival When Words Collide (WWC). One of them was a presentation I shared with voice actor Dawn Harvey.

Dawn had impeccably narrated the audiobooks of my science fiction / space adventure trilogyThe Splintered Universe: a rollicking, fast-paced detective adventure that features a complex character and her sentient great coat, unique weaponry, aliens, bio-technology, intelligent space ships and compelling intrigue.

 

When Galactic Guardian Rhea Hawke investigates the genocide of an entire spiritual sect, she collides not only with dark intrigue but with her own tarnished past. Her quest for justice catapults Rhea into the heart of a universal struggle across alien landscapes of cruel beauty and toward an unbearable truth she’s hidden from herself since she murdered an innocent man.

The trilogy consists of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse. and is available in ALL THREE FORMATS: print, ebook, and audiobook.

You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

 

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

In the WWC presentation, Dawn and I shared our experience with the auditioning process, the partnership between author and narrator, and the actual production of an audiobook. Dawn (who is a lawyer) brought thirty pages of notes and you can guess that we only covered a portion of them in the hour-long presentation; she needs to come back and have more time for an audience clamoring for more. The blurb for the WWC presentation read:

While paper sales dwindle, audiobooks continue to be the fastest growing segment of the publishing world with sales increasing by 30% year over year for the past decade. With our fast paced and connected society, audiobooks are the way of the 21st century and it’s high time you got on the bandwagon! Join author Nina Munteanu and audiobook narrator and producer Dawn Harvey to learn what it takes to turn your masterpiece into an audiobook.

I’ve been told by many that this trilogy would make a cool TV series or movie: the strong and strange female protagonist, weird technology and worlds, create a visually stunning and compelling narrative. The audiobook series is a first step toward increased depth in a series just bursting with the energy to express beyond the confines of written narrative.

*****

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

The Splintered Universe Trilogy Twitter Cover

The narration is addictive, leaving you wanting moreKeeps you listening far into the night—Book Addict

 

rhea-contemplative01

Rhea Hawke (Vali Gurgu)

RA feast for the senses; glorious worlds with complex inhabitants hurtle towards our unprepared ears!—QuirkyMezzo23

 

There’s so much I have enjoyed about this series so far. Rhea is a fascinating character from the start and she continues to grow throughout the tale. There’s her AI ship, Benny, her sentient great coat, her special made gun, and her own hidden shapeshifting abilities. Then there’s a cast of interesting characters, good guys and bad guys. I love that I don’t know how things will turn out; the plot keeps me guessing—Dab of Darkness

 

Full of surprises, action and twists!—Lilly’s Book World

 

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

Windup Girl: When Monsanto Gets Its Way…

Windup GirlPaolo Bacigalupi’s 2015 biopunk science fiction novel The Windup Girl occurs in 23rd century post-food crash Thailand after global warming has raised sea levels and carbon fuel sources are depleted. Thailand struggles under the tyrannical boot of ag-biotech multinational giants such as AgriGen, RedStar, and PurCal—predatory companies who have fomented corruption and political strife through their plague-inducing and sterilizing genetic manipulations. The story’s premise could very easily be described as “what would happen if Monsanto got its way?”

Bacigalupi’s story opens in Bangkok, “City of Angels”, now below sea level and precariously protected by a giant sea wall and pumps that run on bio-power:

Windup Girl-closeIt’s difficult not to always be aware of those high walls and the pressure of the water beyond. Difficult not to think of the City of Divine Beings as anything other than a disaster waiting to happen. But the Thais are stubborn and have fought to keep their revered city of Krung Thep from drowning. With coal-burning pumps and leveed labor and a deep faith in the visionary leadership of their Chakri Dynasty they have so far kept at bay that thing which has swallowed New York and Rangoon, Mumbai and New Orleans.

