The Problem With “Collapse”

In the Winter 2018 issue of Into the Ruins, I wrote “The Problem With ‘Collapse’,” my Editor’s Introduction, which spoke to some of the common tropes of deindustrial science fiction and the ways in which the genre still feels in its infancy, struggling to find the best way to portray stories set in futures that go so strongly against the expectations of our time. It’s one of the challenges of stories of these types, but a challenge that I want to see authors continue to overcome.

It’s an important conversation for this type of fiction, and it’s one I want to foster as widely and publicly as possible. As it happens, the Spring 2018 issue is fast approaching, and I also wouldn’t mind have a few more letters to the editor, both about this subject and others related to the themes of deindustrial science fiction and the future of industrial civilization. Have something to say right now? Shoot an email to editor@intotheruins.com to have it considered for publication in the next issue. Not quite sure what to say? Read “The Problem With ‘Collapse'” below and see if you have something to add to the conversation.

Oh, and don’t have the Winter 2018 issue? Well, maybe you should pick up a copy right here. It’s a good one; you shouldn’t miss it!


The Problem With “Collapse”

Change is a sneak. It comes upon you slowly, in increments often unseen, the unnoticed ticks of a clock that pass minutes, hours, days. It is the accumulation of thought and consideration and experience, teased out over months and years. It is the way that an idea once unthinkable, or at least unpalatable, eventually becomes commonplace—becomes habit. It is who you are now, often so different from who you were then.

Of course, change is not always that. Sometimes it is dramatic and sudden. Sometimes it’s a break, severing what you once knew for a different reality now dominant. But most change takes place day by day, under the cover of mundane routine, via processes that churn always in the background. It’s the accumulation of the new and the sloughing off of the old. Much of the new, as it turns out, is just the same as the old; enough over time is different to create long term change, though. That’s how the world eventually looks different. That’s how futures are made.

— ∞ —

When does it happen? When does “The Collapse” occur? That’s the question so often asked about the future facing us. We want to know when the break will happen—where on the timeline the shearing off will take place. And it’s the wrong question. More often than not, “The Collapse” never occurs—it just suddenly is noticed one day. The world, we realize, has changed. We think back ten years, twenty, and marvel at the ways it is different now against then. We come to recognize all the things that, if seen in advance, would have been shocking then but are routine today.

“How did we get here?” we ask ourselves, each other. And the oft-imagined cliff, the dramatic moment when everything changed, is rarely the answer.

“Incrementally,” someone says. “One step at a time.”

— ∞ —

It’s not that there aren’t moments. There are so many moments. We could name them together, we could make our lists. 9/11. Hurricane Katrina. 2008. The election of Donald Trump. These are ones we can point to freely, easily, reeling off the tips of our tongues. They were moments of collective shock, of widespread realization that we had entered into new territory, that the world and its terms of engagement had changed. Not that no one predicted these events in advance; varying people did in every case, at varying levels of specificity. But the society, the culture at large, did not. And when these moments hit, we (or at least some) suffered collective breaks. We tried, and often failed, to understand—even when there were perfectly reasonable explanations. We panicked.

Of course, there are endless other moments. How many foreign entanglements have we wrapped ourselves in? How many dead end economic policies have we enacted? How many ecosystems have we destroyed in the name of progress? How many sustainable livelihoods have we outlawed? How many seemingly inexhaustible resources have we exhausted? How much clean water, fresh air, and fertile soil have we polluted and ruined and wasted?

Each of these is a step. Most of them go unnoticed, or noticed by almost no one. Most of them are simply manifestations of business as usual, and are insisted to be necessities, inevitable—even though they are neither. None of them are cliffs or cleavings—at least, until one of them becomes the black swan that brings a chunk of the system down and that changes the terms. That’s when we suddenly notice the change, but not generally the cause. 9/11. Hurricane Katrina. 2008. Donald Trump. Here again, they roll off the tongue, but never the underlying issues and actions that created them in the first place. Those unspoken truths are too often obscured at all costs. They have to be, so that we may take the next step.

But these black swans are not system-destroyers. They are not “The Collapse.” They are wrenches. They break some gears, shut down a process. But overall, the system continues. It grinds on, hobbled, but with most everyone working to restore its function. And so they do, returning it not to its former glory (so to speak) but to some reduced version of it. And then, exhausted, they look for the next step to take. And the timeline of history continues.

— ∞ —

There is nothing new about a civilization collapsing. It’s happened time and time again throughout history, and it so happens that it’s currently happening to our civilization. It shouldn’t be a surprise; all the signs are there for those who care to learn the history. Nor should it be a surprise that it takes awhile, take centuries. That means that, while we are currently living through the collapse of our civilization, we almost certainly won’t live to see the final shape of the ruins. There’s still a very long path to travel to get there. Still, the section that we have the pleasure of traveling, already proving eventful, is sure to become more interesting yet.

That entire path—likely hundreds of years long—is “The Collapse.” But it will be filled with myriad events, many of them significant, far more insignificant, and with long stretches of relative calm. That’s how a civilization collapses, not all at once and in flames, but piece by piece, step by step, some of them large and some small. It’s a process. It accumulates.

Again, that’s not to say there aren’t meaningful moments or even sudden endings. We all will have a sudden ending some day, and many of us may have one directly related to collapse: an act of war, a failure of critical infrastructure, dramatic political or social turmoil, that lashings out of a population with its back against the wall, an escape from one’s harsh reality that turns unintentionally permanent. Or perhaps we perish in an earthquake, a storm, some natural calamity. These too are part of the fractal pattern of collapse, driven sometimes by our own stupidity and other times by the natural processes that serve both to keep us alive and to sometimes kills us.

The key to these events, dramatic and shattering as they are for those caught in them, is that they are localized. They may be localized at a very small scale or at a large, regional one, but they do not consume the entire world and, even where they are localized, they do not impact everyone at an equally disastrous level. In addition to their localization, they are inevitably mitigated. From the individual level all the way to the global level, humans and their institutions tend to work to mitigate the overall impact of these disruptions and to limit their ongoing fallout. They seek stability and a return to normal. They respond, provide care, assist, and rebuild. Granted, these palliative actions can be too limited in scope, suffer from corruption, take too long, and feature exploitation and profiteering, but the responses still occur.

