When Water Entangles: An Interview with Claudiu Murgan About Water

Adobe Photoshop PDFI recently attended Claudiu Murgan’s signing of his science fiction book Water Entanglement at Indigo in Yorkdale Mall and had a chance to ask him some questions about the book that intrigued me.

There are several reasons why I found Claudiu’s book particularly intriguing. Apart from the obvious fact that it has two of my favourite words in the title—Water and Entanglement—there were other intriguing aspects about Claudiu’s book, which takes place in near-future Toronto and features a limnologist as main protagonist.

My just finished novel—A Diary in the Age of Water—is also set in near-future Toronto and features a limnologist—which is what I am—as main protagonist. As we compared more and more notes, I had to laugh at how our two novels were also entangled!

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Nina and Claudiu at Indigo

The time-period and the issues of both novels were very similar: growing tensions and politics surrounding a crisis of water scarcity in the 2050s and the continued short-sightedness of climate-denying politicians and corporate Earth. Both novels read like seamless slipstream between fiction and reality (mine is written partially as a memoir, which increases this experience); both explore humanity’s potential evolution linked to our relationship with an entity that remains as mysterious as it is common and life-giving. An entity that most indigenous peoples call alive.

Both Claudiu and I embrace concepts of controversial metaphysical characteristics of water. I wrote about much of this in my book Water Is…The Meaning of Water, which Claudiu references in his novel. “Memory”, quantum coherence, the liquid-crystal state, and polarity express through water’s over 70 anomalous properties: phase, density, thermodynamic, material and physical anomalous properties that include adhesion, cohesion, high specific heat, thermal density, viscosity, and surface tension—just to name some.Water Is-COVER-web

“Water is the most extraordinary substance. Practically all its properties are anomalous,” writes Nobel laureate and physiologist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.

Water Entanglement’s book jacket blurb provides an intriguing premise:

Adobe Photoshop PDF“…Since the creation of Earth, water and crystals have woven their paths into a billion-year-long tapestry that has captured the cycles of nature’s evolution. They have observed the appearance of humans and their troubled, but fascinating development, and the energies and vibrations of everything that is part of this amazing eco-system . . . In 2055 water activists fight against irresponsible corporations that pillage the Earth. Hayyin, the hidden identity of Cherry Mortinger, a limnologist, leads the movement. Will she be able to prove that water has memory and is alive and that we could awaken to the possibility of facing a fierce battle against the primordial element that gave us life: WATER?”

 

INTERVIEW

Nina:  What inspired you to write Water Entanglement and why did you set it in Toronto in the near-future?

Claudiu: At the end of the TV interview I gave back in September 2017 when I launched my first novel, The Decadence of Our Souls, the host asked me about my next project. I had an impulse to say that I’m going to write about water. At that time I had no idea about the potential plot and how powerful the message would be. I also think that spending time with you, Nina, and reading Water Is… influenced my subconscious. The Matrix is choosing several authors that are allowed to flow the right messages about water and create the critical point of awareness. I personally know a handful of them that write about water from a deeper level of understanding.

Why Toronto? Because I would like to see Toronto make a firmer stand on various issues that are not ‘politically correct’. The city’s multi-cultural background has created the notion of niceness about us, which is good to have; but at the same time, we can’t allow the big corporations to dictate how to use Canadian fresh-water resources. If the book is read by the right people, then they might get an idea of what could be done.

 

Nina:  Who should read Water Entanglement and why?

Claudiu: I like to believe that WE is a manifesto written as a Sci-Fi novel. A teenager will find things about water that are not taught in school; properties of water that science can’t deny anymore, but also can’t explain. A Sci-Fi reader will enjoy the geo-political scenarios I imagined along with the fact that water is becoming an active participant in the story, a character that is elusive, unpredictable and creates so much havoc. For an environmentalist and for a water activist, reading about the length corporations are willing to go for a profit will only compell them to continue their fight against greed and disrespect for nature. I didn’t write the book with a specific age bracket in mind, nevertheless, there is a nugget of knowledge for any type of reader willing to accept that the way we treat water is wrong, and that access to clean, potable water is a human right, not a luxury.

 

Nina: Two of your main POV characters are scientists; one is a limnologist (a freshwater scientist) and another a neurosurgeon. Another character is a Cherokee chief; yet another a UN representative. How did you research your characters to realistically express them in your novel?

Claudiu: The more I write the better I get at doing research. And I have to admit how grateful I am for your advice on my first book, The Decadence of Our Souls, that have elephants as main characters. You said: read more about elephants. So I did. I went to the library and borrowed thirteen books about elephants. For WE I read several books on water, but also interacted with you, Nina, a limnologist, helped me see the world from your point of view. As for my other characters, I had the chance to visit UN HQ and interact with some policy makers. In WE there is less red tape and the UN representative has some liberty when making decisions, ignoring some of the political clutches that currently strangle any decent decision with worldwide implications.

 

Nina: Your protagonist disguises her subversive activist identity beneath a masked being called Hayyin. Hayyin is an Islamic name that means “without obstacles”, “lenient” or “forgiving.” What was your intention in this name and does it play a role in the theme of your book?

Claudiu: I searched for the word water in Aramaic, which is Jesus’s tribe language. There are historic records that mention Aramaic as being the primordial language. Hayyin, the water activist, had to represent a symbol powerful enough to ignite in his followers the desire to fight for water. We all like to identify ourselves with a symbol that is worth fighting or dying for. Without enough water to sustain our growing population, humanity will fade away in a matter of centuries or less, so I thought that a symbol attached to a hidden identity makes the plot more interesting.

 

Nina: You cover several subjects of hard—and controversial—science in this book (e.g., homeopathy, epitaxy, polywater, etc.). How did you balance these to create a plausible reality in your novel? What did you have to consider?

Claudiu: I’m not a scientist. As an author I took the liberty of pushing the limits of what is known about water. I consider my research based on data that doesn’t need peer-review validation. I trust the scientists and the authors listed under the bibliography page at the end of the book. There are so many intangible things that touch us daily and most of us are not willing to accept them. The way water behaves in Water Entanglement is an intangible concept for ‘non-believers’ … until it happens. Along with a friend scientist, I’m planning to challenge students to start experiments involving water. They have to engage with their surroundings, ask questions and get their own results.

 

Nina: A pivotal aspect of your story hinges on the concept of structured water and intention. Can you share a little about it?

Claudiu: When doing my research I learned things about water that I couldn’t believe, but finding the same information from multiple sources convinced me that there is truth to it. I’m a strong believer now that water absorbs our intentions, our thoughts, carries them further until the next ‘shore’. Water that was blessed heals people or sickens them if water transports negative energies and harmful thoughts. Our body cells float in structured water and if the quality / properties of such liquid would be able to be maintained, well … we could live forever.

 

Nina: the tagline for Water Entanglement challenges: “When will we understand that water has memory, water is alive and the time for her to awaken is NOW?” Your book paints a compelling and terrifying awakening: edible seaweeds turning toxic; sacred rivers losing their healing properties; springs diurnally retreating; raging sinkholes, water turning thick. Tell us a little about these choices for water’s reactions.

Claudiu: What characterizes us as human beings is that we don’t take any potential catastrophic event seriously unless it happens. We would rather deal with the repercussions than prevent the cause. See the levies that broke because of the force of Katrina. The government was well aware of what could happen, but invoked lack of funds. In truth it was lack of government will, the political infighting that is common these days.

In WE I had to give water a radical behavior. Water has intuition and she knows human beings so well. She can predict any of our actions and there is no solution other than offering ‘peace’ – a selfless conduct.

