Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Invasion of the Space Bats

Science fiction, that oddest offspring of industrial civilization’s religion of progress, has not done a great deal so far to explore the end of the age of cheap energy that gave that religion its moment in history’s spotlight. Still, the trajectory traced out in last week’s post helped midwife some useful habits of thought concerning the future, and one of these is a sense of the believable a good deal more stringent than the one that’s been cultivated so far in the peak oil blogosphere.

That last statement might raise some eyebrows, I know. Whatever its pretensions in recent decades, science fiction spent most of its formative years, and produced a good many of its major classics, at a time when it was basically a collection of wish-fulfillment fantasies for teenage boys. (And that, Mr. de Camp, is what the woman in the brass brassiere is doing on the cover of your book.) Still, even the most lurid of fantasies depend for effect on what has been called “the willing suspension of disbelief,” and if the absurdities pile up too deeply, as J.R.R. Tolkien commented in a characteristically acerbic passage, disbelief has not so much to be suspended as hanged, drawn, and quartered.

Thus there was always pressure on SF authors to check their facts and make the details consistent. As SF fandom became a significant force on the evolution of the genre, the sort of geeky obsessiveness you find in teenage fans of just about anything became a badge of honor, and pushed the same process further. Before long, it was no longer enough to tell a rousing tale about square-jawed space heroes and nubile females on some distant planet; no matter how hackneyed the plot and two-dimensional the characters might be, the planet had to make some kind of sense in terms of the scientific knowledge of the time, and so did the fanged and tentacled horrors that threatened the heroine, the hero’s laser pistol, and the rest of it. Even when authors made things up out of whole cloth, as of course they did constantly, they had to figure out some way to graft the invention onto existing knowledge so that the seam didn’t show too clearly.

Even before science fiction hit the big time in the wake of Sputnik I, the demand for believability had become one of the essential elements of the genre. The dismissal of legendary science fiction editor Ray Palmer from the senior position at Amazing Stories in 1948 was arguably the turning point in the process. Palmer had made the Ziff-Davis pulp magazine chain a remarkable amount of money by filling the magazine with a free mix of trashy science fiction, popular occultism, and dubious alternative science, and he also played a central role in inventing the UFO phenomenon, but the higher-ups at Ziff-Davis sensed the way the market was moving. Palmer ended up launching a new magazine, Fate, that for all practical purposes created the modern New Age movement, while SF took a different path.

Unexpectedly, science fiction’s unscientific twin, fantasy fiction—which had a similar prehistory in the pulp magazines and broke through into respectability roughly a decade after SF did—followed a similar trajectory. To some extent this was driven by the overlapping readership of the two genres, but of course there was another factor as well, the force of nature already mentioned that went by the name of J.R.R. Tolkien. There had been plenty of fantasy fiction before The Lord of the Rings, but none that succeeded so stunningly in evoking the presence of another world with its own history, languages, cultures and conflicts, because nobody before Tolkien had tackled the job with the obsessive consistency and eye for detail that he put into his creation of Middle-earth. In his wake, fantasy authors who hoped to get away with the casual disregard for plausibility that ran riot through Robert Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories, among many others, started getting rejection slips in place of contracts. Expectations had changed, and the genre changed with it.

By and large—with important exceptions, to be sure—those expectations have remained glued in place in both genres, and when a book fails to live up to them, you can pretty much count on hearing a raucous response from the fans. Sometimes this sort of response has been taken to remarkable lengths. For decades, for example, Analog Science Fiction—under its original title, Astounding, the great rival of Palmer’s Amazing—had a substantial crowd of retired engineers, especially but not only in the aerospace field, among its loyal readership. Get a story published in Analog, and you could reliably expect to have hundreds if not thousands of pairs of beady and remarkably well-informed eyes scanning every scientific detail. If you got some bit of hard science wrong, in turn, you could expect to hear about it at length, in fine technical detail, complete with calculations hot off the slide rule, in the letters to the editor column two issues down the road.

It’s occurred to me more than once that the peak oil field badly needs certain things science fiction has stashed in its imaginary warehouses, and one of them is a shipping container or two full of those eagle-eyed retired engineers who used to read Analog. Now of course we have some—to quote only one example, regular readers of The Oil Drum are familar with the very capable technical analysis that routinely appears there—but there aren’t enough to deal with the need for what might be called technical criticism: the careful, impartial, and exacting analysis of claims about not-yet-invented technologies and not-yet-created social movements that played so large a role in making science fiction the intellectually and even philosophically challenging genre that for a while, at least, it became.

And this, dear reader, is where we start talking about alien space bats.

No, those aren’t the symptoms of an unusually florid psychosis, nor do they feature in any significant number of science fiction stories—well, not since Ray Palmer’s time, at least. The term comes from the field of alternative history, the fascinating study of what could have happened if some small detail of history had gone the other way. Back in the early days of the internet, according to the account I’ve seen, one participant in a lively discussion on a Usenet newsgroup dedicated to alternative history insisted that Hitler’s planned invasion of Great Britain could only have succeeded if the Wehrmacht had been helped out by alien space bats. Whether he was right or not—a question I don’t propose to discuss here—the term caught on as a convenient label for the kind of arbitrary assumptions and implausible gimmicks that too often get used to prop up dubious alternative history scenarios.

It’s a useful term, and one that could helpfully be brought into the peak oil scene, because arbitrary assumptions and implausible gimmicks play an embarrassingly large role in discussions of how our industrial civilization is going to deal with the twilight of the age of fossil fuels. The "drill, baby, drill" mantra beloved of so many American pseudoconservatives these days is based, for example, on the wholly arbitrary assumption that the United States, which has been more thoroughly explored for petroleum deposits than any other piece of real estate on Earth, and has seen trillions of dollars of government largesse poured into encouraging domestic oil production in recent decades, still has vast amounts of crude oil tucked away somewhere that would flood the market with cheap petroleum if only those awful environmentalists weren’t getting in the way. That’s nonsense—politically useful nonsense, to be sure, but nonsense that ranks up there with the best alien space bats of alternative history.

Mind you, the fluttering of alien space bat wings can be heard just as clearly from other points around the peak oil compass. A forthcoming paper in the peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy by a team headed by Carlos de Castro usefully points out, for example, that a great many recent claims about how much electricity can be produced by wind power fail to deal with that old nemesis of cornucopian schemes, the laws of thermodynamics. Since energy taken from moving air in one place can’t be taken out of it again in another, the paper attempted to come up with an approximate figure for the total energy that human beings can extract from the atmosphere. Their estimate relies on a certain number of ballpark guesses, and begs for more research; still, it will come as no surprise to those of my readers who have been paying attention that the figure they came up with is a small fraction of the total amount of energy currently used by industrial civilization, and only around one per cent of the high-end estimates circulated by the wind industry and its proponents.

There are plenty of other examples. I discussed some of them a while ago in a post here about the blind faith in vaporware that pervades large sectors of the peak oil blogosphere, and some of the others in another post about the lullabies disguised as solutions that fill an embarrassingly large fraction of peak oil literature these days. The same illogic, in turn, drives the self-defeating insistence, chronicled in a a newly published book of mine, that history as we know it is about to end for their convenience. Whether it’s the Rapture, the Singularity, the flurry of freshly invented prophecies about 2012, or what have you, it’s all the same thing, the great-grandmother of all alien space bats: the claim that something or other will bring history to a screeching halt in time to spare us the necessity of facing the consequences of our own actions.

There are a great many forces driving these unproductive ways of thinking, but I’ve come to think that one of the more important is a factor other people in the peak oil blogosphere have discussed already. This is a curious atrophy that afflicts the modern imagination, making it remarkably difficult for most people nowadays to imagine any future that isn’t simply a continuation of the present. Science fiction authors are not exempt from that; it’s impossible to read such classics of the genre as Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, for example, without noticing on nearly every page that the galactic empire that provides the series with its setting has the social customs of the 1950s, when the stories were written. For that matter, the much more recent SF bestseller Anathem by Neal Stephenson, which is not only set on another world but takes place at a point in its history more than 3400 years past the equivalent of our own time, characters wear T-shirts, eat energy bars, and use cell phones (they call them jeejahs, but they’re cell phones) to call each other or access the equivalent of the internet.

Still, one of the virtues of science fiction is that it doesn’t always fall into such ruts, and more often than other branches of literature, recognizes that the social and technological habits of any given era are not the permanent fixtures they sometimes seem, but points along a historical trajectory shaped, among other things, by ultural fashions and sheer dumb luck. Even if we get through the crises of our age the way the people of Stephenson’s world got through the period they call the Terrible Events, and create a technological society on the other side of it, our descendants won’t be wearing T-shirts or calling people on cell phones in the year 5400 AD, any more than we now wear togas or take notes on wax tablets the way the ancient Romans did; they’ll wear other clothing and communicate with other tools—and with any luck they’ll snack on something less repellent than energy bars. Fairly often, science fiction catches wind of such shifts; sometimes it succeeds in guessing them in advance; tolerably often, for that matter, what starts out as imagery from science fiction becomes the inspiration for design in the real world—I trust nobody thinks, for example, that it’s accidental that most early cell phones looked remarkably like the communicators from the original version of Star Trek.

That awareness is something the peak oil scene desperately needs just now. Leave out the alien space bats and the fetishistic obsession with mass death, and there have been few attempts so far to make sense of the world our descendants will inhabit in the wake of peak oil. Fiction, one of the principal tools our culture uses for such projects, has been particularly neglected here. James Kunstler is the major exception here, of course, with two very readable novels set in a post-peak future; there’s also Caryl Johnston’s intriguing "essay-novel" After The Crash; there are a few others, including my ongoing blog/novel Star’s Reach. Still, the arrival of the limits to growth bids fair to have at least as massive an impact on the future of the decades ahead of us as space travel and its associated technological advances had on the decades that followed science fiction’s golden age, and it seems to me that it’s past time to get thinking and writing about the dangers and adventures, the hopes and fears, the dreams, problems and possibilities of a world on the far side of peak oil.

Longtime readers of this blog will have noticed that one of its central themes is the need to stop waiting for somebody else to do what needs to be done, and get working on it ourselves. With that in mind, I’d like to propose a contest—or a challenge—to this blog’s readers.

I propose that as many of you as are willing write a short story set in the future in the wake of peak oil, and put it on the internet. (If you don’t have a site, Blogspot and Wordpress both offer free blogging space that you can use for the purpose.) When it’s up, post a link to it on the comments page of this post. Meanwhile, I’m going to sound out some publishers, and see if I can find one willing to bring out the world’s first anthology of peak oil-related short stories; if that happens, I’ll pick the best dozen or so stories, add an introduction, and get the collection into print. If any money comes out of it—there probably won’t be much—it will be split between the contributors or, if they agree, donated to a peak oil nonprofit.

Here are the submission requirements for the contest:

Stories should be between 2500 and 7500 words in length;
They should be in English, with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation;
They should be stories—narratives with a plot and characters—and not simply a guided tour of some corner of the future as the author imagines it;
They should be set in our future, not in an alternate history or on some other planet;
They should be works of realistic fiction or science fiction, not fantasy—that is, the setting should follow the laws of nature as those are presently understood;
They should deal directly with the impact of peak oil, and the limits to growth in general, on the future; and...
There must be a complete and utter shortage of alien space bats.

What I mean by this latter specifically is that stories should show humanity dealing with peak oil and the limits to growth—dealing with them, not evading them. If your story insists that petroleum and other fossil fuels can be replaced by some other equally cheap and abundant energy resource, or that we can still have an industrial system churning out lots of consumer products in the absence of cheap abundant energy, it’s not going to be posted here or considered for the anthology. If your future leeps some elements of modern technology going, fair enough, but your story should provide enough detail that the reader can figure out where the resources and energy to keep the technology going come from, and how a society far more impoverished than ours can afford to divert enough of its limited wealth for the task.

For that matter, if your story has friendly aliens land in flying saucers to solve all humanity’s problems, it’s going to go into the recycle bin, and the same goes for transformations of consciousness, divine interventions, divine interventions in cybernetic drag such as the Singularity, or the like. To be considered for the contest, your story needs to start from the assumption that human beings like you and me are going to be living with much less energy, and far fewer of the products of energy, than you and I have available to us today; they’re going to have to cope with the legacies of the industrial age, and with the social, political, and ecological consequences thereof; and they’re going to live challenging, interesting, and maybe even appealing lives in that context.

This last, to my mind, is perhaps the most crucial point. There’s nothing easier, in fiction or out of it, than wallowing in the pornography of despair—insisting that life isn’t worth living in the absence of cheap energy and its comforts and conveniences, or in the presence of widespread poverty, illness and warfare. The fact remains that the vast majority of humanity’s existence on this planet has been spent in conditions that can be described in exactly these terms, and somehow our ancestors found life worth living in spite of it all. There’s nothing to be gained by sugarcoating the deindustrial future, to be sure; we’ve got a few very harsh centuries ahead of us; but it’s worth remembering that most of the great epics our species has written so far came out of exactly such periods, and neither they nor the historical events that inspired them were chronicles of unrelieved wretchedness.

