Earlier this year, I chatted with Forrest Brown on Zoom. He had created the podcast series Stories for Earth, and I’d met him at Rewilding Our Stories, a Discord community founded by the YouTube creator of Ecofictology—Lovis Geier—and myself a few months prior. Both Lovis and Forrest are amazing broadcasters of concepts, authors, and novels that focus on the fields of climate and ecological fiction. Around that same time, I watched another YouTuber, Yanasivan Kisten, who runs Geekoscopy, interview Lovis about her marine biology work and how that informs her upcoming fiction. Yanas had also joined our Discord, and after talking with Forrest, it seemed pressing to me to chat with these three about their audio, and in some cases, audio-visual, representations of story and science. Because each artist has a unique journey and focus, I decided to spotlight their work. It’s fascinating to me to get to talk with three talented artists from around the world (South Africa, Scotland, and the southern part of the United States). Let’s meet them here.
Yanasivan Kisten runs the Geekoscopy podcast, which is a media brand that highlights interesting and geeky ways to communicate science while highlighting how geek culture may permeate into scientific research. It explores how modern media, including video games, tabletop roleplaying games, movies, TV, and the internet, may affect our psychology and everyday lives. Geekoscopy also seeks to discover how modern media may inspire a new generation of scientists, science communicators, and others who apply scientific principles in their everyday lives. Geekoscopy media is headed up by Dr Yanasivan Kisten, a marine biologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Nelson Mandela University in South Africa. Yanas has been a life-long geek and an aspiring researcher, walking the lines between the wonders of story, play, and science for as long as he can remember. You can find out more about Yanas via his Linktree and support him at his tip jar. You can also find Yanas’ scientific papers at Research Gate and follow him on Twitter.
Lovis Geier (pen name) is a marine biologist turned movement ecologist and is surrounded by ecolit everyday, both in the books she reads for fun and the science articles she reads for research in her PhD. She is also an aspiring eco-fiction and fantasy author and wants her work to inspire others. Her Ecofictology YouTube explores ways that books influence and affect us, the messages we want to see in our media, and how we cope with this constant pressure of climate change and mass extinction events looming over our heads. Lovis includes interviews, book reviews, and essays in her broadcast. You can find more about her on her Linktree and support her work at Patreon.
Stories for Earth is a climate change podcast. Created by Forrest Brown, the podcast seeks to foster hope and emotional resilience by discussing cultural narratives that contain parallels and takeaways to our current predicament. Cultural narratives provide stories for our past, present, and future, and Stories for Earth critically engages with these narratives through all mediums. Stories are the lens through which we view the world. We humans use stories to make sense of life, process hard-to-understand events and processes, and forge our identities. Stories have helped us overcome countless struggles in the past, so we believe stories have a big role to play in helping us defeat the climate crisis. You can support Forrest at his Patreon, and you can find more about him at Instagram and Twitter.
Mary: What is your background? Tell us something interesting about yourself that nobody else knows.
Yanas: Well, since the young age of 8 I was captivated by the ocean from visiting my father’s work in the South African Navy, fishing trips and watching nature documentaries every Sunday with my family.
I decided I wanted to become a marine biologist and forward a couple decades later I graduated at Nelson Mandela University with a PhD in estuarine fish ecology and ecophysiology. While I loved science and the natural world I became a bit disillusioned with the institute of academia and decided to delve into creating content for the internet, from blogs to podcasts to YouTube videos. My content started out as geek fandom related, and I also had a love for fantasy, video games, and anime for as long as I could remember.
After I graduated, I decided to blend my love for science, story, and play and I created a science communication media brand I called Geekoscopy.
Lovis: I come to the genre of eco-fiction from more of a scientific background. I am currently a PhD student (though finishing in the next couple of months!) studying animal movement in the marine environment with a conservation and sustainability focus. Basically, what that means is I sit behind a computer and code all day long, hoping to predict how marine organisms are going to respond to environmental change, whether climate change or fishing etc. I am currently based in Scotland but was born in Germany and have lived in the US, England, Australia, and the Philippines. I love to travel and get itchy feet when I’m in one place for too long!
