Sunday, August 28, 2016

In his new cli-fi novel, MR ETERNITY, Aaron Thier takes the long view on climate change, writes the headline writer in the Boston Globe

In his novel, Aaron Thier takes the long view on climate change

“I was able to imagine that in the future there was room for joy. I think it’s very easy to lose sight of that when you’re reading all this apocalyptic stuff,” says Thier about “cli-fi” novels.
Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe
“I was able to imagine that in the future there was room for joy. I think it’s very easy to lose sight of that when you’re reading all this apocalyptic stuff,” says Thier about “cli-fi” novels.
GREAT BARRINGTON — Sometime after completing his first novel in 2013, Aaron Thier looked out his window in Williamstown at frozen trees in 2 feet of snow beneath a low gray sky and imagined the landscape transformed by climate change.
“I was thinking a lot about how much the rhythms of life are determined by the place where we live,” the 32-year-old author said, in a conversation from his current home in central Great Barrington. “I was sitting there in the New England winter, looking outside and imagining what it would be like to see live oaks and Spanish moss,” instead of white pine and Norway spruce. “That didn’t seem so far-fetched, really.”
That vision was part of the inspiration for his second novel, “Mr. Eternity,” published earlier this month. Set in five time periods on the brink of environmental, political or cultural crisis — 1560, 1750, 2016, 2200, and 2500 — the story follows an old, perhaps immortal, sailor who calls himself “Daniel Defoe,” maybe because, like Robinson Crusoe, he has been shipwrecked multiple times. Defoe’s extraordinarily long life intersects with a quintet of young narrators trying to make sense of their lives in a damaged world.
Defoe travels from South America in the years following the destruction of the Aztec and Incan civilizations to a future St. Louis where the full 75 meters of sea level rise has turned the Midwest into a tropical tidal zone. Along the way are stops in a Caribbean sugar cane plantation, present-day tourist-infested Key West, and Boston and Baltimore after the global warming deluge.
The novel addresses issues of slavery, colonialism, genocide, and catastrophic climate change. It is also oddly hopeful and very funny, even as its characters misconstrue the past, present, and future. As the narrator from 2500 says, “Daniel Defoe explained [that] a DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] was a place to hang out and tell stories. It was a place for poor, sick people to congregate.”
Thier is trim and boyish, both intense and effortlessly funny in conversation. Raised in Williamstown, he graduated from Yale, earned his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Florida, and made his debut as a novelist with “The Ghost Apple,” an academic satire published in 2014.
“Mr. Eternity” reflects Thier’s appreciation of history, language, and literature. Each timeline in the story is narrated in its own distinctive style, reflecting the voices of the narrator, including a South American girl sold into slavery, a stressed-out filmmaker, or the daughter of the hereditary king and president of the Democratic Federation of Mississippi States.
Teachers and critics appreciate Thier’s talent for literary mimicry. Novelist Padgett Powell, reached by e-mail, wrote of his former MFA student: “Mr. Thier likes messin’ with historicity, as did Faulkner, and he uses crisp precise wit, as did (Donald) Barthelme, to mess with it.”
“He took to Florida like a manatee to a swamp,” said another of Thier’s teachers, David Leavitt, author of “The Indian Clerk.” “In him the best of the subtropical and New England literary traditions are mingled.”
One tradition to which Thier claims not to pay much attention is the growing sub-genre of climate fiction. “Cli-fi,” as it is sometimes called, uses tools of storytelling to address possible outcomes of climate change. Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan stand at one end of the spectrum; at the other, a host of writers of young-adult dystopian potboilers imitating “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent.”
As terrible as aspects of his future America might seem, Thier allows for the possibility of happiness in each plot strand in “Mr. Eternity.”
“I was able to imagine that in the future there was room for joy,” he said. “I think it’s very easy to lose sight of that when you’re reading all this apocalyptic stuff.”
He agrees, however, with the Cassandras who forecast drastic change. “The increasing frequency of what used to be anomalous weather events is very scary,” he said.
This acknowledgment of the biosphere’s fragility has, at times, caused Thier to go to extremes in an attempt to live sustainably.
‘No one would remember how to make asphalt or super glue or sunblock or cortisone cream. We would no longer be able to fly. The world would be like it used to be, years and years ago, except that it would be entirely different.’
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“When I was in Williamstown writing [“Mr. Eternity”],” he said, “we were only eating local foods, even in winter. I was milling flour every morning from grain that was grown 30 miles away. It was exhausting. And I had to get a hand mill to avoid using electricity.”
He admitted, “It was unsustainable to live the way I was living, because it was driving me insane.”
Last December, Thier and his wife, poet Sarah Trudgeon, whom he met in the MFA program, returned to New England after years of bouncing between Massachusetts and Florida. Thier said that they now enjoy being less dependent on their car and being able to walk to the farmers’ market, the co-op grocery, and the hardware store a few blocks away. It’s a big contrast to their time in car-obsessed Miami, where, Thier said, “There’s already enough warming to destroy the city.”
Four and a half months ago, Thier and Trudgeon welcomed their first child, Sidney. Their book-filled home is now littered with a stroller, bouncy chair, and other infant equipment. Thier has set up his workspace in the sparsely furnished third floor, a writing area he calls “the treehouse.”
As a new father, Thier said he has hope for the future. And, indeed, “Mr. Eternity” is ultimately “supposed to be a heart-warming book — even though it’s about climate change and apocalypse.”
A child of parents concerned about the environment, Thier comes by his preoccupation with climate change naturally. “It was always part of my understanding of the world,” he said.
His mother, Audrey, served as an environmental lobbyist in Albany, N.Y., working mostly on agricultural pesticides. His father, Williams College English professor Peter Murphy, “passed through a state of paralyzing anxiety about climate change in the late ’80s. Then he settled into grim resignation,” said Thier.
Thier seems to understands how quickly circumstances can change. After struggling with drugs and alcohol, he was able to quit both while in Gainesville, he said.
“Within three months of stopping drinking, my name was on the cover of The Nation, I had met the woman I was going to marry, and I had started writing the book that I knew would be my first novel.”
As with “Mr. Eternity” and its mysterious Mr. Defoe, Thier seems ready for happy endings.

