Alternate Histories: 6/13, 6/25


It would be very sad, because we’re of the generation that actually had a chance to have an engineering impact for future generations. Cheap agricultural production is gonna collapse, and there’s gonna be an expansion of people who are denied their basic human rights.

Do you think there’s structures we could set up now that would reduce the chance of that?

When I was younger, I went to Cuba and I looked at agricultural reform that was part of the reaction of the government to Russia’s collapse. All the imports of things like grain stopped. So they had to move from an agriculture that was focused on producing coffee, sugar and tobacco to a diversified local agriculture that could feed the population of the island. They were overall able to adapt the food supply, shift away from state-run agriculture. If we could facilitate such a shift–but agriculture runs off fossil fuels and glacial meltwater … I got burnt out on international development. Now I’m just trying to make money enough to make sure my family is safe. I’m building nonmilitary drones–they make 3D plans of buildings … I don’t see a total extinction event, I just see a very rough period for human rights. We have a tendency to hunt till there’s no more, drill till there’s no more. I personally think that humans are awesome, because humans make awesome things–humans are grasping the fundamental nature of reality in a way that no other creature has [sic].


Two days later, when Q went to work, he turned on his computers and began going over his schematics. Not everyone can think in shapes and relationships in space, but Q was good at this: shapes unfolded in his mind like wings, like insect legs, like leaves, along their own plans.

A leaf still “works”, up to a certain point, if it has fewer than a certain number of holes munched in it by insect jaws; it does leaflike things still, if not as efficiently. Ants can appear crushed but a few minutes later, unfold and limp away.

Q sees through the seductions of designer-as-savior. He knows those plans go up like the rocket and down like the stick, as people go bug-eyed over the next big thing, and the next, and the next. His imagination moves so smoothly, almost smugly, almost comfortably, from construction to collapse. Shifting it away is a heave, and not just one–periodic, grinding effort. Still, he made it that day, and the next. What’s that? asked his co-worker, stretching out her neck.

Self-raising hydroponic bridge stimulated by rising floodwater, Q said, a little embarrassed.

She frowned. Where are you getting the materials? Look, come over here, I’m working on this map–it’s got the relationship of resource recovery sites to places where people might need to build things out of those materials, and routes, so you don’t have to go as far.

I didn’t know you were working on that, Q said.

I didn’t know you’d be interested. Look, this is the team in Lagos I’m talking with, that’s my brother’s friend from seminary and his cousin and his fiancee, and the man from Ben’s congregation whose idea it was. We still ship a lot of e-waste there and so does Europe, and they have plenty of their own. They’re doing what I said plus also better working conditions for the people who actually take the things apart–that’s what Christopher does, the man from the congregation. And they’re on creeks and inlets and just generally speaking a lot of water, so they might like your bridge idea.

Would this really make sense for a watershed that includes a big city? Q said.

Oh, that’s true. Not for downstream, but for upstream. For the coast you’d need more of a floating estuary. I don’t know anything about that. But someone does.

Fifty years later, all the spring rains fell at once, and late. The growing bridges stretched and arched themselves like cats; the waters dragged at their undercarriages, tearing sections loose to float on their long cords. A few tore loose and drifted into the lagoon, to be recovered later by the people of the city, all of whom were similarly safe and similarly in danger, then and from then on.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s