Three utopian things bringing me joy this month

As I mentioned in my last post (the one before Rob Bryher’s article on car free cities and environmental justice), I haven’t been reading novels lately. Since admitting this, I’ve felt more able to focus on what I am currently enjoying in the world of utopia, and consciously taking pleasure from those things. This includes essays, online talks and events, and adding to my reading list for that future day when the book lust kicks in again. It’s a lesson in being led by what I enjoy. So here’s my round up of the utopian things bringing me joy this month.

1. Adding to my awesome utopian reading list

Loyal followers of the blog will know I have an awesome utopian reading list focusing on Afrofuturist, African Sci-Fi and Black Utopias. I featured it back in my inaugural blog post.

This week I’ve added the following:

Essays by Eugen Bacon

Bacon shared her essay ‘Black Lives Matter – The Rise Of Future Forms, Genres and Modes’ on twitter this week. The essay is something of a wormhole, leading to more of her own essays and a whole host of recommendations of work from other Black writers. Particularly high on my list are the New Suns and New Suns 2: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color anthologies edited by Nisi Shawl (more from Shawl below).

Octavia’s Parables

I read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower in July 2019 during an extreme heatwave in Europe. I was in Prato, Italy for a conference on utopia and climate change and it was 39℃ (103℉). We were melting while we talked about climate catastrophe and apocalypse, the air conditioning failing around us. Trump was in power in America. It was all too real.

I really want to read Parable of the Talents but now we’re living through another dystopia (yes, the pandemic) I’m worried about finding it a bit much. This is where I see Octavia’s Parables stepping in.

This podcast (which I missed off my utopia and climate justice podcasts list), hosted by Toshi Reagon and adrienne maree brown, takes Parable of the Sower (season one) and Parable of the Talents (season two) one chapter at a time. I feel that in this supported way, chapter by chapter, I could read Parable of the Talents, at what is undoubtedly a pertinent time to do so. Based on brown’s key note discussion of Butler at the New Suns online literary festival, I know she has both a deep love of Octavia Butler and doula skills for guiding people through potentially traumatic experiences. So I’m going to trust in the podcast, is what I’m saying.

Prato. It was sooo hot.

2. Sitting in my PJs watching authors talk about utopia

Here’s a zero effort way to indulge in all things sci-fi and utopia. I treated myself by making time to catch up on this recorded event from February 2021, featuring Meg Elison, Nalo Hopkinson and Nisi Shawl, with Terry Bisson as moderator.

Highlights for me were:

  • Everyone being super relaxed and chatty
  • Nalo Hopkinson on the pandemic – “I didn’t want to be living in an Octavia Butler novel!” – and on the mainstream – “I’m not going to get normal anytime soon”
  • Nisi Shawl on Everfair as a utopia: “Although, Everfair, the people in it are trying to create a utopia, I think of it more as the process of utopia rather than as the goal that everyone gets to. It’s getting there that is the important thing, not having arrived”
  • Meg Elison on her upcoming utopian noir novel, The Snatch (does this mean the same in the US as in the UK?)
  • Meg, Nalo and Nisi putting Terry straight on contemporary publishing (deadlines aren’t elastic and no-one’s got an expense account)

3. Attending live online events and feeling part of something exciting

Back home in Bristol, the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft have been running a three week School of Activism. One class, hosted by Invented Futures, was on ‘Speculation, Visionaries and Modern Mythologies‘. Invented Futures is a collective based at Spike Island in Bristol looking at new technology and the stories that drive the tech we invent. (That’s my interpretation of what they do anyway, I’d like to talk to them and find out more!) One of the speakers was Katie Stone of Utopian Acts, a collective I’ve collaborated with before. So I felt at home on several accounts and relished the discussion.

One text that Katie brought up was Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber. She spoke of how the book contrasts the technological knowledge of two different worlds, one hi-tech and the other seemingly primitive. Since watching the Stranger Than Fiction roundtable I was thinking I wanted to read something by Hopkinson. As usual though, I couldn’t pick which book to start with. But here was Katie talking about Midnight Robber… Is this a sign, I thought?

And do you know what, I think it was a sign. I think I’ve chosen my next book to read. I might be about to get back into reading, spending delicious quiet hours with a book, tea and quite possibly also chocolate. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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