I mentioned here back in December that I was working on a new project, Into the Ruins, which is a new deindustrial science fiction journal. What’s deindustrial science fiction, you ask? Simply put, it’s the imaginings of the future that take into account the reality of peak oil, climate change, the fact that we will have fewer resources and less energy to play with as we move forward, that our infinitely idiotic ways of treating the earth and our ecosystem will continue to invite consequences (environmental and otherwise), and that the industrial and incredibly wasteful ways of living that the Western world currently considers normal have a rapidly approaching expiration date.
Essentially, those ideas are exactly what I wrote about here at Of The Hands, and they define the future that is . . . well, defining itself around us even as you read this. With every passing year, it becomes more and more impossible to ignore the climate chaos, the melting ice and rising seas, the political and economic instability, the wars and disruption, and the chaotic nature of fossil fuel and renewable energy markets. It’s not obviously apocalyptic by any means, but anyone with half a desire to pay attention to it can see the many ways in which our unsustainable and destructive way of life is crumbling around us. I expect that crumbling to continue to accelerate in the coming years.
Into the Ruins is essentially an attempt to put the ideas from this blog and its influences into fictional form. It’s about taking the future we face and weaving narratives out of it, placing us square in the sort of worlds that we can relate to our own—filtered, in other words, through the prism of human experience. These are visions placed on earth, not out in space. They’re visions of limits and consequences, not of infinite power sources and unbridled human exploitation. They’re stories of humans dealing with the harsh and messy future quickly bearing down on us. Sometimes they’re set a few decades in the future, sometimes a few hundred years, sometimes more than a millenium away. But they all are imaginings of the sort of futures we’re going to get, rather than the sort of false futures science fiction has too often peddled.
All that said, I’m very happy to note that the first issue of Into the Ruins is now available. For those of you who have enjoyed my writing here, note that this issue contains editorial content by me, as well as a couple book reviews. In addition to my contributions, it features five excellent stories set in the deindustrial, post-peak oil future, a wide variety of letters to the editor, and other content. Altogether, it’s a 110 page, 7″ x 10″ printed and bound book just waiting for you to peruse it. To be honest, I’m extremely happy with how it came out; I hope its readers will feel the same.
For those who are interested, one year (four issue) subscriptions to the journal are available for $39 and the first issue is available here on its own for $12. I hope a few of you will consider picking it up. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. For those who enjoyed more the agricultural and homesteading aspects of this blog, well, there are a few stories set in agricultural societies making their way in the world without ready access to fossil fuels, and I imagine you’ll find them pretty compelling.
Finally, two notes of possibility. First of all, you may just see a true blue Of The Hands post here at some point over the next month. There are some major life changes taking place for me, and I feel compelled to write about them here and to reflect on the time of my life that this blog represents. Second of all, and in a similar but more ambitious vein, part of what I’ve done with Into the Ruins is set up a new and independent company called Figuration Press. As I write in the first issue of Into the Ruins, Figuration Press is a small publication house focused on alternate visions of the future and alternate ways of understanding the world, particularly in ecological contexts. It’s first and currently only project is Into the Ruins. But I’m exploring publishing more works beyond that, as well, and one idea that has come to mind is an Of The Hands collection with a mix of new and old content.
I don’t know if this will actually happen, as perhaps I simply won’t have the time or won’t find the right words to make it worthwhile. But with my life changes, I’m considering something that could be a hybrid of my life then, represented by a selection of past posts, and the life I’m currently heading into.
It may or may not happen. We’ll see. But if that’s something you might like to see—and something you might actually pay money to read—then consider commenting on this post or emailing me to let me know. I want to judge the interest.
And don’t forget to check out Into the Ruins. I’m mighty proud, and I want others to see it. I think it’s worth your time, and the more people we have reading about and imagining different sorts of futures than what’s normally peddled, the better.