 

Nina: Your book showcases some of the major challenges humanity faces in how we treat water—scarcity, contamination, diversion, commodification and misappropriation through disrespect of water and Nature, generally. There is an obvious need to alter how we treat water and this must ultimately arise from attitude and knowledge. How do you see us changing our attitude to water when most of us live in cities and don’t even know—or care—where our water comes from or what watershed we live in?

Claudiu: Changing attitude could be a generational approach. To become part of the education at all stages from kindergarten to university. We hear in the news that in Las Vegas the fountains and watering the lawns have been banned. In Africa children and their mothers walk kilometers daily to gather water for drinking and cooking; most of the time it is polluted water. Again, the leaders lack the determination to impose stricter rules or allow technologies that could replace some of the daily activities that require water. Over the years, politicians have enforced the idea that any decision of significance has to go through a lengthy process. It shouldn’t be that way if the greater good is paramount and not petty, personal interest.

 

Nina:  Your novel touches on global economic and military pressures by corporations and governments in aggressive water acquisition. In your novel this occurs mostly via American interests overseas. Closer to home, Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians tells us that water abundance in Canada is a myth and we are too complacent. Her recent book Boiling Point exposes Canada’s long-outdated water regulations, unprotected groundwater reserves, agricultural pollution, industrial waste dumping, water advisories and effects of deforestation and climate change. As stewards of 20% of the world’s freshwater, our precious water is being coveted by many entities—from corporations to governments—and holding our own will be a tricky balancing act. What do you think is Canada’s main challenge in keeping its water protected?

Claudiu: Yes, in my book I mention that we are down to 13% of world’s freshwater resources. I also mention that only smart policy could keep the sharks away. We are not a third-world, tiny, easy-to-intimidate country. We should stand our ground and push back on any such attempt. The government should protect both private and public freshwater sources and even offer support regardless of ownership.

 

Nina: Your book touches upon corrupt government officials and corporate CEOs in terms of water issues. Various anonymous organizations such as WikiLeaks, Anonymous Group, and individuals—including your main character who uses a mask to maintain her anonymity—play a major role as activists in your book. Do you see this as the most effective way to expose wrongdoing and affect change?

Claudiu: It was already proven that revelations through WikiLeaks have affected the political environment, revealing corruption at high levels of government, secret documents mishandling, transaction from which a handful of people benefited, etc. As far as I know no one has dug deeper into these documents for nuggets of shady deals about commodities such as water (as water is considered a commodity to lessen her important role in our lives). But they are happening in the shadows, overseen by easily bribed politicians that only find happiness in short-term gratification. Hacking corporations that claim they are responsible when it comes to environment and human health, is a civic duty. It reveals the gangrene that affects our world.

 

Nina: In your novel, you created Water For All (WFA) as a global NGO organization devoted to protecting water by exposing heinous wrongdoings and helping to correct them by helping to pass legislature; what do you see as the largest challenges faced by NGOs today?

Claudiu: In my opinion the water movement is fractured in too many pieces. They all want to do good, but there is no scalability to their initiatives. Funding is somehow scarce and not enough to have a significant impact when divided among so many entities. In Water Entanglement I put forward two concepts that might solve this issue. First, WFA is the unique entity that consolidates as many of the water activists and water-related organizations as possible. So funding for selected projects comes from one source. Second, there is a worldwide strategy addressing sensitive areas and the source of pollution is addressed first. Leaders should come together for such a noble goal, give up their egos and create the critical mass that can overpower the influence of the multi-nationals in the water industry.

 

Nina: Your novel invokes Mother Nature and repeats the Indigenous peoples’ tautology “protect your mother.” You reiterate that for most Aboriginal nations, women are considered the “Water Keepers.” Your main characters—mostly activists—are women. Your main character, Cherry, is a limnologist and water activist; Romana is the UNWater chair; Ilanda is an enlightened neurosurgeon experimenting with crystal technology to help raise awareness and cognition (her husband runs Vivus Water Inc. that uses desalinization plants to further secure their water business). You also reiterate that water carries a female gender as Chief Landing Eagle says: “Fear the day when water remembers what we have done to her.” Do you see a significant role for women in changing how we view and treat water in the world?

Claudiu: Women in general are more empathic and it is a known fact that a world dominated by a matriarch society is a peaceful one. Seems that women care more about the life they nurture inside them for nine months. They are less egotistic and more willing to forgive. It’s an attitude water needs to survive the ordeal we are putting her through. We need more women as decision makers when it comes to water usage and water preservation. It might be easier for a woman to find and keep the balance on the right side of the thin line we are walking as a species. Crossing it could mean the end of the world.

 

claudiu murganClaudiu Murgan was born in Romania and has called Canada his home since 1997. He started writing science fiction when he was 11 years old. Since then he met remarkable writers who helped him improve his own trade. His first novel, The Decadence of Our Souls highlights his belief in a potentially better world if the meanings of Love, Gratitude and Empathy could be understood by all of our brothers and sisters. www.ClaudiuMurgan.com.

 

 

Nina MunteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist 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 Munteanu Interviewed by Simon Rose on Fantasy Fiction Focus

On Fantasy Fiction Focus Nina Munteanu discusses with author Simon Rose about the writing process, the emerging hybrid publishing industry, the importance of branding yourself as an author, and what can authors do to successfully market themselves and their writing. She and Simon discuss the writing community and the importance of conventions and festivals for aspiring writers.

The interview was done in 2015 but what Simon and Nina discuss remains topical and germane.

Nina Munteanu

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist 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.

Limestone Genre Expo—May 2018

Kingston waterfront2 copy 22018 was the fourth year for Limestone Genre Expo, Kingston’s only genre writing festival. I’ve been to the expo each year from its inaugural festival in 2015. The festival gets its name from the city’s moniker, based on the many heritage buildings constructed there using the local limestone.

In 2016 I was delighted to be the science fiction guest of honour. In 2017, the expo was held at the Saint Lawrence College campus.

 

Nina-SF GOH-Limestone Genre Expo 2016

This year, the expo was held at the Holiday Inn, right on the waterfront and literally a staggering distance from the Merchant Tap House, one of the greatest pubs and eateries of the town.

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Merchant Tap House, Kingston

As before, the festival covered several of the major genres such as fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance and mystery, with representation by well-known authors in each. Organizers offered a triple track program from 10 am to 5 pm that included panels, informative workshops, readings, book launches, and novel pitch sessions with Bundoran Press.

Liz Strange and programming organizers had me in several panels throughout the two-day expo.

Panels I participated in and in some cases moderated included:

“Mental Health Representation in Fiction: More than Villains” with Michael Slade, Therese Greenwood, Ada Hoffmann, Matt Moore and Madona Skaff. I really enjoyed this panel discussion that explored our evolving perception and representation of mental health in story and in our real lives.

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Matt Moore, Nina Munteanu, Madona Skaff, Michael Slade, Theresa Greenwood (Photo by Marlene Smith)

“Why Do We Love a Good Whodunit?” with Michael Slade, M. H. Callway, Katherine Prairie, Jim Napier, Melissa Yi, and Rosemary McCracken.  The panel and I had fun with this discussion as bizarre real-life stories were thrown into this mix.

Nina-Whodunit Panel

Katherine Prairie, Michael Slade, Melissa Yi, M.H. Callway, Rosemary McCracken, Nina Munteanu

“What Makes a Great Hero?” with Kate Heartfield, Tobin Elliott, Theresa Greenwood, Kris Jacen, Donna Warner, and Douglas Smith. The panel debated what makes a hero, then anti-hero, then sad and terrible hero, then non-hero…and ultimately to the journey of our at times miserable but great hero.

