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#cyberpunkNOW Available in Print!

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If you’ve been waiting to hold a print copy of the London Reader, the first standalone Anthology Edition is here in time for the holidays!

Introducing #cyberpunkNOW and the Dystopian Moment, The London Reader Volume One! Available now from Amazon in paperback as well as on kindle.

Alongside cyberpunk stories from the present and near future, #cyberpunkNOW and the Dystopian Moment features interviews with the founders of cyberpunk and sci-fi greats, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Volume One also includes a brand-new dystopian tech-thriller story from Lena Ng, author of Under an Autumn Moon.

The London Reader is cooperatively produced, so #cyberpunkNOW is owned by its contributors. When you buy a copy, you get a great collection of stories, poetry, and interviews, and the authors inside share the purchase price.

Read great writers. Support great writing. 

Check out #cyberpunkNOW…

Cyberpunk in 2020 Cover

Cyberpunk 2077: What does the game say about the world today?

Interview with Jakub Szamałek, Lead Writer for Cyberpunk 2077

JAKUB SZAMAŁEK is a Polish novelist and video game writer. He has written six books in his native polish and now works as a writer for the game company CD Projekt RED, which produced The Witcher series and recently Cyberpunk 2077. He is a graduate of Oxford University and holds a doctorate from the University of Cambridge. We reached out to Szamałek to ask him about the influence of cyberpunk fiction on the game, the shape of game narratives, and how he sees the cyberpunk genre now.


The London Reader: Your first crime novels were informed by history, but since then you’ve turned to exploring the impact of new technologies on our lives. What led you from history into writing novels (and games) that explore the near and coming future?

Jakub Szamałek: For a long time, I had very little interest in new technologies. Whenever I’d hear anything about megabytes, megabits, or megahertzes, I’d just zone out of the conversation. I assumed, naïvely, that if I don’t concern myself with new technologies, they won’t play a big part in my life. This was flat out wrong, of course; the internet has spilled out of the computers and permeated every aspect of our everyday existence.

I remember the very moment I realized this, the end of my sweet ignorance. I was on parental leave, pushing the pram with my sleeping seven-month-old daughter, and listening to the radio. A soft-spoken cybersecurity researcher told the shocked interviewer how paedophiles use new technologies to share pictures and videos of abused children or to find and groom their next victim. I felt my skin crawl; the contrast between what I saw in front of me, my sleeping daughter, and what I heard, was harrowing. I realized that I can no longer afford to be ignorant, that I need to know more about the net that surrounds us, ever more tightly, if not for my own sake, then for the sake of my daughter.

When I got back, I emailed a few friends of mine—programmers, white hat hackers, cryptographers—and asked them how can I catch up, what should I watch and read. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. Since then, I’ve trained with open intelligence gurus, consulted malware analysts and gone to an academic conference on AI at one of the world’s top universities. Though I’m no expert, I’ve grasped enough to realize that new technologies have, in a very short span of time, deeply affected our society, and most of us don’t even realize it. Most people still think—just like I did, a few years back—that new technologies are a niche interest, a hobby for nerds. I felt that we need a wake-up call, but one that would be as accessible as possible, with a wide reach. And so I started writing Hidden Web, a series which combines deep research with a fast-paced tech-thriller.

LR: Hidden Web tracks the jarring impact of technology through shocking scenes like a live-streamed murder and through immediate issues such as fake news, troll-farms, and the influence of money and social media on political campaigns. What drew you to these themes? Are you concerned about the impact technology will have on democracy? Have any of these pressing subjects made their way into your work on Cyberpunk 2077?

Jakub Szamałek: Well, after 2016 it’s hard not to be concerned about the impact of technology on democracy. Its influence is multifaceted: it changed how news stories are written, shared and consumed, completely redefined political campaigning and made outside meddling in electoral processes shockingly easy and cheap. And all the while, Silicon Valley behemoths pretend that they don’t see the problem and are powerless to fix it. Worryingly, it doesn’t look like things are going to improve any time soon. I agree wholeheartedly with Carole Cadwalladr that in the current internet landscape, liberal democracies cannot function normally.