Aaron Thier reads from his novel “Mr. Eternity” Wednesday, Sept. 7, at 7 p.m. at Newtonville Books, 10 Langley Road, Newton Centre.

Mike Berry can be reached at

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Yuval Noah Harari - It's the End of the World as We Know It!'' - Mr. Srinath Perur explains

Yuval Noah Harari. Photo credit Richard Stanton
Yuval Noah Harari. Photo credit Richard Stanton
“Humankind will not exist. This is obvious,” says Yuval Noah Harari, attached to the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, when Srinath Perur asked by email what the human species will be like in a thousand years. “The more interesting and difficult question is whether humankind will exist 100 or 200 years from now.”
Harari is the author of Sapiens, a 400-page feat of synthesis that attempts to answer, in essence, how we came to be the way we are. Why, given that there were a half-dozen species of humans 1,00,000 years ago, does only one exist today? Why have men dominated women in most societies throughout history? Why do we live in nation-states? How did capitalism become universal? And, inevitably, where do we go from here?
Answers to 'how' and 'why' can be prodded endlessly with the same questions. These questions do not have right answers as much as they do satisfying ones. And Harari's answers are well-argued, compelling and provocative, drawing from diverse areas of human knowledge – among them biology, archaeology, anthropology, literature, economics, philosophy and, of course, history.
Harari attributes most human achievement – the pyramids, space missions, cities, civilizations – to our ability to cooperate on a large scale and in flexible ways. “If you put me and a chimpanzee together on a lone island and we had to struggle for survival, I would place my bets on the chimp,” he says. “However, if you place 1,000 humans and 1,000 chimps on a lone island, the humans will easily win, because 1,000 chimps can never cooperate effectively.” Other animals – bees and ants for instance – have been known to cooperate in large numbers, but only over a range of narrow tasks.
What is so special about us that allows for such cooperation? Unflatteringly, it is our talent for deluding ourselves. “If you examine any large-scale human cooperation, you will always find some imaginary story at its base,” says Harari. “As long as many people believe in the same stories about gods, nations, money or human rights – they follow the same laws and rules.”
To Harari, Hamurabi's Code (1776 BCE) is as imaginary as the American Declaration of Independence (1776 CE). Liberal individualism is no more 'right' in any absolute sense than is Nazism. They are both similar in that they are variants of humanism, one upholding the well-being of every individual and the other that of a well-defined collective. According to Harari, humans owe their power in large measure to the stories we create. And then we take the stories too seriously and end up serving these imagined orders.
All this is in service of Harari's preoccupation: the relation between power and happiness through history. Harari has no doubt that the power humans wield over the world has increased many fold through history: for tens of thousands of years humans have dominated every corner of the planet they have reached, bending nature to their will, hunting large animals until they are extinct; the splendors of civilization, such as they are, are all around us. But: “Humans are not very good at utilizing power to overcome suffering and to increase happiness.”
Harari's argument is that the factors that allow our species to dominate may not be in the best interest of individual human beings. For instance, a key event in the history of humankind is the Agricultural Revolution around 12,000 years ago. Small bands of foragers began to cultivate crops. They settled down to peasant life, and formed villages, towns, cities, kingdoms. Civilization in the form we know it today followed from this and is usually seen as a great leap forward. But Harari calls the advent of agriculture “history's biggest fraud”.
He brings up evidence to show that hunter-gatherers worked less than peasants, had better nutrition from a larger variety of food sources, lived in better hygiene and were less vulnerable to epidemics. Further, anthropological evidence shows that forager bands were likely more egalitarian. “Agriculture opened the way for social stratification, exploitation and, possibly, patriarchy,” says Harari. “The bottom line is that even though the Indus Valley Civilization or the Mughal Empire were far more powerful than the ancient hunter-gatherer bands, the average peasant woman in Mughal India probably had a harder and less satisfying life than her ancient ancestor who lived in the Ganges Valley 20,000 years previously.”
This sort of startling, sometimes showy, inversion of commonly held ideas about human history is a recurring feature of Sapiens. “Wheat domesticated humans,” not the other way round. In evolutionary terms domesticated animals such and cattle and chickens were enormously successful by virtue of their populations, but they were among “the most miserable animals that ever lived”. There is talk of the working life of a ploughing ox suiting “neither its body nor its social and emotional needs,” and a similar comment on the farmer driving it. There is much detached, defamiliarized viewing of our world: a comment on the power of stories compares the survival of the chimpanzee alpha male with that of the Catholic alpha male who resides in the Vatican; at different points in the book Christianity, democracy, capitalism, money, human rights and any number of cherished ideas and institutions are called out as being fictions; discussing gender, Harari points out that it is only in most cases that men are males and women females.
The Hebrew version of Sapiens has been a bestseller in Israel since its release in 2011. There's little doubt that the book is set to be hugely popular in English and other languages, and, at least for that reason, influential. Given this, it would be in the spirit of books such as Sapiens to ask where Harari is coming from – what is the story behind this story of humankind.
