Atwood, Water and The New York Times…

  “Water Is…” leads Atwood’s Pick for Books of 2016   Every year, near Christmas, The New York Times puts out “The Year in Reading” in which they ask notably avid readers—who also happen to be poets, musicians, diplomats, filmmakers, novelists, actors and artists—to share the books that accompanied them through that year. For the 2016 Year In Reading, The Times asked a prestigious and diverse readership, including Junot Diaz, Paul Simon, Carl Bernstein, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elizabeth Banks, Samantha Power, Philip Pullman, Ann Pratchett, Orhan Pamuk, Drew Gilpin Fause, Anne Tyler, and many others to share their books of 2016. There was also Booker Prize-winning and celebrated Canadian author and poet Margaret Atwood. Margaret Atwood is a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature as well as the Booker Prize (several times) and the Governor General’s Award. Animals and the environment feature in many of her books, particularly her speculative fiction, which reflects a strong view on environmental issues. Several of her latest works (e.g., Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood, MaddAddam) are eco-fiction and may be considered climate fiction. Atwood and partner, novelist Graeme Gibson, are the joint honorary presidents of the Rare Bird Club within BirdLife International. Atwood’s highly popular graphic novel Angel Catbird reflects an environmental sensitivity to the balance between wildlife and humans and their pets in urban settings. Atwood’s choice for 2016 books came from her active, astute and compassionate environmentalism. Suggesting that many of her ‘The Year in Reading’ co-readers would emphasize fiction, history and politics, Atwood chose her books “instead from a still-neglected sector. All hail, elemental spirits! You’re making a comeback!” Here are the four books Atwood recommends and why: “Water Is…: The Meaning of Water” (Pixl Press) by Nina Munteanu. “We can’t live without it, so maybe we should start respecting it,” says Atwood. “This beautifully designed book by a limnologist looks at water from 12 different angles, from life and motion and vibration to beauty and prayer.” Water is emerging as one of the single most important resources of Planet Earth. Already scarce in some areas, it has become the new “gold” to be bought, traded, coveted, cherished, hoarded, and abused worldwide. It is currently traded on the Stock Exchange…Some see water as a commodity like everything else that can make them...

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On Ecology, Women and Science Fiction: Part 1, Gnosis

I’m an ecologist. We look at why things happen and work, and—perhaps most importantly—how they affect one another. Ecology is the science of relationships and consequence. I taught at the University of Victoria for several years then conducted environmental assessments as a limnologist (aquatic ecologist) for environmental consulting firms in British Columbia. My short stories and novels are—no big surprise—mostly eco-fiction. It’s been that way since I started high school in Quebec, in fact. That first year, when I fervently expressed exhortations for global environmental action, a well-meaning, but myopic teacher chided me for my extravagant worldview. “Stick to little things and your community—like recycling,” he’d suggested patronizingly. I remember the shock of realizing that not everyone felt the planet like I did. Perhaps it was a teenage-thing, or a girl-thing, or a nina-thing. I prayed it wasn’t just a nina-thing… For the past few years I’ve been teaching writing at the University of Toronto and George Brown College in Ontario. I teach a workshop-style class that involves students bringing in and working on their current Work-In-Progress (WIP). And I’ve been noticing an interesting trend. Something cool is happening in my classes. More and more students are bringing in WIPs on ecological and global environmental issues. Many of the stories involve a premise of environmental calamity, but not in the same vain as previous environmental disasters that depict “man” against Nature. These works give the Earth, Nature or Water an actual voice (as a character). And a protagonist who learns to interact with it cooperatively. For me this represents a palpable and gestalt cultural awakening in the realm of the “feminine archetype”. The history of storytelling and of humanity’s evolution—how we relate to each other and our environment—are inextricably tied. The stories we tell—whether fiction or non-fiction—reflect who we are, what we value, and what we will become. Good stories are about relationships and their consequences. Our capacity—and need—to share stories is as old as our ancient beginnings. From the Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux to our blogs on the Internet, humanity has left a grand legacy of ‘story’ sharing. Evolutionary biologist and futurist Elisabet Sahtouris tells us that, “whether we create our stories from the revelations of religions or the researches of science,...