I am currently working on an eco-fantasy novel but am still very much in the drafting phase. I love the intersection of storytelling and science communication and want to explore how eco-fiction can be used as a science communication tool.
Something interesting…of course as soon as I try to think of something, I draw a blank. I hope a quick summary of me will do. I’m a marine biologist, bookworm, aspiring author, PhD student, and scuba diver. I’m obsessed with Disney films, I have a rescue dog named Max, I absolutely love pizza and Indian food, and I hate mint with a passion.
Forrest: I’m from a small suburb north of Atlanta, Georgia—too close to Atlanta to be considered a North Georgian, too close to North Georgia to be considered an Atlantan. A lot of people don’t know this now, but I was home-schooled growing up. I was purely home-schooled until 4th grade, then I started attending what’s called a university-model school. So I’d go to class a few days of the week and then do a lot of homework at home the rest of the week. I got a lot of weird looks trying to explain this to people growing up, as you might imagine.
I’ve always been interested in writing and literature, but for a long time, I thought I was going to be a musician. I started playing guitar when I was about 12, and I went on to study music business in college. Now I work as a content marketer, and I read and write about cli-fi and eco-fiction in my spare time for my podcast, Stories for Earth. I still write fiction as well, mostly short stories.
Mary: What’s your podcast or video series about, and how did you get interested in the natural world?
Yanas: Geekoscopy is my little space on the internet where I explore the intersection between science, story, and play. On my podcast, Geekoscopy 101, I interview creators and scientists who are doing interesting things in the science communication/geek culture space like ec-fiction author Lovis Geier, whom you have previously interviewed.
I have been enamoured by the natural world since a very young age, mostly from watching nature documentaries and science fiction movies and reading kid’s science books and reading fiction like Animorphs. I started out being interested in paleontology and then ultimately deciding on pursuing marine biology.
Lovis: I run a YouTube channel called Ecofictology, where I talk all about reading and writing eco-fiction and how it can be used as a science communication tool. I do book reviews and explore the genre in all its glorious forms, and recently I have been talking more about my writing process and how my draft is going!
I have always been interested in the natural world. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a marine biologist, and now I am one! Nature always held a very particular fascination for me, and I always gravitated towards books that championed the environment, animals, or nature, even if I didn’t really realise that that’s what I was looking for.
Forrest: My podcast is Stories for Earth, and it’s about everything climate change in pop culture. I look at how the climate/ecological crisis is addressed in different forms of media, whether that’s books, movies, music, video games, documentaries, or what have you. If it’s a cultural narrative that engages critically with environmentalism, I want to talk about it.
I think I’ve always had a strong fascination with the natural world. Since I grew up far enough away from the city, I had access to play in the woods a lot. I’m not sure I’d say my family was outdoorsy, but we did spend a lot of time hiking at various spots in North Georgia. I grew up about an hour from the start of the Appalachian Trail, so there were always good places to hike. As a kid, I went through a phase of wanting to be a paleontologist, then a marine biologist, then a conservationist. I attribute this to watching a lot of Animal Planet on TV, especially shows like The Crocodile Hunter and Jeff Corwin. (Although, let the record show that I am Team Steve Irwin. Sorry Jeff.)
Mary: How do you think audio and visual information about artists and scientists communicating with readers broadens the field of eco-fiction?
Yanas: I think it’s integral to the future of science dissemination. Human beings are diverse; people think and consume information in different ways that are unique to them. So we have to create content that is contextual to where their where their attention lies and how they learn, be it auditory, like in a podcast form or music, audio-visually like a YouTube video or a documentary, or just reading the written word in different formats, from tweets to blogs or novels.
Lovis: We consume media in so many different forms, and everyone has their favourites among them. I think utilising any and all communication methods available to us gives us the best chance of engaging with the widest public possible. Books, video games, music, movies, theatre, art…Few people love all of them equally, I would imagine. And I think looking at eco-fiction as a scientific concept expressed in an artform produces endless opportunities to communicate. So yes, I think it definitely broadens the field of eco-fiction, which I have never believed is restricted to only books. The more collaboration and interdisciplinary cooperation we have, the better chance we have of getting these messages and stories out there. Raising one voice raises other voices too, so engaging with other platforms, be they podcasts or books or films, helps raise awareness of all other projects that fall under this umbrella.