Harari says he was always interested in the big questions of history but was disappointed to find that university didn't seem the right place to answer them. Then he encountered Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel. “It showed me,” he says, “that it is possible to tackle the biggest questions of history and of human existence in a scientific way.”
The facts of Harari's arguments come from scholarly work and are available to anyone. But it is the sensibility behind their synthesis that gives Sapiens its power and uniqueness: an empathetic consideration of humans and other animals; a view of history that considers not just kings, presidents and empires, but also well-being and suffering among people (and even animals); the ability to examine deeply entrenched ideas in a fresh light; a delightfully non-anthropocentric worldview; an interest in telling what is real from what is imaginary.
Anyone who's taken even a passing interest in Eastern spiritual traditions can see parallels here. Harari agrees. “One of the central ideas of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism is 'the world is an illusion'. This strikes many people as an absurd proposition but is in fact a very accurate description of the world most humans inhabit. We live in a world of nations, gods, business corporations, human rights and money, without noticing that all these things are in fact just imaginary stories that exist only in our own minds.” Harari practices Vipassana meditation daily and visits India once a year for a retreat. The practice helps him tell “what is really real” from the mind's fictions. He says, “Without the clarity I gained from practising this meditation I would not have been able to write this book.”
Here then is a thought experiment for Harari: what if his book ended up being so successful that a significant number of people in the world questioned their belief in all these imaginary stories. Nationalism would be diluted; religion would cease to be a matter of life and death; no one would be terrified of god or hell; laws and money would be acknowledged as mere conventions. Would such a world be a utopia of the John Lennon sort or would we see chaos and societal collapse?
Harari feels at least some conventional beliefs can be abandoned without descending into chaos. “For centuries,” he says, “many thinkers warned that if people stop believing in god and hell, the result will be unbridled chaos, crime and violence.” But then, he says, look at contemporary Europe, which has largely abandoned belief in god and hell. “It is the most peaceful and orderly place in human history. Far more peaceful and orderly than the god-fearing and hell-fearing Middle East.”
Harari points out that some conventions, like money, are useful for societies to function. “We should retain our more useful fictions,” he says, “but at the same time be able to separate fiction from reality, and see reality very clearly. For most of history, people have been so obsessed with fictions such as nations, gods and money, that they lost touch with reality.” Harari offers a thumb-rule for distinguishing a real entity from an imaginary one: can it suffer? “A nation cannot suffer,” he says, “even if it loses a war. A bank cannot suffer, even if it crashes. Humans, however, can suffer. Animals can suffer. Their suffering is real. I hope that we can retain the most useful fictions of humanity, but at the same time be in touch with reality, and thereby know how to make use of our power not to inflate some fictional entity like a nation, but in order to reduce real suffering in the world.”
That may not be forthcoming any time soon. And there may be no point in worrying about human suffering a few generations from now because it may not even be a thing – it's a chilling thought that our descendants are likely to be so different from us that we lack any basis for even beginning to talk about their internal lives.
Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
For almost two million years humans lived more-or-less like other animals. Then, around 70,000 years ago, they had what Harari calls a cognitive revolution, an explosion of ingenuity and linguistic ability that allowed them to cooperate in unprecedented ways and populate most of the planet. The agricultural revolution around 12,000 years ago led to the creation of settlements and social structures as we now know them. The scientific revolution, around 500 years ago, brought about the heady collusion of capital, science and empire, and before we could realize it, brought us to the precipice at which we now stand. We will likely fly away from there.
According to Harari, humankind as we know it has at most a few hundred years left. Not because it will go extinct, but because in all likelihood we will upgrade ourselves using technology to a point where we are no longer recognizable as human. Perhaps we would be “an eternally young cyborg who does not breed and has no sexuality, who can share thoughts directly with other beings, whose abilities to focus and remember are a thousand times greater than our own, and who is never angry or sad, but has emotions and desires that we cannot begin to imagine.” We would have converted ourselves into a class of beings that is impossible to relate to from our present vantage. Effectively, we would have turned into gods.
This is not as far-fetched as it might sound. We already have ear implants, pacemakers, artificial hips and knees, and likely in a matter of decades, artificial organs. Sapiens has a photograph of two people with brain-controlled prosthetic arms shaking hands. Even as the book appeared on shelves there came news reports of a demonstration that claimed thoughts were recorded from the electrical activity in a subject's brain and transmitted through the internet to another person, all the way from Thiruvananthapuram to Strasbourg. The words communicated were 'hola' and, perhaps appropriately, 'ciao'.
Srinath Perur writes on a variety of subjects, often to do with science and travel. He is the author of If It's Monday It Must Be Madurai, a book about travelling with groups.