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Douglas Smith, Theresa Greenwood, Nina Munteanu, Donna Warner, Tobin Elliott, Kate Heartfield

“Dystopian Fiction: How to write when the world is falling apart” with Una Verdandi, Robin Timmerman, Brad Baker, Tapanga Koe, Hayden Trenholm and Ursula Pflug. In this rather passionate discussion, we debated the state and shape of dystopia in both the real world and the fiction world and how they inevitably bleed together for the writer.

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Nina signs “The Last Summoner” for colleague and reader Agnes

“Women of Science Fiction” with Hayden Trenholm, Laura Baumbach, Ada Hoffmann, Tanya Huff, Tapanaga Koe, and Nancy Baker.  Hayden emerged amid his female colleagues to astutely discuss the reason we are still discussing this topic.

I also sold a number of books, including Water Is… (a Margaret Atwood favourite), my journal and fiction writing guidebooks (The Journal Writer and The Fiction Writer), Reality Skimming’s Water Anthology, for which I was editor, and The Last Summoner.

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authors Agnes Jankiewicz and Nina Munteanu

One of the key charms of this small venue is that it still provides an intimate setting for great networking. I had a chance to meet many of my old friends and to make new ones. Thanks to Liz, Marlene and wonderful volunteers for another great writing festival!

 

Nina Munteanu

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist 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.

 

“Natural Selection”: Fascinating Dramas Set in a World Too Close to Our Own

NaturalSelection-front-web“I write SF about a near future ‘Gaian’ world too, and at times felt I was reading a prequel to my own novels, but that’s not why I rated this collection so highly. I did so for two reasons. First, because the science was so interesting, combining visionary metaphysical speculation with AI corporate tech in scenarios that often seemed chillingly possible. Second, because of the author’s focus on the effects of these developments on human beings with complex pasts and desires. Jealousy, lust, loneliness, grief and love are all drivers of these taut and fascinating narratives…”–Amazon Review

 

 

Author’s Introduction to Natural Selection

leaves02croppedEvolution is the language of destiny. What is destiny, after all, but self-actualization and synchronicity? If evolution is the language of destiny, then choice and selection are the words of evolution and “fractal ecology” is its plot.

How do we define today a concept that Darwin originated 200 years ago in a time without bio-engineering, nano-technology, chaos theory, quantum mechanics and the Internet? We live in an exciting era of complicated change, where science based on the limitation of traditional biology is being challenged and stretched by pioneers into areas some scientists might call heretical. Endosymbiosis, synchronicity, autopoiesis & self-organization, morphic resonance, Gaia Hypothesis and planetary intelligence. Some of these might more aptly be described through the language of meta-physics. But should they be so confined? It comes down to language and how we communicate.

Is it possible for an individual to evolve in one’s own lifetime? To become more than oneself? And then pass on one’s personal experience irrevocably to others—laterally and vertically?

leaf-sketchOn the vertical argument, the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamark developed a theory of biological evolution in the early 19th century considered so ridiculous that it spawned a name: Lamarkism. His notion—that acquired traits could be passed along to offspring—was ridiculed for over two hundred years. Until he was proven right. Evolutionary biologists at Tel Aviv University in Israel showed that all sorts of cellular machinery—an intelligence of sorts—played a vital role in how DNA sequences were inherited. When researchers inserted foreign genes into the DNA of lab animals and plants, something strange happened. The genes worked at first; then they were “silenced”. Generation after generation. The host cells had tagged the foreign genes with an “off switch” that made the gene inoperable. And although the new gene was passed onto offspring, so was the off switch. It was Larmarkism in action: the parent’s experience had influenced its offspring’s inheritance. Evolutionists gave it a new name. They called it soft inheritance.

As for passing on one’s experience and acquisitions to others laterally, education in all its facets surely provides a mechanism. This may run the gamut from wise mentors, spiritual leaders, storytellers, courageous heroes to our kindergarten teacher.  Who’s to say that these too are not irrevocable? This relies, after all, on how we learn, and how we “remember”.

Evolution is choice. It is a choice made on many levels, from the intuitive mind to the intelligent cell. The controversial British botanist Rupert Sheldrake proposed that the physical forms we take on are not necessarily contained inside our genes, which he suggested may be more analogous to transistors tuned in to the proper frequencies for translating invisible information into visible form. According to Sheldrake’s morphic resonance, any form always looks alike because it ‘remembers’ its form through repetition and that any new form having similar characteristics will use the pattern of already existing forms as a guide for its appearance.  This notion is conveyed through other phenomena, which truly lie in the realm of metaphysics and lateral evolution; concepts like bilocation, psychic telegraphing, telekinesis and manifestation. Critics condemn these as crazy notions. Or is it just limited vision again? Our future cannot be foretold in our present language; that has yet to be written. Shakespeare knew this…

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy—Shakespeare

The nine stories contained herein touch on many of these concepts, spanning a 20-year writing period starting in the 1980s from “Arc of Time”, first published by The Armchair Aesthete in 2002, to “Julia’s Gift”, written in 2007, a year that marks a significant nexus in my personal evolution. That’s when I met someone who changed my life and defined my life path, my evolution, and ultimately, I suspect, my destiny.

Each story reflects a perspective on what it means to be human and evolve in a world that is rapidly changing technologically and environmentally. How we relate to our rapidly changing fractal environments—from our cells to our ecosystems, our planet and ultimately our universe—will determine our path and our destiny and those we touch in some way. My friend Heidi Lampietti, publisher of Redjack Books, expressed it eloquently, “For me, one of the most important themes that came through in the collection is the incredible difficulty, complexity, and importance of making conscious choices—and how these choices, large and small, impact our survival, either as individual humans, as a community, a species, or a world.”

Each story touches on a focal point, a nexus in someone’s personal evolution, where a decision—or an indecision—will define one’s entire later path in life. Several stories (e.g., “Butterfly in Peking”, “Frames” and “Julia’s Gift” all set in the same universe as my “Darwin’s Paradox” duology) explore this through war: a paradoxical struggle between those who follow the technological path and those who embrace nature’s intelligence. War is itself a paradox. It is both tragedy and opportunity. The very action of being at war seems to galvanize us and polarize us. War heightens contrast, increases pitch, and resonates through us in ways we have no inkling. It brings out the very worst but also the very best in us; for, as some of us sink into despair and self-serving debauchery, others heroically rise in altruistic service and humble sacrifice to help others. War defines us, perhaps like no other phenomenon.

Several stories are quirky adapted excerpts from my two books, “Darwin’s Paradox” (2007 by Dragon Moon Press) and its prequel “Angel of Chaos” (2010 by Dragon Moon Press). You will find some of the same characters there, though names have been changed to protect the innocent. You will also find the sprawling semi-underground AI-run city of Icaria (a post-industrial plague Toronto) and a character itself. Several of the characters portray “gifted” and troubled misfits—outcasts, anti-heroes, artists not in sync with the rest of the population. Yet how that person’s choices—and how s/he is treated by their community—would influence an entire species or world (“Mark of a Genius”, “Neither Here Nor There”, “Angel’s Promises”, and “Natural Selection”).

Lastly, I explore how humanity evolves, communicates and relates through forces larger than itself, either produced through its own making via technology (in “Virtually Yours”) or through timeless universal intervention (in “Arc of Time”). The last story (in fact the first written) provides a very different interpretation of an old biblical myth about new beginnings and our cyclical destiny of “creative destruction”.

I hope you enjoy reading them all. I enjoyed writing them.

“The Arc of Time” was first published in the Summer/Fall 2002 issue of The Armchair Aesthete. It was reprinted in Imagikon (2003) then scheduled for the premiere issue of Ultra! A charity issue dedicated to cystic fibrosis (Aardwolf Publications), Fall/Winter, 2004. Sadly, Lari Davidson, the editor and visionary behind the project passed away suddenly and the issue never came to fruition.

