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Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

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Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby pamur » Fri 15 Apr 2011, 17:39:08

I just finished reading a book by Paolo Bacigalupi called "The Windup Girl" that I would carefully recommend to the Peak Oil audience. The story takes place in Thailand after the Industrial Expansion (and the resulting contraction) with hydrocarbons no longer available and the consequences of global warming have done their thing to the planet. It is not a pretty sight. But Mr. Bacigalupi manages to conjure up a world that still is able to support an industrial base using bio-engineered beasts of burden, laborers and foodstuffs. Energy is pulled out of bio-engineered mastodons, springs (spring guns) and hand cranks (treadle computers), calories are the medium of exchange and big corporations actually do run the world. The story is slow at first, the characters are not very likable and it gets a bit heavy and dark at times but it is a very different and imaginative spin on post peak possibilities.
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby Repent » Fri 15 Apr 2011, 23:30:44

There is no better film to show where we are headed than the 1970's classic 'Soylent Green'. The first disaster film to mention the consequences of climate change, oil depletion, overpopulation, economic and social decline and the resulting food catastrophe.

The film is so accurate as to where we are headed as to be almost a prophesy of where we are headed.
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby mos6507 » Sat 16 Apr 2011, 07:46:32

Does the Soylent Green book factor in ecological collapse besides the plankton situation? Most of the grief over the environment is aesthetic. People continue to have their basic survival needs tended to (albeit in a gross way). It's a great icon for limits-to-growthers, but it misses some of the variables which conspire to push us more towards The Road than a planet of 10+ billion.
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby Loki » Sat 16 Apr 2011, 15:46:48

pamur wrote:I just finished reading a book by Paolo Bacigalupi called "The Windup Girl" that I would carefully recommend to the Peak Oil audience. The story takes place in Thailand after the Industrial Expansion (and the resulting contraction) with hydrocarbons no longer available and the consequences of global warming have done their thing to the planet. It is not a pretty sight. But Mr. Bacigalupi manages to conjure up a world that still is able to support an industrial base using bio-engineered beasts of burden, laborers and foodstuffs. Energy is pulled out of bio-engineered mastodons, springs (spring guns) and hand cranks (treadle computers), calories are the medium of exchange and big corporations actually do run the world. The story is slow at first, the characters are not very likable and it gets a bit heavy and dark at times but it is a very different and imaginative spin on post peak possibilities.

Hey, slow down there Pamur, 7 posts in 7 years :lol:

I agree with Repent about Soylent Green, saw it for the first time a few months ago and was quite impressed with the story and the production values. Also surprised to see that it was partly about climate change, which I hadn't expected given that it was made in the early '70s.

My favorite recent movies about PO and climate change include Earth 2100 and The Age of Stupid.
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby TheDude » Sat 16 Apr 2011, 16:13:14

Funny thing, just yesterday I was checking out wiki's list of Post-peak oil SF. David Graham's 1982 book Sidewall is a new one to me. Actually beyond that it's just Kunstler and Alex Scarrow, plus some last year offering. "Repent" I think is the name of another title, by some blogger whose name I forget at the moment.

I've seen encyclopedias of SF organized by theme that were frightening in their comprehensiveness, no doubt people have been going over this ground for decades now. I'm talking about like 10 volumes that covered about 2 feet of shelf space - just absolutely monstrous pieces of work. It's something I bring up when someone throws out their pet idea for an SF story - it's all been done before.

Soylent Green is good for watching Heston chew up scenery, too. The book it's based on is a much superior piece of work, Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! An opening scene where a character gorges himself on a stash of food he chances upon has haunted me since I first read it in the 80s.
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby pamur » Thu 21 Apr 2011, 23:52:43

Loki wrote:Hey, slow down there Pamur, 7 posts in 7 years :lol:


I spend a lot of time reading these posts but there isn't really much for a amateur like myself to add, with all of you guys pouring all this good stuff out.

I really hope to hear what any of you may have to say about this book. Science fiction has really dropped the ball when it comes to post-oil conjecture. If you really think about it, all of the space exploration stuff that sci-fi authors labor over may well be an unattainable dream. Spaceships and space travel pretty much can only be a product of petro-industrial society. But there are an infinite number of possible earth bound, post-oil futures to wrap your mind around and this book is an interesting first attempt.
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby Sixstrings » Sun 24 Apr 2011, 19:15:38

pamur wrote:I really hope to hear what any of you may have to say about this book. Science fiction has really dropped the ball when it comes to post-oil conjecture.