Energy storage in this post-oil society is provided by manually-wound springs using cruelly mistreated genehacked megodonts—elephant-slave labor. Biotechnology dominates via international mega-corporations—called calorie companies—that control food production through genehacked seeds. The companies use bioterrorism and economic hitmen to secure markets for their products—just as Monsanto is currently doing. Plagues (some they created, others unintended mutations) have wiped out the natural seed stock, now virtually supplanted by genetically engineered sterile plants and mutant pests such as cibiscosis, blister rust, and genehack weevil. Thailand—one of the economically disadvantaged—has avoided economic subjugation by the foreign calorie companies through some ingenuity—a hidden seedbank of diverse natural seeds—and is now targeted by the agri-corporations.

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future Bangkok envisioned by Julien Gauthier

Bacigalupi’s opening entwines the clogged and crumbling city of Bangkok and its swarming beggars, slaves and laborers in a microcosm of a world spinning out of control:

Overhead, the towers of Bangkok’s old Expansion loom, robed in vines and mold, windows long ago blown out, great bones picked clean. Without air conditioning or elevators to make them habitable, they stand and blister in the sun. The black smoke of illegal dung fires wafts from their pores, marking where Malayan refugees hurriedly scald chapatis and boil kopi before the white shirts can storm the sweltering heights and beat them for their infringements.

Anderson Lake is a farang (of white race) who owns an AgriGen factory trying to mass-produce kink-springs—successors to the internal combustion engine) to store energy. The factory is in fact a cover for his real mission: to find and exploit the secret Thai seedbank with its wealth of genetic material. We later discover that Lake is an economic hitman and spy whose previous missions have destroyed entire countries for the sake of monopoly.

Emiko is an illegal Japanese “windup” (genetically modified human), owned by a Thai sex club owner, and treated as a sub-human slave. When she meets Lake, he cavalierly shares that a refuge in the remnant forests of northern Thailand exists for people like her (the “New People”); Emiko dreams of escaping her bonds to find her own people in the north. But like Bangkok itself, both protected and trapped by the wall against a sea poised to claim it—a bustling city of squalor caught up in the clash of new and old—Emiko cannot escape who and what she is: a gifted modified human—and possible herald of a sustainable future—vilified and feared by the very humanity that created her.

 

Bangkok-floating market

Bangkok’s floating market

Bangkok emerges as a central character in a story that explores the paradox of conflicting dialectics battling for survival in a violently changing world. Anyone who has spent time in Bangkok will recognize the connective tissue that holds together its crumbling remnants with ambitious chic. Just like the novel’s cheshires: genetically created “cats” (made by an agri-giant as a “toy”) that wiped out the regular cat Felis domesicus.

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Cheshire Cat of “Alice in Wonderland”

Named after Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat, these crafty creatures have adapted well to Bangkok’s unstable environment. The cheshires exemplify the cost of unintended consequence (a major theme in the novel); the cheshires also reflect the paradoxical nature of a shape-shifting city of Thais, Chinese and Malaya refuges who struggle to survive in a place that is both haven and danger:

Cheshire cat-disappearing

Cheshire cat disappearing

The flicker-shimmer shapes of cheshires twine, yowling and hoping for scraps … The old man’s flinch is as hallucinogenic as a cheshire’s fade—one moment there, the next gone and doubted … The devil cats flicker closer. Calico and ginger, black as night—all of them fading in and out of view as their bodies take on the colors of their surroundings.

Captain Jaidee Rojjanasukchai is a righteous white shirt—the strong arm of the Ministry of the Environment. He is a faithful Thai Buddhist, whose only weakness is his sense of invincibility borne from a mistaken sense of government integrity. Revered by fellow white shirts as the “Tiger of Bangkok,” he is incorruptible—we find out that he may be the only person in the entire place who refuses to be swayed by bribes. A true and passionate believer in the cause he is fighting for—the very survival of the environment and his people by association—Jaidee is ruthless in his raids and attacks on those who wish to open the markets of globalization and potential contamination. Early in the novel, Jaidee reflects on humanity’s impact on the ecological cycle:

All life produces waste. The act of living produces costs, hazards, and disposal questions, and so the Ministry has found itself in the centre of all life, mitigating, guiding and policing the detritus of the average person along with investigating the infractions of the greedy and short-sighted, the ones who wish to make quick profits and trade on others’ lives for it.

