No Award goes to the movies: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures tells the story of how African-American women helped put the United States in space. Margot Lee Shetterly’s book was optioned for film before it had even been published, so clearly I’m not the only person who was very excited by this concept. (Things I’m into: the space program; feminist history; the corners of history which are overlooked or obscured.)

 

I loved the book a lot, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie when I saw it on Friday. It was a lovely portrayal of excellence in the face of oppression, of female friendship, and of some of the nuances of racism as expressed by middle class white women. And, of course, SPACE.

But the second I saw a Tumblr review promising it had no white saviours, I knew it would have a white saviour. And I was right.

Continue reading “No Award goes to the movies: Hidden Figures”

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decolonising our weather: what is actually going on

Previously on decolonising our weather: hello and welcome to spring (not spring), a look at seasons defined by Traditional Owners in Perth (Nyoongar) and over East (Kulin and Wurundjeri).

This week on decolonising our weather: how to read what the BoM is telling you, rather than saying to me ‘wow, it’s hot for Autumn, isn’t it?’ Mate, it’s still March, we had a late warm spell, it’s not even Waring Wombats Season, what more do you want.

Continue reading “decolonising our weather: what is actually going on”

hello and welcome to spring (not spring)

Here we are, solidly a “week” into “Spring.” In Melbourne, this means there’s nothing different to last month; it’s max 13C, there’s winds and rain, and this afternoon the possibility of hail.

So now seems like a good reminder: Spring is an artificial concept imported and imposed upon the Australian landscape when those invaders should have been chatting to the Traditional Owners about the six (or seven, or two) seasons. (It goes without saying that it’s all about imperialism and racism that we don’t talk about this stuff even now, but comment if you wanna chat about it)

Being from Perth, Steph is about to focus on the six seasons of the Nyoongar people, with brief diversions into Wirrudjeri (Eastern) seasons.

We’ll start with a reminder that seasonal calendars don’t match up with the Gregorian calendar, because the Gregorian calendar is an artificial concept imported and imposed upon the Australian landscape, along with the completely illogical European seasons. And of course there are different seasons across the whole continent, but Steph is only talking to the ones she knows. Okay, good. Now:

Perth. The South-West, a huge chunk of the continent. The Nyoongar seasonal calendar is six seasons long, yes, perfect. They don’t match up with the Gregorian calendar, but approximately:

a circular seasonal map; in the centre is an image of australia, the next level is 'spring, summer, winter, autumn', the next level is birak, bunuru,djeran, makuru,djiba,kambarang

Continue reading “hello and welcome to spring (not spring)”

science fiction saves the future

Stephanie was invited to speak at the Speculative Fiction Festival at the New South Wales’ Writers’ Centre last week. It was curated by Cat Sparks, and it was excellent!

The blurb for Steph’s panel:

Can Science Fiction Save the Future? (11am-12am)

This panel examines science fiction as an agent of scientific and social change, serving as a cultural primer, preparing us for new inventions, moral arguments or major events, such as catastrophic destruction or the possibility of transhuman consciousness. Should SF shake us out of complacency regarding genuine threats to society, as well as inspiring compelling new possibilities?

Steph was on this panel with Joanne Anderton, Marianne de Pierres, Bruce McCabe, and Keith Stephenson.

Stephanie has so many feelings climate change and speculative fiction, news at eleven.

There was a feeling that spec fic isn’t for evangelising because the reader doesn’t want to be lectured at. But I disagree – science fiction is for evangelising. I write climate change fiction because I’m inspired in my day job, and I want everyone to know it and be converted.

Scientific accuracy is as important as being able to write well and to convey your meaning. If we’re to inspire, what’s the point in inspiring things that can’t scientifically happen because they defy physics? There’s an argument to be made for inspiring people to move beyond the known science but there’s only so far one can go with that. Don’t be suggesting our climate change future in Australia is going to be full of, like, coral and white people unless you can prove it.

Scientific accuracy is important in my own work, and preferably in the work of others. There’s no shame in throwing the book against the wall when the science is wrong. And half the fun is creating a fantastical world within scientific bounds.

But also: what’s the point in inspiring when you’re doing it on false pretenses?

But can’t you trust the reader to tell the difference between possible and impossible? Can’t you trust the reader?

Continue reading “science fiction saves the future”

Imagining Australia’s Climate Change Dystopia (a science fiction essay)

It’s been over a year since the last Climate Change Dystopia Australia notes, and science has progressed and so has the books being published. So following on from Continuum, at which I spoke at length and unstoppably about climate change dystopias in Australia, and in light of the fact I’m going to be speaking on climate change and science and science fiction at the NSW Writers’ Centre Speculative Fiction Festival in July (!!), here is an update from the original (which you can find here in the Toast).

You can download the new and improved updated article on stephanielai.net: Imagining Australia’s climate change dystopia – a 2015 update.