Forrest: First of all, I think audio and visual communications—whether through a podcast like mine or a YouTube channel like Ecofictology with Lovis Geier—can help introduce more people to the topics of eco-fiction and cli-fi. When I first had the idea to start my podcast, I didn’t know these terms existed. I didn’t really even know if there were many books or movies that addressed climate change besides The Day After Tomorrow. So I guess I would say that just as things like English classes and book clubs can introduce more people to different kinds of literature, I think new media can do the same thing for eco-fiction.
Secondly, I think building a conversation around these types of stories can help us produce even better stories. I don’t see my role as that of a critic (you will not find any book reviews on my website), but I do see it as my job to start a discussion and to offer at least one person’s interpretation of different stories. My hope is that when more people start thinking critically about these stories and really dig into them, that will further advance the way we understand and approach telling stories about nature and the climate emergency.Lastly, I believe things like podcasts and blogs and YouTube channels simply help to normalize these ideas.
To people who haven’t had any exposure to eco-fiction or cli-fi, hearing about these topics for the first time might sound kind of weird or niche. But people used to feel the same way about science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Now, films like Arrival (based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang) and books like Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin, and Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado, are widely popular. Netflix is working on a miniseries adaptation of The Overstory by Richard Powers with big names like Hugh Jackman, David Benioff, and D.B. Weiss. That’s huge! The more we talk about these things, the more we see them in our media, the more culturally acceptable it becomes, and, I believe, the better we’re able to make big changes.
Mary: Growing up, who were your favorite authors and/or books? Why were they so impactful?
Yanas: My earliest years I read a lot of what looked interesting and could be found in my local libraries. Brian Jacques’ Redwall, C.S.Lewis’s Narnia, and Katherine Applegate’s Animorphs were my favourites. I think I got roped in with the animal themes and then stayed for the captivating stories.
My teenage years contained a lot of more mainstream books, which had movie adaptations, like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.
In general, I enjoyed high fantasy and adventure. At one point in high school I started writing a fantasy novel, but it never went anywhere sadly.
Lovis: Oh I read so much, it’s so hard to pick favourites! I have the standard ones: Harry Potter by JK Rowling, The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, and Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis, I also loved the Redwall series by Brian Jacques and the Warriors series by Erin Hunter. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. A commonality among most of these (and so many others) is that I have always gravitated towards fantasy or the fantastical, and several of those examples could be said to be eco-fiction, depending on individual tastes and definitions (one of the reasons I love the genre so much!). They showed me so many facets of experiencing nature, but, again, I don’t know if I was aware that this was what I loved about them. Only now looking back, I can identify this magic ingredient. Hindsight is 20/20, and all that.
Forrest: Wow, where to start? I read a lot of fantasy books as a kid, so I read authors like J.K. Rowling, Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series, and D.J. MacHale, author of the Pendragon series. I went through a big Ernest Hemingway and Jon Krakauer phase somewhere around high school, but I remember two books that really blew me away: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
I’m from the South, and we have a really rich storytelling culture. We can also be very superstitious, and we gossip so much that storytelling becomes like a game of telephone, growing wilder and more outlandish with each new iteration. I was also really into Flannery O’Connor around this time, and something about magical realism and Southern Gothic just clicked for me. I felt like the people from Macondo would probably have a lot in common with people from a small southern town.
The natural world is also a big part of One Hundred Years, and seeing the transformation of Macondo from this isolated little jungle village into a booming banana plantation really started to open my eyes to how the pursuit of endless growth is so harmful to the Earth. As a kid, books like The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George really stoked my sense of wonder and imagination about the natural world. I remember feeling a kind of whirring excitement in my belly when we’d go to the mountains; it felt like being in a magical world. I think I saw something similar with the people of Macondo before José Arcadio Buendia made such an effort to modernize the town. As the inventions poured in, people lost their innocence and connection with nature. This is not to say that technology is always dehumanizing, but in many of the ways we use it today, I think it can be.
