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A quarterly fiction magazine

Editor-in-Chief and Designer: Joel Caris

Associate Editor: Shane Wilson

(Figuration Press, Issue #2, July 20 2016, 112 pages, Print $12.00 per issue, $39.00 annually, PDF $7.50)

Reviewed by Frank Kaminski

Science fiction fans who pine for stories grounded in reality, rather than in the techno-fantasies that prevail in most other science fiction, will find much to like in Into the Ruins. The magazine strives to publish tales that deal plausibly with the ecological forces shaping the likely future of industrial civilization. Nowhere in its pages will one find reference to perpetual motion, asteroid mining, interstellar travel or any of the other popular deus ex machina answers to today's crises–the story submission guidelines expressly forbid these. Instead, to quote Editor-in-Chief Joel Caris, one finds "stories that help us to make sense of a future unlike the ones we've been promised," which Caris rightly deems to have been woefully off-base.

Of all the pieces to appear in the magazine's second issue, perhaps the one that stands in starkest contrast to the techno-grandiosity that governs most people's thinking today is "Time's Ark" by Jay Cummings. It unfolds 50 generations after the disappearance of present-day industrial society and the concomitant loss of its scientific knowledge base. This loss has been so comprehensive that even the law of gravitation has been forgotten. It has subsequently been rediscovered by scientific observers who believed they were happening upon it for the first time (the name they came up with for it was "Natural Law"). One of our main characters is a researcher who, thanks to his rediscovery of what we currently know of as Sir Isaac Newton's theory of planetary motion, has achieved a level of celebrity not unlike that enjoyed by Albert Einstein in his day.

Marching Gas Pumps

Lawrence Buentello's "Night Birds on the Roof of the World" depicts a future in which the trappings of modern industrial society have come to seem like fairy-tale fodder. Among the story's protagonists is a blind old man beloved for the wondrous yarns with which he regales his companions around campfires at night. His stories are a medley of legends and historical fact, and they bring into sharp focus just how alien our contemporary world is to the inhabitants of this future. Tam is a young boy in awe of the old man's accounts of "oceans full of strange, giant animals swimming in the water," "fantastic machines that flew through the sky with people inside of them" and other marvels. In the context of the bleak, nomadic existence that Tam and those around him have been forced to assume, these things are a source of escapist fantasy.

In this second issue, the magazine's editor offers a sample of his own fiction for the first time. An excerpt of a longer work titled "Static on a Quiet Night," it consists of a single scene. A woman named Ali, who lives in a wind-powered home on a storm-swept plain, turns on her radio one night to be greeted initially by static, then by the comforting sound of a familiar male voice. With poetic detail and specificity, Caris shows us Ali's interior world and the special place that the radio man occupies within it. We discover that while Ali has never met this man, she feels as if she's met him from all the hours she's spent listening to his voice and learning of his personal travails over the past four years. The man has been reporting on a terrible wave of death and desperation that has been sweeping across the land and bringing tragedy to him and much of his listenership. In just two pages, Caris manages to craft a deep meditation on companionship, loss, change and the true nature of silence.

The stories aren't all set after the end of the industrial era. "Helium Disciples," by Chloe Woods, takes place in 2020. Woods shows us an evening in the lives of several relatives in Surrey, England, as they gather for a tense barbecue on a scorching summer's day. The characters argue vehemently about some of the chief crises of their time, which are also critical issues facing us now: droughts and heat waves, rising fuel costs, resource depletion, climate change denial, corporatist capitalism and the ever-deteriorating states of national healthcare systems. Indeed, if it weren't for touches like slightly more advanced personal electronics and the fact that the above-mentioned crises have become progressively worse than they are now, this could easily be a story about the present. It's a poignant, well-written vignette, and its near-future setting lends a nice sense of variety to the stories overall.

This collection also greatly benefits from the levity and romantic interest supplied by contributors Bart Hillyer and G. Kay Bishop. Hillyer's "Red Wing" is set in the American Midwest circa 2120, and it's both an endearing love story and a thoughtful commentary on the follies of contemporary society. Bishop's "Spyne Drift" deals in rather screwball fashion with a journey to deliver a vital manuscript to a faraway library. Our teenage hero says he was initially "considered too young, too scatterbrained, and untrustworthy for such a precious mission," but that he ended up being the only one available to go. He travels alone down the ominous Trader's Trail, clad in clown's clothing (the required garb of all "Irregular Emissaries") and with only his droll wit to help him through the stressful situations he encounters along his way.

Not the least of the many draws to this issue is a column by John Michael Greer, the heavyweight peak oil author who has done more than anyone else to nurture the fledgling subgenre of deindustrial science fiction. As well as himself having authored numerous novels and nonfiction books in the deindustrial vein, Greer runs an annual story contest, the winners of which appear in Founders House Publishing's After Oil anthology series. He also provided invaluable help to Caris in bringing Into the Ruins into existence. Greer's piece in this issue is the first entry in what is to be a regular fiction review column.

In this first column, Greer examines four books by the late Edgar Pangborn, published between 1964 and 1978. Greer says he chose to look at narratives from decades past to make the point that while the term deindustrial science fiction may be fairly new, the subgenre it describes has a long and venerable history. The books Greer examines are all part of Pangborn's Davy series, his best-known work. Set in America, they show the gradual fall of industrial society beginning in an era known as the Years of Confusion—a time marked by nuclear war, epidemic disease and global warming due to anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Greer applauds these books for their accurate portrayal of civilizational decline, which is in sharp opposition to the swift, Hollywood-type collapse of our civilization that we've seen so often in popular entertainments.

Those who are sticklers for consistency in punctuation usage, spelling and grammar may have a bone to pick with Into the Ruins. Both issues thus far have featured work not only by American authors but also by international authors in countries where British English is used. And Caris made the considered decision not to alter their copy to conform to American English standards, even though his publication is based in America. In his editor's note, he says he did this "in celebration of ideals of localization, the themes of Into the Ruins, and the sort of futures I expect we face." As fussy as I generally am with regard to mechanical consistency, I must admit that this choice has its desired effect, giving each work a distinctively regional feel.

Caris titled his introduction to this issue perfectly: "Nature-Made Futures." Despite how indescribably trivial we humans are in the grand scheme of things, our anthropocentrism tends to make us think we can control the course of our future as a species. In reality, it's nature's continued ability to support our existence that ultimately determines what will happen to us. And Caris believes that as we tamper with the incredibly complex system that is the natural world, we're setting the stage for a future that is "bound to surprise all of us, though likely in different ways depending on the person." Bravo to Caris and all the other contributors to Into the Ruins for endeavoring to paint some possible pictures of this mysterious future.



Our task today is to reinvent society so that it is co-evolutionary with the rest of nature. Management of our natural resources in an efficient and sustainable manner is vital to this vision. Botanical Treasures lays the foundation for such a transformation by detailing a form of nature-based renewable economics that has been all but lost in this age of technology. MORE.

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