Well I ordered the book off Amazon, it arrived a few days ago and I'm 80 pages into it.

So far so good. It's actually not a depressing read.. I've avoided "The Road" just because the story sounds so damn grim, so I'm glad this is a fun read so far.

Lots of stuff here for doomers / sci fi fans to like. Story takes places a couple centuries in the future. Sounds like the US has broken up. Gene modification has been going on for a long time.. the US collapsed after peak oil but bounced back with GMO agriculture. Then that backfired as new GMO diseases wiped out much of the Earth's plant, animal, and human life. The American ag companies are hated.

Thailand is a success thanks to developing their own GMO program. I should note here that this is science fiction not a realistic vision of post-peak.. but still a fun read. In Thailand, they created a new animal based on elephants called megodonts. They use the beasts for kinetic power, pulling crank shafts powering the factories and such.

The gene-modifications are clever; things like big worms that provide phosphorescent light. And the "windup girl" is one of the "New People," a Japanese creation analogous to an android -- except these are genetically engineered people, though treated like robots.

Let's see, they still have coal but it's precious and wars are fought over it. There is limited electricity.. mostly things like compost methane gas are used for streetlighting. There are still some elites in the world with electricity and "climate control," but mostly it's all kinetic power -- human, animal, and "kink-springs." I do wish the author could have gone into some more detail on the theoretical tech.. for example, in the book these "kink springs" are something like a battery. A compressed spring, treated with algae, that can hold kinetic energy to be released later. But the author doesn't go into it enough for me to know if this is realistic or not.. I don't see how a "king spring" can hold enough kinetic energy to power trains and the like. And if the spring is compressed to a molecular level, how are they doing that with elephant labor? :?:

Anyhow, don't mean to sound negative it's a FUN read so far and worth the purchase. Thanks for recommending.
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby pstarr » Sun 24 Apr 2011, 19:42:11

Sixstrings wrote:I do wish the author could have gone into some more detail on the theoretical tech.. for example, in the book these "kink springs" are something like a battery.
Oh that? It simple. It's just some unobtainium wound into a spool and encased in a convenient scrith capsule.

Nothing really :P
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby Pablo2079 » Tue 26 Apr 2011, 00:27:14

Soylent Green came up during Easter dinner (I kid you not). My brother hadn't seen it, I was amazed. He's going to watch it this week, but I don't expect much. He's a techno kinda guy, assumes that eveything will be fixed just in the nick of time.

Don't be afraid of The Road.... it was a fast read and quite good (from an entertainment perspective).
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby pstarr » Tue 26 Apr 2011, 01:48:45

Pablo2079 wrote:Soylent Green came up during Easter dinner (I kid you not). My brother hadn't seen it, I was amazed. He's going to watch it this week, but I don't expect much. He's a techno kinda guy, assumes that eveything will be fixed just in the nick of time.

Don't be afraid of The Road.... it was a fast read and quite good (from an entertainment perspective).
The end of the Soylent Green was the most memorable for me, when the old guy took his pill out.

The Road was a good book. Didn't bother with the movie yet.
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby PrestonSturges » Tue 26 Apr 2011, 10:41:38

I hope nobody spoiled Soylent Green by giving away the ending. Harry Harrison is an excellent writer, BTW. They don't go into the detail, but in the middle of the movie they mention that the disaster that is being covered up is something like ocean acidification and the oceans have died.

It's a low-tech dystopia. No computers or internet, the cops use police call boxes (look it up!).

The movie was one really embarassing bit of editing where Heston is at the euthanasia center and he just threatened the attendent (Dick Van Patten!). There is a light on the console that is blinking, but they must have forgottent to film it, so they intercut two shots of the panel with the light on and the light off, but there is a cable that changes posisitons with each shot. They would have been better masking the light or something. Any way, I can't believe I saw the movie several times before catching that goof.

Edward G Robinsons death scene is touching becuase it was his last film and he died soon afterwards.
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby pamur » Thu 28 Apr 2011, 11:46:29

Sixstrings wrote:
Well I ordered the book off Amazon, it arrived a few days ago and I'm 80 pages into it.