Bacigalupi astutely identifies the tenuous role of any government’s environment ministry—to protect and champion the environment—within a government that values its economy more highly and when, in fact, most of the time its members operate quietly in the pocket of short-sighted politicians and business men who focus myopically on short-term gain. “The symbol for the Environment Ministry is the eye of the tortoise, for the long view—the understanding that nothing comes cheap or quickly without a hidden cost,” Jaidee thinks. The United States EPA is a prime example of such paradox—in which the agency’s top executive is in fact a former industrialist who lobbied for deregulation. The current EPA no longer fulfills its role as guardian of the environment. In Canada, I have witnessed terrible conflict between one ministry with another in a game of greed vs. protection. Bacigalupi showcases this diametric with his characters Pracha (Environment) and Akkarat (Trade).

Abandoned Shopping Mall now Koi Pond

Abandoned supermarket now a giant koi pond, Bangkok

The rivalry between Thailand’s Minister of Trade and Minister of the Environment represent the central conflict of the novel, reflecting the current conflict of neo-liberal promotion of globalization and its senseless exploitation (Akkarat) with the forces of sustainability, fierce environmental protection and (in some cases) isolationism (Pracha). Given the setting and the two men vying for power, both scenarios are extreme and there appears no middle ground for a balanced existence using responsible and sustainable means. Emiko, who represents a possible future, is precariously poised; Jaidee, the single individual who refuses to succumb to the bribes of a dying civilization—is sacrificed: just as integrity and righteousness are violently destroyed when chaos threatens and engulfs.

Bangkok dam

“Windup Girl” Bangkok dam

Various reviewers of the novel identify the gaijin (foreigner) Anderson Lake as the closest thing to a protagonist. In fact, Lake never manages to rise from his avatar as the human face to the behemoth of ruthless globalization, the face of a Monsanto-look-alike. He is an unsympathetic and weak character, who—despite showing some feelings for the windup girl—connives and lacks human compassion to the end. Not a protagonist. During a meeting with the Minister of Trade, in which Lake hubristically offers “aid”, Akkarat confronts Lake on the destruction of his greedy corporation: “Ever since your first missionaries landed on our shores, you have always sought to destroy us. During the old Expansion your kind tried to take every part of us. Chopping off the arms and legs of our country…With the Contraction, your worshipped global economy left us starving and over-specialized. And then your calorie plagues came.” Lake shrugs this off and continues his aggressive exchange with the minister—sealing his fate beneath Nature’s relentless tsunami.

rob-davies-WIndupGirl-twug-tank

Twug tank, imagined by Rob Davies

Jaidee—who is brutally killed on page 197 of the novel with another 200 pages to go—remains Bacigalupi’s only character of agency worth following. The Tiger of Bangkok represents the Ministry of Environment’s hard policy of environmental protection—the only thing that kept Thailand from falling to the global mega-corporation’s plagues. With Jaidee’s demise, we tumble in free fall into a “Game of Thrones” miasma of “who goes next—I don’t care.” While I continued to read, it was more from post-traumatic shock than from eager interest. It was as though I’d lost a good friend—my safety anchor in a horrid place—and was now set adrift. I drifted, alone, amid the remaining characters—each pathetic in their own way—on a slow slide into the wrathful hell of a vengeful Nature. I found myself rooting for the cheshires and windups, experiments-turned victims-turned adapted survivors of a vast unintended consequence in human greed.

Perhaps that is what Bacigalupi intended.

