Cultural Trends & Surviving Volcanic Winters

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach world history. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.

Surviving 536 CE

Hi friends! I just started a new part-time job doing Quality Assurance with Readwise, and I've still got my day job as a teacher, so I haven't had much time to write. Things should level out soon, but in the meantime, here are 6 of the most interesting things I stumbled across recently. They mostly relate to surviving difficult political & environmental challenges.
  • I've read a bunch of different fantasy novels (and delightfully raunchy bits of fanfiction) that are riffs off of old fairy tales like The Snow Queen, but I did not realize just how thoroughly Russian they are. Here's a headline from Atlas Obscura that is totally worth reading more about if you're into stories about over-the-top noble gestures & ostentatious power plays: The Time a Russian Empress Built an Ice Palace and Forced Her Jester To Get Married In It.
  • Also from Atlas Obscura, here's how orca cultural trends work. My favorite line was "Researchers believe the behavior may be a temporary cultural fad—the cetacean equivalent of the ice bucket challenge or rickrolling—and it’s not the first killer whale trend to go viral."
  • Matt Stoller of BIG, a popular substack focused on antitrust law, wrote a one-year-later retrospective that spoke really comprehensively about the subtle impacts of structural changes in law and politics that was not only informative from a "keeping track of critical bureaucracy" from a modern-day US citizen perspective but also from a systems-engineering perspective as a fantasy and science fiction author. It reminded me a lot of the perspective that L. E. Modesitt, Jr. brings to his books as someone who, among other things, served as Director of Legislation and Congressional Relations for the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Apparently 536 was a really rough year to be alive, thanks mostly to some Icelandic volcanic explosions I hadn't been aware of previously. It got me to thinking: I basically know what to do in a zombie apocalypse. But what do you do in volcanic winter? In Rimworld (a delightful scifi-fi colony simulator I play)  I mostly just cope by stockpiling, but what if the governments collapse? Is fishing even viable then? Has anybody written that story? Or is it just too depressing to contemplate...
  • This neat follow-up to the fishing edition of this newsletter involves culvert cities & urban fishing in "ghost streams," or streams that were buried underground as part of building a city... but still exist, and even have some small fish populations that basement dwellers can fish in during difficult times. It focuses mostly in Canal Street in New York, but my mind immediately went to more dystopian fiction applications of the idea...
  • Actually, Outland by Dennis Taylor is a fun post-apocalyptic sci-fi story that addresses what might happen if the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, but unfortunately from a planning perspective, it involves a quantum portal to another universe. The more I dig around, though, the more common volcanic catastrophes seem to be, especially in the Mediterranean world, although researchers are still trying to figure out the exact impacts of ancient volcanoes.

What would you do if we got hit with a volcanic winter?


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