Piggy backing off my previous post, I’m happy to announce that I now have a blog set up at the Into the Ruins website. At this point, I don’t know how often I’ll be updating it, but I’d like to get something up at least a couple times a month. I suspect many entries will be of the sort that would have fit just fine here at Of The Hands. The first entry, Why Stories Matter, certainly is. It speaks of the flooding that happened here on the Oregon coast last night and today—and how it shows the need for us to have alternate ways of viewing and understanding the world. It also features a few pictures of flooding in my local town.
Check it out. I think you’ll like it. Comments are also open there, as the blog will be the venue for discussion about Into the Ruins, deindustrial and post-industrial science fiction, and related topics such as peak oil, climate change, decline, and so on. I’ll respond as time permits.
I hope to see some regulars there. It would be good to catch up.
I’m happy to announce a new project of mine, Into the Ruins, a quarterly journal publishing science fiction of a deindustrial or post-industrial bent. The journal is inspired by John Michael Greer at The Archdruid Report and ultimately stems out of the series of “Space Bats” contests he’s held over the preceding years, leading to publication of three (and an upcoming fourth) After Oil anthologies. Similarly to those anthologies, Into the Ruins will feature speculative stories set in the near to far future and featuring the realities of peak oil, the decline of energy and resource availability, climate change, and fallout from our past and current shortsighted, exploitative ways of living.
I encourage anyone who is intrigued by or interested in these sorts of stories to check out the website and consider subscribing. The first issue is scheduled for publication around the beginning of March and I intend to come out with new issues every three months.
As an introduction to this new project, I want to share the “Philosophy” post located at the website here on Of the Hands. It’s the sort of post that would have fit just fine here back when I was writing and updating this blog and so I thought you might like to read it. Note that if you would like to follow me in a new context, I plan to add a blog to the Into the Ruins site soon and update it on occasion, though not as often as I updated here at the height of this blog. Still, I’m sure I’ll have some interesting things to say about industrial society, our future, and alternative ways of living. One of the reasons I’m so excited about this new project is the opportunity to explore different visions of the future—ones that aren’t so rooted in the destructive and dead-end philosophies that so dominate today. I did that through nonfiction here at Of the Hands; I’m excited to do it through fiction at Into the Ruins, and I hope to make a fictional contribution to one of the issues myself.
And so, what follows is a peek into a day of my life this last summer and some of the ideas behind Into the Ruins. I hope you enjoy, and I hope you’ll check out the journal. Thanks for being such a great audience and community over the years.
— ∞ —
Sometimes you glimpse an unexpected future taking shape around you. It arrives as an unseen vision, the result of unseen consequences, and it demands an attention you don’t want to pay. It shocks you to a reality you had been looking past and demands you to look anew at the world. If the option is there, it’s easy to look away in that moment. But if you obey, a new world opens in front of you, complete with fresh possibilities and limitations, and truths you may not have known moments before.
In late August, I awoke one Saturday to a pleasant morning. Slipping downstairs, I put the tea kettle on and made my customary thermos of coffee with my customary anticipation of those first, calming sips. Outside, a hazy fog crept heavy across the land, obscuring the not-too-distant hills. My overgrown garden swayed and jerked raggedly in a surprisingly strong wind. I made a small mental note but paid it minimal mind. Morning fog brought in by an offshore wind is not uncommon on and near the North Oregon Coast, where I currently live.
I settled in for a bout of morning reading and a slow drinking of my coffee, passing an hour or so before I grew hungry enough to turn my attention toward breakfast. A simple veggie scramble in mind, I stepped outside to harvest a bit of kale and squash from the garden and was slapped in the face by hot wind and the heavy, acrid smell of smoke. The fog was not fog. Early in the morning, an unusual east wind had kicked up and brought smoke to the coast from large and destructive fires burning in the Willamette Valley and eastern Oregon. I had stepped outside expecting a misty, drifting fog and cool breeze; instead, it felt as though I were skirting the edge of Hell, taking a small taste of a deeper and crueler inferno waiting for me.