All of this serves to check and contain the spread of disaster. The impact is still there and the overall system suffers, but it isn’t destroyed. It continues on at some lower level of function, awaiting always the next disaster that will piece it still a bit more apart, inch it ever closer to the final floor.

This is how civilizations die.

— ∞ —

It’s with this understanding and viewpoint in mind that I evaluate the stories I publish here in Into the Ruins. This magazine has been referred to as post-apocalyptic, but it really is not that, as I don’t believe in apocalypse and I actively shy away from stories depicting such futures. Nor is it dystopian, as I instead search out stories that depict the kind of complicated world we humans make for ourselves—good roiled with bad—rather than the endlessly bleak and stifling futures so often depicted in dystopian stories. No, the stories I look to publish are those that take place in the changed worlds we’re most likely to get, in which the slow process of collapse is quite a bit farther down the road or long since finished and completed, depending on the story.

That means, of course, that the stories I look to publish depict futures that are different from today, sometimes dramatically so. That’s nothing new to science fiction, of course; however, the particular sort of science fiction found in Into the Ruins suffers from a distinct disadvantage that the usual stars-and-spaceships or all-computers-all-the-time sort of science fiction doesn’t: that is, that the future depicted is not the one most people think we’re supposed to get. A story featuring space adventures and interstellar travel is rarely under any pressure to explain how humans managed to get their way to that future if the writer isn’t interested in a long explanation of the backstory. It can go merrily along on the presumption that the audience will take this future in stride, understanding that of course we’ll eventually be happily planet-hopping with nary a second thought as to it’s cost or feasibility, never mind the fact that no human has been beyond low-earth orbit for well over forty years now. However, a story set in a future in which industrial civilization has collapsed—or is in the process of doing so—and the populace is struggling with dramatically lower standards of living, reduced energy and resources, and the consequences of climate change, ecological collapse, rising seas, drought and famine, and other such obvious repercussions to our current ways of life . . . well, that’s a future that must be explained.

In some ways, there’s nothing wrong with that. An explanation of how humanity got to an imagined future is often intriguing when handled right, and a good part of the point of Into the Ruins is to help broaden the public’s understanding of the predicament we’re in through the use of fiction. Tracing out the consequences of that predicament, then, is a worthy effort. However, there are a ton of great stories waiting to be told in realistic futures that are worse off for having to hold the reader’s hand through an explanation of how we got there. Just as a rip-roaring tale of space adventure might be knocked off track by a long explanation of the evolution of space travel, so too might a rip-roaring tale of adventure in a future wracked by risen seas, mass migration, and the desertification of large swaths of the American landscape might be knocked off its rhythm by a segue into the evolution of climatological change and disruption due to the exploitation of fossil fuels.

Our task at hand, then, is to make visions of these sorts of futures common. It’s to make them as obvious and unquestioned as those with intergalactic space travel. It’s to rid ourselves of the need for shorthand, of the need to clarify to the reader that something went wrong.

— ∞ —

One of the tropes of deindustrial science fiction is the tendency of characters to reference the moment when things fell apart, to give it a name like “The Collapse” or some other short, catchy name. You can find examples of this phenomenon in stories in this very issue of the magazine, not to mention in multiple back issues. As the steward of this project, coming across such a term in a story always sets me a little on edge, gets my back up. I mean no disrespect to the authors who do it, mind you, because I understand the urge; it’s for the reasons stated above, the assumed expectations of the readers. But it sets me on edge anyway because it puts the scent of fast collapse into the story. It teases at a possible past apocalypse. And that’s one of the biggest reasons I reject stories that otherwise feature quality writing and an interesting story set in a compelling future setting: because they portray the collapse too fast.

Getting this right is important to me. If we’re to understand the future that’s unfolding around us and have a chance to address it head on—making the world a bit better, even if the emphasis is on “a bit”—then we have to understand that the collapse of a civilization is not an overnight, apocalyptic event. It’s what’s happening to us right now. It’s only in comprehending this that most of us might begin acting now, rather than waiting for an apocalyptic act to kick us into gear. And it’s in understanding that this right now is what the process of decline looks like that we may come to truly grasp that the future is not likely to be one of betterment, but one of decline, fraught with great challenges.

One of the biggest goals of this publication is to drive home that point through fiction. I don’t carry that goal in an effort to depress my fellow citizens or to rage against that world; I carry it due to my own optimism, even if that optimism is sometimes hard for others to see. I really do believe that, facing a hard future, we can take actions that make that future better for us, our descendants, and the many other creatures that call this planet home. These actions won’t fully mitigate what we are destined to face, but they can help, and I believe that such action is worth it.

But there are two common beliefs that do an excellent job of diffusing the sense of need for such action: the belief that the future is one of inevitable betterment, and the belief that the future is one of inevitable apocalypse. If the former, no action is needed, as we are not facing challenging times. If the latter, no action is helpful, as we are facing destruction anyway. Both beliefs foster a willingness to continue living lives that we know are dead ends and that tend to fail in providing happiness and fulfillment, anyway. Both beliefs sentence us to a worse future, at a time when the future is guaranteed to be hard enough as it is.

In portraying realistic futures set during or after times of decline, the stories published in Into the Ruins help to counter the first belief of inevitable betterment. But if, in the process, they reinforce the idea that the decline we face will manifest itself in sudden and cataclysmic collapse, then much of the good they might do is mitigated. We need stories that show us both: the hard times ahead and the fact that those hard times will come as they always do, in fits and starts, piecemeal, fractal, chaotic, messy, uneven, an d decidedly non-apocalyptic, even if they do feature sudden ends for certain people and places. It’s in those sort of messy futures that the actions we can take start to become more clear. It’s in those futures that we see our own agency and the ways that, even in troubled times, we can act to better the world.