“Virtually Yours” first appeared in Issue 15 (December 2002) of Hadrosaur Tales.  It was reprinted in Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine (Issue 3, Spring 2004) then translated into Polish and reprinted in the January 2006 issue of Nowa Fantastika (Poland). It was translated into Hebrew and reprinted in Bli-Panika (Israel) in 2006. “Virtually Yours” was selected for the 2006 “The Best of Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine” anthology (Bundoran Press) and was nominated for the Canadian Aurora Prix and the Speculative Literature Foundation Fountain Award.

“Angel’s Promises” was published in Issue #30 (March, 2003) of Dreams & Visions then selected for the anthology “Skysongs II: Spiritual SF” (2005). It was nominated for the SLF Fountain Award.

“A Butterfly in Peking” was first published in Issue #17 (2003) of Chiaroscuro. It was translated into Polish and reprinted in the Summer 2005 issue of Nowa Fantastika (Poland) then translated and reprinted in The Dramaturges of Yann (Greece) in 2006.

“Mark of a Genius” first appeared in Scifidimensions (August 2004 issue) and “Neither Here Nor There” first appeared in Another Realm (September 2005).  “Frames”, “Julia’s Gift” and “Natural Selection” make their first appearance here.

Amazon description of Natural SelectionNaturalSelection-front-web

A man uses cyber-eavedropping to make love. A technocratic government uses gifted people as tools to recast humanity. The ruins of a city serve as battleground between pro-technologists and pro-naturalists. From time-space guardians to cybersex, GMO, and biotech implants, this short story collection by science fiction novelist Nina Munteanu promises a journey of great scope, imagination and vision.

 

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Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Science Fiction Asks: Are We Worth Saving?

interstellar-GargantuanBlackHole

Gargantua Black Hole in “Interstellar)

Science fiction, which Ted Gioia of The San Francisco Chronicle calls “conceptual fiction” explores the interaction of humanity with some larger phenomenon that involves science. SF writer Robert J. Sawyer calls it the fiction of the large. Large ideas, large circumstance, large impact. Science fiction is a powerful literature of allegory and metaphor that is deeply embedded in culture. By capturing context, SF is a symbolic meditation on history itself and ultimately a literature of great vision.

Science fiction is the literature of consequence that, in exploring large issues faced by humankind, can provide an important vehicle in raising environmental awareness and a planetary consciousness. Much of science fiction is currently focused in that direction. Terms such as eco-fiction, climate fiction and its odd cousin “cli-fi”, have embedded themselves in science fiction terminology; this fiction has attracted a host of impressive authors who write to its calling: Margaret Atwood, Emmi Itäranta, Jeff VanderMeer, Richard Powers, Barbara Kingsolver, Upton Sinclair, Ursula Le Guin, JoeAnn Hart, Frank Herbert, John Yunker, Kim Stanley Robinson, James Bradley, Paolo Bacigalupi, Nathaniel Rich, David Mitchell, Junot Diaz, Claire Vaye Watkins, J.G. Ballard, Marcel Theroux, Thomas Wharton—just to name a few. The list seems endless. Of course, I’m one of them too. Many of these works explore and illuminate environmental degradation and ecosystem collapse at the hands of humanity.

Lately, science fiction is asking the question of whether humanity is worth saving and at what expense?

It’s a valid question.

As the first swell of the climate change tidal wave laps at our feet, we are beginning to see the planetary results of what humanity has created and exacerbated. Humanity has in many ways reached a planetary tipping point; a threshold that will be felt by all aspects of our planet, both animate and inanimate as the planet’s very identity shifts.

the great acceleration copyScientists have suggested that we have now slid from the relatively stable Holocene Epoch to the Anthropocene Epoch—the age of humanity. The term arose not from hubris, but in recognition of our ubiquitous and overwhelming influence on large systems and planetary cycles.

GreatDerangement climatechange copyTake water, for instance. Today, we control water on a massive scale. Reservoirs around the world hold 10,000 cubic kilometres of water; five times the water of all the rivers on Earth. Most of these great reservoirs lie in the northern hemisphere, and the extra weight has slightly changed how the Earth spins on its axis, speeding its rotation and shortening the day by eight millionths of a second in the last forty years. Ponder too, that an age has a beginning and an end. Is climate change the planet’s way of telling us that the  Anthropocene Epoch too shall end? Is that when we end … or transcend?

A tidal wave of TV shows and movies currently explore—or at least acknowledge—the devastation we are forcing on the planet. Every week Netflix puts out a new show that follows this premise of Earth’s devastation: 3%; The 100; The Titan; Orbiter 9; even Lost in Space.

Are we worth saving? Below are a few examples of movies, TV series I’ve lately watched and books I’ve lately read that address this key question to an irresponsible humanity that seems unconcerned that we are destroying our very home. In some the question is subtly implied; in others, not so subtle.

Battlestar Galactica (2004)

Battlestar-Galactica.jpg

In the pilot of Battlestar Galactica, Commander Adama gives an impromptu speech (not the one he prepared; but one provoked by an argument with his son), which resonates throughout the entire series as cylon and human must refashion themselves and their relationship to each other while they discover the cyclical recursive nature of all things and that “all this has happened before and will again.”

The Galactica ship is about to be decommissioned and has now become a museum since the cylons have disappeared forty years ago. The great battle between the cylons and their human creators ended forty years ago with the cylons disappearing suddenly, never to be heard from again. But that is about to change; as Adama gives his speech, the first strike occurs, followed by a massive attack that almost wipes out the human race.

Adama

Commander Adama

In his speech Adama says:

“The cost of wearing the uniform can be high…but sometimes it’s too high. When we fought the cylons, we did it to save ourselves from extinction. But we never answered the question why. Why are we as a people worth saving. We still commit murder because of greed, spite and jealousy. And we still visit all of our sins upon our children. We refuse to accept the responsibility for anything that we’ve done. Like we did with the cylons. We decided to play God. Create life. When that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn’t our fault, not really. You cannot play God then wash your hands of the things you’ve created. Sooner or later the day comes when you can’t hide from the things that you’ve done anymore.”

Interstellar (2014)

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Voyaging to Gargantua Black Hole

Interstellar

Cooper explores the ice planet

Early on in the science fiction movie Interstellar, NASA astronaut Cooper declares that “the world is a treasure, but it’s been telling us to leave for a while now. Mankind was born on Earth; it was never meant to die here.”

After showing Cooper how their last corn crops will eventually fail like the okra and wheat before them, NASA Professor Brand answers Cooper’s question of, “So, how do you plan on saving the world?” with: “We’re not meant to save the world…We’re meant to leave it.” The human-centred hubris in this colonialist mentality lies in what we have left behind—a planet suffocating from the effects of humanity’s careless and thoughtless activities. What Interstellar circles but does not address is the all-important question: is humanity even worth saving?

The suggestion during the movie’s final moments, is that we are worth saving because we will transcend into wiser benevolent beings: a hopeful gesture based on the power of love.

The Three Body Problem (2014)

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Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem was set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, because, says Liu, “The Cultural Revolution provides the necessary background for the story. The tale I wanted to tell demanded a protagonist [Ye Wenjie] who gave up all hope in humanity and human nature. I think the only episode in modern Chinese history capable of generating such a response is the Cultural Revolution. It was such a dark and absurd time that even dystopias like 1984 seem lacking in imagination in comparison.” (I suppose Cixin did not experience the holocaust of Germany or Stalin’s purge in the Soviet Union).