The main points of the updates, if you don’t want to read it all again:

Ballooning will increase. I know you already love spiders, but you’re going to love them even more when areas that experience flooding are covered in ballooning spiders, sending out cobwebs in order to escape the rising waters. Once caught by the wind, ballooning baby spiders can travel up to 3 kilometres off the ground and so many kilometres along the ground.

The solar power battery storage is great, and where we assumed we were going, that ability to sleep and charge during the day with minimal electricity use, and then let that electricity out during the night when we’re awake and doing things. Maybe we’ll even still have air-conditioning, or at the very least, fans! But storage is going to be expensive, at least for a little while, even though the cost payback period will decrease. So it’ll still be focussed on the richer communities, on the larger businesses. Electricity, despite this technology leap, will still be a resource primarily available to certain groups.

There will still be gated white people communities, with their guards and their electricity and their carefully hoarded water.

There will be electricity theft, a connection running to a cable as carefully and subtly as possible.

There might still be public transport – trains run on solar, on wind. Trams run on solar, probably not wind. 

In the near future, how our tourism works will change. An increase in cycle tourism will see a change to the structure of country towns. V/Line will still be a jerk about letting your bike on the train, though. This will help as we transition to a bicycle transit community, but it won’t help enough; cars will still take a long time to disappear off the landscape.

Our deserts will, at times, still be green. Australia isn’t like the European climate tradition – when will we decolonise our understanding of the seasons? – and neither will our climate change dystopia be.

Non-fiction reading:

The CSIRO climate projections. FOREVER THE BEST. ILU BoM and CSIRO, please don’t get (more) defunded. 

SFF Australian Climate Change Dystopia Reading list:

The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood. I am currently reading this. No opinions as of yet.

The Bride Price, Cat Sparks. I bought this on the weekend and haven’t read it yet, but Cat is great so I have high hopes.

A Town Called Dust, Justin Woolley. Read recently. Loved the world-building and a lot of the concepts, really great sense of place and climate and dystopia. When you get to the thing I got mad about, call me – I ambushed him in a panel we were on, but I have been sufficiently reassured. 

Nightsiders, Sue Isle. FOREVER RECOMMEND. Gender stuff, medical stuff, Perth, the tyranny of distance, all in our climate change future.

Clade, James Bradley. Generational fiction, unexpected but fun. I saw Bradley talk recently and he spoke about how it was less about climate change and more about family, and it is, but it was also a lot about climate change and I liked it.

A Wrong Turn on the Way to the Office of Unmade Lists, Jane Rawson. This book is fantasy in many ways but still an interesting exploration of Australia (and Melbourne’s inner city) in the climate change future.

SELF PIMP: The Dàn Dàn Miàn of the Apocalypse, by me, in the Review of Australian Fiction, 14:4. Only $2.99 and comes with bonus story by Tansy Rayner Roberts. 😀

Continuum ramble:

We touched on why we write dystopias in the Unrealistic Dystopic Futures panel. I’d meant it to be a lols panel, shaved underarms and easy access to showers, that sort of things – I originally called it ‘I know what babies taste like’ because of the ridiculousness of Snowpiercer – but we ended up going a more serious route, and looking at why we write dystopias. I write them because my work is in climate change adaptation, and my passion is in saving the world, and my reading of the science is that we have to or we’re doomed. Sometimes my job really gets me down, those days when I worry there’s no chance of survival. So my writing is about processing that. There’s always hope, there’s always a future to survive in. Otherwise what am I even doing, I may as well go and drink more coffee. 

prepping for our well-powered dystopia

Last week Elon Musk, probably secretly a cyborg and/or Iron Man (ETA have just been told his secret identity is ElonMan), revealed Tesla’s new battery storage system, the PowerWall. In brief, in combination with a 2kWh or a 5kWh PV system (super common sizes in Australia), means cheap, long term, accessible renewable energy at an individual level. One of the problems with PV has been an inability to store enough to get through the night, when there’s no sun out recharging the PV, and it’s a peak energy usage time. A great battery would change that, allowing charging and storage to happen through the day.

Renew Economy thinks it doesn’t mean the end of coal, and the removal of houses from the grid, but it certainly changes shit up.

PV panels. It's so beautiful.

In Australia, it definitely makes PV incredibly affordable (when the battery gets here), and makes PV super competitive, what with all the sun we have. And it changes the payback period, which has long been one of the bigger concerns around installing solar power. Origin recently calculated wasted roof space across Australia, and comes in at 5.3 million homes and businesses wasting their roof space, which doesn’t even take into account other spots to put PV (or roofs on which to put gardens, but this is a solar discussion, quokkas!). Basically it’s all our dystopia dreams come true, and I wish I’d known about it last week before I handed in my latest story (more on that when it comes out, but there’s PV and Australia’s dystopia involved).

The Conversation has a great article about the ‘winners and losers’ in this situation; what’s especially great about it is how it clearly highlights that sometimes distribution companies might not allow installation to happen because there are too many systems installed in certain areas, and if that doesn’t sound like a perfect BigPower conspiracy I don’t know what does.