I’m not sure that Slaughterhouse-Five was very influential to my environmental consciousness, though it did help open my eyes to the massive destruction and hurt humans are capable of. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction with this novel, as it’s based on Vonnegut’s experiences in World War II, surviving the Firebombing of Dresden by the British and the Americans and then being an American prisoner of war by the Nazis. This is a really dark novel, but I think it taught me that in spite of unimaginable loss, destruction, and meaningless suffering, people find ways to keep going. I’ve read a lot of Vonnegut since then, and I think for him, it helped to laugh, to seek and appreciate simple beauty, and to be actively engaged in trying to make the world a kinder place.
Kurt may have been dealing with a terrible war, but I think a lot of his ideas about living can help us face the climate emergency (as he got older, he was also very outspoken about this, even before it was cool). There is little else you can say about a terrible, terrible thing like World War II or the climate crisis except “Poo-tee-weet?,” but it helps to realize when you’re happy and to say, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” Vonnegut set a good example by using his many talents to bring about a better world, but I think the best thing he ever gave the world was this line from his novel Cat’s Cradle, “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—goddammit, you’ve got to be kind.”
Mary: What is your favorite experience ever in the great outdoors?
Yanas: It’s hard to pick one as there are so many. I think some of the field trips I went on in Biology undergrad with friends were my most memorable. For a marine biology field trip, a friend and I sampled little animals in the beach sand every two hours for 24 hours. We were clearly crazy to get into the water to catch little snails and crustaceans on the beach at midnight and 2:00 in the morning, but we had great fun overall as a group of aspiring scientists.
Lovis: This is an almost impossible question! As soon as I pick one, I remember another. Definitely in my top experiences ever would have to be seeing my first manta ray during a dive in Mozambique. I even managed to take a few pictures of it (I was on an underwater photography course), even though my mask was all fogged up from happy tears. Apart from that, when I picture my happy place, I picture Margaret River in western Australia, which is surrounded by wine country, some of the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen, amazing beaches, forests…just everything you could wish for. Doing the Cape To Cape walk from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste along the coast was just breathtaking, and I would be lying if said some of those memories haven’t found their way into my novel.
Forrest: I’m lucky to have had many incredible experiences in the great outdoors, but the one that comes to mind right now happened when I was in 6th grade. My dad has a friend who used to co-own a sailboat (a 36-foot ketch) with his brother-in-law. The deal was, the brother-in-law would keep the boat in the warmer months where he lived in Maine, and then my dad’s friend would keep the boat in the cooler months where he lived in South Carolina. Every year, they would hand off the boat halfway, in Virginia, and my dad’s friend would sail it down the Atlantic coast back to warmer waters. One year, my dad and I got to join him and his father-in-law (we called him Pop), and it was just the best. We spent half the trip in the intracoastal waterway and half in the Atlantic Ocean. I have memories I’m sure I’ll never top of laying on my belly at the bow and reaching down to almost touch the water, maybe a foot away from a mom and baby dolphin playing in the boat’s wake. This trip was also the first time I ever saw the open ocean—as in, you could only see water in all 360 degrees. We exited the intracoastal waterway near Cape Fear in North Carolina, so we had to make a big swing around the Frying Pan Shoals to keep from beaching ourselves in the shoals. I just remember feeling really, really small. It was like realizing for the first time how truly awesome nature is. Even as a 12-year-old, it was very humbling.
Mary: Anything else you would like to add?
Yanas: Despite being into science, science fiction and fantasy, I have only recently learned about the genre of eco-fiction. I am glad that people are adding science, conservation, and environmentalism to their stories so that messages for good can be spread as widely as possible.
Lovis: Only that I think collaboration is going to be what propels this genre forward—collaboration between artists and scientists and the public—to really explore the language we use to communicate these stories. The more we do that, the better chance we stand of getting somewhere!
Forrest: If you can’t find the story or the world you’re looking for in books or movies or poems, create it yourself. Write the future you want to see.
Thanks so much to Yanas, Lovis, and Forrest. I find them so inspirational and am looking forward to their future work.