MANDA SCOTT

This month’s book recommendations come from Manda Scott. Born in Scotland at 318ppm CO2, she is a veterinary surgeon turned novelist and host of the Accidental Gods podcast and programme. Both the podcast and her latest novel, Any Human Power, aim to map out plausible, grounded routes towards a future we’d all be proud to leave to the generations that come after us.

“This is the nature of Thrutopian writing,” she says. “It eschews the lazy predictability of dystopian narratives – and the inaccessibility of utopias – in favour of steps we could take starting exactly where we are that lead us on a different trajectory.”

Realising she couldn’t have attempted the novel’s scope if she hadn’t hosted the podcast for years, Manda is also co-creator of the Thrutopia Masterclass, a resource for existing creatives to bridge the conceptual gaps between the death cult of predatory capitalism and all that sustains it, and the alternatives that could lead us to that flourishing future our hearts know is possible.

Recommendations

Beyond the Brink is the Beginning by Richard Wain

Richard Wain came on our Thrutopia Masterclass where we helped existing writers to get their heads around the need for – and potential content of – Thrutopian writing. His poetry collection is full of sharply-crafted insights into the world we have, and the ways we might open our doors to something different that we’d be proud to leave to the generations that come after us – which is our living definition of Thrutopian writing.

The beginning of a new world.
The ending of the old.
Standing there at the edge,
everyone can see it.

“Everyone can see it” is clearly a hope rather than a statement of reality, but this is the point of poetry. We build the worlds we want to see, and we imagine them into being. And then there are ley lines stretching out across the terrain of the collective unconscious and others can walk them, and others and others. Until the day they feel like the way everyone has always walked.

Vulture Capitalism: Corporate Crimes, Backdoor Bailouts and the Death of Freedom by Grace BlakeleyLife under capitalism means life under a system in which decisions about how we work, however we live and what we buy have already been taken by someone else. Life under capitalism means living in a planned economy, while being told that you are free.” If you’ve read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, then you have some sense of the sheer, undiluted evil of the neo-liberal ideology and the lives and livelihoods it has cost around the world. This new book by Grace Blakeley updates Klein’s ideas and brings them home. The opening chapter is an excoriating exposé of Boeing and the internal cost-cutting that led to the MAX disasters, which in itself is a teeth-aching horror. But on top of this, Blakeley does some brilliant forensic journalism to expose the extent to which the airline was propped up by the US Treasury. And this forms the pattern for the first two parts of the book: case after case of giant corporations working hand in glove with the notionally ‘democratic’ states in which they collude to ensure that the entire process of regulation, taxation and indeed democracy itself serves the interests of capital rather than the interests of people. As one author puts it, ‘the free market is a smokescreen, behind which lies the brutal, despotic power of corporations’. We could say also that democracy is a similar smokescreen.  So far, so obvious – the detail Blakeley gives is painful to read, but the central thesis of this book states, ‘More than anything, I hope that by the time you finish this book, you will be convinced that you have the power to change the way the world works. Because there are a lot of very powerful people out there who want you to believe that you can’t.’ And this is how this book differs from Klein’s The Shock Doctrine or even Douglas Rushkoff’s Survival of the Richest – the promise of alternatives sweeps through the book, and then, in the final section, Blakeley outlines those that are up and running in our world today: not just the commonly known ones like the Preston model, or even the failed (but inspiring) Lucas Aerospace worker’s Plan, but others that are thriving and give us models of hope: Cooperation Jackson; Australia’s Green Bans; the Union of Farm Workers in Marinaleda…the examples are small and fragile, but they exist. And if we’re going to move forward to a future we’d be proud to leave to the generations that come after us, this is what we need.

Venomous Lumpsucker by Ned Beauman

This book won the 2023 Arthur C Clarke award, what more do I need to say? It’s brilliantly written, sharp, shockingly funny: spit-your-tea-across-the-keyboard funny in unexpected ways and unexpected places. But mostly it’s an excoriating examination of a near future where capitalism has continued to run riot and the venal, self-serving hypocrisy has reached a climax of impossibility. In essence, the Venomous Lumpsucker of the title is a fish threatened with extinction. Companies that render endangered species extinct have a (small, but significant) hit to their profits. But the markets have intervened to create a DNA bank which promises that they’re not actually extinct. So that’s fine. Go ahead and mine the last possible habitat, because they’re ’safe’  – until someone destroys the DNA bank. It was a fiction anyway, but its theoretical existence was providing a fig leaf for a lot of profiteering and now that leaf has been stripped away, some very powerful people are going to be pretty angry. Particularly if there’s a fairly low-level cog in the wheel who can be blamed for all kinds of things. Mark Halyard is the entirely morally ambiguous (actually, I’m being kind, he’s a self-serving idiot who made a daft gamble that has gone wrong and is desperate to stay out of prison). As lead characters go, he pulls us either side of the line between pitying him and despising him. Rather more clear cut is his partner-in-uncrime, Karin Resaint who only cares about finding the Venomous Lumpsucker – said to be one of the most intelligent More-than-Human species (I term them this, nobody in the book does). These two don’t have much in common, but they want to find the last living Lumpsuckers and their quest is going to take them to the edges of Network Sea-States and, ultimately, to an ASI that knows a lot more about what’s going on than any of the meat-packets wandering around thinking they’re in charge.