It also just so happens that the complication, chaos, variability, joy, pain, and myriad human complication found in these kinds of futures makes for, in my opinion, far more interesting stories than those typically found in science fiction these days. Give me not dystopia or apocalypse or space colonization or techno-utopia; give me instead the messiness of humans making their way through a complicated and living world that refuses to conform to their wishes. Those are the stories I want to read and publish.

— ∞ —

I imagine that in the future, there will be stories about our time. They will speak of our mistakes and they will probably not speak kindly, especially since they will still be dealing with the fall out from our destructive decisions. They will talk of the decline we went through—the way our civilization came to pieces. Perhaps they will know some of the details and perhaps they won’t. I’m not optimistic about the records we’ll leave. But I imagine their story, while condensed, will still be long. I do not imagine they’ll speak of the day everything fell apart, and if they do, it will be a story of myth, not a literal cataloging of exactly how our world went to pieces.

They will not yearn for the time before our civilization fell, any more than we yearn for the Roman empire. If there are records giving some idea of how we lived, it may interest some, but it will be a curiosity of another time, irrelevant to their lives. We will not be central to future civilizations. If we are known at all, we will be just one more piece of history; one bit of curve on a long arc.

Our civilization’s death is certain to be a long one. There’s no particular reason to attempt to aggrandize it. It won’t be the reference point for all who come after and it won’t end the world in a fiery apocalypse. It will simply be one more civilization in a long human history full of them, carrying out its life cycle the way each of billions of humans do, being born, ripening, and eventually dying in the slow, cascading, chaotic way that civilizations die. And then will come another, and another, and another.

The stories to tell are endless: of that death, of all the moments in it, of the civilizations that come afterward, of the complicated path between death and rebirth, of untold humans making their way through fascinating lives on a fascinating planet. Let us tell them. Let us dive into them knowing that now is not the reference point for all, that the future cannot be known in advance, that stories set in decline are as legitimate as stories set in endless progress, that we do not have to hold the reader’s hand. Give them reference points, clues, the shadings of a path, detail if it fits the story and vague allusions if it doesn’t. Let them see the futures we imagine and give them the option to accept those futures or not. But it is in presenting them unapologetically—putting them forth as casually as all those shiny, sterile futures of endless computer technology and casual space travel—that we make them normal. It is in putting them forward over and over and over again—matter of fact, obvious, no labels necessary—that we move from debating if this is the sort of future we can expect, this place of obvious decline when referenced against our now, to debating whether this is what the decline might really look like. And it is in placing formed and breathing characters in these worlds, and having them expect the world, to know it intimately, to not imagine any other—because why would they? this is the world—that we make those futures real, that we change our understanding of what to expect.

And it is then that the work begins. Because now we see what to expect, and it’s through that knowledge that we begin to understand what we must do.


What are your thoughts? Send in your letter to the editor now by emailing editor@intotheruins.com or commenting on this post and contribute to the conversation! Don’t have the Winter 2018 issue in which this editorial was published? This is just a taste of the excellent content found therein; grab your copy today!

Into the Ruins: Winter 2018 (Issue #8) is Now Available!

I’m pleased to announce (admittedly a bit late here on the blog) that the eighth issue of Into the Ruins has shipped to subscribers and is available for purchase! This Winter 2018 issue runs 106 pages, featuring six excellent new stories, as well as an Editor’s Introduction, letters to the editor, and a new book review from Justin Patrick Moore.

In this issue of Into the Ruins, a seer tells a mad king his future under the threat of death. Two men isolated on a Northwest island work to re-establish contact with a devastated outside world. A powerful woman struggles with how to respond to the upcoming power shifts in both her society and home. And a man’s life is changed after a chance encounter in the forest leads to an intense love affair.

These are just a few of the stories found in this eighth issue of Into the Ruins, continuing our exploration of future worlds riven with the consequences of today’s actions. These are worlds near and far in the future, uniquely their own, giving glimpses into the sort of realities we actually do face while making clear that the worlds of tomorrow are just as compelling and complicated as the world of today.

Subscribers will be receiving their issues in the coming days, with most already working their way through the mail system. Those of you who aren’t subscribers but would like a copy of the new issue, you can order a copy here from our store, which will ship immediately. The issue is also available from Amazon or you can purchase a digital edition of the issue at Payhip. For international readers, you can go to the issue page for links to international Amazon sites it’s available through.

Many of you have subscriptions that have expired with the release of this new issue. Please consider renewing today if you haven’t already! Subscriptions are the lifeblood of this publication; if you want it to continue, show your support by re-upping your subscription. (If you’re unsure when your subscription expires, simply email me at subscriptions@intotheruins.com and I’ll let you know; similarly, if you’re an international subscriber, contact me at the same email for a renewal link.)

And if you aren’t already a subscriber? Consider signing up! The consistent support provided by subscriptions is critical to the success of Into the Ruins.

As always, I encourage readers to send their thoughts and feedback to me at editor@intotheruins.com, both as casual emails (rambling acceptable!) and as official letters to the editor that I can consider for publication in the ninth issue of Into the Ruins, scheduled for publication in May. Comments for contributing authors will be happily forwarded on.

Now go read the issue and enjoy some fantastic deindustrial and post-peak science fiction!

— Joel Caris, Editor & Publisher

P.S. With the release of this issue, Into the Ruins: Year Two is now available for purchase! Similarly to the Year One package, Year Two contains issues #5-8 and ships free anywhere in the U.S. for just $43. This is a great way to catch up or gift the magazine to a friend! Those interested in international orders should contact me directly at orders@intotheruins.com for more information. Thanks!

Starting Anew

(See the bottom of this post for an announcement about our special sale, now with free shipping!)

January is usually a productive month for me. As the year draws to a close, I begin reflecting, thinking ahead, and working to improve habits. As the new year dawns, I begin implementing new habits (or committing to the changes already in progress) and deciding where I want my focus to lie during the year. I do all this while enjoying the quiet first few days of January, doing lots of reading, and pulling myself away from the day-to-day distractions I far too often indulge.