But what I’m personally most worried about is the death of privacy. It’s already happened; we just haven’t realized it. In the era of Big Data and AI, even the most innocuous data can be used to uncover our secrets and decipher our most intimate thoughts. Just a few data points from social media are enough to determine our sexual orientation; a few hundred—a data trail generated over just a few days of activity—is sufficient to create a detailed psychological profile. Purportedly “anonymous” data collected by internet providers and mobile advertisers can be deanonymized with shocking ease and then used to follow our every move online—and in the real world too. Pictures of our faces, taken by omnipresent cameras, can be effortlessly tied to our identities, as demonstrated by the Clearview AI scandal. We’re creating an infrastructure for automated mass surveillance, assuming it will not be put to use. I very much hope we will not be proven wrong.

We covered some of these topics in Cyberpunk 2077—but the game universe is not an attempted extrapolation of our own world. It has its own, unique feel. Some of the topics we tackle in the game will definitely feel familiar, though—like environmental degradation or extreme social stratification and its consequences. At first glance, the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is colourful and exciting, but it has a grim, disturbing undercurrent. It’s a future I hope will never materialize.

LR: You’ve written fiction for both novels and for popular video games, like The Witcher and now Cyberpunk 2077, both originally inspired by novelized fiction. Which kind of story do you prefer to tell? And what do you find the most engaging with each medium?

Jakub Szamałek: I love working in both! What I enjoy the most in crafting narratives in video games is the nonlinearity. The player isn’t a passive consumer; she’s given agency to change the course of the story. Figuring out how to split the storyline—and where each of the branches should lead—is not unlike solving a hard puzzle: challenging, but uniquely satisfying. The best thing about writing novels, in my experience, is having total control over the story. There are no budget constraints to consider, no technical difficulties to overcome; anything is possible.

LR: The novel is an art form that is just a few centuries older than video games, and we see games such as Cyberpunk 2077 pushing narrative into collaborative spaces responding to player choices. The medium has now come full circle and there’s a whole genre of novels based around the game experience (LitRPG). Aside from the obvious reader interaction, what do you find are the main differences between telling a story in a novel and in a video game? What do the two media have in common?

Jakub Szamałek: In video games, players identify very deeply with the protagonist they control—much more so, I think, than in linear narratives, like books or movies. And no wonder: after all, they are drawn in, given the reins. Players feel like they star in the story; the boundary between them and the character on the screen dissipates almost completely. This has tremendous consequences for storytelling. For example, most readers will get through a scene in which the main character does something ethically questionable, eg tortures his antagonist, without moral qualms; they might feel disturbed or even disgusted, but they don’t assume personal responsibility for the hero’s actions. But if you put the pad in the player’s hands and ask her to actively do the same, she will feel extreme discomfort and might prefer to quit the game than to continue the story. To give another example, a book might feature a confused protagonist, who lost his or her memory, doesn’t know what to do next, and stumbles from one event to another, largely by chance. Video game players would likely find this extremely annoying since they assume the role of the protagonist; they need to know what they have to do and why.

Of course, there are many commonalities. The building blocks are the same. Irrespective of the medium, characters need to be relatable, dialogue lines must evoke emotional reactions, and plotlines have to be resolved by the end of the story.

LR: Cyberpunk is often defined as ‘high tech; low life’ and by William Gibson, the grand-father of cyberpunk’s famous quote, “The street finds its own uses for things.” Cyberpunk in part grew out of rising inequality in the 1980s that saw punk culture rebel against corporate influence. Inequality and the influence of corporations have only grown worse since then. In many ways, we’ve come to live in the world envisioned by the early cyberpunk authors, as your own novels explore. So in 2020, what is cyberpunk? What does cyberpunk represent to you? And what is cyberpunk in 2077?

