Reading: Joan Slonczewski — The highest Frontier

A new author for me. I heard of Joan Slonczewski for the first time only a couple of weeks ago when she was Charles Stross’ guest blogger. I’ve long admired Charlie for his conscious writing on gender and for the female characters through his books — more often than not the lead roles, and (with the exception of China Miéville) haven’t come across a male science-fiction writer who even begins to take this as seriously as he does.

Charlie occasionally has guest bloggers, and recently, when he asked his blog commentators, “What do you think is the most important novel of the past 10-and-a-bit years (published since January 1st 2000)? All male authors are disqualified.” as a follow-on to a previous post where the question produced nearly 400 comments with scant representation from female authors, I thought, come to think of it, he doesn’t have  female guest bloggers (turns out he’s also had Elizabeth Bear guest blogging).

And then Joan turned up.

Professor of Biology, science-fiction writer, researching in extremophile microbiology and genomics … self-healing anthrax space-elevators! Naturally I ordered her just-published The Highest Frontier immediately. She also deals with space colonisation and some pretty complicated gender, identity, class, ethno-national issues as well as the social and medical consequences of student-minature-elephant sex in a space habitat.

Joan Slonczewski — The Highest Grontier
Joan Slonczewski — The Highest Grontier

“Reading: … ” Book of the Year (Non-Fiction): Jonathan Safran Foer – Eating Animals

reading: jonathan safran foer – eating animals

a nature hike through the book of revelations

Sunday morning I arrived in Melbourne after three weeks in Adelaide, my fifth domestic flight since June and one of hundreds of hours at eleven thousand meters during the past four years. Paul has bought a new car, a Toyota Prius that uses regenerative braking and a bunch of other mechanical engineering genius to cause us to roll alongside Albert Park lake at 60 kmh using no petrol and also charging the hybrid engine battery, or almost 1000 km for every 45 litre tank. Not quite as efficient as my bicycle.

Last night we went to the movies, to see a film that should be playing to packed houses and week-long queues and not the mostly empty seats occasionally populated by exactly the kind of person who doesn’t need to see it; the already converted and believers. An Inconvenient Truth.

I imagine most readers here are already well-informed and educated on global warming, but for those of you who aren’t please please go and see this film by Al Gore and imagine the world we would live in now had he become president instead of the usurper and pretender Bush. Then do something about it.

Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If the vast majority of the world’s scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.

If that sounds like a recipe for serious gloom and doom — think again. From director Davis Guggenheim comes the Sundance Film Festival hit, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, which offers a passionate and inspirational look at one man’s fervent crusade to halt global warming’s deadly progress in its tracks by exposing the myths and misconceptions that surround it. That man is former Vice President Al Gore, who, in the wake of defeat in the 2000 election, re-set the course of his life to focus on a last-ditch, all-out effort to help save the planet from irrevocable change. In this eye-opening and poignant portrait of Gore and his “traveling global warming show,” Gore also proves himself to be one of the most misunderstood characters in modern American public life. Here he is seen as never before in the media – funny, engaging, open and downright on fire about getting the surprisingly stirring truth about what he calls our “planetary emergency” out to ordinary citizens before it’s too late.

With 2005, the worst storm season ever experienced in America just behind us, it seems we may be reaching a tipping point – and Gore pulls no punches in explaining the dire situation. Interspersed with the bracing facts and future predictions is the story of Gore’s personal journey: from an idealistic college student who first saw a massive environmental crisis looming; to a young Senator facing a harrowing family tragedy that altered his perspective, to the man who almost became President but instead returned to the most important cause of his life – convinced that there is still time to make a difference.

With wit, smarts and hope, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH ultimately brings home Gore’s persuasive argument that we can no longer afford to view global warming as a political issue – rather, it is the biggest moral challenges facing our global civilization.

There goes the neighbourhood

At the place where 金沙江 Jinsha Jiang bashes headlong into a mountain and does an abrupt 90 degree change of direction, squeezed to no more than 60 meters wide is 虎跳峡 Hutiao Xia, Tiger Leaping Gorge. The precipices on one side rise to 玉龙雪山 YuLong Xueshan Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, it’s glaciers crowned with the sharp ridgeline that gives its name. When you go to 丽江 Lijiang in 云南 Yunnan Province, thins is what you will see. For the next couple of years anyway.

Like the ice-shelfs in Antarctica, Patagonia, and on every mountain in the world, Yulong Xueshan is in trouble. The glaciers have been shrinking since the early-80s, and Wu Guangjian of the Beijing-based Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) is certain its rapid demise is due to global warming.

He said the temperature change in the Lijiang area in the past 20 years is roughly the same as that in the northern hemisphere on average, which has been 0.4 C and 1 C higher than that of 1960s, respectively.

There are 8,600-odd glaciers of various scales in the country’s temperate zones, of which the one on the Yulong Snow Mountain is of the smallest scale and the lowest latitude, and therefore, should be the most sensitive to temperature changes.

The continent-wide collapse is expected to result in two-thirds of glaciers vanishing in the next 50 years, having an incalculable impact on the environment, and causing havok for 300 million people, particularly oasis communities in western China whose population amounts to 23% of the country.

In a idiotically brainless move, the director of CAS is promoting the building of dams as the perfect solution. His contention is that dams create more moisture in the air, which in turn promotes snowfall. Another solution involving honoring the Kyoto accord and dealing with a nation getting high on coal is like democracy, something they are not ready for.

In the meantime, grab your crampons and iceaxe and get climbing while there’s still something left.