Caring About Far Away Places

My stories make it obvious that I love places that require a difficult journey to visit. Greenland. Bhutan. Antarctica. Tierra del Fuego. A small village in Nigeria. A lake in the Mountains of Guatemala. If it’s hard to get to from where I am, I love to write about it.

No place is more remote to a Texan that the island nation of Kiribati. This south pacific country of 100,000 people is made up of 33 low-lying coral atolls with a total land area of about 300 square miles. More spectacularly, it is the only nation on earth to set inside of all four hemispheres, and it covers a million square miles on the globe.

The map is from a wonderful website about Kiribati, which I referred to frequently when I was writing y1. Visit JANE’S KIRIBATI HOME PAGE to enjoy this bit of Micronesia.

Someday I hope to visit this place that I spent so much time learning about but I understand that I better not take too long. As the melting icecaps raise global sea level, the low lying atolls of Kiribati are becoming submerged. Leaders of this country have been planning a national exodus for years, seeking asylum for their descendants once the nation is completely under water.

In the meantime, Kiribati and it’s nearby neighbors are doing their best to raise awareness of the drastic effects climate change is having on this part of the world. The well known 2015 Paris Climate Agreement grew out of years of work, shepherded along at yearly United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change. The yearly gathering for 2017 will be hosted by Kiribati’s Melanesian neighbor, Fiji.

In spite of my own country’s lack of recent leadership regarding climate change, I will be cheering on the representatives of Polynesian, Micronesia and Melanesia as they take the world the stage.

As I watch with dismay as the United States turns more towards nationalist politics, I’ve been trying to discern where my own fascination with all the rest of the world began. I have this theory that music is a powerful tool for introducing ideas, and I remembered hearing a particular song as a child. I didn’t think I could find it, but luckily the song title is part of the lyrics and, like almost everything else, there it is on YouTube. Very old fashioned, although the beautiful voice of Sam Cooke brings a magic that transcends the decades.

Imagine yourself on an island in the South Pacific and enjoy!

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door andThe Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places.)

Kiribati, Peru and a review of “Interstellar”

11116389_sToday I learned of a short, moving post called “The Last Generation of Kiribati“. It’s a beautifully done look at how climate change is destroying the small island nation I wrote about in y1, and how it is doing so in a time frame in which natural geological changes simply do not occur. Parents in Kiribati are literally looking for foreign countries to take in their children before the oceans rise too high, and hoping they will be granted at least refugee status over the next several years as their island nation ceases to exist.

I seldom speak of my family on these blogs, but those who know a little about me know that my fictitious family of reluctant superheroes was loosely modeled after my own. The son who inspired the character Zane never worked in pharmaceuticals, and as far as I know he has never shape-shifted, but he does labor in the arena of mitigating climate change. As I write this he is in Peru, part of a massive congregation of concerned citizens of earth trying to nudge the world’s governments towards addressing the fact that seven billion people can and are affecting the life support system on which we depend.

Which brings me to the last time I saw my son. We share a love of science fiction and saw “Interstellar” together at an Imax theater. Let me rephrase that. We both enjoy good science fiction, and share a distaste for the unbelievable disaster movies that climate change has inspired, from the plot holes in Waterworld to the science holes in The Day After Tomorrow.

There are some of both in Interstellar, too, but I found the devastation of the blight and dust storms convincing. Growing up in Western Kansas may have helped, but honestly, as far as threats to the human race go, the slow destruction of crops and a growing inability to feed the world felt plausible.

7267479_lI pretty much forgive anyone who introduces worm holes so that the plot can include space travel. Come on, if you want your folks to get out of the solar system you’ve got to let your writers have worm holes, so no quarrel there. I even gave the movie points for creative use of a strong gravity field and for having the plot revolve around how heavy gravity effects the speed at which time passes. Even the acting and dialog weren’t bad. It was a solid B+ in my opinion.

In fact, I only had one persistent quarrel with the movie and it was the underlying premise. I do love the idea of going to strange new worlds and settling them. In fact, my chief career ambition for most of my childhood was to become a science officer on the star ship Enterprise. So I studied science, and learned what a delicate balance it is that sustains us. Nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide. Temperature and pressure. Tiny micro-organisms and worms and bugs. There is a whole complicated ecosystem that gets the food on our tables and keeps our hearts and lungs working for a lifetime. I wish that if this planet fails us — or more accurately if we fail it — that we could simply pack our bags and start elsewhere, just like they do in the movie.

But I fear that isn’t so. We don’t just need dirt to make a world, or air we can mange to breathe for awhile. Our body’s long term survival depends on the complex inter-related support of millions of creatures that all evolved here, on this particular planet. Everyone one of them needs things to be pretty much they way they are here. We can’t all pack up and go. Not nearly that easily at least.

I studied geophysics at a school that supplies talent to much of the oil industry, but we’re not all climate change deniers with our heads buried in the in the sand, and some of us have been on board with concern for decades. My adviser had a poster featured in his office. It was a picture of the earth from space with the caption “Good planets are hard to find.” And so they are.

Light Within 1Tonight, I think of that poster and the movie “Interstellar” and the feature on Kiribati. I think of my son and all the nations represented and the politicians and agendas and posturing that is going on in Lima. I hope, against much evidence to the contrary, that common sense will prevail.

