East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Running out of time

Both literally and metaphorically, that is.
And both globally and personally, in more than one way: I have a ton of things to do, time is running out on a number of deadlines, and one of these is for a 4000-words story about… time running out, for all of us.
Looks like my writing life’s become terribly meta, and all that.
And it gets better (well, sort of)

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Visions of the Apocalypse

Usually, I joke about the fat that I have a double identity, just like Bruce Wayne but without the money, the cool car and the cloak. I am an environmental scientist and a writer of imaginative fiction. I have enjoyed ample opportunities to tap my academical background for inspiration in my literary pursuits, but the chances to do the opposite are pretty non-existent.

Visioni dell’apocalisse. L’immaginario cinematografico della fine del mondo

I am therefore extremely grateful to doctor Stella Marega of the University of Trieste, that involved me in a nice volume that is just out now: Visioni dell’Apocalisse (Visions of the Apocalypse). As the subtitle reads, this is a book about “the imagination of cinema and the end of the world.”
The essays within range from the urban landscape of future Los Angeles in science fiction movies to the plague of zombies.
And I contributed an essay called No Marigolds in the Promised Land: the Ecology of the Apocalypse, about books and movies that deal with ecological and environmental disasters, from H.G. Wells to Mad Max: Fury Road.

This work was a blast, and I am really sorry the book is only available in Italian. But I am also damn proud.


Fishing with Dynamite

mentaThis post is being written on a dare.
Sometimes I do posts on demand – when a friend or one of my regular readers asks for something I find interesting, and fun to write.
But a few days ago, my friend Alessandro Girola, a fine writer and a blogger, decided to call my bluff.
So, he will pay me a large glass of menthé a’l’eau (mint flavored water), if I’ll write him a post about the practice of fishing with dynamite.
And it’s getting hot here.
And I’m thirsty.
And I did some research for my sea-based stories, so…
So here we go.

What Alex calls “fishing with dynamite” (which is actually the name of a restaurant in Manhattan Beach, Ca.) is more properly known as “blast fishing”, has been around ever since explosives were invented, and it goes more or less like this:

  • dynamiteyou go to a place were live fish can be found, say, the ocean, or any large body of water
  • you throw in an explosive charge – TNT being the classic, but not exclusive (as we’ll see), bait of choice
  • the blast kills (or stuns) the fish, which float to the surface
  • you harvest your catch
  • fish dinner!

Nice and smooth.
Only, it’s neither.

First of all, you may not believe this but really… blast fishing is mondo illegal.
It’s illegal because you go around carrying explosives and throwing them around – and sometimes you blast-off your own fingers.
Or somebody else’s.

Hook, line & sinker

Hook, line & sinker

The fact that in Indonesia – the place where blast fishing is most popular at the moment (roughly 30% of the fish sold to markets is blast-fished) – they use home-made cocktails of kerosene and fertilizer instead of proper explosives is only making this just more illegal.
Calcium carbide was also used in the past, but it’s become somewhat of a specialist’s choice – it used to be very popular in mining areas, and it’s still relatively cheap, but kerosene and fertilizer are clearly easier to get.

And blast fishing is illegal, and it is not nice and smooth at all, because it’s terribly damaging to the environment: the blasts not only kill or stun the fish, but seriously damage coral reefs and other carbonate-based organisms.
The environment goes belly up (…), the food chain is compromised, no more fishing (blast or otherwise) in a very short time.

Finally, were it not illegal already, blast fishing should be made illegal because it is mindboggingly stupid.
The blast from the depth charge, in fact, causes hydrostatic shockwaves that break the floating bladders of fish – this means that only a few fish float to the surface, and the largest percentage of the catch… is not caught, because it falls to the bottom.
Blast fishers catch something like 20% of what they kill.

So, yes, it looks cool on film, sounds cool in a story, but anyone caught blast-fishing should be sentenced to perpetual community service wearing an embarrassing costume.

To end on a somewhat positive note, the cost and risks connected with the use of explosives for fishing – plus the fact that it’s not exactly discreet, as a method – has caused many of the morons out there to adopt a different tool – they simply pour cyanide in the water.
This devastates the environment but grants them 100% of catches, and it’s cheaper.
Also, it kills them and their customers slowly and painfully.