This year I managed to make myself a fairly long list of goals, which may not be the wisest decision. As with many people, I have a habit of starting my resolutions strong and then fading down the stretch; even by spring, it’s not uncommon for me to have largely forgotten about any resolutions and to be slipping back into old habits. Still, typically some things stick and, of course, I find time to reflect and make changes and adjustments at other times throughout the year, not just at its beginning. And when that new year rolls around during each calendar, it’s not uncommon for me to make some resolution that is a variant on one I’ve made many times before. It’s something of a natural process: a slow learning that takes place over years, not all at once on January 1st.

My resolutions in 2018 span a spectrum of subjects and categories, and I won’t go into all of them for fear of boring you. However, I want to mention one, as I feel it is a resolution that relates directly to some of the themes of Into the Ruins. Where my wife and I live in the city, we are lucky enough to have a shared backyard with a small amount of space for gardening. Those of you who read my editorial introductions or have otherwise followed me over time likely well know that I spent a number of years working on a variety of farms, including organic vegetable farms, and that I garden each year–though with varying levels of success. Last year, I expanded our home gardening from a single garden bed into a partly fenced off area that used to serve as a chicken run, but that had been abandoned to weeds (and sadly, regular spraying with glyphosate) for a number of years. In 2016, we convinced the landlord to stop the lawn maintenance people from spraying and last year I started to redeem the long-abused, dead earth chicken run. I dug in a couple new beds, turned in compost and organic fertilizer, and planted tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, basil, and cucumbers.

I did this largely because I wanted more space in which to garden and wanted to grow more food, but I did it also with the desire to rehabilitate this small patch of ground that had been so abused over the years. Rather than a stretch of dirt lying mostly bare, dotted by scraggly weeds, I wanted to bring back a greater life to it. In my digging, I found that weed cloth had been laid down sometime back, so I pulled that up to get to the real earth beneath, turning the duff on top of the cloth into it and adding in compost. The ground was hard and packed, devoid of worms, a far cry from a picture of health. My hope is that my small work would do some good.

I have yet to dig back into that soil to see what is happening now, but the garden I planted there did very well for the most part, the tomatoes and squash thriving in particular. It heartened me to see that returned life, and I enjoyed the good eating we did over the course of the summer, even harvesting zucchini into late November.

I plan to once again plant in there this summer, but getting an earlier start this year. And that’s where my resolution comes in. Last year, I began the process of rehabilitating that small bit of land; this year, I want to do better. I hope to open up a bit more earth in there, but more importantly, I want to take a greater care in my gardening this year. My resolution here is to plant more flowers, for starters, to create both greater beauty and more pollinator habitat. I also would like to plant a greater diversity of crops, to get an earlier start, and to rotate more. Already, my wife and I have been looking through seed catalogs, scheming about what we want to grow and which flowers to plant.

At the end of the day, that small bit of soil is a small resolution, and my efforts to bring it back to life are a tiny mark in an incredibly large world. But as I argue time and again, we can only make the larger world into what we know it needs to be—healthy, vibrant, far less abused by us humans—by making changes at the individual level. That’s the only way that we can foster and implement changes at the larger level, and its the only way our leaders will realize they must reinforce and help facilitate those changes or risk losing their jobs. Without dedication, conviction, and persistence in our personal lives, cultural and societal changes will never happen by choice and will.

And so, I ask you readers for something small: a contribution to Into the Ruins that may help to inspire others. What do you resolve to do in the new year to help make the world a better place? How do you plan to help? What do your small (or big!) efforts look like? I asked this question last year and received some interesting answers; it seems to me that it’s worth making a tradition. I will ask it somewhat less specifically this year—your answers may be broad in the subjects they touch and small or large in the actions taken and they do not have to be specifically focused on conservation or mitigation. Let them fit the theme of Into the Ruins one way or another, but the changes we need to make are many, and they don’t have to be explicitly focused on sustainability, ecology, energy, the environment, or so on. They may be about kindness or community, for we will need that in the hard times ahead. They may be about learning or wisdom, for we’ll need that, too. Or they may just be about bringing one happiness in a world that too often seems to bring the opposite.

All letters will be considered for publication in future issues of Into the Ruins, unless otherwise noted. You can give your thoughts with a comment on this blog post, by emailing me directly at editor@intotheruins.com, or by mailing a real letter to Figuration Press / 3515 SE Clinton Street / Portland, OR 97202.

So let’s hear it: What are your plans for 2018? In what small way do you hope to help rehabilitate the world? Share your thoughts and help spread those small changes.


Back Issue Sale: Now with Free Shipping!

Help me clear some inventory! Our back issue sale just got even better: it now comes with free shipping. Until the end of January, all six back issues of Into the Ruins are on sale for just $10 and come with free shipping! Fill out your collection, grab some gifts, seed your hometown with randomly placed copies of the magazine–whatever you want!

And have you picked up the newest, Fall 2017 issue? If not, grab it today with free shipping! It’s an excellent issue, if I do say so myself. I don’t think you’ll want to miss it.

 

Into the Ruins LIVE on the Practical Prepping. Period Podcast this Wednesday!

I will be joining Randy Powers on his Practical Prepping. Period podcast this Wednesday, December 6th at 9pm EST to talk live about Into the Ruins, deindustrial science fiction, the future of industrial civilization, organic gardening and farming, and whatever other subjects may pop up. With luck, this will be a fun and wide-ranging conversation—and I’ll manage to come up with a few interesting things to say.

You can either listen live or download the podcast after it airs for listening at your leisure. You can find full info at the Facebook event page or directly at the Blog Talk Radio website.

I hope you’ll listen in!


Don’t forget! The new Fall 2017 issue of Into the Ruins is now available for sale and our limited time back issue sale continues, with all six back issues of the magazine now available for just $10 each! Complete your collection or pick up back issues for gifts this holiday season.

