Dying Earth?

Guest blogger Felix Gilman is the author of the novels Thunderer and Gears of the City, and A History of the Half-Made World, coming next year from Tor.

Dying Earth, you say? I got yer Dying Earth right here.

These photographs of albatross chicks were made just a few weeks ago on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. . . These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world’s most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.

Photographs here.   Warning: gross, and unbearably sad.

Apart from the unbearable sadness, what struck me about these things is how reminiscent they are of Mike Libby’s steampunk insects  (which may be familiar to you from the cover of Ann and Jeff’s New Weird anthology).   Like nightmare inversions of Libby’s creations: ugly plastic trash instead of glittering elegant clockwork. Except of course that these things are the things that are actually real, not Libby’s. So it goes.

Thesis: the big appeal of steampunk is that it puts an attractive shiny brass-toned gloss on the increasingly inescapable fact that our bodies and our world are being replaced, inside and out, by non-functional obsolete industrial byproducts.

11 comments on “Dying Earth?

  1. Makes one wonder about all the science of the contents of stomachs of fossilized people and things. We assume they ate it because it was in the stomach, but they may have been eating something toxic to life.

  2. Erin Kennedy says:

    Jeff, some of those pictures have rocks and shells in them too. It is not all our fault! What is the difference really between eating rocks and eating plastic?

  3. Felix Gilman says:

    Jeff’s not here

    that was me

    haven’t birds always eaten bits of stone to help with their digestion? aren’t they evolved for that? I think that’s right but I don’t know very much about birds; more of a cat person, really

  4. Felix and Jeff are actually the same person. They are actually four nimble puppeteer birds – a parrot, an albatross, a cockatiel, and the last surviving carrier pigeon – who choose their suit of skin for the appropriate occasion.

    I have yet to see evidence suggesting otherwise, just like I have yet to see evidence that people are impacting the global environment in a bad way for the continuation of life.

  5. I think the photo of the lighter in the bird’s stomach is a very effective anti-smoking message, by the way.

  6. Paul Riddell says:

    Heh. This last weekend, I was in Michigan for my grandfather’s funeral, and I went out to dinner with my parents and my sister shortly thereafter. I’ve been wearing a waterproof surfer’s wallet for the last six years because of all of the bicycling I do, and my mother freaked out when she saw this square of plastic moving underneath my shirt. It turns out that she wasn’t the only one who saw this, and only at that point did anyone ask “You didn’t get a pacemaker installed, did you?”

  7. Samuel Tinianow says:

    Felix: Yes, some birds do eat *small* rocks apparently to aid in digestion. Don’t know off the top of my head if any albatross species are included in this category, but in any case I believe the point to mind here is that rocks and shells have been around, working their way into the diets of sea birds, of millions of years. Plastic has not.

    But what’s *really* gonna fck with your head is when birds gain the ability to digest plastic and incorporate it into their systems. Giant, plastic-boned, plastic-eating sea birds that take 50 years to biodegrade. If you own real estate in California, sell it now, man.

  8. Rachel Swirsky says:

    “just like I have yet to see evidence that people are impacting the global environment in a bad way for the continuation of life.”

    The continuation of life? Oh, that’s because we’re not. Life will be fine.

    The current crop of life may not be so fine, but human being don’t really have the power at the moment to wipe out all life ever.

    I assume that’s what you meant.

  9. The same thing is happening to whales, dolphins, sea turtles, etc. Various sources estimate 100,000 deaths of various animals every year. In the pacific gyre, there is six times as much plastic as there is plankton. And of course, molecules of non biodegradable, worn-down plastic are ending up in humans via the food chain.

  10. Re: Rachel Swirsky

    Just as Felix and Jeff are clearly two distinct people, the science of our environment does, in fact, show us on the brink of destroying our world. Perhaps a few single-celled species will survive to crawl out of the ocean again, but we’re pretty much doomed without a miraculous, global intervention.

    Some days I long for the sort of benevolant monarchy that could push people towards sane environmental policies that might help us survive another two decades.

    My post above was a joke. I had hoped the juxtaposition of one clearly incorrect scientific theory with the folks who deny climate change made that clear.

    Apparently, your confusion must stem from you knowing something I don’t. Jeff and Felix really are two suits of skin, worn by birds!

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