Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Waste Tide would be a poolside summer read if that pool were toxic swill of first-world effluence. CHEN QUIFAN’s science fiction novel was first published in China in 2013 and he’s currently futurist-in-residence at SCI-Arc. Set amid the e-waste trash heaps of Silicon Isle, a fictional polluted strip of land in a dying sea off the coast of China, the story evokes a future ravaged by climate change choking on obsolete consumer electronics. Modeled in part on the very real town of Guiyu, it’s an uncomfortably recognizable portrait of the Capitalocene and reflection of near-feudal class disparities. In this way, it resonates with novelist and socialist political activist China Miéville’s musings on utopia: “[W]e live in utopia; it just isn’t ours. So we live in apocalypse too.” The twin condition that someone else’s utopia is another’s dystopia is central to Waste Tide’s narrative, but not a foregone conclusion. From the piles of stripped circuity and heavy metal poisons of the dump emerges a worker revolution.

Waste Tide by Chen Quifan and translated by Ken Liu. Tor Books, 2019.

What is the border? Line. Crossing. Wound. During the last four years—six if we count the run-up to the 2016 election—Donald Trump framed the US-Mexico border as a referendum on nationhood, with rhetoric so toxic and policies so brutal that other discourses, other lived experiences, were eclipsed by the shadow of the promised wall. And then on January 20, President Biden halted all work on Trump’s fortified fence while the new administration reviews construction contracts.

With that pause, which is neither truly benign nor pious, a temporary lightness allows us to see what has been wrought: new photos of partially built sections of the barrier in southern Arizona (commissioned by Insider magazine) show natural landscapes blasted and scarred. Yet it is in this lull that other outcomes seem, if not possible, then worth summoning. Two Sides of the Border: Reimagining the Region, recently published by Yale School of Architecture and Lars Müller Publishers, asks us to envision an alternative to the hardened US-Mexico boundary and its attendant violences, human and ecological.

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