Now of course it’s a bit early yet to begin writing the Mahabharatas, Nibelungenlieds and Heike Chronicles of the deindustrial dark ages; our Arjunas, Siegfrieds, and Yoshitsunes haven’t gotten around to being born yet, nor will for quite some time if the usual pace of events holds true. Still, plenty of people wrote about the first human footprints on the Moon long before those prints actually got there, and it’s not too soon to start talking about the first human footprints on the post-peak oil Earth in the same terms. Your stories may be set a year from now, or a thousand years from now; they may be tales of everyday life or stories of high adventure, or anything in between; but there’s a very real chance they can help kickstart the process of coming to terms with the future that’s ahead of us as the industrial age totters to its end.


Zach said...
So, nothing set in S.M. Stirling's Emberverse, then? :)

(For those who are not familiar with it, it's a post-high energy technology world that comes about, not through the Long Descent, but through an instantaneous change wrought by some mysterious force, possibly Alien Space Bats. Yes, the characters do use that phrase...)

Steve Stirling does do a fine job, by the way, of portraying the pace and texture of what several post-peak societies could look like, even with the fantastical element(s). He's clear on the concept that life still has its pleasures and meanings even without automobiles and iPods.


9/7/11, 9:12 PM

risa said...
This doesn't fit our parameters, is LONG, and has some short-lived space bats in it to help hold reader interest, but FWIW, I began this project as a result of something you said awhile back.

It has had about 44,000 page views.

9/7/11, 9:17 PM

BFM said...
What a fantastic idea! Is there a deadline you have in mind?

9/7/11, 9:32 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Zach, I haven't gotten around to reading Stirling yet. The conceit that it would take a change in the laws of nature to bring down industrial civilization rather put me off his series; still, I'll give it another look as time permits.

Risa, thank you! No, it's hardly a short story, but it's a clearly realized and well-written vision of one of the harsher futures we might encounter -- glad to hear you've gotten it into print. Just out of curiosity, what was the comment of mine that inspired it?

9/7/11, 9:33 PM

John Michael Greer said...
BFM, not a firm deadline, but there's going to be a bit of first come, first served in the selection process -- depending on how fast stories get written and posted, I'd like to have the anthology more or less put together within a couple of months.

9/7/11, 9:37 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Zach, and I should also have said -- no stories set in anyone else's fictional world. I know that fan fiction is all the rage these days, but that sort of derivative stuff is not what I'm looking for -- besides which, copyright issues make that sort of thing unpublishable.

9/7/11, 9:40 PM

Ceworthe said...
Pseudoconservatives, what a perfect name for those individuals,and a label that restores the original meaning of conservative to it's rightful place. Love the mental image alien space bats conjure up as well. And the reason I still use the last of the flip phones (I absolutely HAD to have one) IS exactly my Trekkie tendencies. I also credit ST with the automatic grocery store doors as well...;) Ah, thankfully I'm recovering by focusing on more realistic Green Wizard mindset and projects for the future.

9/7/11, 9:47 PM

DeAnander said...
"divine interventions in cybernetic drag" -- that's very good! momentary flash of authorial envy :-)

there's a fairly good anthology called "Wastelands" which I caught up with this summer; it explores the theme "how do people live *after* the End of the World as We Know It"? some of the stories construct a post-peak oil or generally post-industrial future. the Intro and comments refer to many more SF efforts to describe life after various kinds of crash.

some of course are merely stock PoonDorm -- ravening barbarians, etc -- but some are rather intriguing. I wasn't counting space bats but am sure there were a few. anyway, might be worth a read for inspiration as the anthology/contest gears up :-)

9/7/11, 9:54 PM

The Peak Oil Poet said...
I would request that the contest criteria be slightly broadened to include submissions as Poems.

Otherwise i will be severely disadvantaged.


when all of what we are today
is dim dim distant past
a racial memory mostly myth
known to the shaman caste

i wonder what they'll think of us
when sitting by the fire
and hearing of the things we did
like gods but so much higher

for our sons and daughters too

9/7/11, 10:18 PM

Duncan Kinder said...
Stephen Vincent Benet's, By the Waters of Babylon, fits your bill:

Set in a future following the destruction of industrial civilization, the story is narrated by a young man[4] who is the son of a priest. The priests of John’s people are inquisitive "scientists" associated with the divine. They are the only ones who can handle metal collected from the homes (called the "Dead Places") of long-dead people whom they believe to be gods. The plot follows John’s self-assigned mission to get to the Place of the Gods. His father allows him to go on a spiritual journey, but does not know he is going to this forbidden place.

John takes a journey through the forest for eight days, and crosses the river Ou-dis-sun. Once John gets to the Place of the Gods, he feels the energy and magic there. He sees a statue of a "god" — in point of fact, a human — that says "ASHING" on its base. He also sees a building marked "UBTREAS". After being chased by dogs and sleeping in someone's apartment, John sees a dead god. Upon viewing the visage, he has an epiphany that the gods were simply humans whose power overwhelmed good judgment. After John returns to his tribe, he speaks of the place "New York". His father tells him not to, for sometimes too much truth is a bad thing, that it must be told little by little. The story ends with John stating his conviction that, once he becomes the head priest, "We must build again.

9/7/11, 10:19 PM

idiotgrrl said...
Reading this, I saw one hazard -- you'll get a lot of stuff that sounds preachy. David Brin is starting to fall into that trap, judging from the taste of gave us of his latest work-in-progress, and some other sf authors have not only fallen into that trap long since, but are wallowing in it.

Just a thought.

9/7/11, 10:33 PM

Juan Wilson said...

"Rural western New York had never really come back after the Great Depression. That was an advantage in this day and age."

This story, "Imagining Chautauqua" was conceived 20 years ago in a Chautauqua Greens meeting. I wrote it and published it in a printed newsletter "The Gobbler" spun out of our Greens experience. Later it was posted on our Gobbler website.

The story is set in 2021 (30 years in the future at the time). Much of it still resonates with me as true.

Only the first 2/3rds of the whole story is at the link above (Parts 1 & 2 of 3). Those two run 7,500 words and are a story in themselves.

There is a link to Part 3 if you have to know how it all turns out.

Juan Wilson

9/8/11, 1:22 AM

MacroTech said...
Just a question.
One of my caracthers likes to quote great minds of the past.
Can he quote you ?

9/8/11, 1:36 AM

Lizzy said...
I think this is brilliant! I've been thinking of a story for ages, never written it down.

9/8/11, 1:50 AM

hadashi said...
Longtime readers of this blog will have noticed that one of its central themes is the need to stop waiting for somebody else to do what needs to be done, and get working on it ourselves.

This reminds me of a story that you see crop up here and there:

There were once four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody,
and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was
asked to do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that
Everybody wouldn't do it. Consequently, it wound up that Nobody told Anybody, so Everybody blamed Somebody.

As for the project, two months is likely to pose too much of a hurdle for me. I'm still busy on a travelogue of a journey I made six years ago!

9/8/11, 3:51 AM

Degringolade said...
Thanks for the offer. I have started such a project, Complete with a current longish pause as to where it will go next.

Maybe now I will get some gumption going and add more chapters

Thanks for the prod

9/8/11, 4:32 AM

Scyther said...
Inspiring idea, John.

I wish I had some natural narrative writing ability, or even some fiction-writing ability. I suppose one way to go at it would be to imagine one's own life 20, 30, 40 years from now.

I hope I have a better handle on staple food-production than now.

9/8/11, 4:39 AM

idiotgrrl said...
P.S. Before you write of Arbre's year-2000 culture as Stephenson's failure of imagination -- I never read it that way at all. I read it as Stephenson taking the chance to have a lot of fun ragging on early 21st Century society.

And I know for a fact that Stirling's use of the term Alien Space Bats was in fun. Early on, one of his survivors, an sf fan and a gadgeteer, hangs the term on whoever or whatever caused the Change as a bit of frustrated sarcasm. The name sticks. Even though the culprits prove -actually - to be (spoilered).

Pat, fairly near the end of "Tears of the Sun".

9/8/11, 4:50 AM

Brad K. said...
"This is a curious atrophy that afflicts the modern imagination, making it remarkably difficult for most people nowadays to imagine any future that isn’t simply a continuation of the present."

What comes to mind on this is a short story that Anne McCaffrey wrote in "Get Off The Unicorn", 1973, "A Proper Santa Claus". (I found it online, at, search for "mccaffrey a proper santa claus" and select the "Get Off The Unicorn" item.)

As for the short story, I suppose copying part of Sharon Astyk's story and changing the names would be, um, copying. *sigh* Maybe you could include an entry or three from those already living a low-energy or grid-independent lifestyle to set the stage for the book. That, or put a couple of stories together for younger readers for school use.

9/8/11, 5:11 AM

Sixbears said...
In times when people are hopeful about the future, Science Fiction does well. When they are pessimistic, Fantasy does better.

It's no wonder that there's so much "fantasy" in the PO movement.

Anyone who's scraped their knuckles building real world solutions finds the future a bit more shabby than one would hope. The limits to alternative energy tech become clear when the grid is down and it's the fourth sunless day and the solar battery bank is dying. You find yourself shutting everything but the refrigerator down. Recorded music, TV, computers, and everything else takes second place to food. Then you hope for a couple sunny days to get enough power to run the washing machine.

I love the writing contest. Nothing like trying to start a new genre of literature.

9/8/11, 5:13 AM

Mister Roboto said...
I'm a pretty decent fiction writer, but my stories pretty consistently serve as a vehicle for getting attractive young caucasian male characters sexually involved with one another (though not the "back door" sort of involvement, as I think that kind of thing is yucky). Maybe my "angle" could be what the status of such relationships would possibly be in a post-collapse world.

9/8/11, 5:41 AM

gregorach said...
OK, it's a minor and irrelevant nitpick, but if you're going to make a business of skewering popular delusions, you need to be aware of your own... Despite frequent claims to the contrary, early cell phones looked nothing like the communicators from the original series of Star Trek - they looked like the most recent and fashionable phone handsets of the period, glued onto housebricks, and with a coiled umbilical running to the satchel-sized battery pack. It wasn't until several generations of the technology later that someone managed to make one that looked vaguely like a Star Trek communicator - and even then, there's a pretty strong argument that it arose more from the practicalities of ergonomics than the imagination of Gene Rodenberry. After all, there are only so many was to design a device which can be held in the hand and simultaneously place a microphone and a speaker in useful locations for a human being - which the Star Trek communicators notably failed to do.

9/8/11, 6:06 AM

Chris Balow said...

I'm a little confused by your statement that Palmer, or anybody else for that matter, could "invent" the UFO phenomenon. Did you mean to suggest Palmer helped popularized specific notions about the origin and nature of UFOs, or are you suggesting that the phenomenon has no reality beyond that which has been projected onto it by speculation and fantasy?


9/8/11, 6:15 AM

LynnHarding said...
'By the Waters of Babylon' was one of my favorite stories when I was young. I am pretty sure it was assigned by one of my English teachers in the 9th grade or so. Both it and 'On the Beach' by Nevil Shute have haunted me my whole life.

I know that I can't write about the future. I don't want to think about how my children and grandchildren will get from here to there. I am trying to prepare a path for them as any good parent/grandparent should, but I can't focus on it too much. I liked someone's comment to last weeks post about not staring too hard into the dark lest it stare back at you. Really looking forward to the outcome of this experiment though.

9/8/11, 6:23 AM

siddrudge said...
Once again you've delivered an interesting challenge Mr. Greer.

I get the impression that you're very much an eternal optimist, and you seem determined that we make lemonade from the lemons we've been given. Green Wizardry and now this. Brilliant.

Your call to action immediately brings to mind Boccacio's Decameron and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales -- framed narratives that consist of tales told to each other to pass the time while waiting for the end of the Black Death, or as entertainment during a religious pilgrimage. Interesting that The Canterbury Tales was actually a story-telling contest also.

9/8/11, 6:47 AM

phil harris said...
Great idea.
I got suspicious about The Future though back in the 1960s. A physicist friend had come to the conclusion that such a notion was a religion in its own right. Been thinking about that since.
We are actually very bad at predicting stuff - unless our predictions, like the old SF guys’ are sufficiently in 'the grain' to actually help make a future.
(But didn't USAF (?) try to build a twin-engine (suspended pods) nuclear powered airplane before Star Trek took the design?)
What is predictable is that mum & dad will get old, and we will follow, with luck? Lucky also are those who see the passionate meaning and devotions of childhood, (there is a lot of stuff we can care about) not trashed in later life, but regain new forms? I remember my father's obvious relief after the death of my mother (long harrowing period) when he stayed with one of my older brothers for a while. A woman in charge of the house, busy young children, a large garden he could help make sense of. You know the kind of thing?

9/8/11, 7:18 AM

Yupped said...
A short story. Gulp. I'll certainly try. Maybe I will write it in long-hand on the back of an old presentation, a fitting tribute to the end of my industrial career in IT consulting.

