There was a time when, if you wanted to get across an ocean and you didn’t want to whip people really hard, you had to use the wind to push you there. Near the equator, between the prevailing winds of the northern and southern hemisphere, is an area with little wind that can find ships crossing those latitudes, and strand them for days or weeks. If you’re on such a ship, the days are long, the sun is hot, and it seems like the endless, unchanging horizon is the last thing you’ll ever see. It’s official name is the Intertropical Convergence Zone, but it’s better known as the doldrums.
Here in North America, we’re in the the doldrums of summer. Hot days are no longer a fun excuse to visit the lake, they just mean sweaty clothes and high cooling bills. Schools still out, and parents have run out of things for their kids to do. But the kids are anxious because they know school is out there, somewhere. The vacations that everyone was looking forward to are already memories. We we’ve lost our momentum and it feels like we might never find it again.
I say “we” but definitely me. I’ve been filling my time hiding from the heat inside, breathing air worn out from the air conditioning, and reading. Even the reading has been a slog, my recent book choices have been far from exciting. And being excited about a book is a requirement to make it into the Reader’s Room.
And so, here I am, writing about complaining about reading, looking for hopeful signs on the horizon that someday soon, I’ll be nudged back into the trade winds.
While I haven’t found any exciting books, there are people assembling shorter things that can put the wind in my sails by giving me hope for the future. Or the present. A small collection of Australians publish Future Crunch
, a biweekly newsletter that’s a linkdump
of how new technology and old fashioned effort is improving the lives of people all over the world. On the days when it feels like the universe is a disaster in slow motion, they provide evidence that worldwide, we’re making great strides in improving health, reducing poverty, caring for the environment, and advancing human rights. It’s all the newsworthy stuff that isn’t headline news because the body count isn’t high enough. In fact, its often about saving or improving lives by the thousand or millions. They also do occasional deep dives into new technology, separating the hype from the fact and examining the possibilities and repercussions. Their recent Blockchain for the Mildly Curious https://futurecrun.ch/articles/blockchain-for-the-mildly-curious lives up to its title, and they’re working on a roundup of the current state of clean energy. They also have a Patreon
that uses the money collected to do things like set up a prosthetics printing workshop in Kathmandu or buy drones for African park rangers to help fight poaching of endangered species.
It’s all good stuff that’s happening today. But if you’re looking to set your course on a distant star, there’s The Long Now Foundation
, who thinks so far in the future that they write out years with five digits. To inspire others to think truly long term, they’re building a mechanical clock designed to keep time for 10,000 years, and yes, they’re serious
. But their main job is to encourage multigenerational planning, and provoke thought on how to care for humanity on gigantic timescales. The idea initially sounds a bit fanciful, but also sounds like something that’s worth doing. They have monthly seminars
about a wide range of topics, from engineering gene safety to how we could practically build starships. From reviving extinct species to how best avert and quickly recover from social collapse. And, should you need to deeply ponder the future, they also have a fantastic coffee and cocktail bar at their San Francisco headquarters, called The Interval. https://theinterval.org It has prototypes of their clocks, ambient artwork, and a selection of books from their Manual for Civilization, a curated collection of books chosen for their ability to sustain or rebuild civilization.
If you follow the Reader’s Room, you know that I firmly believe in the power of stories to positively transform the mind and the world. And, if you follow the Reader’s Room, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of Fireside Fiction—now Fireside Magazine
. They focus on powerful, inclusive stories. They tend toward speculative fiction because the editors feel that’s where the most groundbreaking writing is being done, but they don’t limit themselves to it. They pay their writers well above the industry average, and commission amazing art for every issue. Fireside started out publishing flash fiction on their web site, they’ve now grown to publish stories of all lengths, from flash to novels, on their site and in print. Almost every story, regardless of length, delivers an emotional punch including (especially) hope. And hope is exactly what you need to keep going even when the wind stops blowing.
Future Crunch, The Long Now, and Fireside Magazine are different expressions of what I’m trying to do with the Reader’s Room: Encourage positive thinking about the future, and deeply about the problems we have to overcome. Future Crunch illuminates the present, keeping us realistically optimistic enough to face the hard problems. The Long Now explores truly long-term thinking putting our minds to big, underserved problems. Fireside provides reassurance about the changes the future will bring, as well as the ones we’re facing today.
And together, hopefully, we can use these things to put the push in our sails so we’re no longer adrift.
But in the meantime, while the wind is still, the mind wanders. I get thoughts.
Like, names are tricky. Future Crunch has “future” right in the name, but it’s about the now. But The Long Now is all about the future. I think they’re both great names, though. As is Fireside, which implies not just a comfortable place to read, but to quietly think about what you’ve read. And all of that reminds me that The Reader’s Room is a horrible name. Okay, maybe not horrible, but poorly describes the core idea. It goes back to when it was an unformed experiment, and before I had any idea it would be a podcast.
I kind of suffer with names. I’ve repeatedly changed character names in the middle of writing, sometimes even after the final draft. (With sincerest apologies to my editor.) I changed the name of *Clash of Cultures* at the last minute because I realized the old name was likely to be interpreted as an entirely different kind of novel, and my hasty replacement set the pattern for the next three books. I kind of regret it. It’s hard to change book titles once they’ve been published.
It would be no fun to change the name of the Reader’s Room, but it really needs a better one, and it’s better changed sooner than later. I have some ideas, but none that I love, so I’m thinking that clever, insightful people like my readers might do better. If you have an idea for a nice, crisp, and on target replacement name for the Reader’s Room, let me know
. A better title would concisely convey a sense of realistic optimism, living with technology, and a love of storytelling. If I use yours, I’ll make sure you get something nice, like a signed, advanced copy of the next book, or something else you’d like. We’ll talk.