''Srinath Perur'' is first Indian literary critic and journalist to stand up to Amitav Ghosh and say ''you are wrong about cli-fi and SF genres

''Srinath Perur'' is first Indian lit critic to stand up to Ghosh and say ''you are wrong about #clifi'' #SF #genres

h/t JW. thanks! 

Amitav Ghosh's ''The Great Derangement'': A wide-ranging enquiry into climate change

......Ghosh’s analysis is intricate and erudite, and for the most part defies easy summary. He builds arguments by bringing together personal stories, folklore, the work of writers, anthropologists, philosophers, scientists, economists, ecologists, historians, and even the pope. ....Climate change might be more effectively communicated through images rather than "our accustomed logocentrism". (And though Ghosh doesn’t say so, there’s a pretty basic failure of logos in those tepid terms we use —‘global warming’ sounds distinctly cosy, and ‘climate change’ calls for a cardigan rather than an effort to avert catastrophe.)

Which is why I found it curious that Ghosh more than once brings up the matter of ‘serious fiction’ and its upturned nose. WTF?

To bring up climate change in a novel, Ghosh writes, “is in fact to court eviction from the mansion in which serious fiction has long been in residence; it is to risk banishment to the humbler dwellings that surround the manor house…” WTF?

But why take serious fiction so seriously? After all, its conventions don’t have a monopoly on human imagination. The lines between categories of fiction are blurry at best, and if something called science fiction or climate fiction can better accommodate what is urgent, then maybe we should let it. YES YES YES!

As Caroline Kormann wrote in a 2013 survey of climate-change novels, “Today, novels that would once have been called science fiction can be read as social realism.” That might be even truer of tomorrow.

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable
Amitav Ghosh

Meet Berit Ellingsen, a superb Korean-Norwegian novelist ("NOT DARK YET" - a cli-fi novel) from Norway who writes in English [AMAZON REVIEW: Not Dark Yet is a new novella in the ''cli-fi'' (climate fiction) genre.]

Photo by Alexander Chesham, 2015.
Berit Ellingsen
Photo by Alexander Chesham, 2015
Berit Ellingsen was born in South Korea, grew up in Norway and has lived in Portugal, Sweden and the USA. She trained as a biologist and worked as a science reporter. She says of her novel NOT DARK YET that in terms of genre or category ....."it is fiction with a bit of science in it."

''Berit Ellingsen - a surreal, unpredictable work bringing together environmental devastation, a nuanced portrayal of a relationship, and questions of space exploration.''

NOTE: Finnish novelist Emmi Itaranta also writes her novel MEMORY OF WATER directly in English and it was later sold to 14 foreign countries for translation.

Not Dark Yet, the debut novel in English from Korean-Norwegian writer Berit Ellingsen, follows Brandon Minamoto, a young man who moves to the mountains from the city and deals with change and catastrophe in both his personal life and the life of our planet. As Brandon deals with the fallout from his affair with a professor and the violent incident that ended their relationship, he trains for an astronaut program and gets involved in his neighbors’ agricultural project. Fascinating, surreal, gorgeously written, and like nothing you’ve ever read before, Not Dark Yet is the book we all need to read right now. It is art about science, climate change, and activism, and it vitally explores how we as people deal with a world that is transforming in terrifying ways. —Isaac Fitzgerald

'If I hadn’t written in English, I would first and foremost have missed working in a language which has terms and expressions that are more
accurate than my own language, a much wider vocabulary, and which just feels more suited for writing. That’s why I prefer to write fiction in English.''

''English is also such a widespread language, that by writing in English, my stories and books have been read by people who live in
countries and on continents I have never been to, and in cultures I have never experienced in person, and that is just amazing to know. That would probably not have happened if I had only stuck to my first language.''

[The small press Two Dollar Radio puts out great books, so check out this 2015 release by debut novelist Berit Ellingsen (a Korean-Norwegian writer and former bookseller). Not Dark Yet (also the title of a great later-period Bob Dylan song), follows a man as he leaves his boyfriend in the city for life in the mountains. Jeff VanderMeer highly praised Ellingsen’s book.]


By Julianne (Outlandish Lit)on January 28, 2016
Not Dark Yet is a new novella in the ''cli-fi'' (climate fiction) genre. The world's going to shit due to global warming. People are running out of food. The weather's all out of whack. And the main character, Brandon, just needs to get away from it all. So he moves to a remote cabin in the mountains somewhere, leaving his boyfriend behind. This novella jumps around in time a little bit covering a bunch of interesting plot points. An affair with a professor that goes bad, an agricultural project he joins in the mountains, applying to be an astronaut who will live on Mars, some random military stuff, AND MORE.
All of these things are SO interesting and the book had a lot of potential to do all sorts of stuff. Unfortunately, however, Brandon is just not that interesting of a guy. His character is so flat that it's hard to care about any of his (often briefly touched upon) plights. As much as I love concise books, I feel like Ellingsen could've done a lot with more pages. Anyway, I can't mention the other thing I didn't like because it would spoil the whole book. So in short, I really loved most of the stuff that went down in this story, I really super loved what the book was saying (it's so good), but I wasn't blown away with how it was done. If any of this sounds interesting

VALERIE STOREY has the interview here:

Book Review: ''Not Dark Yet'', by Berit Ellingsen

NOTE: Born in South Korea of a South Korean mother and a Norwegian father, and with Norwegian her first language and English her second language, Ms. Ellingsen writes her novels directly in English. Berit Ellingsen was born in South Korea, grew up in Norway and has lived in Portugal, Sweden and the USA.

