These are recommendations from people at NTNU, from a range of research areas and interests.
I am grateful.
Lagoon was recommended to me by Celina Stifjell at NTNU.
I don’t make time to read fiction. It feels like an indulgence – it is, but of the best and more crucial kind. How can I defend the tenants of my residency project, which are about suffusing expert lexicons with imaginative, poetic language, if I’m not practicing the habit myself?
“When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’ s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.
Lagoon expertly juggles multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives with prose that is at once propulsive and poetic, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.
At its heart a story about humanity at the crossroads between the past, present, and future, Lagoon touches on political and philosophical issues in the rich tradition of the very best science fiction, and ultimately asks us to consider the things that bind us together – and the things that make us human.”
She slices through the water, imagining herself a deadly beam of black light. The current parts against her sleek, smooth skin. If any fish gets in her way, she will spear it and keep right on going. She is on a mission. She is angry. She will succeed and then they will leave for good. They brought the stench of dryness, then they brought the noise and made the world bleed black ooze that left poison rainbows on the water’s surface. She often sees these rainbows whenever she leaps over the water to touch the sun. Inhaling them stings and burns her gills.
The ones who bring the rainbows are burrowing and building creatures from the land and no one can do anything about them. Except her. She’s done it before and they stopped for many moons. They went away. She is doing it again.
She increases her speed.
She is the largest predator in these waters. Her waters. Even when she migrates, this particular place remains hers. Everyone knows it. She was not born here but after all her migrations, she is happiest here. She suspects that this is the birthplace of one of those who created her.
She swims even faster.
She is blue-grey and it is night. Though she cannot see, she doesn’t need to. She knows where she is going. She is aiming for the thing that looks like a giant dead snake. She remembers snakes; she’s seen plenty in her past life. In the sun, this dead snake is the color of decaying seaweed with skin rough like coral.
Any moment now.
She is nearly there.
She is closing in fast.
She stabs into it.
From the tip of her spear, down her spine, to the ends of all her fins, she experiences red-orange bursts of pain. The impact is so jarring that she can’t move. But there is victory; she feels the giant dead snake deflating. It blows its black blood. Her perfect body goes numb and she wonders if she has died. Then she wonders what new body she will find herself inhabiting. She remembers her last form, a yellow monkey; even while in that body, she loved to swim. The water has always called to her.
All goes black.
The Outlaw Ocean
The Outlaw Ocean (the book and wider project) was recommended to me by Nabil Ahmed at NTNU.
Ian’s work is incredibly important, dark, and compelling. He must have a stomach for things in excess of most people’s, or maybe over time he developed one… Perhaps he felt that someone had to. This kind of work is the work that makes me question my own role as an artist.
It feels hard for me to justify the channelling of my energies into making art about the issues at sea, when I come across work that directly confronts those issues.
I know, I know… there’s a place for us all and we can work symbiotically. I have had conversations about the place of the artist, about how that’s also valuable work.
Some work is more valuable than other work. Ian’s work is one such example.
Aside from the hard-hitting field-reporting, his idea to co-opt musical platforms by involving artists is a brilliant intervention, both conceptually and in the operative sense. Anything we (yes I include you) can do to raise awareness of ocean issues – not only out of sight, but out of jurisdiction for the large part – is something I hope we feel compelled to do.
“The Outlaw Ocean series was originally published in The New York Times, where Ian Urbina has been an investigative reporter for over two decades.
Several of his stories have been adapted into major feature films, including The Outlaw Ocean which was purchased by Netflix and Leonardo DiCaprio.”
“Last year, Emerson Collective Fellow Ian Urbina published The Outlaw Ocean, a book about the piracy, poaching, polluting, and smuggling that take place on a lawless frontier of water.
As Ian was writing, he used music to help him find the tone and mood of a story. When the writing was done, he wondered: Movies can have soundtracks; why can’t books?
Whence The Outlaw Ocean Music Project, a soundtrack in collaboration with more than 300 artists.
How it works: Ian created a library of audio samples—both ambient sound and dialogue—from video captured while reporting the book.
After reaching out to a musical artist, Ian gives them the book and video for background, plus access to the audio library. The artists select samples and build music around them. New albums are released every other month.
Why it matters: “Aside from the artistic experiment here, the thing I find super exciting is the soft coup that we have engaged in, whereby we have hijacked music platforms and converted them into journalism outlets,” Ian said.
Spotify and Pandora have both created portals for the music and accompanying videos, offering a total audience of 70M.”
THE DEADLY SECRET OF CHINA’S INVISIBLE ARMADA
ANTARCTICA: THE HUNT FOR HUNTERS
ENGLAND: THE MAGIC PIPE
A Door into the Ocean
Alan Pollack, cover art
Recommended by Celina Stifjell at NTNU.
You had me at “In literary terms, A Door into Ocean sets up a series of interlinked polarities or binary oppositions, all of which relate to traditional notions of female/male. Each of these oppositions is deconstructed or resolved through the course of the story.”
“A Door into Ocean is the novel upon which the author’s reputation as an important SF writer principally rests. A ground-breaking work both of feminist SF and of world-building hard SF, it concerns the Sharers of Shora, a nation of women on a distant moon in the far future who are pacifists, highly advanced in biological sciences, and who reproduce by parthenogenesis–there are no males–and tells of the conflicts that erupt when a neighboring civilization decides to develop their ocean world, and send in an army.”
“The deconstruction of polarities is mediated in part by the unique language of the Sharers which conflates subject and object. The distinction between subject and object is fundamental to nearly all human languages, although interestingly, less so in English than in many others. In English, the difference between subject and object relies largely on word order (“Man bites dog” versus “Dog bites man”) yet even word order is ambiguous.
The widespread acceptance of object-subject polarity is perhaps surprising, given that this concept has surprisingly little basis in physical or natural science. In fact, Newton’s law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction; that is, if a hammer hits a nail, the nail (and the object attached to it, and indeed the entire Earth) hits the hammer. What is interesting from a psychological point of view is the profound insights that may be reached when one dissolves the subject-object distinction. For example, when an unborn child exists within a mother, “the mother exists within the child.” This is literally true; much of the mother’s substance forms the substance of the child, and this understanding is fundamental to prenatal medicine. Women who smoke or consume unhealthy substances fail to appreciate this phenomenon.
Because of their language, Sharers take for granted that any harm done to a person is shared by the perpetrator; if someone’s action leads to the death of another, the murderer/survivor is as “dead” as the person physically killed. Thus, Sharers literally cannot imagine one human being forcing another to behave against her will. Their own system of governance does not even allow for such. Because they cannot force others, they cannot be forced by others. Thus, they practice naturally the doctrine of “satyagraha,” love-force, developed by Gandhi and other historical practitioners of nonviolent resistance.”