ThreeBodyProblemIn the story, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. One of the main protagonists is Ye Wenjie, a young woman traumatized after witnessing the execution of her scientist father in a brutal cleansing at the height of the Cultural Revolution. Considered a traitor, young Wenjie is sent to a labour brigade in Inner Mongolia, where she witnesses further destruction by humans:

“Ye Wenjie could only describe the deforestation that she witnessed as madness. The tall Dahurian larch, the evergreen Scots pine, the slim and straight white birch, the cloud-piercing Korean aspen, the aromatic Siberian fir, along with black birch, oak, mountain elm, Chosenia arbutifolia—whatever they laid eyes on, they cut down. Her company wielded hundreds of chain saws like a swarm of steel locusts, and after they passed, only stumps were left.

The fallen Dahurian larch, now bereft of branches, was ready to be taken away by tractor. Ye gently caressed the freshly exposed cross section of the felled trunk. She did this often, as though such surfaces were giant wounds, as though she could feel the tree’s pain… The trunk was dragged away. Rocks and stumps in the ground broke the bark in more places, wounding the giant body further. In the spot where it once stood, the weight of the fallen tree being dragged left a deep channel in the layers of decomposing leaves that had accumulated over the years. Water quickly filled the ditch. The rotting leaves made the water appear crimson, like blood.”

Already cynical about humanity’s failed culture and science—Wenjie acquires a contraband copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. The book and revelation she experiences from it sets in motion her remaining trajectory.

“More than four decades later, in her last moments, Ye Wenjie would recall the influence Silent Spring had on her life. The book dealt only with a limited subject: the negative environmental effects of excessive pesticide use. But the perspective taken by the author shook Ye to the core. The use of pesticides had seemed to Ye just a normal, proper—or, at least, neutral—act, but Carson’s book allowed Ye to see that, from Nature’s perspective, their use was indistinguishable from the Cultural Revolution, and equally destructive to our world. If this was so, then how many other acts of humankind that had seemed normal or even righteous were, in reality, evil?

As she continued to mull over these thoughts, a deduction made her shudder: Is it possible that the relationship between humanity and evil is similar to the relationship between the ocean and an iceberg floating on its surface? Both the ocean and the iceberg are made of the same material. That the iceberg seems separate is only because it is in a different form. In reality, it is but a part of the vast ocean.…It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race.

This thought determined the entire direction of Ye’s life.”

Ye is sent to the Chinese version of SETI and succeeds in sending a message to aliens on Trisolaris. Despite a warning that the Trisolarians mean only to invade, Wenjie invites them to Earth. To ensure the arrival of the Trisolaris aliens, she collaborates with Michael Evans—an oil billionaire’s son who is disgusted with human’s destruction of Nature. Despising humankind in its current state, Wenjie believes the aliens will somehow ensure humanity’s transcendence; Evans, however, applauds the coming invasion as the best route to achieve the eradication of humanity and the survival of the rest of the planet.

The Expanse (2015) 

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Bobby Draper and crew face an unknown enemy on Ganymede Station

 

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Naomi and Holden

The Expanse is a stylish and intelligent science fiction (SF) TV series (on Syfy Channel) based on books by James S.A. Corey. It is set 200 years in the future when humanity has colonized the moon, Mars and the Asteroid Belt to mine minerals and water. This sophisticated SF film noir thriller elevates the space opera sub-genre with a meaningful metaphoric exploration of issues relevant in today’s world—issues of resource allocation, domination & power struggle, values, prejudice, and racism. Ever-expanding outward in a frantic search for resources as Earth’s own resources fester in pollution and Earthers languish on “the dole”, colonizing humans on Mars and the Belt have even changed their physiology, culture, language and identity.

The tag line of the first season poster for The Expanse reads: “We’ve gone too far.” The series begins on Ceres with a Belter activist inciting a crowd with talk about how Mars and Earth are squeezing Belters for all their water.

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Avasarala and DeGraaf

Not so subtle signs of our destructive jingoistic determination runs through this series (now in its third season). After Under Secretary Avasarala’s friend Degraaf (Earth ambassador to Mars) becomes a casualty of one of her intel games, Degraaf quietly shares: “You know what I love about Mars?… They still dream; we gave up. They are an entire culture dedicated to a common goal: working together as one to turn a lifeless rock into a garden. We had a garden and we paved it.”

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Miller and Dawes sparring

Ceres born militant activist Anderson Dawes confides to Detective Miller: “All we’ve ever known is low G and an atmosphere we can’t breathe. Earthers,” he continues, “get to walk outside into the light, breathe pure air, look up at a blue sky and see something that gives them hope. And what do they do? They look past that light, past that blue sky. They see the stars and they think ‘mine’… Earthers have a home; it’s time Belters had one too.”

The Martians hold Earth in contempt for their cavalier approach to their resources. Onboard the MCRN Donnager, Martian Lopez asks his prisoner Jim Holden if he misses Earth and Holden grumbles, “If I did, I’d go back.” Lopez then dreamily relates stories his uncle told him about Earth’s “endless blue sky and free air everywhere. Open water all the way to the horizon.” Then Lopez turns a cynical eye back on Holden. “I could never understand your people. Why, when the universe has bestowed so much upon you, you seem to care so little for it.” Holden admits, “Wrecking things is what Earthers do best…”

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Martian marine Bobbie Draper

Then he churlishly adds, “Martians too, by the look of your ship.” Lopez retorts, “We are nothing like you. The only thing Earthers care about is government handouts. Free food, free water. Free drugs to forget the aimless lives you lead. You’re shortsighted. Selfish. It will destroy you. Earth is over, Mr. Holden. My only hope is that we can bring Mars to life before you destroy that too.” When a Ceres-born Detective Miller asks Holden why he left Earth, Holden responds: “everything I loved there was being destroyed.”

The show makes a few opportunities to point out what we are doing to our planet. Cherish what you have. Cherish your home and take care of it. We’re reminded that time and again, we aren’t doing a good job of that. When Martian marine Bobbie Draper travels to Earth for the first time and is compelled to find the ocean, she is met with the stench of sewage and garbage; yet, she looks longingly out to sea, seeing a dream…

Incorporated (2016)

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Incorporated is a science fiction thriller that provides a chilling glimpse of a post-climate change dystopia. Created by David and Alex Pastor and produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Ted Humphrey and Jennifer Todd, the TV show (filmed in Toronto, Canada) opens in 82 °F Milwaukee in November 2074 after environmental degradation, water level rise, widespread famine and mismanagement have bankrupted governments. We learn later that Milwaukee Airport served as a FEMA climate relocation centre that resembles an impoverished shantytown. In the wake of the governments demise, a tide of multinational corporations has swept in to control 90% of the globe and ratified the 29th amendment, granting them total sovereignty.

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Corporations fight a brutal covert war for market share and dwindling natural resources. Like turkey vultures circling overhead, they position themselves for what’s left after short-sighted government regulations, lack of corporate check and FEMA mismanagement have ‘had their way’ with the planet. The world is now a very different place. There is no Spain or France. Everything south of the Loire is toxic desert; submerged New York City reduced to a punch line in a joke. Reykjavik and Anchorage are sandy beach destinations and Norway is the new France—at least where champagne vineyards are concerned. Asia and Canada are coveted for their less harsh climates.

Chad-alert copyIncorporated is less thriller than satire; it is less science fiction than cautionary tale.

 “You look to Incorporated for dystopian fiction that expresses our current anxieties,” writes Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly. “What you get is fitful resonance that makes you realize it might be too soon for any show to meet that challenge.”

Or is it more that we may be too late… The question of whether we are worth saving is never asked—it is shown: and perhaps the real reason the show was cancelled after one season.