American novelist Jeff Vandermeer blurbed her novel on back cover this way: "This is the best work yet from a truly unique writer who clearly will be a name to conjure for decades to come.”

Not Dark Yet by Berit Ellingsen
Two Dollar Radio
ISBN: 978-1937412354
Fiction, 202 pages
Published in 2015

VALERIE STOREY: I don't review a lot of books, but when I do it's because I really want to--I want to share something important and real that I think other writers and readers will enjoy and benefit from. That's why I'm  taking a look today at Not Dark Yet by author Berit Ellingsen, a writer who has enriched my world and inspired me to keep writing, keep striving, keep going, and always take the time to read a good book.

I first heard about Berit via Twitter, the best source I know for discovering books and authors I wouldn't usually have the chance to learn about. Thanks to so many bookstores disappearing from my neighborhood (three more have just gone bankrupt this past month), social media has become my primary source for literary browsing, and when I read a post about Berit and her collection of short stories: Beneath the Liquid Skin, I had to order the book, prontoNothing in my extensive reading life had prepared me for the power and originality of those stories, so naturally I couldn't wait to read her novel, Not Dark Yet. I don't think anything else I've read before or after can compare with either of these books.

Berit lives in Norway, and her work reflects a beautiful sense of place, an isolated starkness that is in direct contrast with much of my own experience. Even desert-y Albuquerque doesn't have the sharp, cold lunar feeling I get from her descriptions. Coupled with this strong geographic presence is a staggering sense of precision to every word she writes, an exactness that has me re-reading many of her sentences for the sheer pleasure of it. In many ways I consider her a "writer's writer" and after I finished reading Not Dark Yet I sat down with my journal to examine what it was that made me love this book so much. Here goes:
VALERIE ADDS: ''So with all that said, I think I have to read the book again. Not Dark Yet is quirky, original, and packed with secrets -- the kind you can't wait to unravel and sit with for a long while after. I found the book extremely compelling and one that has stirred my curiosity and desire to learn more, write more, and even try my hand at some fan-art. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy an authentic book of ideas and a serious voyage of self-discovery. Five stars from me--six if I could!''

Do check out Berit Ellingsen and her books at her webiste here.


Multiculturalism and Writing

December 7, 2013 | By | 9 Replies More 
Berit Ellingsen is a Korean-Norwegian writer who writes in English.  We asked her how multiculturalism affects her writing.

Berit's Novel The Empty City
Berit’s Novel The Empty City

Multiculturalism affects me first and foremost in that I write in a language that is not the first language of the country I live in. It’s the language most people here learn as a second language, yet which we hear every day on tv and other media, and which is taught early in grade school, and in some cases on pre-school level.
In a country with a small population and not much cultural dominance in the past, the population has to learn the language that is most used  for business and communication, which is English, to be able to communicate with the rest of the world.
Since it’s expensive to translate books and documents, and most people understand English well, a lot of academic literature, business reports, and even fiction is usually not translated, but imported and read in English. Similarly, large amounts of entertainment and media is imported from English-speaking countries. Maybe as much as a third of the programs on the tv channels in Norway is in English.

''If I hadn’t written in English, I would first and foremost have missed working in a language which has terms and expressions that are more
accurate than my own language, a much wider vocabulary, and which just feels more suited for writing. That’s why I prefer to write fiction in English.''

''English is also such a widespread language, that by writing in English, my stories and books have been read by people who live in
countries and on continents I have never been to, and in cultures I have never experienced in person, and that is just amazing to know. That would probably not have happened if I had only stuck to my first language.''

Berit's Novel Empty City (French)

Moreover, a French writer who also does translations to English, found my novel, The Empty City, online and wanted to translate it to French, a language I don’t know very well and can’t write in. If I hadn’t written in English, my words would not have reached that audience, whose language I don’t speak.
Naturally, there are more people who write in English than in Norwegian, and perhaps it’s more difficult to gain the attention of editors and publishers, but there are also many more literary journals, presses, and even fellowships and retreats, a writer can apply to in English.
Then there’s the great pleasure of connecting with other writers from all over the world, both writers who are writing in their first language, and other writers who are also writing in their second (or third) language.
Writing in a second language of course presents some challenges. There almost seems to be an asymptotic phenomenon: no matter how well you know this language, no matter how much you read or write in it, there will always be errors and mistakes. So you need to like the language you write in a lot, and wanting to keep learning new words, new meanings and new expressions.
Another issue is that of dialect or slang. Since English is not my first language, I hesitate to write any kind of local dialect or slang, because that would feel like a cultural appropriation and perhaps be inauthentic. Hence, I mostly use a neutral standard English in dialogue. But maybe that places me as a western middle-class writer from the start?
I nevertheless love to hear local expressions, slang and dialect in all the languages I’m familiar with. I also enjoy learning words that have no direct equivalent or translation in other languages, words that are highly specific to a situation, place, or culture, are fun to learn. They capture emotions or situations other words can’t.
beritellingsenThere is also something invaluable in being able to read another writer’s words directly, without having to rely on translation, which is always approximate and subject to interpretation. Not to mention the fascinating event when two people are able to communicate in a common language, even if they don’t speak each other’s first language.
That brings a personal understanding and the chance to bridge large gaps in culture, background, or geographical distance, which people who insist that others must speak their language in order to communicate with them will never experience.
Through common languages we can directly experience for ourselves that humans have more in common than what separates us. As a biologist and writer, I believe this was the reason why abstract language evolved in humans in the first place.

