Notes about the Potlatch Panel on Collapse Fiction

As I mentioned previously I was invited to be part of a panel discussing Collapse Fiction at the Potlatch SF Convention held recently in Seattle.  I made some preparatory notes about collapse fiction and I am updating it with some specific comments about various works: http://blog.lightingonemorecandle.com/2012/02/considering-sf-societal-collapse-and.html

Prior to the start of the panel I placed a small audio in my shirt pocket for several reasons; first that I a record of actions or emails or other commitments; second it is often good to listen to yourself in order to improve your presentation skills and thirdly just in case I said worth following up on later this would keep track of it.  I had expected the recorder to primarily pick up my voice and I was not intending to record the entire panel.  I felt the panel was very successful and I was really glad I was able to be on the panel.

Reviewing the audio I found that not only had it picked up my voice but also much of the other comments from the other panelists as well as some of the audience.  The audio quality is terrible but just good enough after listening to it multiple time in some sections 4 or 5 times I think I have been able to put together a set of notes covering some of the high points of the hour long session.  In general the notes are in order although in a couple of cases when a comment is specific to a previous comment I have placed following rather than out of sequence.  I have made my best effort for accuracy and have in a couple of cases used three question marks (???) to indicate uncertainty.   In some cases I was able to identify the speaker but in many cases I was unsure so to avoid incorrect attributions I have decided not to identify any speakers.  And to answer the obvious question: Do I plan to post the audio?  No the quality is very poor so it is really not worthwhile plus I do not know what Potlatch 21 has in place regarding publication of recordings.

It should be obvious but I will make it explicit: These are just my best effort to record the comments, questions and general discussions for that one hour in Seattle.  I am not claiming they are accurate.  They do not necessarily represent my views.  They are here with no promises and no guarantees.


Many collapse fiction novels do not deal with all of the aftermath issues

Consider how collapse fiction talks about our fears
Is our current society made artificially stable by violence on individuals
but not providing communitarian functions?

How do societies improve on societies as rebuilt?
How is improvement envisioned?

One person mentioned being more interested in an incipient utopia rather than a dystopia.

How does recovery conflict with individual liberties?

Buckminster Fuller book Enough To Go Around

Contrast of endogenous and exogenous impacts.

Contrast with Earth Abides with speaker did not like, felt that Canticle for L
was more hopeful book

What were forces used in rebuilding such as religion, gender roles, military force,
looking toward the stars,  etc

In some novels such as Lucifer's Hammer they protagonists get knocked down, bounce, roll, get back up and start rebuilding.

Comment that in one of the Lois McMaster Bujold the society was not based on what we would consider democracy because the people said they had tried that and did not like it.

Many collapse books gloss over the painful transition period, one work with does deal with this is the book Level 7 by  Mordecai Roshwald.

Issue of how much we have already used resources.
One solution is to live next to a dump for relatively easy supply of metals such as aluminum in beverage cans.

Some narratives start with an assmption about evolution and change that might no be correct particularly as related to social organization with might not support everyone to the extent desired. Is the way that these narratives sell a particular vision of who to rebuild normal?  Just like Hollywood tries to sell a particular concept of romance we need to ask if it was normal would they really need to sell it.

Even rebuilding stories such as in series such as the John Varley Severn Worlds series or Anne McCafferies Pern Series have a nonsustainable 'just keep extracting resources' senario

Some political revolution narratives are the other side of the collapse narrative consider the Suzy McKee Charnas Holdfast series or the Timmel Duchamp Marq'ssan Cycle series.

Some collapse novels have an element of manifest destiny that we can just leave garbage behind.  Humorours interjection: Only if there is a cute robot to recycle it.

How do you draw the boundary of the society and what comes after the collapse?  Is there a continuity or not.  For example Charles Stross novel Saturn's Children in which the biological carbon based humans have died out but the non-carbon based lifeforms have much of the same memetic and cultural heritage.