Into the Ruins: Fall 2017 (Issue #7) is Now Available (and All Back Issues on Sale)

(See the P.S. at the bottom of this post to learn more about our limited time back issue sale!)

I’m pleased to announce that the seventh issue of Into the Ruins is shipping to subscribers and is now available for purchase! This Fall 2017 issue runs 108 pages, featuring five excellent new stories from authors returning and new, as well as an Editor’s Introduction, letters to the editor, and a closing editorial on autonomous vehicles, robots, and disemployment.

In this seventh issue of Into the Ruins, new worlds emerge from all corners of the globe, revealing the futures awaiting us on the far side of climate change and civilizational decline. Anchorage has transformed itself into the newest boom town in America, growing recklessly fast but hiding dark secrets. Meanwhile, in Antarctica, a dramatically changed climate has revealed the world’s newest frontier. A man travels through the treacherous swamps of Florida, searching out a place to start a new life, while another man fleeing from past deeds finds a strange welcome in a dusty church. Another traveler meets a sly stranger on the trail and soon finds himself in a battle of wits that could prove the difference between riches and misery.

These new worlds are neither apocalyptic nor dystopian, but instead a fascinating mix of new and old, well past many of the troubles of our times and struggling with new troubles of their own. These stories offer fascinating and fun futures while recognizing that human folly rings eternal.

Subscribers will be receiving their issues in the coming days, with most already working their way through the mail system. (Are you a lapsed subscriber? Renew today!) Those of you who aren’t subscribers but would like a copy of the new issue, you can pre-order a copy here directly, which will be shipping in early December once I receive my sale copies. Alternately, you can order for immediate shipment from Amazon or you can purchase a digital edition of the issue at Payhip. For  international readers, you can go to the issue page for links to international Amazon sites it’s available through.

As always, I encourage readers to send their thoughts and feedback to me at editor@intotheruins.com, both as casual emails (rambling acceptable!) and as official letters to the editor that I can consider for publication in the seventh issue of Into the Ruins, scheduled for November. Comments for contributing authors will be happily forwarded on.

Now go read the issue and enjoy some fantastic deindustrial and post-peak science fiction!

— Joel Caris, Editor & Publisher

P.S. Don’t forget to take advantage of our back issue sale! All six back issues of the magazine are available for a limited time for just $10 each.  You can even bundle the new issue with discounted back issues, fill out your collection or pick up some gifts, and save on shipping. Don’t miss out!

What Won’t You Lose?

It is something of an article of faith for me that I expect hard times in the coming decades. I would be pleased to be wrong, mind you, but I don’t expect I am. Of course, those hard times won’t be evenly distributed, just as they aren’t today, and some of us will struggle more than others while some of us will be more successful than others. Some of us will even see improvements in our lives—especially, I suspect, among those who are willing to hold a flexible definition of what is meant by “improvement.” But even those of us who see improvements, or who struggle less, will almost certainly be doing without many of the conveniences and commonalities of our time. More and more of us will have to make do without, learn cheaper and less intensive methods of accomplishing tasks, and outsource less of our lives. Some of the pleasures and comforts we take for granted today will not be available to us in the future. Times will change, and we will be forced to adapt.

That said, plenty of what we do or have today will remain available to us in the future. Not all will be lost, and not all that will be lost will be so in our lifetimes. Trying to guess what will stay and what will go is likely a fool’s game, but it’s a game I’m interested in playing today. And perhaps with some appropriate rules, it will be a bit less foolish than it might otherwise be.

So here’s my question for you: What won’t you lose in the coming years?

Given the likely consequences of climate change and other ecological destruction, a destabilized political and economic system, cultural upheaval, intermittent energy and resource shortages—or at least erratic pricing for such—and geopolitical upheaval leading to changes in national power and status and new wars that may touch us domestically, what pleasures, enjoyments, and habits do you expect not to lose in the coming decades?

To clarify further, the goal isn’t so much to guess what unsustainable part of your life today you think may hold out long enough for you not to lose it, or that you may stay well off enough to retain. Rather, I’m interested in learning what elements of your current life you believe are sustainable in the long run. What is it you take pleasure in doing right now that you think can survive disruption and upheaval, economic and political troubles, a backfiring ecosystem, and all the other troubles we’re likely to face?

In a sense, this post is a corollary to John Michael Greer’s “Seven Sustainable Technologies” post from 2014, and part of the idea is to critically examine what elements of our lives we believe we are least at risk of losing. While that may even involve some of the technologies on Greer’s list, this isn’t a question limited to technology itself; it’s also about our habits and pleasures, our work, our connections, the particulars of the individual worlds each of us lives in. I think there’s an importance, too, in understanding what we are least at risk of losing, to the degree that we can predict such things. In doing so, we can better understand where we might best place our efforts now, sinking them into activities and personal infrastructure that have the best chance of surviving deep into our futures, rather than being yanked out from beneath us.

Even better are things that bring you pleasure while also helping make your living. Gardening, of course, is an excellent example of this. It’s something that will be sustainable into the future (though any one individual still might find it cut off as an option, due to a variety of factors) and good gardening can help feed oneself or a family. As an activity that can bring pleasure and reduce one’s dependence on the superstructures of our society that may yet malfunction and crumble, it’s a prime example of something unlikely to be lost and worthy of increased attention and investment.

But what else? Chime in below or by emailing editor@intotheruins.com and tell us what you expect to persist. Make it personal, not a list, and don’t feel that it has to be something you believe will be sustainable for all. We all have our personal circumstances. Give us not just your answer, but some of the ways in which it weaves through your life today and brings you pleasure and fulfillment. Tell us why you think it will persist. Tell us how you think it will help you. Tell us why it makes you happy.

As you might expect, all answers will be considered for publication in a future issue of Into the Ruins as letters to the editor (unless explicitly stated that they are not to be considered). I hope this sparks a conversation. At a time of disruption, it’s important not just to focus on what might be lost, but on what will persist. Those things, after all, will be the basis of our ways forward. Imagining them is one of the primary purposes of Into the Ruins, and the things we are able to keep in the coming years will be the basis of the stories of our future. Let’s begin talking about them.