Berit Ellingsen is a Korean-Norwegian writer whose stories have appeared in Unstuck, SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, Birkensnake, and other literary journals. Her short story collection, Beneath the Liquid Skin, was published by firthFORTH Books in November 2012. She was also nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the British Science Fiction Award in 2012. Berit’s novel, The Empty City, was translated and published in French as Une Ville Vide (Publie Monde) in the summer of 2013. Find out more at and follow her on twitter @BeritEllingsen



Fiction That Strikes Like Lightning

June 16, 2016 Why Flash Fiction Series
In SmokeLong‘s “Why Flash Fiction?” series, flash fiction writers and editors explore what draws them to the form. In this column, Berit Ellingsen provides an overview of flash and shares selections from Lightspeed Magazine’s People of Colo(u)r Destroy Flash Fiction! special issue, which she guest edited. Submit your own “Why Flash Fiction?” article or other flash-related essays on our Submittable page


Berit Ellingsen is the author of two novels, Not Dark Yet (Two Dollar Radio), and Une ville vide (PublieMonde), as well as a collection of short stories, Beneath the Liquid Skin (Queen’s Ferry Press). Her work has been published in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction InternationalSmokeLong Quarterly, Unstuck, Litro, and other places, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the British Science Fiction Association Award. Berit travels between Norway and Svalbard in the Arctic, and is a member of the Norwegian Authors’ Union. Learn more at


Interview about the novel here.