3% (2016)

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3% is set in the near future after the planet has fallen into a divided haves and have-nots through environmental calamity. Three percent of the population live well on an island in the Atlantic Ocean, called Offshore (Mar Alto). The remaining 97% struggle Inland with poverty and scarcity. A selection process lies between them.

3-poster-title copyEvery year the 97% send their 20-year olds to undergo The Process, a grueling Hunger Games-style contest run by the Offshore elite to replenish their numbers. Only 3% of the candidates will be considered worthy. They must pass psychological, emotional and physical tests to earn a place in Mar Alto.

By the time Season 1 is over, candidates will have committed a full range of desperate and unsavory acts to make the cut—the stakes are high, after all: secure a position in the 3% elite or die in squalor and poverty. After being eliminated during the interview process, one youth throws himself off a balcony of the testing centre.

3% examines the motivations and paradoxes of heroism and villainy, sometimes turning them on their sides until they touch with such intimacy you can’t tell them apart. At its deepest, 3% explores the nature of humanity—from its most glorious to its most heinous—under the stress of scarcity and uncertainty. How we behave under these polarizing challenges ultimately determines who we are. The question of whether we are worth saving is explored through the subtleties—or not so subtle aspects—of a fascist society that practices exterminism. 

Missions (2018) 

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Missions is a French TV series about the race by two ships—the Ulysses and Z1, representing two ambitious billionaires—to explore Mars. It opens in 1967 with the heroic sacrifice of Vladimir Komarov, the pilot of the faulty Soyuz 1, who knew he would not return and accepted his mission to save his best friend, Yuri Gagarin (his backup). This heroic act is mirrored in the last episode of Season 1 with a similar selfless act of heroism by Ulysses psychologist Jeanne Renoir to save her crewmembers who are trying to escape a fatal dust storm on Mars.

missions-posterAfter the 1967 opening scene with Komarov, we go to the present day with psychologist Jeanne Renoir, conducting an experiment on a child: giving them one marshmallow and leaving the room with the instruction that if they don’t eat the marshmallow but wait for her to return, they’ll get two. Jeanne correctly anticipates the child will eat the marshmallow.

Amid developments between the two ship teams in which self-serving agendas, paranoias and blind ambition reign, Jeanne shares a vision with an entity that looks like Komarov, in which he tells her: “Yes, people dream of other places, while they can’t even look after their own planet…You must remember your past in order to think about your future. Do you think Earth has a future?” When Jeanne says she doesn’t know, Komarov challenges, “Yes, you do. They eat their marshmallow right away, when they could have two. Or a thousand. Do you think humanity can continue like that?” Of course she doesn’t think so. Komarov continues, “People have chosen a brief but exciting life. Your species burns the candle at both ends. You know this. And it terrifies you…”

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Jeanne Renoir

From the beginning, we glimpse a surreal connection between Jeanne and Komarov and ultimately between Earth and Mars: from her childhood admiration for the Russian’s heroism on Earth to the “visions” they currently share that link key elements of her past to Mars and Komarov’s strange energy-giving powers, to Jeanne’s own final act of heroism on Mars.

As the storyline develops, linking Earth and Mars in startling ways, and as various agendas—personal missions—are revealed, we finally clue in on the main question that “Missions”—through Komarov and finally Jeanne—is asking: are we worth saving?

The Beyond (2018)

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In The Beyond, the sudden appearance of a wormhole causes the disappearance of astronaut Jim Marcell during EVA on Earth’s orbiting space station, followed by associated calamitous phenomena on Earth. Giant dark spherical clouds then appear and settle all over the Earth, disrupting the world’s population, and setting in motion a series of fearful and aggressive reactions by various sectors of humanity.

The Beyond-poster copyThe Beyond’s climax, discovery and resolution is really more of a question. The movie doesn’t have a tidy end; its solution is veiled with more questions.

The film ends with a cautious hope, implicitly asking that big question: are we (humanity) worth saving? When Jessica asks why humanity was offered a second chance by benevolent beings way beyond our comprehension, the returned Jim Marcell (currently a spokesman for the aliens) shows her the GAD (Golden Archive Drive with video images of Earth and humanity—basically our “hello” message to extra-solar life like the one placed onboard NASA’s Pioneer missions) that had accompanied the ship into the wormhole. The message displayed scenes of mothers and their children, people laughing in joy; it also showed scenes of other aspects of this beautiful planet worth saving: the ocean surf, the forests and wildlife. In our hubris, we have lost our perspective about this planet. Perhaps, it wasn’t so much humanity the alien beings intended to save but the Earth itself; we just come along with it. The Earth is, after all, a beautiful, vital and unique world, rich with life-giving water, trees, animals, creatures of all kinds in a diverse network of flowing and evolving beauty. A planet worth saving and that, frankly, functions better without us.

So, the question remains: is humanity worth saving? For centuries we have hubristically and disrespectfully used, discarded and destroyed just about everything on this beautiful planet. According to the World Wildlife Federation, 10,000 species go extinct every year. That’s mostly on us. They are the casualty of our selfish actions. We’ve become estranged from our environment, lacking connection and compassion. That has translated into a lack of consideration—even for each other. In response to mass shootings of children in schools, the U.S. government does nothing to curb gun-related violence through gun-control measures; instead they suggest arming teachers. We light up our cigarettes in front of people who don’t smoke and blow cancer-causing second-hand smoke in each other’s faces. We litter our streets and we refuse to pick up after others even if it helps the environment and provides beauty for self and others. The garbage we thoughtlessly discard pollutes our oceans with plastic and junk, hurting sea creatures and the ocean ecosystem in unimaginable ways. We consume and discard without consideration.

We do not live lightly on this planet.

We tread with incredibly heavy feet. We behave like bullies and, as The Beyond points out, our inclination to self-interest makes us far too prone to suspicion and distrust: when we meet the unknown, we tend to respond with fear and aggression over curiosity, hope and kindness.

Something we need to work on if we are going to survive.

Science fiction—the highest form of metaphoric and visionary art—is telling us something. Are we paying attention?

 

References:

Carson, Rachel. 1962. “Silent Spring.” Houghton Mifflin. 336pp.

Corey, James S.A. “The Leviathan Wakes.” Orbit. 592 pp.

Liu, Cixin. 2014. “The Three Body Problem.” Tor Books. 400pp.

 

 

 

National Observer Praises Nina Munteanu’s “The Way of Water”

Exile-CanTales ClimateChange copyNina Munteanu’s “The Way of Water” and the anthology in which it appears was recently praised by Emilie Moorhouse in Prism International Magazine, in a review entitled “Courage and Imagination in Cli-Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change”. The review was also carried by the National Observer:

“The seventeen stories in this book edited by Bruce Meyer examine how humankind might struggle with the potential devastation of climate change in the near or distant future. Soon after I finished reading the book, Cape Town—known in precolonial times as “the place where clouds gather”—announced that it was only a few months away from what it called “Day Zero,” the day the city would officially run out of water, making the similarities between fiction and reality more than unsettling.