One minor disagreement with regards to changes in consciousness. I don't expect my brain to spontaneously regenerate its pathways and connect to some new energy source beamed in from planet hopium. But I do think that I'm going to have to keep tackling those parts of my mind that have wanted so much stuff/wealth/ego gratification in the past, and which led me to indulge in various non-helpful behaviors. In recent years I've been able to do this through a good deal of quiet reflection, meditation, etc. I suppose you could say my consciousness has changed because of it, although my grandparents would probably just say I calmed down and got back to sensible. But we're all going to need to calm down a lot if we're to find real satisfaction in a life with LESS. There does seem to be a role for some "inner work" to enable this, rather than just focusing on hand-making the donuts. I hope that doesn't sound too batty.

Thanks for the great idea of the book. I'll certainly look forward to reading it if nothing else!

9/8/11, 7:35 AM

refarmer said...
In the venerable movie, "Things to Come", the middle part portrays a 1960's 'future' devastated by decades of war, with clusters of humanity ruled by warlords in unremitting conflict. Then comes "Wings Over the World", to usher in a renaissance of science-driven paradise. While watching the huge machines restoring a perfection of urban culture where no one apparently has to work, I asked myself, "Where do they get the energy to build and operate such gargantuan advanced technology from a primitive environment? And how can one man create enough gasoline to fuel a handful of WWI era military planes?" At the end, a gargantuan cannon propels a capsule into space without rendering its two occupants into a pool of crimson jelly. Beware the Alien Space Bats!

9/8/11, 8:22 AM

lagedargent said...
Your most far-reaching idea, so far, JMG.
It will set people's mind at work on this subject in a Schumacherian way - a plenty of creative narrative, small and beautiful, which has a potential of spreading beyond today's narrow wreath of aficionados the theme of living in interesting times, so to speak, like an oil spill.

9/8/11, 9:11 AM

Kieran O'Neill said...
L. E. Modessitt, Jr's Adiamante actually comes to mind as something like a post-peak sci fi novel. It certainly contains a model of a moderately high-tech, ecotechnic society. The high tech is present, but used incredibly sparingly, and what economy there is operates on the principle of energy credits -- want to go up for a few flops in a recreational ultralight? Prepare for some hard labour in the fields to earn the privilege.

He's worth taking a look at -- he's one of the few science fiction authors out there who can boast having been deep inside the belly of the beast that is the US government, and is very mindful of both ecological and political realities in his writing.

But regarding the short story drive: maybe, just maybe, I'll put a story together. I think I've been waiting for an excuse to begin writing fiction anyway. Thank-you for providing one. :)

9/8/11, 9:12 AM

wvjohn said...
JMG -Brilliant!

Prince Valiant, having thus returned from his travels, regaled the other nights with harrowing accounts of drought, storm, two-headed cats, and lands where the trees had died and people dwelt in pertpetual darkness and cold. The other knights stirred uneasily, such strange news must go to King, but they had no answers for the questions he might pose. Dragons and battles they well understood, but none could envision how a kingdom without wood might endure. I was Sir Tristam who spoke first. "Perhaps we might benefit by gathering as many ideas we might." "Humpf," replied Sir Gawain, "Do you propose we set the beaters and the hounds in the King's Wood, and have them drive all the ideas into a field where we may examine them?" "A simpler plan, I think, is to lure the ideas to us" replied Sir Tristam. "We shall sponsor a Bardic competition for the best tale about life in a land without wood!" "Bah," said Sir Gawain, "All we will hear are Faerie tales and sagas of Wizards calling fire from the heavens. Shall we tell the King Faerie tales when he asks our counsel?" "Tall tales indeed we shall hear, for that is the Bard's nature," replied Sir Tristam, "but even the tallest of tales may contain seeds of truth, for as we know, tales differ most in time and place, but not in the nature of man." The Knights considered what had been spoken, and in the end agreed that any plan to bring them the King's ear was better than no plan at all. Thus a great Bardic competition was decreed at the time of the Harvest Festival.

9/8/11, 9:33 AM

risa said...
Thank you. Sir, it was Barbarism and Good Brandy. I began to speculate on a future in which a survivor of a The Road scenario stumbles upon a people who are doing a World Made by Hand scenario only to turn out to have an intact high-energy device in their possession (to their ultimate sorrow) as it leads to Road Warrior scenario. In other words, history will repeat itself wherever unsustainable energy supplies are concentrated, especially in weapons form.

In the novel, a salvage-industrial world is posited to have energy hot spots leading to resource war in the short term, leading perhaps to a post-salvage world through overreaching avarice. So descent might very well, in some places, deprive well-meaning Transition Townies of their windmills and solar panels, putting them on the road to bows and bow-drills. The story doesn't claim this as a universal outcome; there might be a perfectly fine civilization in Chile, for all the characters know. Their situation is set in motion by economic chaos leading to the abandonment of at least some of the Northern Hemisphere's spent fuel pools, which I thought horror enough for one novel. But readers complained it was too sedate, hence the three-book war plot, based in part on LOTR.

The female lead borrows from some works by Miyazaki and Whedon. I hope Starvation Ridge will spark useful discussion and maybe even sell a few copies. There are too many good books (and many more bad ones) in the world, so it's not something for which I have high hopes in terms of sales!

9/8/11, 9:49 AM

russell1200 said...
Over at my place, I have been reviewing numerous (mostly) apocalypse in progress novels. I did a recap with links to the individual reviews.

Only a few of the novels did I call science fiction, because I choose to define it as having elements advanced enough to be unfamiliar to us today. Susan Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It has an asteroid smashing into the moon as the proximate cause of collapse (pcc). But nothing else about it is SF, and its tropes are YA, not SF.

Modern SF, as with most genres, has its fads. Dystopian futures are pretty common. Biotechnology seems to have replaced nanotechnology as the popular pcc.

Within mainstream fiction, global warming and death by virus are both pretty popular. Of the 36 books, maybe 5 I listed as peak oil- although economic collapse would certainly be a close cousin.

While I agree that many people alive today use much less energy directly. They still tend to get the food supply benefits (meager as they may be) of industrial agriculture.

Previous collapses were generally not global in nature- although some of the weather shift events came close. I appreciate the grounds for optimism, but there are also grounds for pessimism.

9/8/11, 9:57 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Ceworthe, I've read that the bridge design of the USS Enterprise was copied by designers for several US naval warships, too.

DeAnander, thanks for the tip! I'll check it out.

Poet, poetry -- at least of the modern sort -- expresses feelings; fiction creates a world, and it's the latter that I want to set in motion here. The criteria stand -- and asking you to follow the same rules as everyone else is no more a disadvantage to you than it is to them, by the way.

Duncan, that's an old favorite! Still, I'm hoping to get some new visions in place -- and Benet's story, good as it is, doesn't deal with peak oil and/or resource depletion, which I've specifically requested.

Grrl, that's one of the risks a project like this runs. The less preachy the story, the better a chance it has of getting into the anthology.

Juan, thank you! I'll take a look at it.

Macrotech, not in a story for this anthology -- it would come across as pretty pretentious, on my part! What you do in stories for other venues is your own call, of course.

Lizzy, get writing! I'll look forward to your story.

Hadashi, give it a try. 2500 words isn't that long!

Degringolade, excellent. Thanks for the link!

Scyther, most people can write a readable story if they simply stop telling themselves that they can't. Marion Zimmer Bradley used to say that anyone who could write a literate English sentence could make a living in genre fiction. I'd encourage you to read a book or two on writing short stories, remember some of your favorite tales, and give it a try.

9/8/11, 10:04 AM

beneaththesurface said...
I really like the idea of the post-peak short story contest! I'll use it as an incentive to attempt to write one.

My own dream is to finally get around to writing and illustrating a whimsical children's book with a peak oil theme. I have some rough ideas, and your posts have been hammering in the importance of stopping my internal talk about someday doing things and simply getting to work on the project.

My current paid work is caring for young children, so I'm constantly analyzing and critiquing contemporary children's books from a peak oil perspective...what sort of myths and narratives they perpetuate, how might they be looked at 50, 100, or 1000 years from now, etc. I personally dislike a lot of contemporary young children's literature...too cutesy to me, too unoriginal, no depth, and morals too spelled out, even if they have "good" morals.

Certainly there are a number of children's books nowadays that have environmental and other themes of cultural critique. However, I find that many of them spell out their morals too much for children's (and my) likes. The trick in writing fiction, in my opinion, is not to state any moral too overtly, and allow readers to come to their own conclusions through it.

To me, many of Dr. Seuss's books fall under the category of successful children's books: they are loved both by many children and adults; they are creative; they can be read on many levels; they have embedded deeper commentary about the world (but don't state any morals outright); they are completely unserious and nonsensical yet are very serious and make a lot of sense. One of my favorites is "I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Sollew" and I can get new ideas out of it each time I read it. It's something a three-year old and a ninety-one-year old can enjoy. What I admire about Dr. Seuss's books is that while many of them playfully critique a lot of absurdities of mainstream culture, they have a remarkably popular appeal within mainstream culture, which is a tough feat to accomplish.

I would be excited to see a children's book that has a peak oil theme (not too overt though) with a quality comparable to books like Dr. Seuss's.

Well, I'm going to get to work.

9/8/11, 10:21 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Grrl, the problem with Stephenson's use of T-shirts, energy bars, etc. for me, at least, was that it blew a hole in the otherwise enticing construction of a not-quite-earth, with philosophers, religions, intellectual movements, and so on that were just that little bit skewed from ours. If he'd done the same thing with the little details of Arbre's culture, it would have put the icing on the cake; as it was, I found that aspect of the novel disappointing.

As for Stirling having a character make a crack about alien space bats, though, that's brilliant -- it's exactly what someone familiar with internet slang would say in the face of an unexplained change of the sort Stirling imagines -- and of course it's all the more elegant in that Stirling's Change is a classic alien space bat, that is, an arbitrary gimmick that allowed him to get the setting he wanted to have for his story.

Brad, nope. I want readable short stories that imagine the future, with interesting characters and a plot, not rehashes of the present. Give it a try!

Sixbears, don't get me started on the problems with contemporary fantasy! Still, if fantasy flourishes in hard times, how come science fiction had the beginning of its golden age in the Great Depression?

Mister Roboto, I'm not at all sure how well an erotic story about peak oil would work, and I'd like to ask you and anyone else considering the project to go lightly on graphic sex of any flavor, but if you want to do a relationship story in the deindustrial future, that could be interesting.

Gregorach, okay, the first widely available cell phones -- and there are dozens of ergonomic ways to arrange a microphone and earpiece that don't involve a flip-open design.

Chris, did you read the article I linked to at that point in the post? John Keel, the author of the linked essay, has some useful things to say about the question you've asked; I've also written a book about the topic that goes into quite some detail about the manufacture of the UFO phenomenon.

Lynn, perhaps you could consider writing something far enough in the future that the age of crisis is past and something new and enticing is coming into being. There's more to look at than the dark.

Siddrudge, I'm not an optimist in any ordinary sense of the word; I'm simply aware that how we define our future shapes our actions and, over time, the future itself.

Phil, no, the nuclear bomber had the engines in the aft fuselage -- no pods at all. Your broader point is valid, but there's another side to it, as I mentioned to Siddrudge just now.

Yupped, please do give it a try! As for changes in consciousness, I don't mean at all to dismiss the kind that involves hard work and personal commitment; that's as necessary now as it's ever been. It's the kind mass marketed by the 2012 crowd these days -- the kind you don't have to work for, because the space brothers or Jesus or somebody does it for you -- that needs to be sent back to the belfry with the rest of the alien space bats.

Refarmer, that's typical H.G. Wells, and yes, it was rife with space bats; Wells usually was.

Lagedargent, that's the plan.

9/8/11, 10:27 AM

R. A. Davies said...
I've a novel out that could be excerpted. If you would like me to send you a copy, let me know. I can either get you an ebook version or a hard copy.

My blog is at:
You can find reviews and commentary there.

Guy McPherson has reviewed it, and he considers it better than Kunstler's two efforts. (Side note: I own both of Jim's novels and enjoyed them both.)

I would like to point out that the Modern Language Association had post-oil literature as its theme a few years ago.


Richard Davies

9/8/11, 10:53 AM

teagueamania said...
I'm almost certain I'm parroting an earlier mention, but Paolo Bacigalupi's work deserves repetitive mention. The setting of most of his fiction thus far confronts the end of cheap fossil energy, and what that entails for humanity and its works. In particular, Ship breaker would be a useful model to ponder for anyone attempting a peak oil story.

9/8/11, 11:06 AM

Reave Vanshar (Steve McAllister) said...
What an awesome idea! I've had an idea for a post-industrial story banging around in my head for a year or so, about a horseback courier and radio operator in western Oregon around the turn of the next century who try to set up salvaged and repaired fax machines in two cities on the courier's route, as a business venture. I don't know if I can finish it in time for this, but this is an excellent incentive to get my rear in gear and finish it. Thank you!

9/8/11, 11:18 AM

Bonapartes Retreat said...
Have you read "Far North" by Marcel Theroux? He's a really good writer and build a pretty interesting story of the future. -Mark

9/8/11, 11:25 AM

Chris Balow said...
Sorry JMG, I had been reading your post while offline and didn't follow your link to the Keel essay. If I can get a little scratch together, I'll have to get a copy of your book, as I'm most interested in your take on the phenomenon.

