I just finished what may be my favorite book of the year: The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz. I’ll try not to spoil too much in the review because I really think you should go read it or listen to it.
The book follows protagonists living in a mini-utopia – a group charged with protecting the environment of a terraformed planet. Their commitments to environmental protection are wonderful, but their way of life reflects deeper thinking about what real sustainability might take: they work collectively, share chores according to their abilities and talents, make decisions democratically.
Unfortunately, the terraformed planet isn’t really in their hands – they are only its temporary stewards. Capitalists are funding the development of the planet and, of course, want to maximize profits. Conflict, of course, must ensue, as these two pathways cannot walk alongside each other in the same place.
I won’t say anything more about how the plot unfolds, but let me share a few things I love about the book:
- It doesn’t start with the perfect future, but does recognize that building toward utopia requires practicing for it right now.
- It’s thoroughly post-human. You find yourself very invested in the lives and romances of characters who are decidedly not homo sapiens.
- The main characters are lovable and complex and certainly not heroic, and yet rise to the occasion when necessary – a wonderful parallel to our world.
- Science – but science working alongside life instead of trying to control it – makes more ecological living possible. However, while there are technological supports to sustainability, the social, cultural, and political workings of people are by far the more important solvents.
- Like most of my favorite sci fi, Newitz deeply values life, and characters don’t kill each other willy nilly.
I’ve long had this quote in my email signature because I love it as a reminder. The Terraformers is just this kind of book. Over and over, characters perform extraordinary acts, not because the are heroes, but because they are capable and called.
Part of the legacy of people like Ella Baker and Septima Clark is a faith that ordinary people who learn to believe in themselves are capable of extraordinary acts, or better, of acts that seem extraordinary to us precisely because we have such an impoverished sense of the capabilities of ordinary people.Charles Paine, 1995
The characters and world help us imagine what might be possible if we work toward it in the future, beginning right now. And, though set long after all of us will be dead and gone, the book helps us imagine that we might be capable of doing similar sorts of things right now, right here.
I wish I could ruin the book for you, because there’s so much I want to tell you about it. But I’m gonna hold back. If you want something that fits in the realm of sci fi, solarpunk, climate fiction, ecofiction, etc., The Terraformers is definitely for you.
I also can’t recommend enough the audiobook, read brilliantly by Emily Lawrence and with original sound design. It brings the whole world to life beyond what’s done with most audiobooks.
It’d be a first step in the right direction if you bought this from anyone but Bezos – so grab it from your library, local bookstore, or libro.fm.
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