Wednesday, April 24, 2019


review by NYT reviewer Phillip Lopate

The attraction of Anglo-American writers to Japan as the source of an alternate way of being is a long story, going back to the 19th century (Lafcadio Hearn)...
Pico Iyer — globe-trotting TIME magazine journalist and travel writer — says he first  fell in love with Japan when he was 26.
Born in England to Indian parents who later moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., he attended graduate school at Oxford and Harvard and then went to work for Time magazine.
On a Tokyo stopover while returning from a TIME magazine trip to Hong Kong, he was enchanted to find “a world suddenly intimate and human-scaled. … By the time I boarded my plane in early afternoon, I’d decided to leave my comfortable-seeming job in New York City and move to Japan.”
He met a Japanese woman who left her husband and moved with her two small children and the author into a tiny apartment. In Japan, he notes, people accommodate themselves to small spaces, and so he and Hiroko have for 25 years.

The book ....besides Iyer’s elegantly smooth prose style and gift for detailed observation, is a circling around the theme of autumn in Japan and this autumnal period in his own life as a man in his 60s now.
Self-described as having a restless “‘birdlike’ traveler’s temperament,” he spends half the year tending to his aging mother in California or reporting on subjects like “the warlords of Mogadishu,” but flies back to Japan each fall.
This season teaches him the lesson of impermanence, the inevitability of decay, and “how to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying.”
Not much plot to speak in the book:
Readers can watch Iyer going through his daily rounds, dropping in on his local ping-pong table tennis club, visiting his mother-in-law in her nursing home, recalling scenes from the past.
Iyer’s wife Hiroko makes for a marvelous presence, zooming away on her motorbike to her job in a boutique, cleaning the house briskly like a tornado or dashing off to honor dead ancestors at shrines and grave sites.
Hiroko is the book’s motor, and Iyer is in awe of her energy, even as he says, a bit condescendingly: “It’s one of the qualities I most admire in her: She doesn’t stop to think” and “I have a wife who reminds me with every gesture that the only impulses to trust are the ones that arise without thought.”
Hiroko strikes me as more quick-witted than thoughtless.
His own self-portrait is dimmer. He comes across as a modest, kind, gentle man, somewhat colorless, as though trying to practice spiritual erasure of the ego.
He says he had moved to Japan “to learn how best to dissolve a sense of self within something larger and less temporary” an admirable pursuit, though problematic for autobiographical writers.
In a way, his attraction to Japan can be seen as an attempt to hold onto its exotic, eternal appeal — to his partly idealized picture of what the East has to offer an expat Asian Person of Color in the way of healing. His parents were both from India, and his complexion is not white but brown.
Now in his 60s, Iyer like trying to communicate his tentative revelations about life. There’s much wisdom in what he says, though some of it comes close to platitude.
But then, perhaps it’s the nature of hard-earned wisdom to sound like something we’ve heard many times before.

Monday, March 25, 2019

NEWS story ....TOYS

This is how pitching news tips to reporters sometimes works. In this case it worked, but of course it does not always work out this way.
When I was pitching a news tip to a reporter in America about an issue I was involved with, I sent him this note after first spotting his name and newspaper affiliation on Twitter.

