Saturday, March 22, 2008

Before there was Green

I read a lot more than books to review. I read everything I can squeeze in between downloads and uploads of work, when I'm waiting for meals to cook, when I have a free minute or two and don't feel like reading another review book and every chance I get when I have to stand in line. I'm the one at the post office with a book in my hands moving forward whenever I feel air where there was body heat and perfume, sweat and fabric softener scents. I read at meals, even though I know I should focus on the food -- and I do focus on the food -- but reading relaxes me and smooths out the bumps and potholes in my day. Reading keeps me connected to the rest of the world in a way that wandering down a strange street or sitting in the park writing in a journal and watching the world go by does not. Even in a reading trance I am acutely aware of everything around me, catching sounds and sights from the edges of vision and filing them for later use. Everything is fodder for the writing that comes with the reading.

While researching what it takes to get a grant to focus solely on writing, and reading the latest offerings in writing newsletters, as I do every Saturday, I realized there is a wealth of material for me to use. An article about the rise of female protagonists in previously male-dominated science fiction (some of which I have read and reviewed) and scoping out the markets for Delta airlines in-flight magazine focusing on being green gave me an idea of how to work the two together and maybe even put together a project that will be suitable for a grant. Most of the research is done, since I've been reading the author for decades, and there's something about pointing up a legacy that gives me a certain sense of pride. Maybe it was Sir Arthur C. Clarke's death and the recent death of so many literary lights that put the thought in my mind, but it's there now and I'm willing to throw the dice and see whether they come up snake eyes or seven.

Long before Marvin Gaye pushed Motown records owner Barry Gordy to record Mercy, Mercy Me Andre Norton was writing about the environment. She wrote stories about technologically advanced civilizations that fell through a crack in time and space and were faced with the destruction of the environment and how it affected everything around them, and how nature fought back. Short stories, novels and novellas chronicled worlds in rebellion and those healing from the devastation humans wreaked. She dreamed of the populations of the seas catapulted into evolutionary overdrive and able to make treaties with the rag tag ends of mankind and worlds were cities raked empty skies with rusting claws, harboring four-footed and insectile intelligences while humans huddled on the brink of extinction as nomads. She wrote of children caught up and transported to fairyland only to come back to a world that smelled of industry with air that tasted of burn fuels and how a handful of seeds sown into the depleted soil sprang up into lush growth overnight and reached outward to claim more and more of the mechanical world, bringing with its riotous growth a resurgence of animals, birds and insects that had fled or died out.

J. R. R. Tolkien was touted in one article as an environmentalist who showed the ravages of the industrial age and how it was reclaimed when Saruman's tower was overthrown and the land cleansed by the Isen river. But he wasn't the first, and he certainly isn't the last. Andre Norton was there first with strong female protagonists and an almost prophetic knowledge of what will come if we don't change our relationship with this earth we inhabit. Man against nature and man in harmony with nature, making peace and learning to live side by side were all part of Andre Norton's stock in trade before the hole in the ozone, before Green Peace, before Tolkien and before the world began to wake up and see what they were doing. I wonder if her stories, dismissed as tales for young adults, worked their way into the consciousness that sprang up in the 1960s and 1970s and subtly goaded a generation toward the green path. There are other topics and I'm sure I'll find more than I bargained for, but for better or worse I'm casting the dice.

That is all. Disperse.

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