Unexpectedly (which is nearly always the best way) the forward of a science fiction anthology jumped out at me as almost the underlying theme of the Networked Narratives course I am co-teaching with Mia Zamora.

A friend Sarah gave me a copy of Loosed Upon The World when I was visiting last August (she has a story in the book too).

This was because we were discussing Paolo Bacigalupi who’s work I got hooked into because of Bryan Alexander’s “near future” science fiction virtual book reading club of The Water Knife (my two posts). And this led me to reading Bacigalupi’s breakout first book, The Windup Girl.

“Loosed” is described as Climate Fiction (?Cli-Fi?) or “exploring the world we live in now—and in the very near future—as the effects of global warming become more evident.”

I found myself madly underlining a majority of Bacigalupi’s 5 page forward to the collection.

He opens with the dilemma of trying to get people to care about large complex issues. He uses the water shortage in Las Vegas and dropping of Lake Mead, noting how people get much more engaged if they had bought a fancy new Vegas house that suddenly becomes worthless without a reliable water supply:

Theories and ideas and infrastructure versus visceral experience. Human beings are wired to react quickly and exquisitely when it comes to the visceral, but we remain primitive as apes when it comes to the abstract, the complex, and the long term.

Can that be any more relevant to the decay of interest in the abstract, complex, and long term in the 2016-2017 political buffoonery?

Sometimes, I’ve discovered it’s possible for a fiction writer to perform a kind of hack on a reader’s mind, making them feel things that do not yet exist…

… It’s interesting that by creating a made-up world, you can show the real world more sharply and clearly, and in that process, you have the chance of making people engage not with the future, but with the intense realities of our present– the realities that were previously passing them by.

This was exactly the space Mia and I wanted out course to go when we brainstormed it at the DML conference in October.

That hack of the reader’s (or viewer’s) mind with story is for a purpose, not just to “be creative” or to “have fun” but through imagination, to draw attention to the world at hand.

It matches with that description I love that Martha Burtis made of teaching DS106 — it’s through media and creative acts we hope to have students try to make sense of the world.

Bacigalupi observes out tendency to seek technological solutions, that we can ignore rapid increasing carbon in the atmosphere because one day “we’ll fix that problem somehow”. I love how he lances this thinking as fiction. He gets to what the approach ought to be:

it’s a social fix, and social fixed are hard, and complicated, and require human cooperation and restraint, whereas fantasy techno-fixes are easy..

I am not seeing much possibility for social fixes in this new regime. Immigration issues are social, but “building a wall” will fix them?

He takes to task the kind of thought to that we can look to the stars and planets for a new world, while ignoring that most of those rocky, cold, gaseous worlds are not nearly as suitable or viable for life as the one we are on.

The important thing to understand is that imaginative literature is mythic. The kinds of stories we build, the way we encourage people to live into those myths and dream the future– those stories have power.

And that is exactly where we hope this course to take us in April, when we unfold our own world imagining expedition.

Stay tuned to !

Figure out how many knots to loosen…

Top / Featured Image: I’m working this post from the title of a book “Loosed Upon the World” — sometimes I can just toss a word I might not expect to generate interesting results into the magic image search machine.

I am using Google Images with results filtered for licensed to reuse. This woodcut type image from around the year 1600 spoke to me — Olaus Magnus – On Wizards and Magicians among the Finns a Wikimedia Commons work in the public domain. The description has the keywords, but the context is even better:

The picture shows a scene from Finland where many of the inhabitants had magic forces. A speciality was to sell suitable winds to merchant sailors. The man to the right sells a rope with three knots to the captain of the ship. If you loose one knot, you get mild winds. Two knots gives stronger winds and three hard storms. The crew of the sinking ship in the background have not believed in this magic and loosed the third knot.

With or without magic, how would you prefer sailing?

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


  1. Beautifully thought out and written.
    I think it is good for teachers who are so inspired to lead students into deepening civic engagement. Everyone needs to first of all know their tool belt and second of all to know themselves well enough to choose their battles.

    As a tenet of my personal worldview, I understand that what gets your attention gets you, and I choose beauty, creativity, and high play. That puts my limited political bandwidth into conservation issues. Which is to say that not all who wander are lost.

    I love your three knot woodcut story caption more than the art itself.

    1. Thanks Sandy. Just finding the story behind that image was worth the searching. And I would never have found the back story if i just grabbed images and posted like most people do. Attributing takes you down the golden serendipity paths

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