Bruno George  reviews the novel this way:
“Are you going to shoot them all?” a fellow soldier asks Brandon Minamoto, protagonist of Berit Ellingsen’s new novel Not Dark Yet. These words come in a flashback sequence, where Brandon is a sniper deployed on a “southern continent” in what might be a humanitarian intervention or police action. The spotter, Kepler, is asking Brandon whether he will shoot the child-guerillas they can see laying an IED in the road. Brandon’s tour of duty takes up only a few scant pages of Ellingsen’s novel, but his answer to the spotter is telling. Will he shoot all the children? Ellingsen writes: “‘No,’ he said, exhaled, and entered the space between one breath and the next.” The space Brandon enters is that of taking aim; and so his elliptic answer becomes all the more grave: “no” means “not all” means yes, he will shoot one or some.
Perhaps it is misleading to begin a review here. In the rest of the novel, Brandon is neither an ice-cold killer nor a resolute man of action. But this passage illustrates the difficulty of demonstrating the beauty contained in Not Dark Yet, a beauty of construction. It isn’t until later in the novel that Brandon’s stillness (“the space between one breath and the next”) is revealed as more than just a temporary military habit, taken on in basic training and shucked with demobilization. Brandon’s abiding passivity, in fact, makes the novel less a plotted progress than a rising series of arresting tableaux. The narration, too, often works by ellipsis and even a kind of focal misdirection. In the combat scene, whatever shots Brandon takes go unnarrated; also unnarrated are the cries of the wounded child-soldiers and the night in which they suffer and probably die. But war is the least of the horsemen in Not Dark Yet’s soft, subtle apocalypse; what wreaks havoc in this novel is climate change.
One might describe the novel as set in the “near future,” but it would be better to say its world is just a half-degree warmer, or its sea levels only a fraction of an inch higher. What obtains from this change? In the unnamed northern country of Not Dark Yet, experimental agronomists till the soil in winter, a land once snowed under now laid bare by a warming climate. But the novel’s world is otherwise indistinguishable from our own. Of the emergent disasters cataloged by the novel—“droughts, forest fires, crop failures . . . flooding, storms, loss of drinking water and arable land”—every one of them has already begun in our own world. Before Not Dark Yet even begins, futurity has undergone a swift and silent collapse: every environmental calamity we were once warned of, every baleful but distant eventuality, is already underway. Somehow, without anyone’s having noticed, “the troubling, uncertain future ha[s] become the volatile, menacing present.”
But Ellingsen has not written an On the Beach or On the Road; she presents no hellscape and no descent into atavism. Brandon and his friends and family live in a world of functioning cell phones and laptops and automobiles; they eat steak dinners with green salad and they prudently stint on the carbs; they inhabit a world of modern university campuses and convenient trams and nicely appointed condominiums. Cosseted or at least comfortable, they nonetheless subject themselves to the television news: “floods to the north, crop failures on the eastern continent, hurricanes on the western continent, drought on the entire southern continent, demonstrations, riots, war.” But as with recent wars and storms in our own world, these harbingers of catastrophe function almost as public secrets: known but unnoticed, publicly announced but not yet fully apprehended.
Had Ellingsen further heightened the catastrophe, she could have drawn on the eerie talents she has exhibited in previous writings. In a short story called “Vessel and Solsvart,” a man who is scarcely more than an animate corpse staggers through a post-apocalyptic world of burnt-out cities and boiling oceans; her prose is restrained but her vision excoriating. The stories in the collection Beneath the Liquid Skin, too, are far from realism. That Ellingsen has not further upped the ante much beyond our present-day reality in Not Dark Yet means that readers are deprived of a certain hypocritical pleasure, that of self-satisfiedly tutting over the ruin its characters have made of their fictional Earth. The German critic Walter Benjamin once wrote of the modern novel genre—disparagingly—that “what draws the reader to the novel is the hope of warming his shivering life with a death he reads about.” How much more warmly might fiction’s fire blaze when we read about deaths on a planetary scale. But that isn’t the novel Ellingsen has written; it’s not a spectacle of the world’s end, served up for our complacent delectation. Midway through the novel, Brandon has a dream about just this kind of hypocritical enjoyment: In an ocean-liners’ graveyard, ships arrive under their own power, still carrying passengers, and then slowly begin to sink in the gelid water. The dream’s sublime moment is a blinding white light; flashbulbs go off on one of the ships, where passengers crowd the rails, “eager to watch the sinking of the others while taking [o]n water themselves.”
Not Dark Yet is ultimately a Robinsonade, its Crusoe, Brandon, willingly isolated in a cabin in the woods. Even the novel’s first line harkens back to Crusoe the world-traveler: “Sometimes, in Brandon Minamoto’s dreams, he found a globe or a map of the world with a continent he hadn’t seen before.” But unlike Crusoe, Brandon doesn’t save himself and his isolate world through deep-sea salvaging and strict accounting. Standing before his cabin for the very first time, Brandon has a yielding, melting, anonymous experience that sharply separates him from Defoe’s energetic and autonomous Crusoe: “He closed his eyes and there was no body, and no world either, only the simple, singular nothingness he recognized as himself.”
If Crusoe endeavors and perseveres on his island, the lesser characters of Not Dark Yet also make efforts to take command of their warming planet’s fate, but Brandon is witness to their serial failures: the farmers’ experimental winter crops are destroyed in a flood; the space exploration program is cancelled; the militant environmentalists undertake a propaganda of the deed, but on the eve of their attack Brandon withdraws from their group, less for ideological reasons than by dint of his passive temperament. The novel is structured a bit like Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, with its experiments in different ways of being, except that Brandon tries on ways of not being: in the army, he practices a soldier’s self-extinguishment in duty; in a visit to a monastery, he identifies with the story of a Buddhist monk’s auto-mortification;* in epileptic seizures, he feels a magnetic union with the earth’s telluric pull ; and, in a late sequence, he yields himself up to the ocean: “The motion surged him forward, and there was no resisting or refusing being engulfed.”
In the French novelist Michel Tournier’s Robinsonade—entitled Friday—Crusoe is a philosophical man. Cast up on shore all alone, he considers, as Heidegger might, that to exist is to be thrown into the outside: “sistere ex,” says Tournier’s Crusoe, “That which is outside exists. That which is within does not.” His island, named Speranza, is a natural world fundamentally separate from and outside of himself. He finds Speranza’s externality maddeningly seductive, and he negates it: “Lying with his arms outstretched, his loins in turmoil, he embraced that great body scorched all day by the sun . . . His sex burrowed like a plowshare into the earth.”Tournier’s Crusoe is the obverse of Ellingsen’s: a conqueror. For Brandon, the natural world is not alien, but continuous with the self, albeit in spooky and unsettling and dangerous ways.
The interior that Tournier’s Crusoe finds so nonexistent is exactly where Brandon keeps situating himself: he and the militants are “inside the night”; with his lover Kaye he is “inside their now mutual, monumental secret”; alone in his cabin, “he welcomed the stillness and sat inside it”. Likewise, in a strikingly parallel scene to Crusoe’s penetration of the island, Brandon lies down on the earth; the motifs here are not tropic sun and conquering sex, but merger and deliquescence and mortification: “He lay down . . . and breathed in the fragrance of decomposition and soil, letting the earth’s moisture seep into his clothes, while earthworms, slugs, and beetles crawled over his face and hands.” This death-like stillness is Brandon’s answer to the militants; immediately upon parting from them, he merges with dirt and worms and slugs, and it is hard not to read the scene allegorically: against militant deeds, Brandon, and maybe the novel, prefer to yield to what is, even if that is death.
Having a “singular nothingness” as a protagonist, the novel is not without its longueurs. Brandon loves and betrays a boyfriend, he joins and leaves a militant group, he chases his ambition to be an astronaut and then sees that ambition come to naught, all with a certain weightless languor. Whenever he parts from someone—a candidate in the astronaut tryouts, a fellow militant, or his partner or his lover—he displays not the least anxiety about when he will see them again, and so in parting he makes no reassuring gestures of sentiment or sociability. In turn, reading about Brandon’s interactions is sometimes a struggle with that weightlessness; something keeps slipping away. At the level of propositions, the novel is rich with complex social life; a scientist character provides up-to-date theories of altruism, affect, and evolution: “empathy, the ability to care for another being, preceded humans, was older than humanity itself. It was a trait shared by many mammals.” But at his most sociable, isolate Brandon consorts mainly with ghosts, with the diminishing traces of the other people: “the residue of the other candidates’ presences and voices, the sights and smells of the past week, played themselves out in his mind and slowly faded.”
Like Robinson Crusoe, Ellingsen’s Not Dark Yet plunges its hero into the ocean. Typically passive, Brandon reflects that a death by drowning is not a frenzy of action—frantic waving—but extinction, suffocation. The shore Ellingsen then casts him up on is our own; the coming storm is here, and it won’t be outflanked or outthought. Nonetheless, the novel’s diminuendo in the final chapter offers some hope, in the upsurge of a clear spring and in the fall of dusk: “Outside, the fields lay black and empty, with no one to till them. The gray light of day dimmed to a blue dusk and settled into distant, pale stars.” Not dark yet. - Bruno George