I wouldn’t normally include something so obviously dystopic in this list – I loathe dystopias: generally speaking they’re lazy attempts to project the worst of human behaviour along predictable time lines with the fluffy moral excuse that if we knew how bad things were going to be, we’d change trajectory. This is quite plainly not true and the absolute definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different result. So let’s not write more lazy fiction.  But Venomous Lumpsucker is not lazy at all, and Beaman’s understanding of the various converging forces of capital, genetic engineering, libertarian fantasy politics and AI makes this brilliant, funny and prescient – what’s not to like?

The Mars House by Natasha Pulley

Hands down, Natasha Pulley is one of the greatest writers of our generation. If the human race survives beyond this crisis point, I fully expect our descendants to look back on her entire body of work as little short of genius. Her shaping of language, of character and the clarity and skill of her plots – to say nothing of the deeply scientific underlay and the rather clever experiments with time, leaves me ever in awe.

None of her books to date has been strictly Thrutopian- until now. If we stretch points a little, The Mars House is an examination of how things can go very, very badly wrong – and potentially how human nature leans towards decency in the end.

Notes from the Burning Age by Claire North

So there’s a whole earth-based religion/spirituality based on making sure nobody does bad stuff that might annoy the earth spirits enough to cause them to arise again. As always, though, there’s someone who thinks the Kukuy are fairy stories and the Temple is holding all the knowledge of stuff like internal combustion engines, and tanks, and nuclear fusion to itself – this is the Brotherhood, determined to ‘free humanity ‘ – or at least the rich, patriarchal, hierarchical versions of humanity who hold control. In a world where equality is the default, and gender norms don’t exist, they want to return to the good old days of reproductive control of women, male dominance and strict gender segregation.

Caught in the midst of all this is our hero, Ven, who is sent in deep cover by the Temple to infiltrate the hierarchy of the Brotherhood. As is the way with the deepest of cover, he builds deep and lasting relationships, especially with Georg, the hand in the glove puppets of the idiots who lead the Brotherhood. The tension between these two, particularly the race by Ven to find the Brotherhood’s spy inside the Temple before he can be betrayed… this is the stuff of the best spy thrillers, but looped through it all, is a retrospective view of the world that was and all the reasons it was morally corrupt. I’m pushing the boundaries of Thrutopian writing here: it doesn’t really map us routes forward to a future we’d be proud of, but it does give glimpses of what this future might look and feel and taste like – and it’s so magically written that I wanted to include it.

Poem of the Month

Things to Remember as this World Dies by Chris Taylor

you did not come here to pay bills and die.
nor to line the pockets
of those destroying the Earth.

Imagine instead
that you came to gather precious things
fallen from the pockets of Ancient Ones
as they fled the desert’s march –
each a reminder of something
they pledged never to forget.

Things like
how to call birds by name with your whistle.
which news to tell the bees
and which to share only with the moon.
how to tell a parliament from a conspiracy
a colony from a convocation.

Things like
Nature has no race or nation, class or creed
except when humans seek to deceive –
division designed to sever you
from kith and kin and buddha-mind.

Things like
the antidote to oppression
is not freedom but belonging
the opposite of domination is communion.
the medicine you need
is always outside your door
and there’s likely a wise woman
two streets away
to show you how to use it.

These things were left to help us remember
how each world before has ended
and how each death became a door to new life
and how this world wants to take you in her arms
and make of you a lover
and have you listen to the land
talk to the stream
find meaning in the silence of trees
and wisdom on the singing breeze.

Listen awhile to discover
the right season for all ten thousand things
the ninety-nine names we use for our own divinity
how to share power
so it can never be captured by the vain and greedy
how to step into the flow of life
and make of the Earth a common treasury for all beings
how to map the stars
learn the lesson of each constellation
and still know there is more in heaven and earth
than any of us were ever meant to know.

So fill your pockets as this world dies
knowing some of it will guide you to the next
and some will fall to the ground
in time to be found
by those who’ll bring the world back to life.

Contact our Librarian if you would like themed book lists to support teaching about climate change.

We’re always looking for contributors to our growing collection of literature to explain and explore the climate and biodiversity emergency. If you’re a writer or poet and would like to share your work or ideas, please get in touch! Contact mattroselibrary@gmail.com for prose or poetsrebelxr@gmail.com for poetry.