Disoriented, I continued to the garden and harvested my meal. Yet every gust of wind scalded and disquieted me. The outside experience stood in such stark contrast to my assumptions from the house. A window tight enough to keep out the smell of smoke and a well-known story were all it took for me to completely misjudge the world–to not see something terrible right in front of me.
The story I knew was simple: an offshore breeze, a fog bank, the hundredth time of stepping outside into cool and misty conditions, a typical morning respite from summertime heat. Because I knew the story, I knew the world in front of me. Yet I didn’t. The reality that had taken shape around me while I slept turned out to be dramatically different than what I thought I knew.
In this as elsewhere, our stories guide us. Again and again, they tell us the shape of the world. They bring order to the chaotic events around us and allow us a framework in which to approach each day. We need stories and narratives; as humans, this is how we understand the world. And yet our narratives are just as capable of misleading us. Our stories threaten our ability to understand the world, especially when it’s changing all around us. Especially when the on-the-ground reality doesn’t match the supposed facts of our stories.
Our cultural stories today are failing us in as dramatic a way as my simple story of wind and fog failed me one Saturday morning. On the one hand, they tell us tales of unending progress, of ever-increasing riches, of more energy and more resources and the easy salve that new technology will fix any and all problems–even the ones created by new technology. They weave narratives of the sustainability of impossibly rich lifestyles and the ability of human ingenuity and creativity to cure all our ills and transcend all limits.
On the other hand, they shout of imminent collapse and extinction. They tell us of runaway global warming and runaway technological enslavement, of dystopian futures riven by impossible levels of cruelty and inequality, of overbearing world governments that crush our freedoms, and an endless cascade of calamities caused by our own hubris. Science fiction and other forms of speculative fiction have too often fallen into utopian and dystopian ruts, failing to see the futures that exist between those two extremes–or outside them completely.
The mistake of these stories is their disbelief in limits. They choose a trend and extrapolate, believing that the future can only bring us more of the present. They make wild assumptions and discount negative feedback loops. They believe in human omnipotence, even as every passing year makes us look decidedly more impotent. They fail to understand human response and adaptation, flattening the incredible complexity (and irrationality) of human behavior into tired tropes that serve as little more than a means to buttress simplified world views and proffer scapegoats. In the period of dramatic change and upheaval that we now find ourselves in, these stories are dangerously misleading. They tell us of a future that will not arrive and does not exist. They convince us that fatal stupidity is wisdom.
We need new stories. We need stories that recognize the harsh limits making themselves more clear by the day, but that also see the creativity afforded by those limits. We need stories that understand the future will be hard, sometimes cruel, lacking in the abundant energy and resources we were promised, and reeling from the consequences of reckless usage of fossil fuels and the rampant destruction of unimpeded and thoughtless industrialism. However, we also need stories that see the joy as well as the sorrow in that future, and all the ways that human beings will survive and thrive in the face of natural limits and harsh consequences. Human ingenuity will not solve all our problems, but it will undoubtedly create brilliant, surprising, and at times even delightful responses to the years, decades, and centuries of decline that face industrial society.
Into the Ruins intends to be a venue for those stories that are able to see a future different from the official narratives. It will be an outlet for visions of a future of decline, collapse, and rebirth. Here we will acknowledge natural limits and imagine how we’ll live with them. Here we will look at the long, ragged decline of industrial civilization spread out before us and we’ll find a thousand different stories, a million details, a parade of humans laughing and weeping and surviving and carrying on amongst the wreckage. We will look into the corners, turn over the rocks, traverse the forests, peer into the towns and villages, survey the cities, and find all the fascinating tales of humans dealing with the unfolding crises of resource and energy depletion, climate change, economic and political dysfunction, war and strife, poverty and illness, hunger, migration, changing cultural mores and religious beliefs, and societal upheaval. With this as a backdrop, we’ll explore the daily lives of humans (and non-humans, for that matter) set against the same sort of troubles that have beset so much of human history. And we’ll find the beauty, the creativity, the joy, the pain, the inspiration, and the wonder that it is to be alive on this planet.