"I have a news tip for a possible news story by you in the February-March time frame, '' I said in my first email contact. "Is this something you can report on, or does an assignment editor have to assign it to you? How does the process work? I was thinking mid-March might be good timing and maybe you can sit in on one of the college classes with the professor I mentioned in order to get feel for how students react? Just an idea."
The reporter emailed back to me and said: ''I am fascinated by the idea. I  bounced it off our news outlet's New York editor and he said to 'go ahead and do it.' If you’d like to call me at my office next week, we can chat."
Buoyed by his positive reactions and the positive reactions from his editor in Manhattan, I called the reporter right back from my office in Tokyo and chatted with him for half an hour.
When the reporter asked for some more details, I mentioned two books worth knowing about and reading: ''Flight Behavior'' by Barbara Kingsolver and ''Odds against Tomorrow'' by Nathaniek Rich.
"Nice to chat with you by phone," I said in a subsequent email. "Have fun with this story if it works for you and your editors in New York and thanks for tracking it all down."
I added: "I will send you a link to Bll McKibben's 2005 essay in Grist magazine where he said: ''Hey where are the novels and movies about global warming? We need artists to explore this issue, too. Where are they?" 
"Well, cli-fi novels are in the pipeline now, and college students are reading them in dozens of cli-fi classes nationwide," I told the reporter in a subsequent email a week later. You can quote me on that if you want a quote.''
I also suggested that the reporter speak with some people he might want to talk to for quotes, and named 12 (with their email adresses and Twitter handles) for him.
Later, in early March, two months after I first contacted the reporter with my gentle, soft-spoken pitch, the reporter wrote back with an ''advisory,'' saying:
''Hi Danny: Unless I get distracted by some unforeseen piece of news, I am planning to write about this issue this weekend.
I find you everywhere online. How and why did you get into this? And can you give me a bit of background on you?
If you’d like to answer here that would be fine. If you’d like to call and chat that would be ok too, but I do realize we have opposite schedules in terms of time zones on other sides of the world.''
Finally, just before the article went live on the internet worldwide a few days later, the reporter sent me a quick note to say that the story was coming out that coming weekend but that he was not able to get my name or connection to the story into his article for space reasons, and that he hoped I would not be disappointed at the development over limited space in writing up the story for publication.
"The story is coming out Sunday," the reporter in said. "I hope you're not disappointed, but I couldn't get you into it for reasons of space limitations. It was a fun story to research and write. I'm glad you sought me out."
I replied in internet time: "Sir, no problem on not putting my name or work in the article. I prefer, in fact, to remain the shadows. You know, the role of a good PR guy is to stay in the background and let the article follow its own arc. All this was never about me, but about the real writers and academics and scientists doing the heavy lifting. I'm just the bat boy, the water boy, unseen, invisible. I love being in the background. Let the quotes from others work their magic.''
''I am sure I will love yr story on Sunday," I told the reporter on the other side of the world. "I already love it. Your byline will make the story sing! I am glad Twitter brought us together by email and phone. It was great to get to know you and I am now a fan for life! I love reporters, especially those like you who know how to tell a good story. Can't wait. And thanks for letting me know the date. Sunday. I will read it on Monday here in Japan and given the reach of your newspaper with the wire, it will likely appear in print in the  papers here later on. I am delighted! I couldn't have found a better byline. Storyteller par excellence. The new is in good hands.''
''My name not germane to the news article. I'm just a quiet gadfly and I'm happy to promote the other people in the story. I know my place. In the shadows. But yes, fun to meet you and renew my memories of of the newspaper trade. I was very lucky to find you! Thanks again.''

Online creep causes me to lock my public blogs for now until the abuse and harassment passes

#CliFi news alert: -- due to an inappropriate and confused email from an online creep re my public blogs, I've had to lock all my blogs from public view until that person withdraws their threats or apologizes. #WeirdInternet. #DifficultPeople Sorry for the disruption. #Patience

#CliFi news alert: -- due to an inappropriate and confused email from an online creep re my public blogs, I've had to lock my cli-fi blogs from public view until that person stop their unprovoked harassment and withdraws their threats. #WeirdInternet. #DifficultPeople - Sorry for the disruption. #Patience

A new literaray trend: American lawyers writing novels about climate change iissues

I've noticed an interesting literary trend in lthe ast few years where more and more lawyers and law professors are writing literary novels, thrillers, cli-fi novels and science fiction novels with climate themes. Two writers come to mind: Edward Rubin, a law professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and Sam Bleichner, an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School in Washington.
Bleichner has a new novel that was repleased on April 22, titled "The Plot to Cool The Planet," so I asked him what he thought about this literary trend I've noticed.

"What do you think accounts for this literary trend?" I asked Bleichner, adding: "Of course, lawyers are good with language, they know how to set a table with language in a court case or an academic paper, but what else might account for this trend?"
He told me: "I agree that lawyers have the writing and storytelling skills, but I think some other important factors are involved:

(a) People who are interested in future-oriented issues hope to spread their ideas to a wider audience than just those who read footnoted non-fiction books. 
(b)  Futuristic fiction can paint a picture of a world that might await us, expanding readers’ vision and imagination in a way that non-fiction projections of the future can’t. 
(c)  In the climate change arena, a novel can bypass the arguments with climate deniers and “Garden of Eden” nostalgic environmentalists and present the real world as the author sees it, without proving every statement with a footnote."

I'm looking forward to reading Bleichner's cli-fi thriller.

Meanwhle, Rubin's novel, "The Heatstroke Line," published a few years ago but still available from Sunbury Press and Amazon,
was intended as a warning to us all, but it was also intended to be an entertaining read from a man who is a life-long fan of science fiction.

"This book belongs to a genre known as post-apocalyptic science fiction,'' Rubin says. "It includes a number of sci-fi classics such as 'Earth Abides,' 'A Canticle for Leibowitz,' 'The Day of the Triffids,' and 'The Road,' and some recent best-sellers like' Oryx and Crake,'  'The Wind-Up Girl,' and 'Station Eleven.'"  None of these books, however, not even the recent ones, portray the disaster they envision as resulting from the real danger that we face, which is simply the increasingly temperatures.  More significantly still, these works tend to use the disaster to clear away the technological and bureaucratic features of the modern world and tell an adventure story of one sort or another.  In 'The Heatstroke Line,' the result of the oncoming disaster isn’t a primitive world filled with long journeys on foot and hand-to-hand combat.  There are still governments, still cars and factories, and still all the mundane details of modern existence.  It’s simply that life has become much worse for nearly all Americans.  In other words, this is a realistic picture of what life might look like in our country if we allow global warming to continue unabated.''

