Over the last couple of years, I have developed an interest in reading speculative fiction. From the Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler to the Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, and most recently Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy. So many themes are covered in these brilliant novels but the one I want to pick out is how these authors explore ‘land’ in a broad sense. (This is coming from memory not in depth textual analysis! — would love to hear more thoughts on this theme if you’ve got them). There will be spoilers…
So lets start with the Parables. In these two books, Butler tells the story of Lauren Olamina. This woman’s journey away from the violent destruction of her home community. Her journeying is both a series of encounters with the people she meets along the way, many of whom join her, and their encounters with the land. Harsh landscape, lack of resources, ecological collapse. And yet they find water and food and make fire and discover safety in the hills and shadows of trees. At the end of the first novel, the burgeoning community settles on land owned by one of the their number and they create a land based community — Acorn. The practices of Acorn from the Gatherings to the cycles of planting-tending-harvesting of food crop to the way decisions are made and culture cultivated are an experiment in imagining new, perhaps entwined with deeply old, practices of living on and together with land.
The Dispossessed is less clear in my memory — having read it almost two years ago. From memory, the description of the differences in land on Urras and Anarres is part of the distinguishing features of these two worlds. Urras is luscious and abundant but unequally shared. Anarres is harsh, hot and dusty, more equal and more concerned with healing the ecological scars of the planet through afforestation and other projects. Neither world is perfect, not utopian in a full uncomplicated sense. But perhaps both depictions tell us something important about our relationship to the planet we call home. Abundance should be shared, healing and regeneration are required. Are these the principles underlying land justice?
And then Woman on the Edge of Time. The world of the mental hospital that Connie, the lead protagonist, inhabits is clinical — for much of the novel she is not allowed in the garden. When she enters the world it is brutal symbolised by the broken glass in the ditch where she walks. But in the future, where she called to, Mattapoisett, there is a community that relates to land very differently. Although not at the centre of the novel, the descriptions of the reparations and acknowledgements of the harms done by colonialism and the work needed to heal the injustice is referenced many times. The way food is organised and shared, and snippets of the philosophy of that place regarding the more than human world are all significant.
In all these imagined communities, the relationship with land is a theme that can inform work for land justice today. Partly just the process of imagining itself. Take a moment and close your eyes and imagine a world in which our relationship to land, to the more than human world, to each other was rooted in justice. What would that world look like? My imaginings are informed now by the visions of these writers. And I want to go there — to Acorn, to Mattapoisett, maybe even to Anarres. What appeals? Small community, living in harmony with the natural rhythms and cycles of the seasons, attending to relationships, and the healing harm that has been done. Reparations, restorative justice, regenerative work. What about you? What do you dream of?