by Andrea Hairston
What to do when the Gray Men (mostly men) be Stealing Our Time and Colonizing the Future, when they be steady Smoking Our Dreams and Burning Down the Planet, while keeping us abstracted and distracted, fracking and freaking, whining and tweeting? The Apocalypse has happened. What are we doing? And where the hell is that way out of no way?
These were the not-so-hidden, very urgent, and entertainingly dramatic questions filling the books, plays, and films that captured me and inspired this year.
In German, I reread: Momo (oder: Die seltsameGeschichte von den Zeit-Dieben und von dem Kind, das den Menschen diegestohlene Zeit zurückbrachte) by Michael Ende. In English this translates as Momo (or: the strange story of the time-thieves and the child that brought stolen time back to the people). Momo is a young girl who can listen to our spirits. In her presence, people, young and old, abandon themselves to the moment, to each other. They remember: play is sacred. Then comes the invasion of the Gray Men, dressed in colorless suits with pasty complexions. The Gray Men plot to steal people’s time. They would in fact colonize every moment and conquer eternity. Of course, they promise to save time. Using the business model, they will make people efficient, orderly, and super-productive. This means putting an end to frivolous, time-wasting activities such as imaginative play and the arts, but don’t worry. The Gray Men offer children toys and gadgets that will play for them while forcing a twenty-four/seven work plan on adults. No one has time to miss what they’ve lost or bother with family, community, or the commons. The Gray Men desiccate our moments, roll them into cigars, and smoke. Momo challenges their world view and their grand scheme. It’s a thrilling, inspiring read!
Ende published this fantasy novel for youth (and everyone else) in 1973. I first read it in German in the late 80’s early 90’s. Every year this story seems more prescient as our world slides into that stolen time world that Momo had to rescue! This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs.the Climate by Naomi Klein offers a journalist’s portrait of the parasitic Gray Men and the Momos working to save humanity in 2014. This Changes Everything is not just an indictment of predatory capitalists who deny climate change in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence for profit and power. Klein challenges the origin myths and cosmology of so-called Western Civilization that declares man the grand subject and all else objects to be used or manipulated in his mad monkey schemes. Klein insists:
We can’t save the world unless we change it!
So, despite the hype and techno-wizardry euphoria over the internet and social media, we still face enormous challenges. Our technology amplifies the challenges. We must pursue inconvenient questions. Who owns our private moments? Who owns the public airwaves? In the name of progress, what corporate or governmental fascism do we naturalize and tolerate? What systems of oppression have gone virtual and viral? This is what Zero: Sie wissen, was du tust (English: Zero: They know what you do.) by Marc Elsberg and The Circle by Dave Eggers explore. Zero is a fast paced techno-thriller. Circle is a laugh out loud brutal techno-satire. And talk about mad monkey schemes—Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam Trilogy is a breath-taking exploration of the multinational corporate Gray Men and their techno-wizardry which aggravated me as it captivated me.
I read an advance copy of Daniel José Older’s Half-Resurrection Blues and enjoyed Older’s Afrofuturist cosmology and Brooklyn sensibility. Half-Resurrection Blues engages with humanity at that crossroads of life and death. It is a delicious urban fantasy paced like a thriller and scored like a fine piece of music. Likewise Jennifer Brissett’s wonderful debut novel, Elysium, is an sf jazz riff on gender, identity, and finding that way out of no way. A blow your mind book that you want to read again and again!
Other books and a few films that took my mind apart and offered guidance on the road out of apocalypse were:
Paradoxa25: Africa SF edited by Mark Bould explores African Science Fiction.
Belle directed by Amma Asante, written by Misan Sagay tells the story of an 18th century black English woman as slavery is being challenged.
Pride directed by Matthew Warchus where gay activists help striking miners fight Thatcher’s lethal austerity.
Go For Sisters written and directed by John Sayles starring LisaGay Hamilton, Yolonda Ross, Edward James Olmos is an exploration of friendship and redemption.
The Only Good Indian directed by Kevin Willmott and starring Wes Studi.
I was a guest at Sirens this year and had an amazing time. Here is what they say about themselves:
In fantasy literature, women are revolutionary. They are queens, soldiers, assassins, and monsters. They are clever, kind, bold, and daring. They adventure, they conjure, they rule, and they rise. These diverse women inhabit worlds different from our own, where women authors have given them extraordinary opportunities: to grow, to lead, to fight, and sometimes to save the world. Sirens is a conference dedicated to the remarkable women of fantasy literature
It’s all true! And the folks running Sirens are organized, gracious, and fun! We had great conversations about women in sf &f. They’ll be in Denver in 2015. Think about putting Sirens in your calendar!
Finally I saw Denzel Washington, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Sophie Okonedo, and Anika Noni Rose in Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry on Broadway. The acting was brilliant. The audience was moved by main character Walter Lee's refusal to live only for money. I confess, I was surprised to find the 1959 play speaking so clearly to a Broadway audience in May of 2014. Yet, we are in the same sacred moment with Hansberry, who knew:
We have to change the world to save it!