Don’t miss our on our limited time sale on back issues! The first five issues of Into the Ruins are on sale for just $10 each. Click here for more information and to order!

Unimagined Worlds to Come

Lately I’ve been diving into the somewhat recent Old Mars anthology. This collection features stories set on the Mars of science fiction’s old solar system—the Mars, that is, with a breathable (if often cold and thin) atmosphere, ancient canals and ruined cities, and a variety of strange alien life. As someone who did not read much science fiction as a child and has heretofore delved only lightly into the old solar system, the collection is proving quite fun, and leaving me excited to crack open the companion collection, Old Venus.

I came upon the anthology via John Michael Greer’s recent announcement of a new writing contest. Unlike many of his past contests—which have focused on deindustrial science fiction and, ultimately, proved the impetus for the founding of Into the Ruins—this one is focused on stories set in the old solar system: one teeming with strange life and accessible to human beings through a variety of fantastical means, in many ways unconcerned with technical feasibility as it relates to our current scientific knowledge. The stories set in this universe are proving a real joy to read, and it’s the lack of concern for our current understanding of our solar system that makes them so. Rather than a lifeless void dotted with lifeless planets, the solar system in these stories is filled with varying forms of life, offering stories that are as often as not part adventure, featuring strange new worlds that help get the imagination churning.

In case it’s not clear, I like this. Much of modern science fiction, frankly, is boring in its depictions of techno-utopias, techno-dystopias, and everything in between—so long as there’s a “techno” in front of it. The focus of the story is too often on the technology, and the technology is far too often some extrapolated version of what we have today. That’s not all that interesting—especially if, like me, you don’t find most of our current microprocessor-based gadgets all that interesting. I find life more enjoyable and more lively when such gadgets have a minimal presence in my life.

Similarly, I like my non-Earth planets filled with strange, beautiful landscapes and fascinating alien lifeforms. Based on what we know of the planets in our solar system, though, they aren’t. Mars is not filled with ancient canals, ruined cities, and bizarre Martians. It’s more a barren, lifeless desert with soil that probably kills bacteria, so far as we know, and devoid of the myriad life that makes being outside here on Earth a joy. I don’t mean to knock Mars—if it was simple to take a day trip to check it out, I would—but humans are exquisitely designed for and a product of only one planet with all it’s particulars and peculiarities, and that planet ain’t Mars (or Venus, or Saturn, or Jupiter . . .). It’s Earth. There’s a reason we like it here. It created us.

Given the reality of Mars (to the degree that we know it) and every other planet in our solar system, it’s only in fiction that traveling to these planets opens up thrilling adventures, fascinating discoveries of new forms of life, and sweeping landscapes that rival our own in their beauty. And it’s only in fiction that the dull, lifeless planets of our solar system are transformed into fantastical alternate versions of the one planet that we humans actually do know.

Of course, despite my enjoyment of this type of science fiction, such stories don’t really fit the focus of Into the Ruins. They aren’t set on earth and they don’t tend to follow the laws of the natural world as we best understand them. (Granted, I am open to flexibility on this point, as I don’t believe we fully understand how the natural world works and I’m a big believer in mystery, but I’m confident that Mars and Venus in reality are not the teeming worlds of science fiction past, and I’m furthermore confident that zipping around the solar system to these planets is something that we likely never will do and that, if we do, it will be a one- or two-off affair at best before we realize—consciously or not—that we simply can’t spare the energy and resources for such unnecessary and largely pointless excursions.) Despite this, though, I think they have something to teach science fiction writers, deindustrial and otherwise: unique worlds teeming with life are fascinating settings for a good tale, and worlds largely devoid of life are much less so.

How is that relevant to deindustrial science fiction? Well, to my mind, tales set in unique futures teeming with life are for more fascinating than airbrushed tales of the future dominated by microprocessor-driven gadgets and other technological artifacts. And futures depicting a linear extrapolation of current technology and the dominant political, economic, and social orders of today are not unique futures; they’re mostly just more of the same, both in terms of what we already know in our day-to-day lives and what so much of science fiction unimaginatively regurgitates in the pop culture of our time. That’s one of the reasons I started the magazine, to get different visions of the future out there. Another reason I started it was to publish tales in which humans are given their rightful place in the cosmos: as simply one more unique and compelling species on this planet, evolved out of the particular ecosystems found here over the planet’s life, a part of this world but not apart of this world, and with the ability to influence but not the ability to exert anything near total control over the natural world or our ultimate path within it. Much in the same way that I find adventures in the old solar system more compelling than adventures in the real solar system, tales taking place within this understanding and context are, for me, far more interesting than ones that suppose human control over the natural world.

What’s most exciting to me about these old solar system tales, though, is the ways in which they allow for a wide variety of visions, creatures, worlds, landscapes, and other creative and imaginative details not locked into some straight jacket of over-familiarity. Granted, no doubt this version of the old solar system has its own tropes and common themes that I’m sure were written into the ground throughout the decades of the subgenre’s dominance. But one of the joys in returning to them now is the stark contrast they provide to the dominant SF tropes of today, and the dizzying array of storytelling options available on planets with water and breathable atmospheres, as opposed to the lifeless deserts or otherwise hostile environments we now know them to be.

You know what other planet with water and a breathable atmosphere offers a dizzying array of storytelling options? The one we call home, of course. That, to me, is the eventual promise of deindustrial science fiction: the opportunity to break SF as commonly presented today out of its doldrums and unleash it into a future world that can—and almost certainly will—look nearly as alien as the planets of the old solar system. I don’t think we’re there yet, as many stories still have not moved past some of the already-established tropes of the emerging genre and it is still so hard for most of us stuck in the prison of our shockingly unimaginative culture to truly envision future cultures that look nothing like our own, use technologies as alien to us today as our current technologies would have been to someone living centuries or millennia past, organize themselves along economic and political lines that have yet to be thought of or invented, and interact with domestic and wild species yet to evolve. And yet, all those future possibilities are out there, and they all can exist within realistic natural limits.