Some books mentioned about people making their way with different approaches
Parable of The Sower by Octabia Butler
Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Farnhams Freehold by Heinlein depicts a future based on race relation resentment
At the time people building fallout shelters
Heinlein says you can not keep all genetic eggs in one basket
There are issues with the ruler in the future being depicted as a dark skinned black man who is cannablistic and who wants to have non concentual sex with the white women from the past

Sharing Knive by Bujold
Andre Norton Star Rangers books

Need to consider how we use resources recycable such as aluminum versus use it once such as petroleum.
Don't expect to get rich mining the astrodes due to advances microbiolgical mining on earth mine talings
So in case a collapse starts it is important to protect microbiological labs and knowledge

Nonfiction book Collapse by Diamond

???Dorothy Dunnett in the book ??? used the image of "collapsed like an overtaxed weightlifter"

The second chapter of "The Highway Men" by Ken MacLeod is a very gripping depiction of how through mistaken assumptions and a rush to war a couple of simple misunderstandings can lead to war.

Hierarchy of levels for society analogous to the Maslow Heirarchy for individuals. A society can have a collapse at the memetic and intellectual culture level.  This leads us to consider the opening lines of Howl by Allen Ginsberg which depict Ginsberg's conserns about destruction of the best minds of a generation.  Yet there were those who viewed this work of Ginsberg along with other works and social commentators such as Lenny Bruce as being a sign of and contributing to social collapse.  Issues of perspective and context.

In a collapse books preserved as opposed to electronics which is an issue for ebooks.

Book "Wolf and Iron"
What about when you have resources but not information
Sometimes information is inplicit in a physical object related to usage and construction

Kurt Vonnegut novels depict three types of collapse
  Player Piano - Societal issues
  Cat's Cradel - End of the world
  The Sirens of Titan - About Rebuilding

Interest in societal collapse literature in English speaking world due to the teaching about fall of roman empire.  For some in the so called "third world" there is the experience of colonialism.  Some third world narratives might read like Science Fiction.  Consider novels about the African Holocaust.
Example the novel Two Thousand Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah

Roman republic was used as a model for the forming of repubic of the USA so the Roman republic falsly has weight; such as the fall of Roman Empire not analogous to USA

Consider that an electrical generator was redeveloped early in Canticle For Leibowitz

If there is an Intersteller civilization and there is a collapse with lose of interstller communication to what levels would the society fall and then rebuild

It takes only one and half generation to lose knowledge ie organic farming

In reading 1491 we see Catholic monks buring natives books and artifacts so that there would not be a rebuilding.

We already have data recovery, equipment and knowledge issue with computers now.  Recovering images from old tapes is an issue.

Novels about rebuilding in terms communitarianism
 various books by Kim Stanley Robinson
 The Gate to Women's Country by Tepper
 Holdfast series including Walk To the End of World by Charnas
 Women on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
Contrast with Lucifer's Hammer which rebuilds as before
Issue with looking for a society which works for everyone is that human nature is human nature.

Poul Anderson Orion Shall Rise
Story by Ursula Le Guin   Solitude

What about time length of a few thousand years
  The Last and First Men by Stapledon
  Foundation Trilogy by Asimov
  Time Machine by Wells

To rebuild appears to be a human drive.  What about narratives where it is not possible to rebuild.
  We who are about to by Joanna Russ   we are about to

Book Directive 51 by John Barnes
World War Z by Max Brooks
The Greatwinter Trilogy by Sean McMullen

Sherwood Smith series about advancing glaciers narrowing temperate zone

Narratives tend to be about individuals so that constrains the narrative to about 100 years and what survives us is culture

What collapse fiction has been written recently beside the Hunger Games books
 Directive 51 by John Barnes
 Paulo Bacigalupi
 Scott Westerfeld
 The Highway Man by Ken MacLeod
 Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Comment about scene in We Who are About To
where a man comments to a woman about having babies to continue civilization and the woman says No.  Civilization will continue just fine out there.

Stories by Janet Kagan

Theme of collapse fiction; what have we lost; what can we regain

The idea that something is going to happen and we have no control might lead us to not consider sustainable models.  There is the aphorism: No single drop of water feels the blame for the flood.

The Last Letter by Fiona Lehn

In rebuilding a society that is kinder and more sustainable and which will work and continue to work you need to have someone at the elbow of those doing the rebuilding to protect from those who want to grab power.  Again and again we see that those with power tend not to give it up.

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