Jakub Szamałek: If I were to define cyberpunk as a genre, I’d say it explores what a sudden technological advance does to a broken society. It imagines a world where the social contract has been torn to pieces and everyone—regular people, governments, corporations—fights for themselves with cutting edge technology at their disposal. The results are rarely pretty.

For me, a cyberpunk in 2020 is someone who looks beyond the cutesy logos and user friendly interfaces of modern tech giants and tries to identify their real goals and actions. It’s someone who understands that we have a civic obligation to understand how the digital sphere is run and object to injustices therein. It’s someone who knows the value of their privacy and takes steps to protect it.

In 2077, people are given a false choice: you either sell your soul to one of the giant corporations, or choose a life of crime. Without the protection of powerful businesses or gangs, sooner or later you will perish in the merciless streets of Night City. Cyberpunks are people who reject this dichotomy and try to carve out their own path. Technology, which often is a tool of oppression, also offers a way out. Cyberpunks know how to harness it to break free of the constraints of an unjust society.

LR: There is already something a little bit cyberpunk about bringing a story to life in an immersive 3D environment, but Cyberpunk 2077 is also full scale envisioning of the classic fiction genre. What familiar elements of cyberpunk show up in the game? Does it bring anything new to the genre?

Jakub Szamałek: Fans of the genre will surely recognize many familiar themes and topics: what does it mean to be human in a world where our bodies and minds can be fully mechanized and digitized? What happens when the elites have access to life-changing inventions, but others don’t? How do we function in a world where the boundary between the real and virtual is blurred?

But we also hope that Cyberpunk 2077 brings something new to the table. Most importantly, we tried to update the genre for the modern audience. Cyberpunk always explored our fears about the future, but some of these fears changed from the 1980s and 1990s, when some of the genre-defining novels were first published. For example, we’re less worried about an atomic apocalypse (perhaps wrongly…) and gang violence, but more concerned about privacy issues and the unfettered rise of tech giants. Our game attempts to explore these fears, make them the cornerstone of the story we’re telling.


The above is an excerpt from our full interview with Jakub Szamałek in the Cyberpunk in 2020 issue of the London Reader. Read it here!

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Cyberpunk in 2020

Science Fiction from Dystopian Moment to Sustainable Future

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What connects #Cyberpunk2077 to the #cyberpunk fiction of the 1980s and the world today? Read our interview with @CyberpunkGame‘s lead writer, Jakub Szamałek of @CDPROJEKTRED, to find out!


It’s 2020—now where’s my flying car?

Pat Cadigan, a founder of the cyberpunk literary movement who is interviewed in this volume, famously answered, “That’s not the future we promised you. We promised you a dark technological dystopia. How do you like it?” It’s 2020, and the dark technological dystopia has arrived. 

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The fiction in this volume takes a look at the dystopian state of the world and dares to imagine an optimistic alternative, planting seeds of hope and drawing on solarpunk themes of a habitable future powered by renewable energy, networked-collaboration, and repaired technology. Like us, these stories stand at a crossroads between climate collapse and a radically reshaped sustainable future. The dystopia envisioned by 1980s cyberpunk authors has arrived. Will we continue down this path to self destruction, or do we dare envision a better future?

This volume features a collection of multi-award-winning cyberpunk authors who move the genre away from the 80s action movie aesthetic of bakelite guns and neon-lit street races and into our increasingly networked existence facing ecological collapse.

Stories from Nebula Award-winning authors Ken Liu, James Patrick Kelly, and Cat Rambo expose the pervasiveness of the internet as it intrudes into our most private and tragic moments. Arthur C Clarke Award-winners Gwyneth Jones and Lauren Beukes offer optimistic visions of the ways technology can connect us. This volume also features stories, minifiction, and poetry from Matt Bryden, Katie Harrison, Anthony Lapwood, Rebecca Lee, Rosaleen Lynch, Syd Shaw, and Paige Elizabeth Wajda who shine the light of their screens on this dark moment, looking for the loose strands that connect us together. Art by Pavlo Baiandin, Janusz Orzechowski, Sergey Osipov, and Harry Purnama display views of the dark street-scapes of the 21st century and glimpses of how our imagination and connections to each other can offer us a way out.