Munteanu’s story is set in a futuristic Canada that has been mined of all its water by thirsty corporations who have taken over control of the resource. Rain has not fallen on Canadian soil in years due to advances in geoengineering and weather manipulation preventing rain clouds from going anywhere north of the Canada-US border. . . I believe that fiction offers up two much-needed ingredients in the fight to prevent climate change: courage and imagination. It is my hope that more fiction writers will take up the task of writing in this promising new genre and use their imagination to inspire readers to collectively work towards a more sustainable future.”—Emilie Moorhouse, Prism International

La natura dell'acqua copy 3The Way of Water” (La natura dell’acqua) was translated by Fiorella Smoscatello for Mincione Edizioni. Simone Casavecchia of SoloLibri.net, describes “The Way of Water” in her review of the Italian version:

” ‘The Way of Water’ is to be ‘a shapeshifter,’ says Nina Munteanu in her dystopian narrative, where she draws a dark scenario and, unfortunately, not too improbable in the near future. In the universe of the story water has become a very precious commodity: rationed consumption, credits (always of water) accounted for and debts collected…The Chinese multinationals have exchanged the public debt of other states with their water reserves with which, now, they can control the climate, deciding when and where it will rain. Who understands this dirty game has been silenced, like Hilda’s mother, a limnologist, inexplicably arrested and never returned; like the daughter of two water vendors, mysteriously disappeared, after having decided not to bow to economic powers: Hanna, who now prefers secure virtual identities to evanescent real appearances. Water. The two, like the covalent bond of a complex molecule, develop a relationship of attraction and repulsion that will first make them meet and then, little by little, will change into a tormented love but, at the same time, so pure as to cause Hilda at great risk, to make an extreme decision that will allow Hanna to realize the strange prophecy that the internal voice, perhaps the consciousness of water, had resonated in the two women for a long time.

Nina Munteanu recounts that this element is also a form of love; a story to read, not only to deal with the possible but, above all, to understand that the time still available to “love” may be less than what we believe.”—Simone Casavecchia, SoloLibri.net

Derek Newman-Stille of Speculating Canada, offers the following insight on “The Way of Water”:

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FF - Rosarium Cover copyThe Way of Water” will also appear alongside a collection of international works (including authors from Greece, Nigeria, China, India, Russia, Mexico, USA, UK, Italy, Canada (yours truly), Cuba, and Zimbabwe) in Bill Campbell and Francesco Verso’s Rosarium Publishing / Future Fiction’s anthology “New Dimensions in International Science Fiction” in April 2018.

 

nina-2014aaaNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist 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. 

How the Women of The Expanse Are Expanding Our Worldview

Expanse-5 Badass women

Something is changing for women—and for men too. I’m talking about storytelling, both in literature and in film. Only a few years ago, no one would have predicted the success of Wonder Woman, which portrays a well-rounded (gylanic) female hero as both “badass” warrior (strong, determined and violent) and kind (compassionate, nurturing, empathetic and inclusive). Sadly, its release in 2017 stirred a backlash of mysogynist censure from some males who support—like strident insecure Trump-ets—a male-dominated androcratic world where a submissive demure woman is admired as “feminine” and a determined mindful woman considered as betraying her gender. The film was a box office hit. Wonder Woman grossed $822 million (highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time). And a significant number of viewers were women.

The Androcratic Hero

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

MATRIXIn the androcratic model, a woman “hero” often presupposes she shed her feminine nurturing qualities of compassion, 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” in a gynocratic paradigm, they are often delegated to the role of enabling the “real hero” on his journey through their belief in him: as Trinity enables Neo; Hermione enables Harry; Mary Jane enables Spiderman; Lois enables Superman; etc. etc. etc.

In so many androcratic storylines, the female—no matter how complex, interesting and tough she starts out being—demures to the male lead. This returns us to the clichéd role of the woman supporting the leading man to complete his hero’s journey—without considering her own. And this often means serving as the prize for his chivalry. We see this in so many action thrillers and action adventures today that promote the “hero’s journey” story trope. There’s even a name for it: the Trinity Syndrome.

Just four years ago, in a post on women heroes in literature, movies and pop culture, I quoted Gitesh Pandya, editor of a box office analyst site, who argued that this is because female-driven action movies have a hard time selling. “Most of the action films that have become huge hits are either male-driven or ensemble.” According to Pandy, “The (SF action) film industry has been male-dominated for so long, the people who are creating and financing these films typically put men in there as heroes.”

The Expanse Challenges the Androcratic Trope

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Miller and Octavia Muss

In 2015, Syfy released Season 1 of The Expanse, a stylish and intelligent science fiction (SF) TV series set 200 years in the future when humanity has colonized the moon, Mars and the Asteroid Belt to mine minerals and water. The series is based on the novel series by James S.A. Corey with first novel in 2011 being “Leviathan Wakes”. Humanity has split three ways culturally, ethnically and even biologically: Earth is currently run by the United Nations; Mars is an independent state, devoted to terraforming with high technology; and the Belt contains a diverse mix of mining colonies, settlers, workers and entrepreneurs. Belters’ physiology differ from their Earth or Mars cousins, given their existence in low gravity.

The Expanse is a sophisticated SF film noir thriller that elevates the space opera sub-genre with a meaningful metaphoric exploration of issues relevant in today’s world—issues of resource allocation, domination & power struggle, values, prejudice, and racism. Critic Maureen Ryan of Variety says, “It’s to the show’s credit that it is openly political, and takes on issues of class, representation and exploitation.”

Women of “The Expanse” as Heroic Agents of Change

These issues are explored well through its female protagonists with subtle nuances of multi-layered social commentary sewn into virtually every interaction.

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Julie Mao (Florence Faivre)

Julie Mao (Florence Faivre) is an Earther and “the richest bachelorette in the system” according to Detective Miller, who is contracted by his boss to “kidnap” the “spoiled” wayward daughter of corporate magnate Jules Pierre Mao and return her home before she embarrasses him further. Julie joined the hard core faction of the OPA (Outer Planet Association, led by Anderson Dawes as an activist organization that sells itself as a Julie in vacuum the expanseliberator for Belters but is really a terrorist revolutionary group, looking to shift the balance of power); she naively joined to help the lowly belters achieve justice and a voice in the oppressive squeeze by Martian and Earth corporate interests. In “Back to the Butcher”, a colleague of Julie’s relates how she selflessly helped injured minors on Calisto in a tunnel collapse with cadmium poisoning: “I never saw her shed a tear over the fact that she’d have to take anti-cancer meds for the rest of her life.” The only time she cried, he shares, was when she was acknowledged as being a true “beltalowda.”

 

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Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo)

Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is the U.N. Deputy Undersecretary on Earth and a brilliant 23rd-century Machiavelli. She will stop at nothing in her search for the truth, including gravity torturing a Belter or playing her friends and contacts like chess pieces to find answers. What makes Chrisjen far more interesting than, say a Circe or Claire Underwood, is that her scheming—as reprehensible as it may be at times—comes expanse-chrisjen3from a higher calling, not from lust for power or self-serving greed. She’s seeks the truth. And, like Miller, she struggles with a conscience. Chrisjen is a complex and paradoxical character. Her passionate and unrelenting search for the truth together with unscrupulous methods, make her one of the most interesting characters in the growing intrigue of The Expanse. Avasarala is a powerful character on many levels—none the least in her potent presence (thanks to Shohreh Aghdashloo’s powerful performance); when Avasarala walks into a scene, all eyes turn to her.

 

Naomi Nagata

Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper)

Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) is a Belter who grew up on prospecting ships in the Belt and Outer Planets. An extremely talented engineer with a mysterious past of regret and secret pain, Naomi uses arcane abilities to save the ship and her crew. “I have no resentments,” she tells her Martian interrogator. “I don’t believe in causes.” While she makes a point of expressing no allegiances, the Martians accuse her of being an OPA Naomi the expanseoperative and she finds herself ironically defending the Belt and Belters in the struggle between Earth and Mars. “We need to stick together,” she tells fellow Belter Miller and helps Fred Johnson’s team. Driven to help those in need, Naomi selflessly puts herself in harm’s way to save Belters used as lab rats on Eros or those left to die on Ganymede after a Mars and Earth skirmish. In an intimate moment with Holden after the atrocity on Eros with the proto-molecule experiment, Naomi reminds him: “We did not choose this but this is our fight now. We’re the only ones who know what’s going on down there; we’re the only ones with a chance to stop it.”

