The Seep: Book of the Month August 2023

Cover art from The Seep: a still life painting of flowers against a dark background that distorts and smears at the bottom of the picture

In The Seep by Chana Porter, utopia has been brought about by means of an alien invasion. What follows in this novella is a loving pastiche of contemporary utopian tropes. The emotional processing, sensitivity to ecological connections, and community-mindedness. Its diversity in terms of race, gender and sexuality. The abolition of money and the police. And the complete mitigation of human-induced climate change.

Porter’s novella has a wry sense of humour. There’s a cafe called ‘My Attitude is Gratitude’. The alien communicates with our protagonist through an electronic pamphlet. The words magically change depending on her predicament, offering wisdom whenever she might go astray.

So, you’re thinking of going on a vengeful quest! We applaud your passion and your conviction, and we recognize that you have a lot to be hurt and angry about. […] But consider your end goal here. Hurting someone who’s hurt you will only create more hurt. How can we help you feel better in a more productive fashion?”

The Seep

The Seep – a fun guy to be around?

The alien in question, known as The Seep, is a fungal kind of presence. And I don’t believe I’m saying that just because I read The Seep immediately after reading Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life. (The subtitle of Sheldrake’s book on fungi is ‘How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures’.) The Seep is in the air and the water, from which it enters the body and alters the mind of the human it arrives in. They experience enlightenment, a sense of being part of a great whole, and the feeling that everything is going to be OK.

The Seep also does more wacky stuff, like allowing transformations such as growing antlers or becoming a newborn baby to start out all over again. It can also heal both people and the Earth. It can cure cancer by persuading cancer cells ‘to die gracefully, to let go and become something new’.

So, your planet is under the control of a benevolent utopian overlord!

The Seep is a benevolent presence that makes you wonder what it’s getting out of this arrangement. What’s the grand plan? Is The Seep using humans in pursuit of some greater goal? Do humans still have any free will?

Humans are almost always under the influence of The Seep. When ‘seeped’, they make decisions that benefit themselves, society and the planet as a whole. While the outcome is in their best interests, their minds, and hence their actions, are ultimately controlled by The Seep.

As such, The Seep is a typical utopian overlord. To create and then enforce a utopia, there has to be some kind of coercive control. This is a common feature, or problem, with utopias and The Seep offers a new way of approaching it. The Seep makes everyone of one mind, and it’s very helpful and everyone’s happy… But… Are they free? Is this utopia? Is utopia ever utopian at all?

If you are in the vicinity of Bristol, UK and you would like to discuss this book in person, come along to our next Utopian Book Collective meeting on 4 September.