The old solar system—and good deal of other forms of science fiction settings—have led to incredibly imaginative works from writers throughout our history. The future as imagined by science fiction has, too; it just so happens that many of those future imaginations—particularly more recent ones—not only won’t happen, but can’t happen due to the limitations and hard realities of the planet we live on and universe we live within. There are still, however, an incredible variety of futures yet to be imagined that could still happen within the limitations of our planet. Yet the vast majority of those futures have remained unexplored in science fiction because they don’t confirm to the computer-focused futures and the linear extrapolations of today’s realities that have come to dominate the genre.

It’s far past time to start exploring those futures, though. This is not only because those are the kinds of futures we actually are going to get, but that humane and functional futures that are feasible in the face of energy and resource constraints are far more likely to come to fruition if we begin imagining and exploring them through the creative avenues of our time. It’s also time to start exploring them because these are far more interesting futures than the ones that science fiction so often explore. I think there are fascinating future civilizations that will develop in the centuries and millennia to come, and I’d really love to read some good stories in which creative writers imagine those future civilizations and their distinctive and, to us, likely bizarre ways of understanding, knowing, and interacting with the world. Just as a great story set on a shockingly alien world is an exhilarating spark for the imagination, so too can a great story set in a shockingly alien, but still distinctly human, future right here on earth send the mind wheeling off in a thousand creative directions.

As Into the Ruins continues to develop and evolve, and the subgenre of deindustrial science fiction does the same, I hope to see more of these strange, stunning, alien futures come to the fore and emerge as creative forces from some of the many great writers in the world today. Minds set to unleash the possibilities of completely different forms of technology, different economic and political arrangements, new religious forms, different ways of living within and interacting with the broader world, and different ways of meeting basic needs, taking joy in life, and earning personal fulfillment could yet influence the course of history, opening up possibilities that seem unimaginable—or, more on point, currently are unimagined—in today’s world. There’s no reason we can’t begin discovering those futures today, and so I hope that those reading this will take the time to pick up a pen or fire up the word processor and begin imagining those futures.

And when you’re done, send it in. Whether as a full fledged story or a letter to the editor, let’s start getting the ideas out there, and start imagining the real futures facing us, and the exhilarating possibilities those futures hold.


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Into the Ruins: Summer 2017 (Issue #6) is Now Available!

I’m pleased to announce that the sixth issue of Into the Ruins is shipping to subscribers and is now available for purchase! This Summer 2017 issue features five excellent new stories from authors returning and new, as well as an extended Editor’s Introduction and a host of letters to the editor.

A doctor journeys southwest from New York and finds a small community terrorized by religious fanatics. Two children follow a witch into the woods—and discover the dark secrets of the former nation they call home. A young woman chafes against the future lined out for her by others, then sets out in search of a very different kind of life. A man spends years monitoring a small river until one day a hard choice is forced upon him. And sudden, desperate visitors force the leaders of a small town to weigh a threat at the edge of their borders.

In this sixth issue of Into the Ruins, journeys and revelations abound. Ordinary people caught up in the complex web of civilizational collapse must make hard decisions, determine who to trust, and open themselves to life-altering discoveries. They travel the land in hopes of finding new lives and helping those in need—and in the process, unveil the hard and complicated futures coming for us, beset with the consequences of our current society’s destruction and excess.

Subscribers should be receiving their issues within the next week or two. However, many of you have yet to renew your subscription. Please renew today if you haven’t already! (Or use this direct PayPal link if you’re a U.S. subscriber.) For those renewing, I’ll get the sixth issue (plus any previous ones you hadn’t already received) shipped off to you ASAP upon renewal and your subscription will continue on into the future, ensuring you never miss an issue. If you aren’t sure or can’t remember if you’ve already renewed or if your subscription has expired, feel free to contact me to confirm.

Okay, with that out of the way, for those who aren’t ready to subscribe but who would like to check out the sixth issue anyway, you can order a copy here to peruse at your pleasure. In addition to ordering directly at the previous link, you can order from Amazon or CreateSpace, or you can purchase a digital edition of the issue at Payhip. For Canadian readers, the issue should be available soon on Amazon’s Canada site. For other international readers, you can go to the issue page for links to international Amazon sites it’s available at or for a link to order directly from CreateSpace, which ships throughout the world.

As always, I encourage readers to send their thoughts and feedback to me at editor@intotheruins.com, both as casual emails (rambling acceptable!) and as official letters to the editor that I can consider for publication in the seventh issue of Into the Ruins, scheduled for November. Comments for contributing authors will be happily forwarded on.

Now go read the issue and enjoy some fantastic deindustrial and post-peak science fiction!

— Joel Caris, Editor & Publisher

Staying Grounded in Upheaval

One of the particular pleasures of living in the city is the opportunities it provides for walking. I take advantage of those opportunities throughout the year, and even more so now that summer has truly arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. On average of late, I tend to get in a good five miles or more of walking each day. The more, the better. I walk my errands and my pleasures: grocery shopping, shipping packages at the post office, picking up books at the library, the occasional eating out, a pint and a movie at the second run theater, a visit to the park, or just an evening walk with my fiancee.

I find that walking grounds me. I suppose it does that in a certain literal way as I pass across the city, each footstep a small transfer of energy between myself and the earth (even if it so often is, sadly, intermediated by concrete). But it also places me into a rhythm, a satisfied state of mind, and engages my body in ways healthy not just physically, but mentally as well. Walking often settles me emotionally. And when I don’t read while walking (an occasional habit) it helps me to both clear my mind and to break away from my preoccupation with the troubles of the human world.

It’s too often forgotten that the human world is just one small part of our world. The rest is there around us, though too commonly ignored: our swirling ecosystem made up of so much more than humans and our myriad artifacts. I hear it in the chatter and cries of the crows, in the feel of the breeze, the rustle of trees and plants, the blooming scent of flowers, the pollen-induced sneezes, maddened squirrels, and the well- and not-so-well-tended gardens. It’s far easier to lose track of the nonhuman world here in the city, with its gridded streets and right-angled buildings, and yet it’s still not nearly so dominant as we imagine. There’s a lot of world out there that has little to do with humanity.