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Embracing Your Future: Natural Swimming Pools

You step out of your Point Grey house and stroll down to the Hydrogenase Hub at Kits Beach in Vancouver. You’re heading out to visit your friend Michael, who has been renovating his property on Galiano Island. You helped him design his place, which included an outdoor natural swimming pool. The work is finished and Michael’s invited you over to see what they’ve accomplished. You reach the floating station, which serves as an algal farm to capture biological fuel. At the gate, you give your personal landing coordinates and then board a Hydrogenase airship–essentially a tall seed-shaped “algal balloon”. You settle in one of the viewing rooms with a Chai latte. Because the Hydrogenase can effortlessly land and take off in the roughest terrains, their service includes “on demand” to “your doorstep”. This is a good thing, you ponder, given that many people live in more remote locations–like Michael. The sleek vessel glides over Georgia Strait toward the Gulf Islands and you watch the view, reflecting on the history of NSPs in North America. The first Natural Swimming Pools were developed in Austria ten years before you were born. Known as schwimmteiche the first one was built in the early 1980s by DI Werner Gamerith in his private garden. NSPs spread throughout Europe in the 1990s, where thousands were built by companies like the Austrian firm Biotop Landschaftsgestaltung and the German firm BioNova. But it took almost two decades for the NSP concept to catch on in North America. The first public NSP in North America was built in 2014 by BioNova in Webber Park, Minneapolis. The NSP featured a shallow end with a beach and a deep end, a waterfall, lap lanes, a water slide, and a natural stone jumping cliff. The pool is used in the winter for skating. That same year, your mother wrote a book about water. Published in 2015 and entitled Water Is… the book explored water from a range of perspectives. Spanning points of view from limnology to human health, spirituality and metaphysics, her book touched upon the importance of good, clean “living” water for ecosystems generally and for human health specifically. You consider that your mom would be delighted at the present statistics. In 2014, only one...

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Nina Munteanu on the Author-Editor Relationship

Toronto based EAC editor Jennifer D. Foster interviewed Nina Munteanu in a Q&A session on what authors think about editors. What do authors think makes the difference between a good editor and a great editor? In May, BoldFace asked award-winning author Elizabeth Berg about her experience working with editors. This time we posed the same questions to Nina Munteanu, a Halifax-based writing instructor and author of The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! and the short story collectionNatural Selection. Overall, what’s your experience like as an author who’s been edited? It’s been exceptional! That is, when I was being edited by professional editors. At various times in my career, I’ve had my works edited by individuals who ranged in their level of understanding of “story” and editing within the genre: colleagues, other writers, and novice editors. At times, it was disastrous. What this experience showed me was the importance of matching editor with writer. This is why in the industry we often refer to this linkage as a “marriage.” In some very important ways it is just like a marriage: a synergistic partnership of mutual respect, a shared vision, and enthusiasm with the ultimate goal of taking something and making it better. As a writer, I entrust my sacred creation to an individual who I pray will respect and uphold my voice and my vision, yet not shy away from suggesting those improvements that go beyond simple copy edits. When this happens, what you always get is something greater than what it was before. A well-matched editor and writer will together enhance a project into something beautiful. It is truly a wonderful thing to behold and experience. What is it like as an author to work, say, months, or even years, on a book, then have an editor read it critically and suggest (sometimes major) changes? Except for my very first book, I’ve not had an editor suggest major changes to my works…yet. However, the changes that they have suggested have always resulted in obvious improvement. I welcome the input of a good editor. In a typical edit, I find that I am in total agreement with 95 per cent of their suggestions and edits. And the remaining 5 per cent, they usually concede. What do you think is the...