On other matters, I'll be one to cast a "no" vote on the question of donating any theoretical profits from the anthology to a peak oil nonprofit. I am a big believer that solutions to our collective predicament must be forged at the household and local level. Any money our writers can earn on this project is money that can be put towards gardening equipment, handicraft equipment, dues toward local fraternal organizations, and the like.


9/8/11, 11:44 AM

Ken said...
Darn you JMG! I have outlined a short story series that I wanted to keep to myself. Now I have to get it out of my head and into the electronic page.

I kinda suck as a writer but the plot at least fits your requirements exactly.

9/8/11, 12:05 PM

idiotgrrl said...
Existing novels from my formerly extensive reading, to date:

Scarcity Industrialism: "Earth", David Brin.

The Salvage Society: "Bone Dance", Emma Bull. Also includes some quite credible magic, Afro-Caribbean variety with an extensive education. And of course, "Anathem".

Ecotech: "Bug Jack Barron", Norman Spirad, way old and may be impossible to get any more. Alas that like all PNW ecotopians, his villains are us desert folk.

Low-tech (17th-19th C) mini
-lectures, "Grantsville Gazette" #s 1--> however many there are now, Eric Flint, ed. I have the one with the article on the fiber arts filed in my reference library.

Will fill in the list as they come to mind.

9/8/11, 12:10 PM

willow said...
Im excited by this project--for now anyway--my energy is in short supply these days as the "death fetishists" and doomslayers from the NYTimes to the Supremes suck us dry and leave us as zombied as a carpenter ant, parasitized by a fungus that takes over its soul and at last sends a mushroom out of its forehead--

Thanks Archdruid.

9/8/11, 12:20 PM

Eric said...
Another great post. Never written short stories before, but thinking about it. Are you open to doing some editing for those of us not so great with the english language?

Also, since you mentioned Neal Stephenson and your last post was on Space Exploration, Have you read this article:

Thought you might be interested as it seems to fit with your (and my) thinking on how we got where we are.


9/8/11, 12:27 PM

kjmclark said...
No one has mentioned "The Windup Girl"??? It's certainly too long for this challenge, but it won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel, and seems to be a fairly believable picture of the world 100 years from now. No oil, only two cars that I've noticed - both owned by elites - no aircraft, not even motorized bikes. Climate change causing serious problems, genetic engineering run amok, etc.

The only thing that doesn't look reasonable is the cheshire cats, a genetic engineering trick to create cats that can camouflage themselves extremely well, in order to give a rich kid a kitty out of Alice in Wonderland. I'm not sure I buy that level of changeable camouflage on a creature with hair.

But beyond that, it's really brilliant. Well worth everyone's time, and right along the lines of what JMG is talking about.

9/8/11, 12:39 PM

Joel said...
For inspiration, I'd like to recommend some science fictional worlds that I believe fit your criteria, and don't seem to have been mentioned yet on this thread.

Octavia E. Butler's "Parable of the Sower" and related works are set in a world that has recently been bitten by resource scarcity, although I remember being struck the first time I read it at the implausibility of water being more expensive than gasoline (there are quite a few techniques for producing more than a gallon of distilled water using less than a gallon of gasoline, many of which can provide other energy services along the way). Despite those relative prices, a major part of the first story is a long journey on foot, along crumbling freeways.

In the mid future, "The Handmaid's Tale" can be read as a plausible prediction of the shape revival movements might take in response to limits on economic growth.

Lastly, in the far distant future, Ursula LeGuin's "Always Coming Home" has two cultures, one of which is tries to revive WWII-level military vehicle technology with only wood gas as fuel, and another which has a pre-agrarian food economy with high technology strictly limited to textile production. Any alien space bats are merely for continuity with her Ekumen series, and don't drive the plot (to the extent there even is a plot).

9/8/11, 12:46 PM

Eric said...
While I agree with you on your hypothesis I do think you might be selling some of the existing literature a bit short. For example, I just read "Earth Abides" and I think this book would basically qualify in the genre even though it is a bit different. (What a GREAT BOOK! How did I miss this book all my life!) Another example is the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. As far as I can tell these books ARE about a peak oil world as she sees it and I think they are the best examples so far of "Peak Oil Literature" that I have read. Goes to show that some SF writers really are ahead of the times. Octavia wrote those books in 1993 and 1998, long before Peak Oil really had a name, yet, she seems to have seen the writing on the wall so to speak.

I wonder how many people have read those books?

9/8/11, 12:57 PM

Duncan Kinder said...
Another thought, inspired by this Scientific American article about megaslums:

Street Markets and Shantytowns Forge the World's Urban Future

Although 800 million to 900 million people—one in seven on the planet—live in such places, governments the world over have long looked down at these communities. When they have not been bulldozing or demolishing them, they have acted as if such places do not exist. One example: for decades, the official land-use map of the Nairobi city council showed Kibera, which is perhaps 100 years old and home to as many as one fifth of the city’s residents, as a forest, not a neighborhood. With no city services and governments stuck in denial, these places have, of necessity, become hives of inventiveness, industry and self-made enterprise. Despite the hardship and deprivation, such illegal communities are the crucibles of our global future. Governments need to embrace them, not disown them.

Of course we can work in Peak Oil, etc. ( Mike Davis asserts that these slums are a byproduct of displacement caused by the Green Revolution )

But the theme should be that of a picaresque novel:

The picaresque novel (Spanish: "picaresca", from "pícaro", for "rogue" or "rascal") is a popular sub-genre of prose fiction which is usually satirical and depicts, in realistic and often humorous detail, the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. This style of novel originated in sixteenth century Spain and flourished throughout Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It continues to influence modern literature.

9/8/11, 1:22 PM

shiningwhiffle said...
I plan on participating, and I look forward to others' submissions. This is exactly the sort of science-fiction I've been looking for, one devoid of both the Pollyanna salvation-through-technology meme and its nihilistic twin.

I hope you won't mind that the story I'll be submitting started its life as fan-fiction. I never finished or published it, and I'm in the process of converting it to an original setting.

(I'm finding it's easier for me to write an original story in an established setting, and then go back and change the setting than to try to invent both as I go, because in that case, at each turn I end up arguing with myself about whether the plot or the setting should be the one to give way.)

I'd already taken off in a really different direction than the original work, so the end result will have subtle traces of the original but otherwise be fairly different.

9/8/11, 2:28 PM

Jess G. Totten said...
I just wanted to mention Paolo Bacigalupi - Pump Six and Other Stories, Windup Girl, and Ship Breakers are all set in a future recognizably post peak oil and wracked by climate change. Good writer, too.

9/8/11, 2:44 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Kieran, thanks for the suggestion -- and I'll look forward to seeing your story.

Wvjohn, now if we could just get Hal Foster's reincarnation to draw it!

Risa, most interesting. I haven't had time to read the whole work yet, of course, but I will.

Russell, I'll check it out. I probably need to remind people that peak oil and resource depletion as such -- not just any old cataclysm -- has to be part of the story, or the backstory, for a piece to have a shot at a place in the projected anthology.

Beneath, good. We could use a peak oil Lorax, no question.

Richard, I'd welcome a copy! I'll post a note on your blog with my mailing address -- I much prefer books in hard copy. In the meantime, you might consider whether there's a scene or a subplot in it that would make a credible short story in its own right; an excerpt that leaves plenty of loose ends isn't really what I have in mind, but some novels are episodic enough to pup good short stories.

Teagueamania, thanks for the suggestion.

Reave, get cracking on it! It sounds like a good prospect.

Retreat, I'll check it out.

Chris, fair enough; it'll be up to the authors who get pieces in the anthology, so that's another incentive for you to get writing. As for UFOs, I'm pleased to say that my book offended both the believers and the skeptics -- to my mind, the least useful thing about current UFO studies is the hopeless rut it's been in since the 1990s.

Ken, give it a shot. In my direct experience, most of the people who think they suck at writing are better than most of the people who think they're great writers; the latter don't edit themselves well.

Grrl, Spinrad was (is?) good at annoying people. Songs from the Stars was a fair attempt at an ecotechnic society, notable for a bad case of 60s nostalgia.

Willow, if you're feeling drained by the media and the political sphere, it may be time for a mainstream media fast. Pull the plug, do something else with your time for a week or two, and I bet you find more energy.

Eric, I can certainly help with editing -- I've done it in several previous gigs, Many thanks for the Stephenson article. He's quite right, of course -- and it's good to see that kind of open discussion of the historically conditioned nature of technology.

9/8/11, 3:06 PM

idiotgrrl said...
Oops! Wrong title. "Songs from the Stars" I meant.

9/8/11, 3:10 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Kjmclark, well, you just did. Thanks for the pointer!

Joel, thanks for the suggestions.

Eric, Earth Abides is a great read, but it's not a peak oil story. I haven't read the Butler novels so can't say, but here again, stories in which peak oil and resource depletion aren't central themes aren't what I'm looking for here.

Duncan, well, I think you've just assigned yourself a theme for your short story!

Whiffle, as long as you've filed off all the serial numbers and created your own setting in the final version, I won't mind.

Jess, you're in good company, seemingly. I'll have to take a look at Bacigalupi as time permits.

9/8/11, 3:11 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Grrl, I was wondering about that, but it's been a long, long time since I read much of any of Spinrad's stuff.

9/8/11, 3:13 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
@ Eric & Joel - Just read "Parable of the Talents" last week. Read "Parable of the Sower" years ago. I'd say it's a pretty plausible view of the future. All except for the "escape into space" ending.

The rise of a theocratic president was interesting. Especially given all the early rumblings to the next election.

9/8/11, 3:50 PM

david k said...
Another possible book in this genre is The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse, by Dale Pendell. I can't remember if peak oil is discussed but global warming and a pandemic have starring roles. The book is more a collection of stories focused on Californians as they adapt to a greatly changing world over the next 16,000 years or so.

9/8/11, 4:55 PM

Mister Roboto said...
@JMG: If I were to write such a story, it would be more of a relationship story than erotica owing to the nature of the subject matter; though I do think it would be interesting to examine the sexual mores of the deindustrial future.

9/8/11, 5:07 PM

Red Neck Girl said...
One thing about S. M. Stirling's Change universe is the author does go into how hard it would be for the survivors. Since The Change was so sudden the die off was quick, brutal and left only one in ten. In my current circumstances I'd be tempted to get out of Dodge as Stirling's characters do in a similar situation, except here we wouldn't be too badly off in an agriculturally based valley, with rugged, mountainous country on three sides and a long stretch of broken country with no major cities on the fourth side.

Comments in the stories are always about how hard everyone works as well as how hard and difficult for tyros to do. That's for the subject group in the books. The less fortunate aren't a topic except as comparison to the chosen group.

Collapse as a topic has interested me since I was a kid in the lumber camp and I realized how long it takes for the ecology to replace or repair itself. I have always dreamed of, been fascinated by, a world relatively untouched by development.

If I personally became competent at wilderness living and survival I might never go back to a 'civilized life.'

At this point in time I'm trying to 'feel' what a world living by the seasons would be like instead of a regimented day with rigid segments of time arbitrarily portioned out. I've lived too much of my life by a time clock and by restrictions imposed by the necessity of a job, income taxes, utilities, shopping and so on. The necessity of weather, seasons and nature are something we seldom consider in our high tech naivete' and I don't believe many of us believers really have a firm handle on all that right now.

I'll have to redirect the characters a bit in my story but I'll see what I can do for the characters to prosper as our house of techno cards falls down in winds from a different quarter.

Wadulisi Tsalagi

9/8/11, 5:44 PM

Hal said...
Well, I know myself well enough that I know I will not be writing a peak oil short story in the next couple of months, but to help support the mission, I would be willing to devote a couple of hours a day to proofreading and minor editing. I was not an English major, but I did study journalism for a while, and I was partly raised by a couple of aunts who were high school teachers, one an English teacher. Proper English was hammered into me at an early age.

9/8/11, 6:36 PM

FARfetched said...
Hm. I'll have to see what I can come up with. I've started writing peak oil fiction again, but flash (1000 words or less). I'll dig around to see if I have anything suitable in the right length — most of my peakoil fic is either flash or (in the case of FAR Future) novel-sized. I should be able to come up with something, especially since there's no fixed deadline.

9/8/11, 6:37 PM

escapefromwisconsin said...
Coincidentally, The New York Times ran a piece just this past weekend on a similar theme entitled "Novelists Predict The Future With Eerie Accuracy", viz:

The dirty little secret of speculative fiction is that it’s hard to go wrong predicting that things will get worse. But while avoiding the nihilism of novels like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” in which a father and son wander a hopeless post-apocalyptic moonscape, a number of recent books foresee futures that seem more than plausible as the nation’s ambient level of weirdness rises.

Albert Brooks, the actor and director, brought out “2030,” in which the nation’s economy is sent into a spin by seemingly good news: cancer is cured. The bad-news twist: the resulting drain on national resources by an aging population that no longer conforms to the actuarial tables and continues to consume resources at baby-boomer rates, and a rather literal twist on the notion of intergenerational warfare. “I chose not to go too far,” Mr. Brooks said. “I liked having more present in my future.”