This volume also includes interviews with visionary author and Hugo, Arthur C Clarke, Locus, and Seiun Award-winner, Pat Cadigan and the novelist and principal writer for the upcoming and long-awaited game Cyberpunk 2077, Jakub Szamałek. They reflect on our dystopian moment and provide their views of where we go from here while Szamałek also answers what is cyberpunk in 2077.

The writing in this volume brings us up to date from the cyberpunk of the past. It attempts to debug the interconnected nature of the internet-driven world we now live in. It springs from our fears of a climate catastrophe while at the same time offers us an alternative vision. The future that the cyberpunk authors of the 80s warned us of is here. The dark technological dystopia is only getting worse. Social media is disrupting democracies, and the climate is collapsing. If we don’t act now, there will be no future. But it’s not too late; there is still hope. The choice is ours.

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Open Call: Travel Writing in Europe

Into the Eurozone & Onboard the Eurorail: Travel Stories from Beyond the Borders of Brexit

Deadline November 2nd, 2020

Brexit is locking down the British border for Brits and Europeans alike. Quarantine makes us nostalgic for last year’s trip with friends. Airline emissions now justify sightseeing by rail instead of leaping from continent to continent. Europe is changing. Air is out; rail, electric vehicles, and car-sharing are in. Borders that were razor-wire fences just a few decades ago have become lines in a road—and vice versa. Has Europe’s Erasmus generation grown up to become citizens of everywhere, or of nowhere? Sometimes travelling from one country to another is about the journey, sometimes it’s about the destination, sometimes it’s about the people met along the way, sometimes it’s about the people by your side, and sometimes it’s about the people left behind.

The London Reader is issuing an open call for short stories, travel writing, poems, photography, art, and postcard stories about travelling by land in Europe and neighbouring regions. We’re looking for road stories, interrail stories, city stories, language stories, hitchhiking stories, and border stories. We’re looking for stories focusing on character; stories of (bad) luck on the road; stories of the strangers met along the way, stories of fellow travellers, and stories of family left behind; slice-of-life observations from abroad; poetry about people, places, the traveller, or the road; stories about sustainable travel; stories about low-budget travel; stories of history present; stories of new experiences; stories of culture clash; stories about what it means to be a European after Brexit; and stories about epiphanies that change the traveller. The travel writing submitted to this issue can be true stories, well-researched fiction, or stories loosely based on true events. Submissions should be connected to Europe and focus on the experiences of characters.

The travel writing in this issue will explore themes of…

  • Human relationships and experiences on the road
  • Changing border barriers separating friends and family
  • Passport privilege and difficulties for marginalized people
  • Sustainable, low-emission travel
  • Alternative, low-budget travel
  • European identity in 2020

What to submit: Creative works can be stand-alone pieces or collections, but should generally be fewer than 5,000 words or no more than 4 poems per collection. Multiple submissions, simultaneous submissions, and previously published submissions are welcome. Artwork should be favourably viewed on a tablet or single A5 page

How to submit: The London Reader submission portal for this issue at https://forms.gle/eFa1imHZs7JigPV39 which requires a Google account

If you have any questions or difficulty submitting, email coordinator@LondonReader.uk

The deadline for submitting on this theme is November 2nd, 2020.

Free Issue!

Our Time in Quarantine
Stories and Poetry from the Lockdown

In this difficult time, we set out to do what we have always done: bring writers and readers together to try to understand our changing world through stories. This collection of entertaining and enlightening stories and poetry brings together individuals in lockdown all over the world. This issue grapples with what it’s like to live in isolation, encounter magic in this moment, or lose a loved one. As difficult as these times are, these stories remind us that we’re not going through it alone

In the current circumstances, not everyone can afford a subscription to a creative writing magazine, but we’d like to share the issue with you nonetheless. That’s why we’re giving the pdf away for free. Just follow the link below:

www.LondonReader.uk/Quarantine

If you’re able to support the writers, poets, and artists who contribute to the London Reader, please consider becoming a subscriber, donating, or simply sharing this post. Every person who donates will receive a complimentary pdf or mobi of a back issue of their choice, and their contribution goes to the writers within the issue.