This all grounds me. And in a time of increasing chaos and upheaval, that grounding is critical. I’m a person who reads and studies and tracks our various predicaments. I don’t imagine I need to go through the data points to convince those reading this that we live in very troubled times, and that the future tends to look worse, not better, than the present. It’s hard living in such a time, and understanding that our future promises the harsh realities of decline rather than the prosperous upswing of ascent can create a certain grouchiness among society’s participants. I read a lot, track elements of our decline, and worry at times about our future; a deep mental burrowing into such topics creates strain and stress that can build until it manifests into useless, self-defeating, and at times downright destructive behavior.

Staying grounded and, in particular, staying rooted in and conscious of the realities of the non-human world helps even me out, calms me, heartens me, and brings me back to joy and pleasure. It mitigates the strain of decline and places the slow collapse of industrial civilization into perspective. Human civilizations do this, after all, and non-human populations do the same. We live and we die. We ascend and descend. We grow, prosper, contract, and collapse. It all is natural. It all is rooted in the unending ecological cycles of our world.

Walking helps me remember this. Sometimes it does so explicitly, but the vast majority of the time it simply is through the movement of my body, the sight and sounds of the crows and songbirds, a stray squirrel or dog or child, the wind or the sun or the rain, exuberant and sore muscles: the feedback from and asserting of the natural world around me. It grounds me in these times of trouble. It brings me pleasure and satisfaction to mitigate the frustration of seeing the world fragment around me.

I intend to write more about this in the introduction to the upcoming Summer 2017 issue of Into the Ruins, but in the meantime, I want to hear from you readers. What grounds you? In this time of decline, what helps keep you measured and sane and provides you respite from the many troubles bearing down on us (not to mention already arriving)? What puts your mind in order when it risks spiraling off down too-dark paths?

As usual, I’m hoping for some thoughts that are printable as letters to the editor, though I welcome all comments regardless of if you want them considered for publication. You can respond as a comment to this post or directly to me via email. If you don’t want your comments to be considered for publication as a letter to the editor, please say so. And if you email, please include your location in the form of city and state; you can do so in the comments, as well, or I’ll work to get in touch with you for that information if I want to publish your comments in the magazine.

Thanks, all!


And a quick note: For those of you whose subscription ended after the fourth or fifth issues and who have yet to renew, you can always do so and get caught back up or simply be on deck for the upcoming publication of the sixth issue. Don’t miss out! Renew today.

Into the Ruins: Spring 2017 is Now Available!

I’m pleased to announce that the fifth issue of Into the Ruins is ready to ship to subscribers and is now available for purchase! This Spring 2017 issue features five excellent new stories from authors returning and new, as well as letters to the editor, a new “Deindustrial Futures Past” column from John Michael Greer, the return of Justin Patrick Moore reviewing Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, and the usual “Editor’s Introduction.”

In this fifth issue of Into the Ruins, explorations of our deindustrial future take intriguing turns both dark and delightful. A naive, young government official arrives in an economically devastated midwest and soon finds himself entangled in a disturbing mystery. An expedition gone terribly wrong leads to the discovery of a hidden clan with surprising social arrangements born of disease, cruelty, experimentation, and physical pleasure. A bus ride across the deindustrialized Canadian countryside spurs a happy connection. Two men form an unlikely friendship as they work their way toward flight. And a village mentor discovers unexpected forms of darkness in her friends and neighbors, leading her to question herself and those around her.

These visions—extraordinary at times, rooted in an utterly normal and yet still fascinating world at others—stretch the boundaries of our imagined future. At times mysterious and thrilling, this is a new type of science fiction, offering unknown worlds found right here on earth.

Subscribers should be receiving their issues within the next week or so. However, many of you have yet to renew your subscription. Please renew today if you haven’t already! (Or use this direct PayPal link if you’re a U.S. subscriber.) I’ll get the fifth issue shipped off to you ASAP upon renewal and your subscription will continue on into the future, ensuring you never miss an issue. If you aren’t sure or can’t remember if you’ve already renewed or if your subscription has expired, feel free to contact me to confirm.

Okay, with that out of the way, for those who aren’t ready to subscribe but who would like to check out the fifth issue anyway, you can order a copy here to peruse at your pleasure. In addition to ordering directly at the previous link, you can order from Amazon or CreateSpace, or you can purchase a digital edition of the issue at Payhip. For Canadian readers, the issue should be available soon on Amazon’s Canada site. For other international readers, you can go to the issue page for links to international Amazon sites it’s available at (or will be soon) or for a link to order directly from CreateSpace, which ships throughout the world.

As always, I encourage readers to send their thoughts and feedback to me at editor@intotheruins.com, both as casual emails (rambling acceptable!) and as official letters to the editor that I can consider for publication in the sixth issue of Into the Ruins, coming in July. Comments for contributing authors will be happily forwarded on.

Lastly, I want to once again provide a huge thanks to John Michael Greer for his myriad forms of support; Shane Wilson, who continues to prove a steady and invaluable Assistant Editor, providing feedback and catching mistakes I otherwise miss; Justin Patrick Moore, for returning to contribute a great new review to this issue; my amazing partner, Kate O’Neill, who is ever patient, ever loving, and brings me happiness every single day; to those who wrote letters to the editor and who have helped diversify the views available in the magazine; W. Jack Savage, for again providing such a beautiful cover, and for working with me unendingly; and of course to all the fantastic authors published herein, whose imaginative works form the backbone of this publication and, ultimately, are the reason it exists. And finally, to everyone who has subscribed (or who still is yet to subscribe), thank you for supporting this project and helping to make it happen.

Now go read the issue and enjoy some fantastic deindustrial and post-peak science fiction!

— Joel Caris, Editor & Publisher