In “Ready Player One,” the novelist Ernest Cline extrapolates from the ripples that rising energy prices and climate change send through the economy, and gives us a future where the suburbs die off and many people are packed into in high-rise urban trailer parks, spending their days on an increasingly addictive Internet instead of facing the quotidian squalor. Readers who spend so much time issuing updates via Twitter, Facebook and Google+ that they have forgotten what their spouses look like might see themselves reflected in Mr. Cline’s funhouse mirror. “I did try to envision it as a possible future,” Mr. Cline said. “I don’t see it as a future we’re necessarily headed for.”

9/8/11, 6:48 PM

escapefromwisconsin said...
@ Duncan Kinder - very perceptive; I too have argued that if you want to see the future, it's already here (to prapahrase William Gibson's perspicacious remark) - just look to what we term third world countries, where resource scarcity and rampant poverty have been par for the course throughout the industrial era. For example, if you want to see what America's future looks like, simply look at Mexico. Incidentally, Japan has been a post-growth society for twenty years now. Great tip about the Picaresque style.

I was actually contemplating a book of short stories about a post-petroleum world - it seemed to me that the experience of Peak Oil will not be one experience but several - it will affect every region and culture in a vastly different way, depending on its current level of development and how much prior modes of living have been preserved. In America, it may be the end of the world as we know it, Japan may retreat back to the Edo period (as Kunstler has hypothesized), Beduoin may ride camels past now silent and rusting wells in the desert, tending to their sheep, China may dust off Maoism. It's a fascinating playground for fiction, so I guess I'd better get to work.

Althought this might be a bit outside the discussion, one of the most influential descriptions of the future was Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (reading it now). It is one of the few books ever published that created almost immediately on its appearance a political mass movement. In the US alone, over 162"Bellamy Clubs" sprang up to discuss and propagate the book's ideas.[via Wikipedia]. It also inspired almost an entire genre of supporters and rebuttals throughout the nineteenth century, most notably William Morris' News From Nowhere. Those might be worthy of a post of their own, someday.

For some visual inspiration folks, look here:

9/8/11, 6:48 PM

Don Mason said...

…asked if anyone else had read “Earth Abides”

Affirmative. I read it back in the mid 1960’s, and again about twenty years ago. One of my all-time doomer favorites.

Yesterday, I happened to run across my old paperback copy in storage out in the shed. I noticed that the cover art (Good Girl Art) wasn’t quite accurate. There’s Ish, the square-jawed white guy with the hammer in his hand; but who’s that white woman clinging to him? There’s so few humans left in the book that it has to be his wife Em.

But in the book, Em is supposed to be a black woman.

Back then, I think that a few states still had anti-miscegenation laws lingering on the books, so inter-racial marriage wasn’t something that they could put on the cover without having an enraged mob burn down the drug store that was selling the book in the circular wire rack in the back corner.

But I’ll give them this much: they painted Em as a brunette, and not too young. So at least they got that part right.

Seems that humans beings are always the same, but culture does change. Not quickly, but it does change. Which I think was one of the main points of the book: culture adapts to fit changing circumstances. Radical changes in circumstances lead to radical changes in culture.

9/8/11, 7:03 PM

frijolitofarmer said...
I was inspired to do such writing after reading your Solstice/Nawida series, but I realized that anything I came up with would sound too much like it was set in the world of your stories. That's the problem--it's not just a fictional world that you made up out of whole cloth. It's a rational prediction of what this world is actually going to be like, free of fantasy and space bats. If most of us here share a common vision of what this world will look like, it may be impossible to draw a bright line between fan fiction and original settings. Original stories and differing historical events, sure. But if we all have a common understanding of what life will be like and what's going to bring about this change (resource depletion leading to the end of the Industrial Age), then all those settings are apt to look strongly similar, if not identical.

I can see that we could get around this by each writer talking about a different year or geographic region, but maybe you know an easier way around this. In your opinion, where does sharing a genre cross over into sharing a particular author's fictional world? How do we stay within your parameters while staying out of a place where the present day United States has fragmented, Japanese immigrants have swarmed the West Coast, the Spanish language has spread even more throughout North America, and people live in a relatively low-tech world where resources are supplied by savagers and ruinmen?

9/8/11, 7:21 PM

Tony said...
JMG, in TAR 2006-7, you posted a series of such stories:

1. “Molly and Joe”: Descendents of one family followed from 2050 to 2150: Consecutive posts 11/15/06 thru 12/20/06.

2. “Adam”: One man followed through a fairly close but unstated future (~2050-2075?): Four non-consecutive posts (“Adam’s Story”) 5/29/07 thru 8/24/07.

I thought the Molly and Joe stories were particularly evocative, and encourage you not to exclude them on your anthology just because you wrote them.

9/8/11, 7:52 PM

idiotgrrl said...
Well, speaking of Alien Space Bats, I just finished "Apocalypse Not". Outside of the notion of spending the labor to write an entire book to debunk the 2012 --- no, I know, it's the entire meme you're debunking, lotsa luck, just as easy to debunk Santa Claus --

You have also, apparently tracked every Great Awakening* in European history, from at least 66 AD to the so-called "Fourth Great Awakening (aka "Boom Awakening" - peace, flowers, love, happiness, be-in, drop-out, I am high smoking pot, I am high on you-know-what....). Those being when the Apocalyptic prophesies bloom like dandelions. Or kudzu.

OH, and another attraction of such fantasies -- society is getting too complicated. Probably spoken originally by some Sumerian somewhere.

*Awakenings come between great Crises. Largely because a generation that knows not the previous Crisis Era (unlike people my age!) tend to start the next one. George HW Bush may be a pitiful figure to hang "The End of History" on, but his son, pipsqueak though he might be, had many of us scared out of our minds. Just because he believed that nonsense and had his presidential finger on the button.

9/8/11, 8:02 PM

John Michael Greer said...
David, thanks for the recommendation!

Mister Roboto, I agree -- and it would be great, to be quite frank, to have stories that focus on a range of themes, sexual mores among them. The future's a big place, and a lot will be happening there.

Girl, I look forward to seeing your story!

Hal, thank you; I may take you up on that, depending on what options I find when publisher-hunting gets under way.

FarFetched, I look forward to seeing your story, too.

Escape, fascinating. I'll have to read the article.

Frijolito, I could very easily spin half a dozen other ways the future could turn out, if that would be helpful. The version of the future I used as background for those stories and Star's Reach is only one of many options; it would be just as plausible to have a future America circa 2200 as a bunch of backwoods colonial provinces of a Brazilian empire with 17th century tech, for example, or to ramp up global warming so that Canada, Russia, the Republic of Greenland, and the Scandinavian countries are the only civilized nations in the northern hemisphere, and the US is tropical jungle inhabited by tribes descended from the survivors of today's Americans, or -- well, the possibilities are endless. Let your imagination stray a bit!

Tony, thank you! As it happens, I've revised the Christmas/Solstice/Nawida stories about Molly and Joe into a single story, titled "Winters' Tales," and was strongly considering making that my entry into the contest.

Grrl, glad you enjoyed it. I've rarely had a book project that was less work or more fun to research and write. It's not going to dissuade those who want to believe that the world will end in order to spare them the trouble of having to deal with their problems themselves, but it may be helpful either to those who haven't bought into the delusion yet, or to those who find themselves wondering on December 22, 2012 what to do now that the space brothers aren't coming.

9/8/11, 8:56 PM

SunsetSu said...
Marge Piercy presents a fascinating version of the near-future in "He, She & It."

9/8/11, 9:21 PM

Susan said...
Oh, my... the possibilities are endless.

Mr. Roboto: Here's a question to consider when you write about relationships in the future. Was the sexual revolution a result of technology? Specifically, the birth control pill of the early 1960s, the automobile (get away from the parents, chaparones, and duennas, etc.), and the general abundance that resulted from widespread use of fossil fuels)? I would imagine that in a future world of limited resources, sort of like what most of humanity experienced for several thousand years before the age of fossil fuels, we'd go back to the traditional ways of courtship, arranged marriages, etc.

Without chemical birth control (and even with it in too many cases), sex equals children, which means be very careful, or be in love, or be seduced and abandoned... After the massive depopulation that we will certainly experience in the next century or so, people will more than likely want to limit the size of their families to be able to live within the constraints imposed by nature.

Of course, gay relationships would not have these problems, but hetero folks would have to be constantly balancing the trade-offs. It might depend on the level of medical technology: if most of your kids die before age five, you'll probably want to have as many rugrats as possible so you'll still have enough to work on the farm after you bury the other half.

My husband worked with several SF fans and writers on what a realistic "future history" might look like; everybody wanted to do the Heinlein thing. The final consensus was that such a thing wasn't possible. By the time you work out all the realistic (not physically impossible) possibilities, you've already been overtaken by new scientific discoveries, and totally improbably historical events.

To quote Yogi Berra: "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

9/8/11, 9:29 PM

DeAnander said...
More reading-for-inspiration...

Speaking of energy-scarce future fiction, Lee Killough wrote some amusing police procedurals set in a future Kansas where energy was tight and the climate was altered (even hotter and muggier); but iirc there were a few space bats. Earthpeeps are emigrating via big colony ships to new solar systems, fleeing the damage industrial society has wrought. (And how are they building and fuelling them, we ask ourselves). Automobiles are extinct, but affluent-enough people drive hovercraft (which iirc are far less energy efficient even than conventional autos, so why?). But the average person rides a bike or walks, which seems reasonable. Poor people wear paper clothing. Gummint record-keeping and surveillance are intrusive and universal, but a shadow subculture of undocumented persons persists.

They are not great lit, or even great sf, but they have a certain narrative zing and decent plotting, a few memorable characters, and reasonable extrapolations of current social trends. As I recall titles were Doppelgaenger Gambit, Spider Play, and Dragon's Teeth. Good light reading and possibly some background detail for lower-energy futures: Killough manages to convey a certain tired grittiness in her future.

There is also a novel I read some years ago, a first effort iirc and surprisingly good, about one last desperate bid to emigrate from Earth -- and somehow the emigres were Amish. And I'm darned if I can remember the title. SF and space bats were here an unimportant background to an extended meditation on ethics, conscience, error/sin, redemption, etc. If someone else can remind me of the title or author I'd be relieved.

Gardner Dozois wrote a devastating short story once about a ridiculously lucky character, a real so&so who could do no wrong. Until suddenly he dies, to the amazement of an envious, bitter acquaintance who tells the story. But.. aha... in typical Dozois fashion he flips the plot inside out and the surviving narrator-character gets to live through peak oil, climate disasters, plagues, hunger, refugee camps, etc. -- which Lucky Boy died just in time to escape. A bleak little picture of a low-energy tomorrow and a summary of the attitude of (imho) far too many people over the age of 45: "Well, I'll be dead before it gets really bad."

Cecelia Holland the historical novelist, in an aberrant moment (or several), wrote a massive SF novel called Floating Worlds, most of which is space bats. But the interesting part is an Earth where all conventional government-as-we-know-it has failed and everyone is anarchist. How the protagonist deals with daily life, issues, interpersonal conflicts and so on, in an anarchist society, makes interesting reading and is (for me, at 20 years' distance) the only memorable part of the book. When thinking about governmental collapse, this might be interesting source material.

So might Rebecca Solnit's non-fiction work, A Paradise Built in Hell. A good antidote for the Mad Maximalists.

Having no time to write an entry, I'm kibitzing shamelessly from the sidelines!

9/8/11, 10:46 PM

Jock said...
There are a couple of good fictional peak oil stories here.,29.0.html

Specifically the collapse diary and drumriders of the apocalypse.

9/9/11, 12:46 AM

Avery said...
JMG, I've already completed my submission:

It's only 1300 words, but if people like it I can make it longer.

9/9/11, 2:12 AM

Thijs Goverde said...
Oh, curses! Curses, curses and quadruple curses! I'm a slow writer, English is my second language, and I just generally do not have the time to do any writing other than the play, the short story and the book I'm supposed to be working on right now.

How could I possibly write anything for your quintuply cursed competition?

How could I not?

Thanks a lot, mr. Greer!
Thanks also for your reply to my comment last week, which seems extremely duplicitous in the light of the situation your present post lands me in.

Two months, eh? (rubs hands)

9/9/11, 2:27 AM

kjmclark said...
I suggested something like that to my daughter - a seafaring but destitute country. Over time, it becomes clear that the setting is the Canadian north, in the future, and the protagonists are what's left of humanity, as the south is mostly desert, devastation, or constant tribal warfare on the poorer soils that are left.

But life goes on and is fun and interesting - just not the future people expected. You can have all sorts of fun artifacts in a story like that.

9/9/11, 5:29 AM

Cole said...
An interesting challenge. I'm surprised to see that no one has yet mentioned Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-century America which deals, fairly painfully of the very topics discussed here.

9/9/11, 6:50 AM

sgage said...
Hello JMG,

I just noticed that someone posted a pointer to your writing challenge over on TOD - it will be interesting to see what comes from that quarter.

I'm mulling over a couple of plots myself - I've never written fiction before, really, and it might be interesting to try, even if the result is a bit clumsy and unusable.

