December Recommendations


Kicking off the last month of a rotten year with some cool stuff I’ve stumbled across in the last few weeks that I want to share, all available for free:

1. The Imaginary Worlds Podcast

I’ve been listening to episode after episode of this non-stop since I first heard a snippet played on CBC Radio’s Podcast Playlist. Eric Molinsky consistently delivers thoughtful, well-produced audio essays about science fiction and fantasy, often emphasizing the relevance of various popular films and books to the real world and how popular media can reflect and even drive cultural and political discourse. To this end, he interviews an army of scholars, fans and specialists in fields ranging from psychology to history to economics. Really fantastic stuff. A particular standout is the episode on Dracula, putting to rest the common wisdom that Bram Stoker based his vampire on Vlad Tepes and instead pointing to a far more convoluted and yet more thematically relevant inspiration for one of the nineteenth century’s most enduring literary characters.

2. Everything Change

“It’s not climate change—it’s everything change.” That quote from Margaret Atwood perversely makes the title of this anthology from Arizona State University’s Centre for Science and the Imagination less evocative, tying it to the specific idea of environmental impact instead of the implicit sense of inevitably carried by those words. Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction (2016) presents stories of worlds in decline and the effect of the people left behind in them, be it families dwelling in the slowly submerging remains of Venice whose only alternative is an inland theme park, scientists corralled by endemic forest fires or entire nations rendered stateless. The editors select stories spanning the globe—even one about a military coup in Ottawa caps of the anthology—and focus on disadvantaged peoples more often than on scientists or the middle class.

The first example of a human-caused extinction event dominating science fiction was the threat of nuclear war, reflecting large-scale anxieties in the Cold War. That never went away despite fading in the background, and is likely set to make a comeback with recent political events, but human-caused climate change has become ever more present in our collective fears. In some ways, it’s a scarier prospect. With nuclear holocaust, the solution is simple: don’t launch the damn missiles. With climate change, there is a chance that the long-term effects are already set and all we can do is adapt to an increasingly hostile habitat. What comes into question is whether we even can, which makes Everything Change carry a heavy bleakness as most of the scenarios point towards “no.” Taking into account earlier examples of climate shifts, it’s not an unfair answer.

Amid the crumbling cities and eroding landscapes of Everything Change, hope largely lies on a personal level. The story that really stuck with me was Shauna O’Meara’s “On Darwin Tides”, about the aforementioned stateless people trying to scrape together a living in Malaysia, and where an orangutan sanctuary gets far more donations than the poor thanks to “last chance tourists” out to see the wonders of the natural world before those disappear but who mostly don’t care about the people who are also going to disappear. It too, ends on a positive note for the main character while the setting moves towards civilization’s end. You might condemn the authors for not having the courage to follow through and extend that pessimism to the fate of the protagonists, but a little uplift is needed in an anthology like this.

You can download Everything Change from the ASU website under Creative Commons.

3. Onani Master Kurosawa

It seems for the last part of the year I’ve been gravitating towards stories of alienated people learning slowly and painfully to connect with others—see my review of Welcome to the NHK! The manga Onani Master Kurosawa (2007-2008) falls into that category, though by more, erm, creative means.

Kakeru Kurosawa’s only joy in life involves going to a little-used girls’ bathroom in his high school and jerking off to fantasies about his classmates. You’d be excused for thinking nothing good could come of that premise, but as the story evolves, it transforms from a spot-on parody of “cool” antisocial teenage protagonists as seen in Death Note into an unexpectedly mature study of loneliness, emotional development and redemption. It’s a classic case of an author and artist taking a joke, then twisting it around into something meaningful.

Onani Master Kurosawa was self-published in Japan and will likely never get an official translation or release in English, so I don’t feel any qualms linking to the English fan translation. Disclaimer: While not pornographic, due to the subject matter there are some explicit panels, and it’s definitely Not Safe For Work.

Whisper into the darkness

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