Friday, August 26, 2016

Join film director Rob Callender for his KickStarter campaign to fund his upcoming cli-fi movie titled "INCENTIVE"

Rob Callender


tells this blog [and our sister cli-fi cinema blog]

"I think our movie could be called a cli-fi movie, sure, but it is absolutely not a disaster movie. It is about psychology, motivation and, yes, fictional future scenarios so I believe it is cli-fi. Kickstarter is live on Monday / Tuesday now which should have some more details. -- Rob

Rob is an extremely talented young British actor who graduated from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in the UK in 2013. He is best known for his role as Guy Bennett in Julian Mitchell's play 'Another Country' which played at the Chichester Festival Theatre before transferring to the Trafalgar Studios on London's West End in 2014 where it earned considerable critical acclaim.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: R Jewkes

by incentivefilm

Where are all the provocative, human, bold, dirty little fiction films about climate change? Here's one

THE INCENTIVE is a bold short film about climate change written by Rob Callender. It will be directed by Rob Callender and Max McGill, and produced by Campbell Beaton, Edmund Alcock and Max Fletcher.

Where are the rallying cry movies about climate change? 

We want to make the topic of global warming  appeal to audiences that don’t go to documentaries that confirm their beliefs. I’m making the film I wish I’d seen when I was sixteen but also the film I think my 85 year old grandfather would enjoy. He likes and needs (he’s getting deaf and falls asleep very quickly) excitement, not a film that makes him feel guilty about his life choices. He’s on the fence about climate change and thinks it’s too late for him. He needs a film that will make it real.

The Incentive is also for everyone who worries that Naomi Klein’s mantra  “capitalism is at war with the climate” means we’re doomed. We’re not. But we don’t have much time. We need to start making changes fast. 

What changes do we need to make?

We’ve got permission to film at some brilliant sustainability-themed locations including a dam, an indoor farm and Tesla are letting us borrow a car! Now all we need is your support to get us there. The point is that we already have the solutions, we just need to make them mainstream and that means making them cheaper and making them sexy.

So, why haven’t we seen meaningful action on climate change?

The Incentive is a fictional scenario inspired by comments of world thinkers and leaders. Fiction allows us to ask dangerous questions and provoke. It lets us explore not just what we need to do, what will happen if we don’t etc., but the psychology of human action itself. It’s about people and minds not CGI-created existential threats.  How could we motivate the entire species? Who could do that? What would they need? 
The aim isn’t to educate but to draw attention to our education. The greatest thing standing in the way of action on climate change is what we have each been taught to believe, especially, “I’m just one person. What difference can I make?” People make all the difference. You make all the difference!

I’ve been working on this movie for two years. I took it to production companies in film and TV all around London and they honestly all said the same thing, “We love your script, we think it’s important, we’d love to be involved, but we don’t see the money in these stories… unless you can get Henry Cavill to play every part… can you do that?” It was clear I wouldn’t get it made unless I rewrote the female roles for Dennis Quaid.

Pinewood and Hollywood weren’t going to make it so I seized that – I rewrote it as the short that Hollywood wouldn’t make. Reader, I’ll never go back! It won’t appeal to everyone because taking a hard look at some of the choices climate change is forcing us to face does not appeal to everyone. The quest to make a global warming film that offends no one and is “pure truth” is insane because there is no single question and no single answer.

Personally, it’s the films that make me squirm with awe and anger and new thoughts that stick with me the longest, not the casual merely well-made movie that says nothing new. The Incentive, I’ve been reliably informed, is the film of that first variety.

The Incentive is an incentive. I hope you love it, I hope you hate it and I hope it moves you but, of course, we had to make sure the script is accurate. So we had it checked by some extremely lovely, clued-in people. Here’s what they said:
“This visionary movie shows where things might go if we leave it too late and the power is taken out of our hands, while also shining a light on brilliant and advanced solutions. It offers a peek into a potential future and a powerful incentive, as the choice is still ours: we can be forced to adapt or change pro-actively.” 
— Annick de Witt Ph.D.
Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University Amsterdam
“We all want to achieve good outcomes and do so through decent means. When it comes to climate change, it may not be long before that is not an option any more, as this chilling, gripping movie reminds us.” 
— Ha-Joon Chang, Economist
University of Cambridge, author of ‘Economics: The User’s Guide’.
“A drama that reflects what is increasingly clear in climate policy: people are motivated largely by crises, and that solutions to those crises must be taken from wherever they are found regardless of the motives behind the actors.”
— Dr Douglas Crawford-Brown, Director
Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research
Sign up to INCENTIVE NEWS to keep updated with our progress as it happens.
We would love and we need your support to get this film made. We believe that getting provocative, accessible and visceral narratives out there is an important step in bringing a sustainability mindset to the mainstream. With your help we can do that together!
And please get in touch if you would like more information: It is honestly my favourite thing to talk about!

Rob C