"'The Heatstroke Line' is an adventure story of its own," Rubin adds. "Fiction can teach us many things, but it won’t work unless it has an engaging plot and convincing characters.  In my novel, the main character is an entomologist at one of the few universities left in the former United States.  He is sent to the South (below “the heatstroke line”) to investigate an outbreak of biter bugs -- vicious, flesh-eating insects that have developed as a result of the increased heat.  Once there, he is taken captive, for reasons that are a mystery to him, by the frenetic, disaffected and sometimes vicious people who have clung on in this nearly uninhabitable region. The action in the book involves his efforts to survive, his plans to escape, and the mysterious young woman who he meets there.  She has written a post-apocalyptic novel of her own (part of which appears in the book), filled with standard science fiction tropes. The contrast between her teenage fantasies and the “real world” that the main character encounters reveals the mystery of his capture to him and motivates the action that brings the novel to its close."  

"I hope you enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I also hope that at the end of it, you feel as concerned as I do about the future of our nation and our planet," Rubin said.

An interview with Sam Bleicher, author of the cli-fi thriller "THE PLOT TO COOL THE PLANET" -- on sale now

1. DAN BLOOM, blogger at ''The Cli-Fi Report'': I've noticed a trend in last few years. Lawyers and law professors, you, for example, and Ed Rubin at Vanderbilt University, writing sci-fi or cli-fi thriller novels with climate themes. What do you think accounts for this literary trend? Of course, lawyers are good with language, they know how to set a table with language in a court case or academic paper, but what else might account for this trend? 
  1. SAM BLEICHER, AUTHOR: I agree lawyers have the writing and storytelling skills, but I think some other important factors are involved:
(a)  People who are interested in future-oriented issues hope to spread their ideas to a wider audience than just those who read footnoted non-fiction books. 
(b)  Futuristic fiction can paint a picture of a world that might await us, expanding readers’ vision and imagination in a way that non-fiction projections of the future can’t. 
(c)  In the climate change arena, a novel can bypass the arguments with climate deniers and “Garden of Eden” nostalgic environmentalists and present the real world as the author sees it, without proving every statement with a footnote. 
3.      What's the plot of The Plot To Cool The Planet? How about a short elevator pitch, 60 seconds or so, or a longer stab at it? 
“The Plot To Cool The Planet” begins in the year 2020 with the assassination of a charismatic climate scientist who forcefully advocates geoengineering to save humanity.  Her death shocks the world.  The two Canadian investigators are under pressure to find both the murderer and those behind it.  The notorious murder also angers a handful of diplomats frustrated by institutional paralysis on global warming.  They take matters into their own hands, organizing a rogue geoengineering experiment without international knowledge or approval.  Their goal is to save their small island states, risking their own careers and lives.  The project uncovers another surreptitious climate intervention, which ignites Great Power military conflict and diplomatic confrontation on global governance of geoengineering.  
4.      When did you first come across the new genre term of cli-fi, and did you know that NPR radio did a five-minute radio segment on it in April 2013? Is it a useful term for your new novel? 
“Sci-fi” has been around forever, but I hadn’t run across the term “cli-fi” until very recently, even though I have read numerous books that fall in this category.  The first climate change novel I read was Arthur Herzog’s “Heat” (1977),  which I read shortly after it was published.  I was a senior official at NOAA at that time, so it came to my attention.  Newly available remote-sensing satellite data and quantitative computer modelling were just beginning to shape our knowledge of the real parameters of the climate change threat. 
I do think the “cli-fi” category is useful.  At this point there is more than enough novelistic material to justify a category that separates “cli-fi” from the more established robotics and space travel sci-fi literature.  And there will inevitably be more in the coming decades.
5.      There's a popular movie titled ''Snowpiercer'' set in the distant future that is also about a cooled planet. Did you see it or hear of it yet?
No, I haven’t.  From what I glean from Amazon, “Snowpiercer”, like “Watermelon Snow”, which the authors call cli-fi, only qualifies in the sense that climate conditions form the backdrop in which his story takes place.  “The Plot To Cool The Planet” directly focuses on the science, engineering, policy, diplomacy, and politics of geoengineering.
A lot of my current reading is non-fiction, like ''The Uninhabitable Earth” and ''The Sixth Extinction.”  I want to make sure of the science so that I can correctly articulate the science I am relying on in my novel.
6.      How do you plan to promote your novel in this era of Donald Trump? Newspaper interviews, radio interviews, bookstore signings? TV interviews? Op-ed columns in newspapers? Letters to editors? College lectures? 
By beginning in 2020, “The Plot To Cool The Planet” minimizes direct confrontation with the Trump administration (although the assassinated climate scientist has strong hostile opinions about climate deniers in and out of the government).  It assumes that a Democratic Party President with a more rational perspective is elected in 2020.  Nevertheless, the events in the story force him to come to grips with difficult decisions about the governance of geoengineering.
As for methods of promoting my book, aside from my teaching and family commitments, I’m happy to spend all my time promoting it every way I can, through book signings, radio and TV interviews, Newman Springs Publishing’s web page, Facebook, and Twitter (@BleicherSamA).   I am writing some articles, but they are non-fiction ones about climate change.  I hope my book and these columns will reinforce each other.   