Meanwhile, I did learn to love Kiribati from my research and after I finished writing y1 I resolved to go visit it someday. It looks like I better hurry.

 

Jump for Joy

Click to visit Jump for Joy

Click to visit Jump for Joy

When I started blogging to promote my books, I had no idea the extent to which entering the world of bloggers would be its own reward. There is a joy to keeping a journal, and a feeling of accomplishment in working to make it interesting, well-written and attractive to others. Better than that, though, is that when random people like a post of yours, you look at their blog. And so many times you discover something wonderful.

I’ve been using the phrase “dance for joy” as a tag line for my novel y1. One of the main characters is a fire dancer from Kiribati and the story itself centers around the human need to seek joy in one’s own life. But jumping for joy is close, so when I came across a blog called Jump for Joy I had to check it out. Wow. It is a photo project “Showcasing the beauty of the human spirit — in mid-air — around the world”.

If looking through these beautiful photos of all kinds of people everywhere leaping into the air doesn’t make you smile all the way down to your bones, I don’t what will. Visit them and enjoy!

 

Fireworks a few days late

fireworksI suspect that I care more about accuracy in my books than I should. I write fantasy, for heaven’s sake, or at least a fantasy/science fiction hybrid, but I still like to get things right. So when my fire dancing  character from Kiribati went looking for music he liked that referred to fire, I was compelled to eliminate any song that had not come out before 2011, the year in which the story y1 takes place.

And that’s a shame because that took a few good songs out of the running. To celebrate July 4th 2013, I am letting myself revisit some of the songs I wanted to use but didn’t.

Katy Perry’s Firework had the lyrics that fit, but its late 2010 release was just a month after the scene in the book where it belonged. Sigh …. so close ……  Here’s the video with some great fireworks images to enjoy.

Firework

Katy Perry – Firework

Monarchy’s The Phoenix Alive had just the sound I was looking for, but it came out in April 2010. Enjoy the official video here.

Phoenix

Monarchy – The Phoenix Alive

For more on my adventures including music in novels, check out my xo blog here to read the rather comical saga of how and why I how I negotiated with Sony/ ATV. Check out my z2 blog here for a little fun with bubblegum music.

Sailing over the North Pole?

santaFire dancer Afi has more reason for concern about global warming than most in the novel y1.  His home nation of Kiribati is composed of a series of atolls that rise only a few meters above sea level in the very middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. Sea level rise that is too rapid to allow coral to respond naturally means that Kiribati, Tuvalu and several other countries face becoming totally submerged over the next several dozen years. This is in real life, you understand, not fiction from the book

However, word today is that there will be new places to sail.  According to a study conducted at UCLA, by 2050 the Arctic ice sheet will be thin enough for icebreakers to carve a path between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and to possibly allow commercial craft to travel right over the north pole.

According to the USA Today the new research is being published online in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The earliest that sea routes would go directly over the North Pole would be in the 2040s, according to Laurence  Smith, a geography professor at UCLA who headed the study, and who notes that this scenario is likely to occur at this point whether global warming is curbed soon or allowed to continue to increase.

PangeaOf course, the earth has and will continue to undergo radical changes in the shape of its continents and oceans. About 200 million years ago all the continents got together for awhile and had a party that we refer to as Pangaea.  However, the earth does have its own pace. It took tens of millions of years for that that party to end.

The UCLA study notes that this unexpected effect of global warming would make for significantly shorter shipping routes but would also obviously raise a host of political and ecological issues.  Not to mention the fact that we will need to find a new remote location for Santa Claus.

Where in the world is Kiribati?

Map from GT Popping Website

Occupying the center of the Pacific Ocean, Kiribati is the only nation with land in all four hemispheres.  It is made up of  three island groups and a lot of water, and covers about half as much of the surface of the earth as the continental United States.  And yes, it really did contain the first land mass outside of Antarctica to see the new millennium, just like the book y1 says.

An old friend asked me recently why in the world I decided to write a book about Kiribati. The first answer is that it is exactly on the other side of the globe from Nigeria.  My first book x0 is about the ways we are all alike and it partially takes place in Nigeria. So when I started to write y1, a book meant to celebrate all the ways we are different, I thought that it would be cool to have it take place on the other side of  the world.  That’s Kiribati.

Dancers from Jane’s Kiribati Homepage

But as I began to weave my love of travel and sailing and tropical sunsets into the story I realized that Kiribati (pronounced Ki ri bas) was a wonderful setting for a book about finding the joy in ones life.  As I researched, I became a big fan of a website called Jane’s Kiribati Home page.  If you share my love of far-away beautiful places please visit her lovely website.

In addition, in the course of my research I found Yacht  Pals, a helpful website designed for the online boating community.  Besides providing a wealth of information on sailing the Pacific, they have a delightful short video of photos of Kiribati put to music. Pour yourself a tropical drink, put your feet up and enjoy a 4 minute vacation.

While not a common tourist destination, a fair number of bird watchers, sport fishermen, and scuba divers visit these islands each year. GT Popping, a site dedicated to catch and release fishing, is looking into fishing packages here. Travel eGuides offers this link with useful information. Will I get to Kiribati someday? Sigh…… I certainly hope so.