Related, there’s a floating solar-powered waste water treatment plant under construction in South Australia, which is going to be awesome.

And at wired, a solar powered plane. Yes. Give it to me.

tips for time travelling on the cheap

Tips for Time Travelling on the Cheap

  1. Don’t travel through time.

Notable travellers through time who ruined it for someone and definitely don’t deserve that power:

  • Marty McFly and Doc Brown
  • Doctor Who
  • The crew of the Enterprise. Every crew
  • Hermione Granger
  • The crew of the Enterprise-E
  • The Terminator
  • Cameron (unknown model of Terminator)
  • Bill and Ted
  • Austin Powers
  • The Time Traveller
YOU SEE? WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS. WHY.
YOU SEE? WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS. WHY.

Notable travellers through time who didn’t ruin it for anyone:

  • Maybe Martha Jones
  • Scrooge, in the company of Gonzo and Rizzo and a few creepy ghosts, but only because that wasn’t time travel, that was a strong cheese before dinner and some Muppets

Things that get ruined by time travel:

  • EVERY THING
  • TIME AND SPACE
  • PHYSICS
  • Come on these all caps are intentional
  • STEPH’S BRAIN
  • IF YOU GO BACK IN TIME AND TEAR THAT DRESS WHO KNOWS WHAT HAPPENS
  • If you go back in time and condescend to a lady, who knows want misandry or misanthropy you encourage
  • ALL THINGS
  • You can’t trust people not to ruin things
  • Look at how the Doctor is all benevolent and STILL RUINS THINGS
  • I can’t even
DO NOT LET THESE PEOPLE NEAR YOUR PAST OR YOUR FUTURE
DO NOT LET THESE PEOPLE NEAR YOUR PAST OR YOUR FUTURE

You may discontent in the comments, but please note that you are wrong. Time Travel is the worst.

the fatberg of melbourne

In early September, Fatberg Fever gripped Melbourne, after the announcement of a Fatberg discovered by Yarra Valley Water in February.

Fatbergs are a serious problem, and one about which Stephanie, as an environmental professional, is qualified to speak.

SOME FACTS ABOUT FATBERGS and your drain system:

  • A fatberg is caused when fat, grease and oils smush together and block pipes. It’s kind of like fat in your arteries, but it’s the arteries of your city!
  • The problem is compounded by increased waste generation in urban centre.
  • Improper waste disposal is a sin! (And also a crime)
  • Things that you can’t put down the toilet or the sink: wet wipes; tissues; pads and tampons; condoms; oil; nappies WHY WOULD YOU EVEN WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, plastics, paint.
  • Things that you shouldn’t put down the sink: food scraps.
  • Fatbergs could possibly be a source of biofuels, but do not try to create one in order to find out.
  • The biggest fatberg ever found was under London, the size of a 747.

Stormwater drains go straight into the sea/river/ocean/bay. There are not consistently filter systems. Drains are different, but not that much different, as demonstrated by Fatberg.

My favourite quote ever is this one, from David Snadden of Yarra Valley Water:

“We all know where number ones and number twos should go, but there is no such thing as a number three, so please do not put anything else down the drain.”

 

If you want to see some pictures, check them out here – I won’t gross out NA readers by subjecting you without warning.

Our love of Fatbergs is so strong, music happened:

“FATBERG FATBERG, WHAT YOU GONNA DO
WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN IT COMES FOR YOU”

“SHA LA LA LA LA LA MY OH MY, LOOK LIKE THE BOY TOO SHY, WHY DON’T HE KISS THE FATBERG”

“Fatberging across the universe, on the starship Fatberg, under captain weaves!”

In conjunction with some friends and a need to avoid work, here is an ode to the Fatberg, written by noted Fatberg Zoe:

In sleep it blurbs to me
In dreams it came
That berg which calls to me and blurbed my name
And do I dream again for now I find
The fatberg of the city is there
Inside the drain

Blurble once again with me
Our strange duet
My power over you grows stronger yet
And though you turn from me to glance behind
The fatberg of the city is there
Inside the drain.

Those who have seen your fat
Draw back in fear
I am the fat you wear
It’s me they hear…

Your/My foodscraps and my/your fat in one combined
The fatberg of the city is there/here
Inside my/your drain

It’s there, the fatberg of the city!
Beware, the fatberg of the city!
It’s there, the fatberg of the city!
Beware the fatberg of the city!

In all your fantasies, you always knew
that blob and blurbleness
Were both in you
And in this drainage pipe
where fat is blind
the fatberg of the city is there
inside the drain

it’s there, the fatberg of the city

squiiiiiiidge, my fatberg of sewerage
squiiiiiidge, my fatberg
squiiiiiiidge for me

squiiiiiidge, my fatberg!
squiiiiiiidge for me!


Good day, No Award. Please watch what you throw down the sink, toilet, and stormwater drains. Your city thanks you.