 

Drummer

Camina Drummer (Cara Gee)

Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) is a hard-calculating Belter who used to work for Anderson Dawes and is currently second in command for Fred Johnson (a previous U.N. officer and ‘the butcher of Anderson Station’ currently helping the OPA) on Tycho drummer-with-gunStation. A complex character with mysterious connections and intuitive skills for people, Drummer gives one the impression that she can nimbly navigate between hard-line OPA and Fred’s Earther-version of OPA justice for Belters. In “Pyre”, she shows her mettle when—after being shot and held hostage by a militant faction on Tycho—she finds the strength to summarily execute them.

 

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Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams)

Bobbie-DraperBobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) is a staunch hard-fighting Martian marine who dreams of a terraformed Mars with lakes and vegetation and breathable atmosphere. Because of Earth’s Vesta blockade, Draper realizes that she will not realize her childhood dream of seeing Mars “turned from a lifeless rock into a garden.” The blockade forced Mars to ramp up its military at the expense of terraforming. Draper laments that, “with all those resources moved to the military, none of us will live to see an atmosphere over Mars” and bears a strong resentment against Earth. However, when Bobbie discovers her own government’s culpability with an Earth weapons manufacturer that used her own marines as guinea pigs, she chooses honour over loyalty and defects to seek justice.

 

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Anna Volovodov (Elizabeth Mitchell)

Reverend Doctor Annushka (Anna) Volovodov (Elizabeth Mitchell) is a gay Methodist doctor (married to a woman and with a daughter) who is introduced in Season 3 as she struggles through a mob of anti-war protestors to enter the United Nations building on Earth. When a young man collapses through the barricade and breaks his wrist, Anna asks him, “Is this your first protest?” then calmly and firmly directs a surly guard to help him, handling the situation with firm grace–even after being injured in the confrontation.

The Expanse - Season 3The Secretary General (who she had a previous friendship that soured over some dubious event) has called Anna in to write a stirring speech to unite Earth behind the war erupting between Earth and Mars. Anna enters the political intrigue with naive hope and is badly used; but her inner strength, keen intelligence and courage propels her on an amazing trajectory of influence to the outer reaches of the solar system where first contact is imminent. Like a quiet summer rainstorm, Anna brings a fresh perspective on heroism through faith, hope and inclusion.

Women as Gylanic Heroes

The gylanic hero is gaining momentum in science fiction and action-thrillers; the gylanic hero—embraced mostly by women—teaches us what humanity needs now more than ever: the heroic gifts of altruism, compassion, faith, courage, passion, and endurance. She is already there, in movies and TV shows like Lucy, Edge of Tomorrow, Hunger Games, Divergence, Orphan Black, FarscapeBattlestar Galactica and The Expanse: fighting the dragons of prejudice, ignorance, cruelty, greed and intolerance–in partnership with her male counterpart.

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When we dispense with gender-bias in defining heroism in story, we display maturity as a species. I think of my favorite stories in literature, peopled by men and women; all heroes: Tess of the d’UrbervillesFahrenheit 451King LearSolarisThe Grapes of Wrath1984Doctor ZhivagoBrave New WorldMartian Chronicles, and To Kill a Mockingbird — miller shows octavia mussto name just a few. The gender of the hero I empathized with was irrelevant. What remained important was their sensibilities and their actions of respect and integrity on behalf of humanity, all life and the planet.

Gylany: a social system based on equality of men and women
Androcracy: a form of governing system in which rulers are male (patriarchal rule)
Gynocracy: as with androcracy, an authoritarian rule by women over men (matriarchal rule)

A list of SF books and films with whole and relevant female heroes–gylanic heroes– follows below. There are many more. I’ve listed these because they are ones I enjoyed and know, several being my own. Please add yours:

GYLANIC HEROES (portraying women as agents of change equal with men)

  • Contact by Carl Sagan (Simon and Schuster) 1985. A woman’s quest into the unknown for benevolent intelligence in the universe.
  • Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress (Harper Collins). 1993. A story that examines social consequences to transhumanist generic engineering.
  • A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Anchor). 1998. A chilling fable of the near future, about a monotheocratic government where women are strictly controlled and assigned roles.
  • Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen). 1999. A woman’s journey through deception and betrayal to find honour.
  • His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman (Laurel Leaf). 2003. A fantasy alternate world adventure about a young girl who discovers that the fate of the universe lies in her hands.
  • Battlestar Galactica TV series by Ronald D. Moore. 2004. This second iteration of space “noah’s arc” is largely steered by key female agents of change in a gender-blind universe from complex pugilistic fighter jock and sly but intuitive politician, to love-seeking humanistic robot—all on a significant hero’s journey.
  • Darwin’s Paradox by Nina Munteanu (Dragon Moon Press). 2007. An eco-thriller about a woman unjustly exiled for murder and her quest for justice in a world ruled by technology and scientists.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press). 2008. A series of books about teens forced to fight to the death on television.
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (McClelland and Stewart). 2009. Toby and Ren must survive the apocalypse described in the previous novel, each reminiscing about their time in the God’s Gardeners religious movement and the events that led to their current situations.
  • The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey, Linda Carey, Louise Carey and Nimit Malavia (Chizine Publications). 2012. A novel about the women of a harem in an ancient Middle Eastern kingdom, who forge themselves into an army after they’re exiled from the city of their birth — and then return to claim the city for themselves.
  • The Splintered Universe Trilogy by Nina Munteanu (Starfire). 2011-2014. This trilogy, starting with Outer Diverse, follows the quest of Galactic Guardian Rhea Hawke, who must solve the massacre of a spiritual sect that takes her on her own metaphoric journey of self-discovery to realize power in compassion and forgiveness.
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books). 2012. a young girl overcomes her assigned caste in a dystopian Chicago to realize her true self-identity, revealed to be dangerous to the very existence of her ordered society
  • The Last Summoner by Nina Munteanu (Starfire). 2012. A young baroness discovers that her strange powers enable her to change history—but at a cost. Vivianne begins her journey in the year 1410, on the eve of a great battle. She dreams of her Ritter (knight), who will save her from her ill-fated marriage and the strange events that follow. But early on, she realizes that she is the Ritter she dreams about.
  • Leviathan Wakes & series by James S.A. Corey (Orbit Books). 2011. A high-stakes near-future space-colonizing conflict that brings strong female protagonists of varying cultural, ethnic and political influence into key roles as agents of change.
  • The 100 TV series by Jason Tothenberg. 2014. In this post-apocalyptic Earth adventure, several women protagonists share key roles in determining the fate of humanity in violent change.
  • The Expanse TV series by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, Syfy. 2015. The exemplary TV series based on the James S.A. Corey 7-book series.
  • Missions TV series by Julien Lacombe, Ami Cohen, and Henri Debeurme. 2017. The protagonist of this space race to Mars is a psychologist, who discovers her bizarre and personal connection to Mars, which promises to affect humanity’s destiny.
  • The Beyond film by Hasraf Dulull. 2018. This near-future thriller about first contact, features several women in key positions as scientists and mission administrators who must solve a key mystery that explores the consequences of humanity’s fearful tendencies.

Other Relevant Articles of Interest from The Alien Next Door:

 

Riane Eisler (in The Chalice and the Blade) provides examples of sociobiologists who draw on nineteenth-century Darwinism by citing insect societies to support their androcratic (social and political rule by men) theories. If humanity is to truly rise victorious over the scourge of climate change—a function of our current lifestyle and paradigms—we will need to adopt a cultural evolution that embraces a partnership society heralded by new and renewed symbology, language and “myth”: It starts with embracing gylanic heroes in literature and movies. Watching them, reading about them, writing and sharing these stories for the future they speak to.

 

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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.