9/9/11, 7:42 AM

willyh said...
I'd like to add Ernest Callenbach's prequel to Ecotopia, Ecotopia Emerging. I found it amazingly prescient for 1981 but it fits your criteria (peak oil/energy is a common theme through out). One Alien Space Bat (maybe): one of the character's develops a very efficient photo-voltaic cell that's cheap to manufacture. I read Ecotopia years ago and didn't like it as much as this one. Is it overly optimistic? Probably, but don't know. I hope not.

9/9/11, 8:23 AM

sgage said...
"what to do now that the space brothers aren't coming. "

Whoa there! Are you trying to say that the Space Brothers (they like to be capitalized, BTW) are NOT coming?

If true, this changes everything...

Oh well, back to the bunker...


9/9/11, 9:03 AM

K.M. said...
Mister Greer,

Very well, this one will set to work writing such a story. If a span of some weeks is allowable, it shall be done.


9/9/11, 10:05 AM

phipster said...
More inspiration: In the 1995 novel Ill Wind, Kevin Anderson and Doug Beason invent a very plausible post-petroleum world, albeit one brought about by an oil-eating microbe.

I thorougly enjoyed devouring the paperback edition a couple of years ago, now it's available in a Kindle edition for a measly $1.34!

Frank Kaminski posted a review of Ill Wind on The Energy Bulletin, and also an excellent list of post-oil novels.

Happy reading!

9/9/11, 10:52 AM

phipster said...
Oh, yeah, and of course I've already started writing my contribution :) Like many of your other readers, I've been hankerin' to write a post-peak story for some time. Your challenge is just kick-start my literary motor needed.

9/9/11, 10:56 AM

Loren Bergeson said...
I didn't write this, but I think the story should be entered into the contest:

9/9/11, 11:45 AM

Nathair said...
I am working on a series of stories about Druids in what is now Glacier National Park after peak oil, I compressed the time line a lot for the sake of story. The first 15 lines of the two complete stories are at and
I will e-mail the full story to any interested party.

9/9/11, 12:20 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Sunset, DeAnander, and Jock, thanks for the suggestions!

Avery, it works. I'd like to see it expanded a bit, but as it stands, an elegant little prose poem.

Thijs, obviously I need to twirl my black mustache and practice a suitably diabolical laugh.

Kjmclark, exactly. One thing we can be fairly sure of is that the future will not be boring.

Cole, thanks for the recommendation.

Sgage, give it a try! Your local library can probably provide you with a book or two on writing short stories, which would be worth reading -- there's a lot of fairly simple technique you can learn from such books, and skip a good part of the learning curve.

Willyh, I remember that. An interesting read, though implausible in places, and very much a product of San Francisco's rather giddy sense of infinite self-importance.

Sgage, they called and cancelled -- the Orion Nebula badly needs new insulation and they'll be spending the next ten millennia working on that. Yes, the insulation consists of alien space batts.

KM, have at it. You've got a couple of months, in fact.

Phipster, I'll look forward to your entry!

Loren, nope. Issues of intellectual property are complex enough these days that I'm not going to consider anything unless its author puts it into the running by personally posting a link here; there'll be contracts to sign later on, too.

9/9/11, 12:23 PM

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...
A propos of nothing in particular, the BBC news today has been full of the fact that the UK has joined a laser fusion project. Apparently (and I quote from Radio 4's Today programme), it will finally deliver energy too cheap to meter. At last.

9/9/11, 1:14 PM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Finished Anathem and, ok, entertaining, but, well, characterization is not Stephensen's strong suit. Over all, extremely clever and inventive, but too many inconsistencies in its created world and too many convenient technologies that just happen along at exactly the right time. Not to mention I kept worrying about the real-life likely consequences of all his made-up technologies (and the energy and environmental costs: fuel trees?). And maybe I'd rather have Socrates be Socrates and Pythagoras be Pythagoras.

To me, the best part of the book were his descriptions of music and chanting (even his noticing that what we would call 12-tone compositions are tedious for students to learn and write) and the ideas of using music to communicate/cause change/express thoughts and emotions, not to mention initiate field changes (music of the spheres, anyone?).

IMHO the book (and its writer) could use a well-informed, well-educated, rigorous editor. Next is Big, Little. Hope I like it better.

I, too, was haunted by The Machine Stops and By the Waters of Babylon as a child.

In other news: this week I went to a sustainability conference for community colleges in my state and peak oil/climate change/ecological destruction were definitely the contextual matrix within which the discussions and presentations were set. And we are to be working on educating our students and communities about these topics.

I'm looking forward to reading the Mundane Peak Oil stories.

9/9/11, 2:04 PM

FernWise said...
Hmmm. What about a series of stories with a wandering 'new tech' bard, carrying stories of how other communities are handling (or not handling) the new reality. Carrying not a harp and a song, but a slide rule and a rocket stove.

9/9/11, 2:17 PM

Luciddreams said...
5247 words.

It could use some editing, but I wanted to get it in line since you put the first come first serve disclaimer out there. I wrote it as soon as I finished reading this blog. I haven't read any of the other comments or stories that I'm sure have been posted.

Regardless I enjoyed writing it and I appreciate what you are doing for the PO community. This is an amazing opportunity for the many great writers who follow you.

9/9/11, 2:21 PM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
Dang! the alien space bats took my comment before it was ready!

Another suggestion for Mundane Peak Oil stories (even though I'm not writing one--nonfiction is hard enough):

Not trying to talk about the whole world or even the whole U.S. (or whatever other country is the setting). A deliberately limited focus is often more profound in its effects.

(BTW--from last thread--interesting comment about Hard Fantasy, JMG.)

9/9/11, 2:50 PM

Richard Larson said...
Never thought of my flip phone as a communicator. Maybe I am subconscious trekkie hoping to be beamed up?

Yeah, I like the idea of writing a story for your contest.

9/9/11, 6:01 PM

Kevin said...
Speaking of illustration: I don't know how they'll get there, but I fancy the top point-one percent in the far future might live something like this:

Stone work is labor intensive, and hence (I presume) costly. Maybe it's time to get working on wind-powered or water-powered grinders to cut and shape those stones and democratize the future of architecture.

Re the picaresque novel: I feel The Satyricon qualifies for that category. Petronius wrote it fifteen centuries before the examples cited above, during the reign of Nero. That seems to qualify as "a corrupt society."

9/9/11, 6:17 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Nathair, you ought to have my email -- please go ahead and forward me a copy if you'd like to submit it to the contest.

Carp, of course! It's only twenty years in the future, just like it was when I was born.

Adrian, oh, granted. I rather liked the not-quite-Pythagoras et al., but I ended up feeling that he'd ducked all the really interesting aspects of the Platonic philosophy he tried to weave into the book -- and yes, the characterization is weak. Still, it's an entertaining read, and will make a nice foil for the book I'll be using as a springboard for next week's post.

Fern, great idea. Now write one or more of them!

Lucid, by all means take the time to edit -- as I mentioned earlier, it's probably going to be two months before I even start making a rough first list of anthology fodder.

Richard, I'll be looking for it.

Kevin, depending on circumstances, it may be a larger fraction than that. Labor is expensive only when abundant energy makes all other resources cheap; in the absence of fossil fuels, human labor is the cheapest and most versatile economic factor there is, which is why so much of it got used to build big things out of rocks for a variety of purposes.

9/9/11, 9:39 PM

Susan said...
I remember reading Earth Abides many years ago. It struck me as a depressingly realistic end of civilization novel, right up there with On the Beach or Level Seven.

As far as story ideas are concerned, I could imagine a series of anthologies of short stories that approach the post Peak Oil world in a variety of ways.

For example, we could follow a single community or family coping with the downward steps, from the turbulent and painful near future to a more or less stable end state a dozen generations hence. I've read many multi-generational historical novels; why not do the same thing for the future?

Another way to approach it might be like escapefromcheeseland said: what happens in one part of the world with a particular culture and history will be completely different from another area.

Lotsa different variables will come into play, like for instance: will national governments still be around in anything like their present state? I'm afraid most of the so-called advanced nations will go broke long before we run out of oil.

Will new religious movements arise? Will giant corporations maintain, or even gain, power? Will India and Pakistan use nuclear weapons on each other? What happens when Baltimore and San Francisco and Shanghai are under 20 feet of water and whole populations are on the move?

No matter what happens, I'd like to see (and write) stories that show how people try to solve the many problems facing them (understanding, of course, that they may not always succeed).

9/9/11, 10:01 PM

DeAnander said...
Another bit of inspirational reading might be "City of Hermits" (Gina Covina), a story about the people of a small town in N California (plot focussed mostly on the lesbian residents of the town) after a really big earthquake takes out most of Civilisation As We Know It. Another story of the mundane business of life going on after the big crash, and iirc (it's been many many years since I read it) it had a certain narrative charm.

9/9/11, 10:25 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hey JMG,

I submit a short story as part of your challenge.

Hope you all enjoy the short story, it's my own original work and based on a possible future life here in a dystopian version of the near future.

Feel free to drop a comment. Be nice please as I normally only write non fiction work.

Sorry, but I don't know how to put the link in with the clever underlined text so people can just click on it! If someone could help me, I'd be grateful. You wouldn't know it now but in my younger days, I taught myself 6510 machine language on a Commodore 64 computer and was pretty handy at peeking and poking various bits. What a brilliant machine!

You have to pick and choose what you fill your head with, there's only so much space. For now its energy and agriculture.



9/10/11, 3:14 AM

Robert Magill said...
I'm working feverishly on Alien Space Bats piece. Good show. Let's see what's out there.

9/10/11, 5:52 AM

Ozark Chinquapin said...
I have thought of writing a fictional peak oil future story, and I think I'll take you up on the offer, although I'll be surprised if it's actually worthy of being included. This is the incentive I need to get to writing something, and I have some ideas already.

9/10/11, 6:43 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

"he'd ducked all the really interesting aspects of the Platonic philosophy he tried to weave into the book."

I'd be interested to know your view of this. What do you consider the really interesting aspects?

The morph from Platonism into modern cosmology was kind of interesting, though it worked in the plot as an alien space bat. ;)

Looking forward to next week's discussion.

9/10/11, 7:36 AM

Bill Hicks said...
I'm not really sure if this submission meets the exact criteria you are looking for, as it is somewhat apocalyptic. Entitled, "The Downward Spiral--A Requiem for the American Dream," it is intended as a warning to the unaware of the fate that may befall them if they choose to remain ignorant of Peak Oil and its likely consequences.

The narrative actually starts in the past and moves forward until a few years beyond the present day, and is written from the point of view of a of a completely unaware middle class American as the economic effects of peak oil slowly erode away his comfortable life.

9/10/11, 9:56 AM

idiotgrrl said...
If you're going to discuss the characterization in "Anathem", please note how utterly bad Stephenson was with his female characters in that, to the point where almost every female name ended in "a" ... always the sign of a lack of imagination in my book. IN that, he was wildly inferior to the '60s space opera writer James Schmitz!

However, I do cut Fraa Neal a little slack on that because his narrator is a boy in his late teens.

I also note the mathic culture has a Faustian base, unlike the Bazian Orthodox one.

9/10/11, 3:45 PM

Richard Larson said...
Ok. Here is my story, look under: The Future of Story Telling.

Feel free to be an editor...

9/10/11, 3:55 PM

Mike Lockmoore said...
JMG: I also endorse Butler's _Parable of the Sower_. It presents the harrowing descent of civilization breaking down, and a family's struggle to lead a few people to something like an ecotechnic path to survival.

I also liked Callenbach's Ecotopia books, but agree with JMG's assessment.

Other fiction in a post cheap-energy world:

J.D. Belanger's _The Place Called Attar_, which covers a span of time including the geologic past through modern times and into a near-future depression linked to climate change (colder rather than hotter).

John Crowley's _Engine Summer_ (perhaps most easily found in the anthology _Three Novels by John Crowley_). Set several hundred years into a future, Crowley weaves a rich tapestry of subcultures resembling traditional Native American ones and a semi-technological one still somewhat aware of the high-technology past. The end has some some crazy space bat (or something that rhymes with it) stuff, but boy can Crowley write beautiful prose!

Nobody mention David Brin's _The Postman_? I guess the movie was not very well regarded (which I have not seen), but I enjoyed the book.

9/10/11, 6:13 PM

Mike Lockmoore said...
Oh, another I could mention is Azby Brown's _Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan_ that I'm currently reading. It's about how the Edo period of Japanese culture managed to get by and live quite richly with tight resource constraints, using some fictionalized narrative to better portray the daily life. If I write a future Ecotechnic story myself, I'd draw a lot of inspiration from that book.

9/10/11, 6:18 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Susan, it sounds like you've got a good handle on some possibilities for peak oil fiction. I'll look forward to your entry to the contest!

Cherokee, it's really simple. The key is the angle brackets, which I can't type here without confusing Blogger, but you'll see them right below the comment window around b, i, and a. So you type [a href="(URL you want to insert)"](words you want highlighted)[/a], but with angle brackets in place of the square brackets I've just used. Got your story, by the way -- I've been grabbing everyone's stories as posted and converting them into Word files, which are going into a folder for assessment down the road a bit.