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Embracing Your Future…The EBM

Those who are inspired by a model other than Nature, a mistress above all masters, are laboring in vain—Leonardo daVinci   You pause at the front door of the eco-house that you and your partner designed in Vancouver’s Point Grey and pull up the collar of your jacket. The air is fresh with the promise of snow and you smile with thoughts of spring skiing at Whistler. You glance at the time display on your Smart Glasses. You’ve decided to forego the WaveGate and walk to the café; you have plenty of time to walk through the hilly forested streets, with a view of English Bay. You want to check out the refurbished solar-house on Locarno Cresent that your company helped design. Based on a living model of Biomimicry, the house is the latest iteration of your company’s “symbiosis” model of 100% sustainability, in which people live in a cooperative and synergistic partnership with their environment. The house is an intelligent organic facility with self-cleaning floors and walls; heated, fueled and lit by organisms in a commensal relationship. Everything works on a natural cycle of harmonious renewal and natural evolution. You smile, rather self-pleased. It has taken you a few years to convince the city council to accept this new model in community design. Now, it’s happening everywhere. It’s April 12, 2074. A special day. And a special year. The year of the wooden horse in the Chinese calendar. Also called the green horse, it’s associated with spring, growth and vitality. The horse symbolizes nobility, class speed and perseverance. Horse energy is pure unbridled spirit. Playful, wild and independent, the horse has a refined instinct that flows through action and movement. Together, these symbols promise both chaos and great opportunity. And transformation. The year of the wooden horse only occurs every sixty years. And sixty years ago today your mom turned sixty. You release a boyish grin at what you intend to do in celebration. On that day, sixty years ago, she celebrated her sixtieth birthday with the release of Natural Selection, her collection of speculative short stories about human evolution, AI, genetic manipulation, transhumanism, and the human-‘machine’ interface. She also celebrated the local printing of Metaverse, the third book of her space detective...

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Embracing Your Future: Flying Algal Ships

It’s July 2030. You are heading to Vancouver Island to deliver a presentation to the International Community Planning Committee in Victoria on your innovative biomimetic design for an organic self-organized wellness centre and recreation complex in Sydney. You walk toward English Bay to the nearest Hydrogenase Hub, where you are meeting with your team to discuss the presentation. The hub is a floating algal farm. The farm and the elongated seed-shaped airship docked at its centre both produce biofuel—essentially hydrogen—from the microorganism Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Your mom, a former environmental consultant and algal scientist—now she writes science fiction—explained to you that this unicellular organism has both plant and animal properties; it carries out photosynthesis but is also heterotrophic (able to use organic carbon to grow) and will in the absence of oxygen produce gaseous hydrogen and metabolites such as formate and ethanol through hydrogenase enzymes. Chlamydomonas reinhardtii was first discovered as a clean source of hydrogen back in 1939 by German scientist Hans Gaffron at the University of Chicago (ironically the same year Germany invaded Poland). Gaffron called it “photosynthetic hydrogen production by algae”; and today it is a process that produces electricity and biofuel with zero emissions. The algae farm recycles CO2 for the bio-hydrogen airship you will be boarding after your meeting in the hub. You enter the airy station, whose honeycomb circular design resembles a stylized lily pad and glance up through the high nano-glass ceiling toward the elongated seed-shaped transport rising ten stories above you. The sun glances off the diaphanous double helix frame that resembles a freshwater spirogyra. The hub you’re standing in is a floating algae farm with solar cells on top and hydro-turbines below to capture tidal energy.  The concept is the “subversive architecture” of Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut and inspired by the principles of biomimicry, coined by Janine Benyus in 2002 in her book “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature”. Callebaut conceived Hydrogenase in 2010 as a 100% self-sufficient and zero-emission transport system using algae. He claimed that a hectare of seaweeds could produce 120 times more biofuel than a hectare of colza, soya or sunflower without consuming land needed for crops or forests. He called Hydrogenase a true miniature biochemical power station. Able to absorb CO2 as...

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