So far so good. It's actually not a depressing read.. I've avoided "The Road" just because the story sounds so damn grim, so I'm glad this is a fun read so far.


Glad you are liking it so far. I appreciated the imagination that the author put into the story while staying true to the basic peak-oil/climate change meme. The story gets a little more grizzly as you get into it, and at times a little over the top, but it definitely sets a bar for post-oil fiction.
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby TheDude » Thu 28 Apr 2011, 12:21:36

In Thailand, they created a new animal based on elephants called megodonts. They use the beasts for kinetic power, pulling crank shafts powering the factories and such.


That's just not going to work, eg deriving power from bodies ala the Matrix. A btu deus ex machina like that can make for some vivid imagery, though. A really wild book is Brian Aldiss's 60s book Hothouse, set very very far in the future, where you have implausible tropes like huge spiders spinning webs to the moon. You get so caught up in the depiction you don't really mind how crazy the idea is.

In the past we have used animals for limited energy sources in a stationary position, I should add - Eugene Sloane depicts various animals on treadmills or tracks, horses or even dogs powering things like saws, corn sieves, or small grist mills. Powering a whole factory would be a horse of another stripe.

Harry Harrison's book Make Room! Make Room! was recast for the movies as Soylent Green. The book is superior.
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby Sixstrings » Thu 28 Apr 2011, 12:57:53

pamur wrote:The story gets a little more grizzly as you get into it, and at times a little over the top, but it definitely sets a bar for post-oil fiction.


I'm up to where Hock Seng meets the Dung Lord to do a deal on kink springs. The kinetic energy theme is fun.. like how they do elevators. Human labor is cheap, so they have guys standing around to get in an opposite shaft and the system works by ballast.

As for grizzly.. haven't seen that yet. Unfortunately the author is too rushed in most chapters to evoke much emotion. Most grizzly part of the book so far is the abuse the windup girl endures. The strip club scene is borderline over the top, but it works and results in powerful characterization and emotional involvement from the reader.

Also very clever how he writes about the windups (genetically modified people) in a way that science fiction usually deals with androids.
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby Sixstrings » Thu 28 Apr 2011, 13:08:11

TheDude wrote:In the past we have used animals for limited energy sources in a stationary position, I should add - Eugene Sloane depicts various animals on treadmills or tracks, horses or even dogs powering things like saws, corn sieves, or small grist mills. Powering a whole factory would be a horse of another stripe.


Kinetic power from hydro would be much better. The ancient Romans had a massive hyrdo powered grain milling complex near modern day Marseilles. Now THAT really can power a factory with kinetic energy.

Overall, this book is science fiction.. I'm not seeing it as a realistic post peak scenario. Where the logic breaks down is that if calories are so scarce and precious, how do you run society on kinetic energy? And why isn't there any wind power in the book? If they have vegetable oil polymer (plastic) dirigibles and clipper ships then why can't they build some windmills. No matter how bad the climate gets, the wind will always blow.

Another logic flaw is the extreme lack of wood. Doesn't really add up since the author describes jungles as well.. supposedly nobody wants lumber from the jungles because it's diseased.. but disease doesn't hop from a piece of lumber to a person.. if that's somehow plausible then the author needs to explain why. (well I guess it could, in the context of gene modifying gone wild and escaping into nature.. the author should have fleshed things out more though, would be better science fiction)

Good book overall, I just can't help criticizing. :lol:
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Re: Science fiction tackles peak oil and climate change

Unread postby jacobsackin » Tue 05 Jul 2011, 18:37:20

If you enjoyed reading the Windup Girl but are interested in a novel that goes a bit deeper into why the world got the way it is, check out my novel involving peak oil and climate change, entitled Iglu. Here is a brief description:

The rising sea has swallowed up most of the Iñupiaq people’s native land and millions of Americans from the lower forty-eight are being relocated to Alaska due to the devastation from global warming. But when the Iñupiaq people rise up to fight for the survival of their culture, the private army Skyhawk is brought in to subdue the growing insurgency and the Iñupiaq rebels are labeled as terrorists. Separated from her family in the aftermath of the ensuing battle, fourteen-year-old April Ipalook desperately searches for a place of refuge amidst the war zone of northern Alaska.

For more information please see my website: www.jacobsackin.com
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