Robert and Ozark, I'll look forward to your entries!

Adrian, that would take a couple of posts! A short version is that the forms or ideas of what fully developed Platonism calls the noetic realm, the realm of things knowable by pure intellection, arem't equatable to their material manifestations. The Platonic form of a chair isn't some sort of perfect chair hanging in another dimension -- it's the abstract relationship of support, in which every chair must participate in order to hold somebody's buttocks off the ground.

One of the biggest questions any form of Platonism faces is just how much of those relationships are a function of the human nervous system and innate mental structure, and how much is in the realm of forms. In a certain sense, that's going to be a key element of the plot in Star's Reach, so I'm not going to get too deeply into it here; let's just say that I tend to think inhabitants of other worlds will experience and understand those worlds in ways that don't necessarily have much in common with the primate operating system that runs so much of our brains.

Bill, I've added it to the stack.

Grrl, lousy handling of female characters is all too common in science fiction even now; I'm by no means sure that mine are particularly convincing, though at least I didn't end a lot of names with "a."

Richard, got it. Do you want to give it a title other than "The Future of Story Telling"?

Mike, I've been a fan of John Crowley since he first got into print. His sense of the future is as good as it is subtly handled; the deindustrial landscape of Engine Summer and the very well handled trajectory of decline in Little, Big seem utterly believable to me. Thanks for the other recommendations, also; I hadn't heard about the Azby Brown book. That's good to hear, as a good hard look at the Edo period -- when Japan got by on a minute fraction of the energy most people think of as essential, and yet had one of its cultural golden ages -- makes an excellent counterbalance to the common notion that the only alternative to vast amounts of energy waste is miserable squalor.

9/10/11, 7:15 PM

Mark said...
A science fiction story first published in 1962 set on a future resource poor earth:

Progress by Poul Anderson

9/10/11, 9:23 PM

Unknown said...

I hope you will allow me to post a link to a few stories of mine, which I wrote and posted way back in 01999 (a couple of years after becoming peak oil aware) ;-)

They are a "trilogy," to use that trendy description, which merge peak oil and bicycling themes. The first part was meant to be set in the present, but the date isn't mentioned in the text, so you can just pretend that it is in 02012. The second two parts are farther in the future. Even though they have been posted for a while, not much has changed in the interim, so I think they are still relevant.


9/10/11, 10:02 PM

DeAnander said...
Though I thoroughly enjoy tales of the Edo period myself, wasn't there quite a bit of miserable squalor going around back then?

Of course, isn't there today? And afflicting even more people by head-count, even if they represent a smaller *percentage* of the planetary population?

Just saying, pick any culture that seems to be having a grand cultural efflorescence in a certain historical period, and I betcha there's slave labour somewhere underneath it...

9/10/11, 10:02 PM

William Hunter Duncan said...
Thank you for the challenge, JMG. Your words inspire me. I have a few ideas; should anything come from them, I'll be sure to let you know.

9/11/11, 12:11 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Thanks for that! Now for the test: Here's a clickable link to the short story I've submitted. Hope you all enjoy it:

(Kevin and the Chook - A Short Story)

Thanks people for taking the time to read it.



9/11/11, 2:41 AM

idiotgrrl said...

Finished Anathem and, ok, entertaining, but, well, characterization is not Stephensen's strong suit. Over all, extremely clever and inventive, but too many inconsistencies in its created world and too many convenient technologies that just happen along at exactly the right time. Not to mention I kept worrying about the real-life likely consequences of all his made-up technologies (and the energy and environmental costs: fuel trees?). And maybe I'd rather have Socrates be Socrates and Pythagoras be Pythagoras.

To me, the best part of the book were his descriptions of music and chanting (even his noticing that what we would call 12-tone compositions are tedious for students to learn and write) and the ideas of using music to communicate/cause change/express thoughts and emotions, not to mention initiate field changes (music of the spheres, anyone?).

IMHO the book (and its writer) could use a well-informed, well-educated, rigorous editor. Next is Big, Little. Hope I like it better.

I, too, was haunted by The Machine Stops and By the Waters of Babylon as a child.

In other news: this week I went to a sustainability conference for community colleges in my state and peak oil/climate change/ecological destruction were definitely the contextual matrix within which the discussions and presentations were set. And we are to be working on educating our students and communities about these topics.

I'm looking forward to reading the Mundane Peak Oil stories.

9/9/11 2:04 PM
Blogger FernWise said...

Hmmm. What about a series of stories with a wandering 'new tech' bard, carrying stories of how other communities are handling (or not handling) the new reality. Carrying not a harp and a song, but a slide rule and a rocket stove.

What you want for that scenario is Rosemary Kirsten's "Steerswoman" series.

9/11/11, 4:32 AM

Jan Steinman said...
Here's one with no space bats:

9/11/11, 6:02 AM

Richard Larson said...
I have tried to change the title but haven't yet figured out how. Even if I start a new post that title is sticking..

So how about, "Life Irregardless".

The word irregardless as per wiki:

9/11/11, 8:54 AM

Richard Larson said...
Oh, by the way, I updated the post. Cleaned up some of the sentences and added more information and flow to the words.

Hope people like reading it.

9/11/11, 9:26 AM

Robert Magill said...
My two cents: I wanted to send this on such an auspicious date.

In the Shadow of Mount Trashmore
by Robert Magill


9/11/11, 12:31 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Mark, thanks for the recommendation -- Anderson was a fave of mine back in the day.

Unknown, is there one in particular you'd like to submit? The whole sequence is about twice the upper length I specified.

DeAnander, there was about as much miserable squalor supporting Edo society as there is in the average human society -- that is to say, a lot less than supports your lifestyle today. (Nowadays, being progressive and advanced, we export most of our squalor and misery to other countries, and add shipping charges.)

William, I'll look forward to it.

Cherokee, I probably shouldn't have put in the parentheses -- as you see, you don't need them. Still, your link works fine!

Jan, got it. You're in the contest.

Richard, no problem -- I've got the title on the Word file, and have updated to include your edits. A reminder to all -- you've got time to make any corrections you wish, and if your story gets chosen, there'll be a final flurry of edits, yours and mine (in consultation with you), before the book goes to press.

Robert, got it. It's in the stack.

BTW, all, I'm impressed -- eleven stories submitted so far. This is going to be a nice lively contest. Those of you who haven't gotten yours in yet, as previously mentioned, you've got a couple of months before I start weeding things out.

One hint at this point -- most of what's been submitted so far, though not all, more or less follows the standard model of post-peak decline pretty closely, and focuses on the track of decline to the exclusion of other possible narratives. There are many different stories to tell about the years of decline, and I'd welcome some of the less obvious ones. A useful reminder from Theodore Sturgeon:

"During the 'Ten Days that Shook the World,' the cafes and theaters of Moscow and Petrograd stayed open, people fell in love, sued each other, died, shed sweat and tears; and some of these were tears of laughter. So on Lihrt, while the decisions on the fate of the miserable Hvov were being formulated, gwik still fardled, funted, and fupped."

9/11/11, 3:17 PM

Nicholas Davies said...
This is an excellent and well-written post. Thank you very much, I'm glad that some-one has taken the initiative to try and encourage SF writers to focus on this important subject as a basis for story creation. There is not enough public coverage, let alone debate about Peak Oil - and there really needs to be! Just the same as the oil crises of the 1970s inspired films like 'Mad Max', so Peak Oil should be a prompt for a whole raft of fiction dedicated to the issue of resource depletion.

This is something I have been working on myself for the past three years. I have written a novel (under the pen-name 'Owen Law') called 'Dragon Line'. Its set in Britain after a collapse caused not just by Peak Oil but by that other burgeoning threat which will not be affected one jot by the onset of resource depletion: Climate Change. (You only have to listen to James Lovelock to realise that the damage has already been done, unfortunately!)

Dragon Line is a bit of a saga, really - its got approximately 100 chapters! It does have a little of the metaphysical to it and incorporates something of the ancient myth and history of Britain (maybe of interest to yourself and other readers of this blog?)However, the novel was written to try and instil a sense of realism into the scenario, including a depiction of how people might be living in a total collapse scenario. Hopefuly, I have achieved something along these lines. I have posted the third draft on the Authonomy site and hope to get a publishing deal within due course.

I have a blogsite to promote the novel and discuss Peak Oil/Climate Change:

There are links to the novel on Authonomy.

I have also been working on short stories that have a general Peak Oil/Climate Change theme. I recently posted one on my blog called 'Matilda Leviathan', which is set in the near future with a backdrop of climate change, resource depletion and resultant regional nuclear conflict. I'm aiming to get this and two others as an anthology on Amazon Kindle very soon. The link for this is as follows:

I like the idea of a short story specifically against the Peak Oil back-drop as a single issue. Sounds like a great challenge, I'll start work asap then post a link when its ready!

9/11/11, 3:43 PM

wicheekate said...
The Gate to Women's Country

9/11/11, 7:23 PM

e4 said...
JMG - I'm putting the finishing touches on mine. It's actually intended to be the first chapter of a novel, but I'm hoping it will stand up as a short story anyway, just for this purpose.

Since you said you're kind of doing this first come, first served, I'm wondering whether to break mine up into a few installments just to get it in the queue, or hold off until the whole chapter is wrapped up.

I like the idea of creating a little suspense by breaking it up a bit, but I also think a blog is an awkward way to read a story that spans multiple posts, given that the newest posts are at the top, causing the natural sequence to be inverted. Has anybody creatively solved that problem already?

9/11/11, 9:02 PM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

re characterization: I agree with you--cut Anathema's narrator some slack--nineteen year old boys are, well, nineteen year old boys (she says with affection, having been the mother of one and teacher of many). The women's name ending in "a" is a little like Spanish, and does help one distinguish male from female names in these made-up SF/fantasy languages.

Another thing --the girls were mostly off-stage except tomboy Cord. It would have been interesting to have part of the novel be devoted to what Ala was up to. But of course that would have required skillful writing of female characters. (And there's nothing wrong with employing third person narrative when trying for epic scope, either.)

BTW, did you mean to add a reply when you copied and pasted my earliest comment? I was looking for one.

9/12/11, 6:50 AM

ando said...
My plot will have aspects that were learned from reading your books. Is this permissible?

9/12/11, 6:53 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
JMG--Thanks for your reply regarding Platonism. That seems a useful distinction about forms as notions and relationships rather than perfect chairs or unblemished tomatoes Elsewhere.

Without deep reflection I'm thinking the forms could actually be the same, while the translation/conceptualization would vary according to nervous system and temperament, whether purely biological or not, extra-planetary or not. Would this be forms of forms?

Even here on earth among humans, we envision and encode our conceptions of forms in such radically different ways. I know I understand imaginatively and metaphorically what I don't understand mathematically.

9/12/11, 7:02 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
Mike and JMG--

Big, Little: Two-thirds of the way through I'm finding it to be one of those novels I can't believe I missed. It is the real deal and my daughter (she of the stringent rule-list for fantasy) has started reading it and agrees.

To echo your assessment, it handles decline wonderfully--allusively, as a given, but not overly explained. And the sheer quality of the writing--the evocation of mood, the details, the learnedness, the wackiness, the avoidance of cuteness, the descriptions of nature and the city, and the characters--all make it a book you enter and don't wish to exit very soon.

Looking forward to reading Engine Summer, and maybe the Asby Brown. (Though my real-world work is heating up as the weather cools off--less time for reading fiction in the next few months!)

9/12/11, 7:27 AM

Goat Path said...
JMG- I wrote this two years ago as a "Future Cast" for a Transition Town organization. I thought you might be interested.

Swarthmore College Approves the Construction of a High Hoop House on Crum Creek Ridge. Tues, September 10th, 2019

After much "sturm und drang", the Swarthmore College Sustainability Committee finally approved a proposal by Dharma Enterprises to allow construction of a high hoop house for off-season growing of medicinal herbs. Dharma Enterprises is an NGO that has been involved in the College's sustainability initiative since 2010 when it was instrumental in pushing through a plan to use goats for brush control on the campus. The college had been plagued by the invasion of English Ivy in many of the ground's oldest, most valuable, garden collections.

Dr. Suzette Larmond, a psychologist in private practice at the time, began experimenting with raising Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats in her .45 acre Swarthmore suburban backyard in 2009. In 2010, she was able to get approval for starting a herd of Kikos on College land. The College awarded a small grant for fencing and for purchasing starters for the herd. Larmond organized a group of students, town residents, and other volunteers to tend the goats. Many members of Dharma Enterprises were founding members of the Swarthmore Transition Town Initiative. Chenkin and her husband spent a year living with the goats in an authentic nomadic herding tent (obtained through mail order from Tibet) to get the herd established, their efforts augmented by stalwart members of Dharma Enterprises. Eventually the college allowed them to establish residence in a part of one of the 18 century historical residences that had been used for farming at the time the college was established.

