Resurrection Trust is a book of “funny, dark, mad, bad, upbeat, downbeat and fantastical short stories about living sustainably”. They arose from the University of Southampton's Green Stories writing competition. The editor, Amanda Saint, says that the stories “showcase a myriad of different ideas about how humans can live more harmoniously with nature, and each other.” The final two stories in the book were originally published in the “cli-fi anthology, Nothing Is As It Was”, published on EarthDay 2018. “These were used in research for the Resurrection Trust book by Dr Denise Baden at the University of Southampton [into] what kinds of stories inspire more sustainable behaviour.”
I read this book, fittingly enough, on a long train journey and it held my attention despite competition from fine landscapes. About half-way though the book I wondered if I was really the best person to review it as I don’t read many short stories (preferring novels), and I don’t read much science fiction either – and that is the genre into which these stories fit most readily, despite the hint (noted above) that “cli-fi” is the more appropriate term. However, I’m glad I did read it as the stories are, for most part both enjoyable and stimulating. Despite this, they left me with more questions than answers, but that's probably all to the good, given the ineffability of the transition we're trying to make.
The stories are extremely varied in focus and you wonder as you read them (I read them in order) what holds them together. In the end – for most of the stories – I think it is the necessity of exercising choice; coming to that fork in the road when you can choose, or not, to change how you live. It’s important to note that we come to that fork every day; indeed, many times a day as we decide what to do. Not everyone in these stories chose the most obvious sustainable path which added realism to the collection (because that's what we do most of the time); and for some of those who did, I found the ease of many of the transitions rather too glib to be believable.
I particularly liked Adrian Ellis' story The Buildings are Singing. It’s about someone, Genie, who tries to rebel against the conformity of the AI building where she lives, by taking a stray cat home for company. The admirably anti-cat, pro-wildlife, building is having none of it and withdraws some of her privileges until she makes amends. Tellingly it blocks all her TV channels except Eco-life; just imagine how you'd feel if there was nothing to watch every day but Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan. Genie's brother's girlfriend, meanwhile, has kicked him out preferring the sexy Cool-o-Matic 4000 fridge whose AI system she found particularly alluring (and, let's be honest, less trouble). It’s a long way from Edward Abbey's magisterial The Fool's Progress, but I was reminded of it anyway. I found this the wittiest story in the book and one of the most effective at raising the sort of issues – such as the necessary trades-off between the loss of personal freedoms and the gain of enhanced security that we already face, and which are likely to become more acute.
Jonathon Porritt, in a review of the book, said that it’s hard to imagine “what living sustainably might really mean – and neither dry facts nor hypothetical scenarios seem to help very much.” I think that’s right. Convincing books are rare too. There are obviously Iain M Banks’ culture novels where the problems of energy availability have been solved and want / need questions don’t seem to apply as everything is in abundance – but that’s a post-human world and out of reach – even if it would be worth reaching for when bossy AI buildings seem bad enough. Then there’s Bedford 2045 – John Huckle’s tour de force in which he describes a society where everyone is striving for the common sustainable good. That is, human nature has been tamed and there seem to be no deviants who want something better (or just different) for themselves and their families. I always wonder what happened to all the deviants; something popped in the water, perhaps.
In the world we live in none of this applies which is why books like this are a help as we inch our way forwards, decision by decision; day by day.
Resurrection Trust Ed: Amanda Saint. Retreat West Books (2019) ISBN 978-1–9164483–8–4
Abbey E (1988) The Fool's Progress, London: The Bodley Head
Huckle J and Martin A (2001) Environments in a Changing World, London, Prentice Hall
Saint A (Ed) (2018) Is As It Was, Retreat West Books
This review first appeared in the NAEE journal, Environmental Education, Vol 122 (November 2019).
Happy Christmas and New Year. Back in January.