Mistle is a black tea, the kind that comes in round, compressed cakes rather than tea bags.
Most of the time, when I think of “black tea,” I remember my first experiences with tea—English Breakfast (which has its time and place! Specifically at an English breakfast with milk!) or (shudder) Earl Grey. Those kinds of tea are perhaps the elevator music of tea: they’re there to hide background noise and to not get in the way of what you’re doing. They’re not really there to pay attention to.
This tea, though, is what I would call delectable. It’s got a warm, round sweetness to it, one that feels like a full body hug. There is not even slightly an off note in this tea: no any part of it is scratchy or rough or bitter.
It was an interesting pair for incredibly cold weather, with windchill that bordered on the apocalyptic, the kind of tea that you drink looking out the window and thinking, “I hope everyone’s okay.” It’s warm. It’s comforting. But it tells no lies.
It’s been snowy!
This last weekend was the first time in what feels like quite a while when we finally had sunshine and warmth that you could feel, instead of walking out into what felt like a frigid, biting cold. Our local creek completely froze over—some winters, it doesn’t do that. While Denver often gets cold, it doesn’t generally stay cold for long periods of time.
It was cold enough for a few days that we had to switch off our heat pumps and switch on the furnace, and once the worst had passed here, we still worried about friends in places experiencing power grid strain and well-below-freezing temperatures in places where it almost never gets cold.
We did our best to keep Pele walked (as much as we could tolerate; he is 90% fur and found the cold delightful) and ourselves safe.
Someone once told me that the concept of “the apocalypse” is personal: things we might consider apocalyptic are happening in this world, all the time. The only thing that matters is the size of apocalypse, and how many are facing it. I hope that everyone who experienced the cold was able to come through it with friends, family, and furry ones safe and happy. I know, though, that with homelessness on the rise, it wasn’t everyone, and so as things grow warmer, I don’t want to forget those who experienced this as the minuscule apocalypse it was.
One of the things I love about this book is Maria’s occupation. On the one hand, she’s a college student finishing a degree with the goal of being an actuary (very sexy! Not joking!)
On the other hand, she runs an online community in which she pretends to be posting from the future, and describing how the apocalypse comes and what we should do to avert it now. This is, and I say this with pride, probably the absolutely dorkiest book that I’ve ever written, and I have written some extremely dorky books.
I’ve been reading Kim Stanley Robinson for a very long time. I think I started with his Mars trilogy back when I was still in my mid-twenties, and have vaguely kept up with him ever since. He writes very hard sci-fi—the kind that has pages and pages that just describe the science of whatever world he’s building, in a way that draws me into my sense of delight and wonder about how the world works.
This novel is also about climate change, and it’s set in the extremely near future—so near that after the hottest year on record (2023) followed by a polar vortex making its leisurely way across the United States, reading this felt like I was reading with doubled vision. The pages and pages of science are still there, but they’re about (in very broad terms) how to think about the future. (The cover blurb says that it’s “science fiction nonfiction” and that feels incredibly accurate.)
I appreciated that this book dials in on the two extreme timeframes that are unfortunately dominating the debate, and discards both of them. On the one hand, too much of the world is dialed in on the shortest time frame possible: did your corporate quarterly statements go up the right amount year-over-year? Great. You did well. Did they not? Failure. This kind of thinking, dialed into such an incredibly narrow window, means that people rush to take actions that make the number go up for now, but that aren’t long-term sustainable or even remotely good.
On the other hand, there’s a philosophy that’s coming in vogue right now among a certain set of very wealthy people that’s called, deceptively, long-termerism. The basic idea there is that there will be so much more humanity in the future that we must prioritize their needs.
That sounds benign in theory, but some of the adherents tend to skip the part where none of us have a flipping clue how things will look in two hundred years, let alone twenty thousand, and jump to some pretty startling moral conclusions, like “it would be worth it to oppress, starve, and mistreat several billion humans now if by doing so, we jumpstart our species outside the planet and thus give life to trillions of humans.”
This theory, which I’ve encountered before, showed up in the book (in a fairly dismissive fashion—KSR does not think this theory is useful in any way and rejects it in a pretty cursory fashion). At the point in the book when it came up—note, I have not mentioned plot, because while this book does have a plot, it only periodically intersects the musings about other things—I had to stop and think it through for myself, mostly because I didn’t find the cursory rejection as satisfying as lighting a pyre and watching it burn.
The conclusion I came to is that I don’t trust the moral compass of anyone who proclaims that the ethical thing to do is oppress, starve, and mistreat billions of humans. Because, here’s my question: how do you know that this oppression will lead to the benefit of the future of humanity? That part seems really hand-wavy to me, and if you’re waving your hand and saying “therefore I get to oppress people” I think you’re full of it.
I personally think the best way to make a brilliant future for whatever humans come next is to try my best to fashion a species that genuinely cares for its members. I believe our best hope of survival lies in wanting each other to survive, instead of thinking that most of us are discardable. Our survival will be based on our care for each other. Powerful tech may help, but powerful tech wielded by cruel people won’t make the world better, and in fact, will probably make it worse.
That has been my experience of this book, though: it is incredibly thought provoking and not even slightly relaxing. The plot, as I have said, is…there. It’s nonetheless an incredibly compelling book to read, because the stakes in the book are our stakes, and the world in the book is our world, and the hope of happy ending, if it comes, is through the tangled mess of human self-interest combined with care for others that makes up human society.
I recommend this to people who want to think about the future, and who want to think about how to think about the future.
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