The day Jeopardy used cli-fi as a clue on the March 20 quiz show

News alert! March 23, 2019

Hollywood is catching up with the popular ”cli-fi” buzzword these days, if the popular TV show “Jeopardy” is any indication.

Let me explain: On my cable TV set in Taiwan, where I can watch over 100  channels from around the world in over a dozen languages, I cannot get Jeopardy’ and to be honest I’ve never watched the program in my entire life. But I know what it is, of course, and how it is set up and who the host is: the one and only Alex Trebek, a Canadian native of Ukrainian heritage who now works in Hollywood and has been a naturalized American citizen since 1998.

So imagine my surprise and pleasure last week when a friendly college English professor in New Jersey named Juda Bennett notified me by email that episode 57 on March 20 aired nationwide featuring a ‘Jeopardy’ ”cli-fi” clue and its correct answer of ”climate fiction.”

Contestant Lindsey Shultz got it right and earned some money in the process.

All this was told to me by Juda in a brief email message that arrived out of the blue. Surprised and delighted, I Googled to try to find a video and the transcript of the show.

Juda wrote: “Hi Dan, you contacted me about my “Walking in the Anthropocene” class a while back and so now I am contacting you to make sure you know that your term, cli-fi, was a ‘Jeopardy’ question yesterday.  Actually, they gave the question away when they asked what does cli-fi refer to, and I believe they referenced Kim Stanley Robinson’s work.”

Juda, an author, literary theorist and professor at The College of New Jersey, added: “Yes, it was the March 20 show where Jonathan Lindeen won.  I looked for the episode but I don’t know when they post these things.  The clue — if I remember correctly — comes on the program about 3/4 of the way in.”

My Google searches led to me to an online transcript of episode 57 with this initial clue: ”The planet’s in trouble in the novel ‘New York 2140’ by Kim Stanley Robinson, part of the ”cli-fi” subgenre, short for this.”

Lindsey clicked her stage buzzer before the other two contestants and got the answer right:  “climate fiction.”

Here’s a link to the transcript on the second page of a fan site run by fans of ”Jeopardy” which has no connection to the the producers of the show:

Yes, they did give it away, but Jeopardy increasingly gives away the answers,” Professor Bennett told me. “It is difficult to assess because the rest of the world is just catching up to you (and the term you coined) my friend. There are even people who do not believe in anthropogenic climate change. This reminds me of a 1980s Jeopardy question about AIDS, which was also a question that they gave away, but when I saw it during the early 1980s our American president at that time had still never said the AIDS word in public. Words are power.”

This month has been a busy month for the cli-fi genre in literary circles, and the Jeopardy mention was just icing on the global warming cake, so to speak.

On March 13, the Oprah Winfrey magazine “O” published a news article titled “7 Books That Provocatively Tackle Climate Change: They Each Fit Into a New Genre: Cli-Fi.”

Oprah! Who knew?

”O” introduced the article this way: ”[We identify] an intriguing epidemic: the proliferation of provocative novels in which the enemy is climate change.” “As news of the oceans warming and icebergs melting grows ever more urgent, the light drizzle of fiction about eco-disaster spawned by J.G. Ballard’s ahead-of-its-time sci-fi thriller 'The Drowned World' (1962) has gone full-on flood, with apocalyptic visions from a diverse array of authors hitting the mainstream.”

“In Barbara Kingsolver’s 'Flight Behavior', pollution and other biospheric disruptions throw a colony of butterflies off their migration course to disastrous effect, while in Claire Vaye Watkins’s 'Gold Fame Citrus,' a California besieged by sandstorms illuminates social inequities and the excesses of Hollywood. So robust is the growing genre that it’s earned its own name: cli-fi (short for climate fiction),” O noted.

And then O introduced the following cli-fi novels: Clade by James Bradley; The Water Knife’ by Paolo Bacigalupi;  The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood; American War by Omar El Akkad; Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller; New York 2140′ by Kim Stanley Robinson;  and Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward.

From Jeopardy’ to ”O,” the PR doesn’t get much better than this.