Even when the stories we know don’t turn out to be the lives we get.
Into the Ruins will not shy away from the darkness of what’s to come, nor will it lose sight of the beauty that is sure to accompany it. We will feature a wide variety of visions. But as our name suggests, all of them will be a plunge into the wreckage. These are stories that take it as fact that industrial civilization is in decline and that the levels of energy and resources we use today are not what we will have available in the future. Into the Ruins believes in limits and consequences, and we will publish stories that believe the same. This is not the place to come for techno-utopian fantasies. Nor is it the place to come for apocalypse porn. There’s plenty of both of those available in the world today. Instead, we plan to feature realistic portrayals of a future of decline, as well as stories of what comes afterward. We’ll feature stories set in the immediate future, a few decades from now, a few centuries from now, and even a few millennia from now. Most importantly, we want new stories, new ways of looking at the world–and we want a lot of them. This is not the time to be boxed in. This is a time of change, sure to be dramatic and traumatic, and the more stories we have to sift through, the more likely we are to discover valuable adaptations and creative responses.
So let’s begin. The ruins await. It’s time we explored them.
I admit to a love of this world, in all its mess, complexity, pain, and challenge. It tries me at times, but I love it.
As often as in its joy, I find my love in its pain and challenges. This isn’t a simple world, as I imagine we all know, and it’s often not the most kind. This is as true within the human element of our world as within all the rest of it. I’ve written time and again here of some of the failings I see in how we humans live here, in and on our home, upon this planet that will surely be our only one. We have some particularly egregious failings at this point in our history, though I hesitate to claim them more egregious than at other times. I wasn’t there; I don’t really know. (Or if I was, in some past life or another, I don’t remember it well enough to pass judgement.)
Yet, I can’t stand behind the idea of original sin. It never has made much sense to me. Maybe that’s as much due to the way I’ve heard and read it represented, seeing as I have no strong background in Christian theology (aside, of course, from its pervasive threading throughout my culture.) But in how I understand it, the idea holds little appeal to me. We humans are flawed, without question, but I can’t come to see it as an inherent failing.
— ∞ —
This is, in some ways, a review of Dean Koontz’s book Innocence, though it’s more than that, too. It’s a response, I suppose, and an explication.
Growing up, Dean Koontz proved my second favorite author, behind only Christopher Pike. Even as my taste in reading began to shift away from genre fiction and more toward literature—and, eventually, a healthy mix of nonfiction in with that—I still read Koontz. I still read horror and other genre fiction in general. The better works are grand entertainment, and the right ones can emotionally strike me just as well as any lovely work of literature. Koontz didn’t always strike me emotionally, but he often did a fine job of entertaining me and proved a strong linguistic practitioner. I enjoyed much of what he did with words, though every now and again it would feel too luxuriant. Who am I to complain about such a tendency, though?
A few years ago, I grew tired of his new books. They kept putting me off, not so much because of the writing (though he did release some mediocre ones) but more because of the sensibility behind them. His tropes came consistent in every book, and they started to wear thin. Thus, I stopped reading him and relegated his works to fond memories from my childhood, such as voraciously reading Shadowfires while camping. But then I heard some good things about his new book, Innocence, and I decided to check out a copy from the library and give him another shot. Maybe he had worked his way through the phase that so put me off and come out the other side to a place I would find more appealing, more in line with what I loved of his early work.
Or perhaps not.
What I found instead was a well-written and mostly compelling read that, ultimately, placed into sharp contrast the reason why I had grown disillusioned with Koontz’s more contemporary works. It came down to a question of world views, of where I am with how I live today and what I think about humanity contrasted with where Koontz appears to be coming from. And to fully explain it, I’m going to have to delve into complete and extensive spoilers for Innocence, so if you have any intention of reading the book, I suggest you stop reading now.
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