Within 3 years Dharma Enterprises had a herd of 20 goats and a system utilizing portable fencing that allowed them to effectively rid most areas on campus of invasive plant species. The organization then requested a starter herd of sheep to keep Campus lawns trimmed and fertilized, and two Belgian draft horses along with haymaking equipment to provide a demonstration of how animals could be used to produce hay for the goats and sheep, all without petroleum products. Using these demonstration projects as a springboard, Dharma Enterprises began team teaching Permaculture at the College. Through their hands-on classes, many Swarthmore College students have now completed their college years with valuable agricultural skills as well as a first rate liberal education. Dharma Enterprises also runs a series of hand-on workshops on goat and sheep farming and animal powered agriculture which are attended by interested folks from all over the East Coast.

Over the years of their association with Dharma Enterprises, the college learned of Dr. Chenkin's passion for herbal medicine. During the great recession of 2008, Chenkin began bartering information on herbal remedies and psychotherapeutic services to residents of Swarthmore who had lost their insurance coverage. When petroleum scarcity led to a breakdown of the US transportation system and medicines could no longer be imported from Mexico (where most of them were being manufactured), many residents were already growing their own herbs, which were used in a number of emergency situations to treat college students and staff, as well a local residents.

The approval of the high hoop house will enable Dharma Enterprises to grow herbs through 10 months of the year instead of 5. The college has also made available laboratory equipment for them to use for building a still for distillation and for implementing other medicinal preparation techniques. A class on natural methods of medicinal preparation is now being offered through the College Chemistry department. Swarthmore College is pleased to be spearheading a task force to reorganize health services to empasize health prevention, make health resources available at more local sites, and support farmers who wish to grow medicial herbs.

9/12/11, 8:19 AM

Antonio Dias said...
I attempted to leave a link to one of my short stories a few days ago.

The Island, a Short Story:

9/12/11, 9:48 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Nicholas, I'll have a look at your novel shortly -- and will look forward to your story. Many thanks.

Wicheekate, er, do I assume correctly that that's a title?

e4, "first come first served" solely in the sense that those who have stories in within two months or so will have first shot at the anthology. Within that limit, take your time and make the story work.

Ando, if you've found my peak oil books useful in creating your imaginary future, that's fine. Not required by any means, but fine.

Adrian, I'm not sure they're "forms of forms," so much as that the Forms themselves are far more abstract than we tend to think at first glance, and what we think of as the forms -- our conception of the function of support, for example -- actually exist at what Plotinus called the psychic level, the level of mental images and similitudes. An alien, contemplating the function of support, would express it in wholly different mental imagery and ideas, but its equivalent of a chair -- bizarre though that would look to us -- would still bear weight, because in its own way, it would participate in the idea of support. That's my take, at least!

Goat Path, fun! Now give it characters and a plot with a conflict, and you've got the beginnings of a story.

Antonio, Scribd won't let me download your story, so I can't add it to the stack. If you can find a way to post it directly to the blog or something, it can go into the contest.

9/12/11, 11:28 AM

jac-r said...
As a Dutch fan I posted an essay in my best English on my blog. It can be found <a href="> here </a> . It's called "Impressions of a post peak oil society".

9/12/11, 12:58 PM

idiotgrrl said...
"BTW, did you mean to add a reply when you copied and pasted my earliest comment? I was looking for one."

No, that was a slip of the mouse. Sorry!


9/12/11, 2:09 PM

Kelli C. said...
I've always been more of the fantasy fiction writer. Never read a SF book in my entire life, but I thoroughly devoured Lord of the Rings.

If oil runs out logically I would think we'd simply go back to living the way we did before the Industrial Revolution. Its religious domination all over again...

By the way, what do you mean by "invented the UFO phenomena"? Do you mean the UFOs in SF novels or that the entire phenomena is false? Seems like too much of an overgeneralization towards something still so unknown to humanity.

9/12/11, 4:28 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Jac-r, thank you! I'll have a look at it.

Kelli, most nonindustrial societies didn't have religious domination. It's an interesting but unhelpful tweak of modern thought that so many people read the entire past through a distorted sense of the Middle Ages. As for UFOs, again, did you click through to the essay I linked to? It did a fair job of explaining my comment, which is, after all, why I linked to it.

9/12/11, 7:40 PM

moflora said...
Thanks JMG

I'm In. Expect roughly 5,000 words in a few weeks.

Thanks very much for the opportunity and your excellent work.

This is a great idea and I hope you will find my story to be a positive contribution.


9/13/11, 7:34 AM

Antonio Dias said...
Sorry about the problem with Scribd.

Here it is as a direct read on the site:

9/13/11, 7:38 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Moflora, I'll look forward to it.

Antonio, thank you! I've copied it to a Word file; you're in the contest.

9/13/11, 9:52 AM

ezab said...
This is a wonderful idea. I look forward to reading these stories!

One comment about Kunstler’s “World Made By Hand” novels. I read them with interest, and I’m glad he wrote them, but I feel that he stacks the deck a bit. Epidemics and two nuclear strikes create massive social change and depopulation within a very short time.... there are plenty of empty houses on Main Street, the electricity still comes on occasionally, and people still remember hot dogs. Well, that is one possible scenario... it makes for dramatic novels... it doesn't strike me as the most likely scenario.

A couple of questions for people who’re thinking about writing a story: I find myself wondering how people of the cell phone generation, constantly plugged in, will adapt if/when this level of technology is no longer available. I wonder how all of us will adapt if/when the local grocery store no longer carries out-of-season fruit and twenty varieties of chocolate bars. I'll be interested to see how you picture those transitions... and probably a hundred more I haven't thought of.

9/13/11, 11:02 AM

joanhello said...
I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned Spider Robinson's short story "In the Olden Days", which is exactly as you describe, a day in the life of an ordinary family in post-oil times, narrated by the grandfather, who remembers our time. The issue there is that the grampa is one of the die-hard cornucopians who argues that if it hadn't been for the environmentalists and the simple-lifers and the back-to-the-land types passing legislation that crippled technological advancement, some replacement would, repeat, would have been found that would have allowed industrial society to keep going. And I think he speaks for his author.

9/13/11, 11:38 AM

kayxyz said...
What a great idea. The thought that's been floating around my brain is that Reynolds Price, a Rhodes scholar who studied at Oxford, assured readers in one of him memoirs that the Oxford curriculum included only those works of art older than a century (or was it older than 50 years). Nothing less could be considered a work of art, that is, a work that has withstood the test of time.

Fortunately, science fiction is excluded, which gives writers leeway.

9/13/11, 4:47 PM

Wendy said...
I couldn't resist ;).

Please find my post-apocalypse/peak oil story here.

And in case the link doesn't work the copy and paste version:

Thans for the opportunity. It was a blast ;).

9/13/11, 5:03 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Ezab, Jim's got a slower crash than some, but it's faster than I think we'll see. I'd be very interested to see some stories exploring the experience and the paradoxes of a very slow crash.

Joanhello, yes, that sounds like Robinson. That there might not be such a replacement is almost an unthinkable concept to a great many people, including a lot of SF writers.

Kayxyz, there's a definite point to that. If the goal is to stay clear of the short-term vagaries of the collective imagination, focusing on what passes the test of time is not a bad starting place.

Wendy, got it! You're in the contest.

9/13/11, 6:01 PM

John Michael Greer said...
BYW, I've just sent out the first query to a publisher about the anthology. Given the pace at which solid entries have been coming in, I have no doubt at all that I'll be able to put together a first-rate collection in the next few months. Thank you all for your enthusiasm -- and those of you who are busy writing now, don't worry, there's still room for your work. Get 'em in when you can.

9/13/11, 6:03 PM

Apple Jack Creek said...
Hello Archdruid and company - sorry that this is entirely off topic for this particular post, but it is relevant to our larger conversation.
In the recent copy of Canadian Geographic magazine, there was a big pullout on the "Energy Diet" - six Canadian households doing a 'reality TV style' competition to reduce energy usage, and "100+ ways to trim your energy usage".

The website (which has expanded content but is essentially the same thing) is here ... it's very much in the 'every little step counts' genre of things, but I suppose one has to start somewhere and this would be one way to get those who aren't yet 'in the choir' to start thinking about things a little ... though it's got a definite lullaby ring to it all. Interestingly, Shell is a major sponsor of the thing.

9/14/11, 9:40 AM

Odin's Raven said...
Here's my contribution.

It's about 6,300 words, a series of short sketches of people interested in history, set several centuries in the future, well past oil.

9/15/11, 11:56 AM

knutty knitter said...
Ok Here's my first effort. It might go on to be a larger story but I think it stands by itself alright. It isn't apocalyptic, just 'normal'


viv in nz

9/16/11, 5:21 AM

yooper said...
Hello John! Been a long time, time to come out of the rabbit hole!

9/16/11, 5:39 PM

e4 said...
Wolf and Iron, by Gordon R. Dickson is the book I kept trying to think of since I first read this post. I don't recall any Space Bats in it, though I might be forgetting. That's the closest thing I've encountered to the type of post-peak fiction you describe.

I've got something almost ready to submit. Every couple days I think of a few more tweaks or adjustments, which I guess is a sign that I should probably move on with my writing. I don't want to turn into the George Lucas of post-peak short story writing....

9/21/11, 1:14 PM

Kevin Anderson K9IUA said...
Two weeks from the Thursday I read this particular post and your writing challenge, I have uploaded my submission to my blog. Everyone can find it at

Kevin Anderson

9/22/11, 7:52 PM

Mike Lockmoore said...
Working on my submission. Part 1 of 3 is about 4500 words long. :-( Maybe I'll just officially submit part 3 of 3. I'll post the first part fairly soon. It just needs a few more touches.

9/23/11, 4:41 PM

S. Starwind said...

That's the short (and PG) version of the story idea. I apologize for it being a narrative.

9/24/11, 2:26 AM

Mike Lockmoore said...
Ok, Part One of my short(?) story is up:

I reserve the right to re-edit any and all parts of it!

This first part is about 4300 words. Part two will probably be a little shorter, but part three could be as long or even longer, which could total 10k to 12k words. If the 7500 word count is a hard limit, I'm make a version of part three that can stand alone and submit that.

9/26/11, 7:55 AM

e4 said...
Okay, long promised, and much revised... I hope y'all enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it.

10/1/11, 11:13 AM

Witter said...
I wrote a story called Nobody Knows.
You can find it here.

I've finally been able to read through the whole thing without changing anything, so I guess it's done.

10/1/11, 7:24 PM

Mike Lockmoore said...
Part 2 of 3 of my story:

Wow, did I under-estimate the size. Part 2 is 10600 words. I will need to keep Part 3 smaller.

10/2/11, 1:45 PM

Terry Dyke said...
Here is a short story adapted from the opening chapter of a novel I've written and currently looking to get published.

The story is set in a de-industrial future, a world where the living is marginal, but cooperative and sustainable out of necessity.

The profound adaptations and real advancements we'll need to make--so well-examined in this blog--have largely taken place by now. Against this advanced backdrop, the human comedy nevertheless continues...


10/3/11, 8:58 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Just a note to all of you who've posted stories here -- many thanks! I've got 'em all downloaded; e4 and Witter, I need author's names to put on your submissions. Those can be posted as comments -- tell me if you don't want them put through, and I won't.

10/3/11, 9:22 AM

Mark said...

10/4/11, 4:22 AM

Nicholas Davies said...
This is the link to my story, which is set against the background of my novel 'Dragon Line' (thought it might be good to continue along the same theme of post-peak apocalypse in Britain.)

Apologies, I only finished it at the weekend and have reviewed it. I wanted to review it again before posting, but have not had chance. Oh well, here goes (I might update the version on the blog):

10/4/11, 2:52 PM

Paul said...
Hi JMG, just catching up on back posts and read this one with some enthusiasm. Hope it's not too late to submit an offering? I've had a story idea percolating around my brain for at least a year now that fits neatly in with your requirements. Haven't made a start on it yet, but will do now!

10/5/11, 4:16 AM

Philip Steiner said...
Hi John, please accept my story submission, online at

Thanks for posing the challenge. I last tried writing fiction more than fifteen years ago. Alien Space Bats was the motivation I needed to put my own thoughts about peak oil down in print.

10/17/11, 12:29 AM

Harry J. Lerwill said...
Good morning JMG,

I decided to trow my hat into the ring with this one. I've had to start from scratch so it's taking a bit longer than anticipated. We're into the second month since the challenge and I didn't want to wait to long.

The draft story is finished, just under 7,500 words, but there's not enough tension in the last scene. I'm working with my editor get it up to her rather exacting standards.

First part is linked here. I expect to have the editing finished with two weeks. I'll email you a word copy in the usual submission format.

10/18/11, 10:47 AM

novazed said...

I'd like to submit my short story for consideration in your contest. It's called The Plastic Hospital and can be found here: It examines the implications of energy descent on healthcare through the eyes of an emergency room resident.

Thanks for the opportunity to share!

11/8/11, 12:18 PM

Mike Lockmoore said...
My short story for consideration is An Alliance Too Costly. It is a slightly expanded version of part 4 of perhaps 6 in what is becoming a novella. (Good grief!)

If you are interested in the complete story (still a work in progress), it is Dissolution Day (Rough Draft)

11/8/11, 8:36 PM