I read Arboreality by Rebecca Campbell in a hammock under the canopy of old cedar and pine trees – it felt like the perfect place to be. In the trees, relating to trees. The authour describes herself as someone who “writes weird fiction” and that was a major selling point for me. I haven’t read any of her other work, but I will now.
Arboreality is a novella, composed of several stories that could stand alone, but together become what feels like a massive saga in relatively few pages. It’s an expansion of the Theodore Sturgeon Award-winning short-story in Clarksworld, “An Important Failure,” which can give you a taste of some of the writing.
We start out in a world that’s struggling with the impacts of climate change, but it still feels somewhat banal, in that slow descent into quasi-apocalypse I can imagine our (real) society falling into. People are still working or doing mundane things like maintaining a lawn, there is government support, hospitals exist, the world still connects, but it’s clear things are not great – a library is flooding, there are concerns about water, and infrastructure is crumbling. The book progresses from there – things get worse, but they also get better.
In the beginning we meet Bernard, a former professor turned book rescuer, turned planter of native trees and other plants. We meet violin makers and musicians, we meet homesteaders, we meet community organizers, and we meet them through time, and their points of intersection and interdependence.
The story is primarily set on southern Vancouver island, in the Cowichan Valley, and only hints at what’s going on elsewhere in the world – sometimes pulling way back (like on a space station) but otherwise, very localized. It hit many of my sweet spots in terms of speculative fiction – I love the well woven, interconnected stories, with environmental themes, climate fiction/potential future, and ultimately, a few different views of human resilience – in this case, implications of larger technological advancements that work towards less dire global circumstances (The Canadians), but primarily community based resiliency, on a local level, through low-tech interventions and actions.
Arboreality tells of a possible future, with inventive and creative possibilities. I’m not sure if it’s a book for everyone, but I can see it being a book I re-read in the future, for inspiration and hope. Despite the dire circumstances explored in Arboreality, it’s still a beautifully optimistic read.
An additional delightful point for me was that I recently finished Ryka Aoki’s Light from Uncommon Stars, which was fun and a totally different sort of book, but also features a generational violin centred story, which perhaps added to the experience of this novella – even though they otherwise had very little in common.
I also wanted to acknowledge how thoughtful and beautiful this cover by Rachel Yu Lobbenberg is, especially within the context of the book.
Arboreality will be published September 2022. You can preorder here.
I received a digital advanced reader copy courtesy of Netgalley and publisher Stelliform Press. I also pre-ordered a paper copy.