By Mark L. Blackman: One might think that, as we all breathe air and need potable water to survive – among the few things that all of humanity has in common – the environment would be as noncontroversial and nonpartisan as anything could be, but no. Even the very first Earth Day in 1970 was savaged as, variously, Hitler’s birthday and Lenin’s birthday. One button that I have from back then displays an upside-down peace sign, resembling a tree, calling us to “make peace with nature” … thus environmentalism was deemed “unpatriotic” (and ridiculed as “tree-hugging”) long before visible and undisputed climate change was called “a Chinese hoax” and even weather reports were politicized.
On the evening of Monday, October 14 – Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Federal Columbus Day and the start of the second day of Sukkot (a Jewish festival with arboreal aspects) – at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn, two floors below the beleaguered WBAI-FM (more on that below), the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series spotlighted Reckoning, an annual journal of creative writing on environmental justice. (Trade paper, perfect-bound copies are $15, but are free online to get the message out. The 4th issue will be out in January. Visit Reckoning.press for more information.) The event was guest-hosted by its publisher, Michael J. DeLuca, and featured readings by Emily Houk, Krista Hoeppner Leahy, Marissa Lingen, Emery Robin and Brian Francis Slattery. (The readers read from works in Reckoning 1 and 2, with the exception of Robin, whose story will run in Reckoning 4.)
The event opened, as usual, with producer and executive curator Jim Freund (and, until last week, host of the long-running sf/fantasy radio program Hour of the Wolf) welcoming the audience. He began by noting that tonight’s readings would on Facebook Live, rather than streamed on Livestream, (Livestream should be back in November.) He then addressed the elephant in the room two floors above. A week earlier, WBAI-FM’s parent company, Pacifica Across America – or, more specifically, a group of the owners – abruptly shut down the listener-sponsored station. Legal counteractions ensued, with more to come. Freund (who was wearing a WBAI t-shirt) assured all that WBAI-FM would be back, and announced that there would be a rally and press conference on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday the 15th at noon (too late for those reading this) in support of BAI.
Returning to why we were there, he reminded those who can to donate to the Series ($7 is the suggested donation, but no one is ever turned away due to lack of funds), and reported that the home audience (to coin a phrase) may donate on its Patreon page. He concluded by announcing future readers: On Tuesday (yes, the Series returns to its usual schedule), November 5th (Election Day and Guy Fawkes Day – “Remember, remember, the 5th of November”), the readers will be Gay Partington Terry and Robert V.S. Redick. December 3rd will be “party time,” an evening of Glitter Spec Fic, featuring A.C. Wise and others to be corralled “reading stories and performing music to do with glitter.” (On the Series webpage, this notice was displayed in multiple colors.) Disclosing his own early environmental activism, he then turned “the show” over to DeLuca.
DeLuca describes his “roots as mycorrhizal with sugar maple and Eastern white pine,” a theme seen in his website, mossyskull.com. His fiction has appeared most recently in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Strangelet and Middle Planet. He observed that holding the event on Indigenous Peoples’ Day was “in keeping with the spirit of environmental justice” (some anthropologists may disagree).
First up was Brian Francis Slattery, who has written four novels and is also the arts editor and a reporter for the New Haven Independent, and a musician. “For a week out of every year, lives without electricity” (and that’s without living in California). He read from his semi-fictional essay “The Kinder and More Caring Future,” musings on sustainability (we shouldn’t eat meat-eating predators, including certain fish like haddock) and a reminiscence on the wake of Hurricane Irene. “Hurricane Irene was the future calling,” showing us the perils of seas rising.)
Krista Hoeppner Leahy, the second reader, has appeared in a Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, Clarkesworld, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Farrago’s Wainscot. Her offering washer short poem “Eathspun,” about our relationship with Nature (“All of us belong to the sky”). (Another memorable line was “Breathe through your cloaca.”)
During the intermission, a raffle was held (for those who donated), with the prizes being copies of Infomocracy by Malka Older and Galápagos Regained by James Morrow. DeLuca then opened the second half of the evening.
Emily Houk commented that her story “Plague Winter” reads as science fiction, but is historical, about bio-control of invasive species (we were referred to The Simpsons). Here a lab assistant sets plague doctor beetles on hemlocks. (I might have seen the trees in her story in Western Massachusetts.)
In keeping with the ecological theme, Marissa Lingen reported that she has “a large collection of foliage-themed jewelry.” She read her story “The Shale Giants.” (“Humans want to steal their breath.”)
The final reader of the evening, Emery Robin, read a story set in her hometown Oakland, “Ambient and Isolated Effects of Fine Particulate Matter.” After fires – and drought – in Northern California, the sky is hazy, and the air quality has been severely affected, become unbreathable (people wear masks) and ashy – people are turning gray.
DeLuca concluded the evening by inviting submissions.
The traditional Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered a small assortment of books along with copies of Cultural Survival Quarterly (focused indigenous issues and traditional knowledge; DeLuca’s sister is on staff). The audience of about 40, counting Freund and the readers (but not the Chabad duo who wandered in with the Four Species), included Amy Goldschlager, (House Manager) Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok and (Tech Director) Terence Taylor. The kitchen closed early, but the Café still offered beverages, cold food and snacks.