WindupGirl-megadonts

Concept of megadonts in “Windup Girl”

And yet, there is unsmiling monosyllabic Kanya, Jaidee’s not-so-pure lieutenant, now promoted to his position and eager to atone for her former betrayal—we learn that she was planted as a Trade mole in Environment. Struggling to do the right thing after Jaidee’s murder, Kanya emerges as the true protagonist in the novel. As we learn more of her unfortunate history and gain a clear understanding of her complex motivations (we get no such insight into Lake), Kanya’s journey unfolds through heartbreak and redemption. Kanya picks up Jaidee’s spirit—literally—and, accompanied by his phii (his ghost), tries to settle the warring factions to gain peace for a rioting city. Of course, it doesn’t work and the gaiji devils return in full force as Akkarat hands over Thailand and its precious seedbank to the American corporations.

Happy with Akkarat’s coup, corporate mogul Carlyle says to Lake: “The first thing we do is go find some whiskey and a rooftop, and watch the damn sun rise over the country we just bought.”

Instructed to take the AgriGen gaigi to the vault and hand over the seedbank to them, “Kanya studies the people who used to be called calorie demons and who now walk so brazenly in Krung Thep, the City of Divine Beings.” Jeering and laughing with no respect, the gaiji behave like they own the place. In a sudden moment of clarity—inspired by Jaidee’s phii—Kanya then singlehandedly creates her own coup by executing the AgriGen gaigi and instructing the monks to dispatch Thailand’s precious seedbank safely to the jungle wilderness. Husked of its precious treasure, the city implodes.  Floodwater pumps and locks fail to sabotage. Then the monsoons arrive. The City of Angels gives in to the sea that chases refugees into the genehack-destroyed outer forests.

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Paolo Bacigalupi

While Kanya triumphs in her own personal battle, she remains less agent of change than feckless witness to Nature’s powerful force as it unfurls like a giant cheshire and sends dominoes crashing into one another.

Fittingly, Bacigalupi’s Epilogue belongs to the windup girl and the cheshires. And an uncertain future with promise of change.

And that is certainly what Bacigalupi intended.

 

julien-gauthier-bangkoksunset

Bangkok sunset by Julien Gauthier

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

 

Christ-Figure in Movies & Books: Grace or Redemption?

ChildrenOfMenIn an article I’d written some time ago on my blog The Alien Next Door (“Fertility — Infertility & the Environment”, with commentary on the film “Children of Men”) I got into a rather lively discussion with a fellow blogger (Erik) about the tendency in Western Culture mythos (in literature and in movies, particularly) to portray the main character in fiction as Christ figure and the ramifications of this choice. Erik lamented the separation that has occurred between “Jesus the Teacher” and “Christ the Redeemer”. I hadn’t really given this much thought until he brought it up. But his examples (e.g., Matrix and Harry Potter) and his discourse were so compelling, I had to ponder. So, here are my ponderings.

aeon-flux-posterToday’s Christ-like hero suffers for the sins of the world and prepares himself (often struggling with this considerably) to deliver salvation, usually through fighting or violent confrontation and often with an incredible arsenal of weapons. I was swiftly brought to mind of the many action shoot-em up films whose tortured hero redeems him(her)self through some selfless, though violent action (e.g., Omega Man, V for Vendetta, Ultra Violet, Aeon Flux — all sci-fi movies, by the way, and ones I enjoyed immensely. And what about all those superhero movies, like Spiderman, X-Men, Green Lantern, etc. These films represent one version of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”, where the original hero leaves his ‘ordinary world’ wherein he/she has some major flaw to overcome (like apathy, greed, distrust, anger, fear of strawberries…etc.) to answer ‘the call’ to be the hero he/she was destined to become. This is a very familiar trope. Erik suggested that Western culture’s “concept of Redemption has invariably separated from the Grace that created it.” Jesus the Teacher had somehow fallen to the wayside to make room for Christ the Redeemer. According to Erik: “Jesus the Teacher said to ‘turn the other cheek’, but today’s Redeemers kick ass. Jesus the Teacher told us that what is done in love is blessed, but today’s Redeemers have more personal and interior motivations.” The two have simply become two different people, says Erik and “the latter is a superstar” compared to the former.” He ends his post with these compelling thoughts:

“The Beatitudes have become rather old fashioned, it seems, as has the idea of Grace. That is what seems to be the problem with today’s Redeemers: theirs is a personal battle with evil, and not a social one. ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ is an alien concept in a world that is perfectly self centered. All that’s left to do is kick ass on those who disagr — er, behave in an evil way, yeah, that’s it! If popular fiction really is a mirror being held up against us, the image we see is not a pretty one. The heritage of Western Culture has turned into a strange kind of cartoon — exaggerated, repetitious, vain, slapstick, and ultimately too silly to watch. For some reason, very few people seem to understand this. They are too busy fixing their own hair in the mirror.”

pay it forwardIf you still don’t get what Erik and I are talking about, go watch the poignant film Pay It Forward and then contrast its main character with the one in Ultra Violet or The Matrix.

The definition for grace occupies almost half a page in the dictionary. When I think of grace I think of selfless compassion, humility, gentleness, kindness, mercy and forgiveness and both inner and outer beauty. So, why does grace languish in the shadows of redemption? Why do we watch — and more importantly, totally enjoy — these latter movies at the expense of the former? Why do we long for a strong but flawed hero with personal issues as our icon? One who is often tough, independent, and ‘kicks ass’ at the expense of gentleness, humility, cooperation and selflessness? If, as Erik suggests, we are seeking heroes who reflect our own self-image or at least the traits we strive to have, then what does popular fiction say about our choices in life? Is Erik right about this dichotomy? I’d say definitely yes…but also no…

MATRIXWhile I agree with Erik on the apparent separation of Christ figure in today’s popular fiction, perhaps there is another way to look at these tales that resolves this apparent dichotomy to some degree. My suggestion is to view them more as allegories with traits and values represented in several characters woven together in a complete and whole tapestry. To do so is to include the secondary character as being equally important. Let’s take Matrix, for instance. In fact, Neo isn’t the only Jesus-figure. His two female opposites (Trinity/Oracle) demonstrate Christ-like traits that embody grace, mercy, love (the holy spirit) and wisdom. Okay, so Trinity kicks major ass too; but her character also provides the chief motivation for our main ‘kick-ass’ hero through her selfless love and humility.

I assert that these two aspects of Christ (merciful teacher and redeemer) are indeed both represented (albeit in separate individuals) in films today: two individuals, one Christ the redeemer and the other Jesus the savior, often joined through a bond of selfless love; two halves of a whole.

The Gnostics have a word for this divine male/female pair: they call them syzygies, aeons (beings of light and emanations of God) that exist as complimentary pairs or twins. The aeon pair of Caen (which represents power, the redeemer) and Akhana (truth, love and grace, the teacher) are complimentary and inseparable. The yin/yang of a whole. The paradoxical oxymoron of order in chaos.

In Gnostic belief, aeons are emanations of God. According to one version, an aeon named Sophia (wisdom) emanated without her partner aeon, creating a Demiurge (responsible for the creation of the physical universe; Ialdaboth in Gnostic texts). Ialdaboth was not part of the Pleroma (fullness and the region of light) and apart from the divine totality [a metaphor possibly for humanity]). God then emanated two savior aeons, Christ and the Holy Spirit to save humanity from the Demiurge. Christ then took the form of the human, Jesus, to teach humanity how to achieve Gnosis (and know God).

So, for every Neo there is a Trinity/Oracle; for Violet there is Six; for Aeon Flux there is Trevor Goodchild; for Harry there is Dumbledore, and so on. In this way, the two complimentary aspects of Christ are reconciled. And in cases where such complimentary pairing is achieved (e.g., Neo would not have succeeded without both Trinity and the Oracle) we are taught that selfless cooperation is the highest form of heroism.

nina-2014aaaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.