If you’re interested in powerful, moving stories told by authors with their finger on the beating pulse of this troubling moment, read on.

Cover of Our Time in Quarantine

Our Time in Quarantine

Stories and Poetry from the Lockdown

In quarantine, almost everything has changed—but it has changed for all of us, all at once. As difficult as isolation is, we all share this moment. We are connected the world-over like during no global calamity that has come before. And our stories can help us navigate this pandemic in this moment. They can help us understand it through other people’s eyes. And they can help us remember how it has affected everyone’s lives.

In these stories, a magical clock that last chimed during the Spanish flu is uncovered; neighbours learn everything about each other through their facing windows; one woman’s quarantine feels oddly like a house cat’s; and ghosts of the past come to dinner when no one else can. The stories in this issue were all composed this year. They sprang from the experiences and imaginations of almost twenty different authors grappling with the pandemic.

This issue presents enchanting and affirming short stories from Yvette Viets Flaten, Emma McKee, DC Van Schaick, Amy Lord, Anna McCarthy, Coles Lee, Miriam Huxley, Gabrielle Mullarkey, Douglas W Milliken, and Rekha Valliappan. It includes moving and inspiring poetry by Victoria Fifield, Nancy Cook, Gerard Sarnat, Katrina Dybzynska, Ronda Piszk Broatch, Jen Karetnick, and Anvesh Jain, as well as art from Ann Marie Sekeres, Brenda Mann Hammack, Laisve Rose, and Leo Wijnhoven. This issue also features interviews with the multi-award-winning author Namwali Serpell, whose first novel, the intergenerational epic, The Old Drift has been called “extraordinary, ambitious, evocative, dazzling” by Salman Rushdie; and with Phumlani Pikoli, the author and multidisciplinary artist who’s been cited as an “urgent new voice in South African fiction”.

The work of these authors and artists all bear witness to the greatest health crisis of our times. Through stories, we are deciding what is essential to our lives, we are figuring out what the phrase “the new normal” really means, and we are discovering, we’re all in this together.

Read the digital edition right now for FREE

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Divisions

Stories of Inequality, Poverty, and Struggle

The 20s have returned with a roar. Wage inequality in the west is at its highest point since the Great Depression, and another global recession looms before many communities have even recovered from the last. What does it mean for those still struggling to thrive—or even just to survive? How do we criticise our own circumstances when it seems like someone else is always worse off? What causes the day-to-day struggles that define inequality in our lives? The answers are not so straightforward, but the pulse of the present moment can be found in its stories.

This collection brings together the beautiful and poignant stories, recollections, poems, and art of Tanatsei Gambura, Guy Prevost, Megan Carlson, Amy B Moreno, Rosa Borreale, Emily Rose Cole, Kevin Doyle, Susan G Duncan, PE Campbell, Kevin Fullerton, Leticia Mandragora, Delwar Hussain, Avra Margariti, Sorrah Edwards-Thro, Leo Wijnhoven, and George F.

What do they tell us about inequality and struggle? They say it is here, right here, as two people discuss an acquaintance’s health concerns at brunch. They say, look, it followed us from the past when forty orphans arrived in Arizona by train. They say, we can feel it, right now, when pulling tight a blanket against the indoor cold. They say it is ongoing, and it is threatening to get worse. The creative writing in this issue doesn’t have solutions, but it does have perspective, and we cannot change course until we know what course we are on.

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Motherhood Cover

Motherhood

Stories of Love, Loss, & Life

Motherhood can be all consuming, and yet it is all too often ignored. Why do strangers think they know a bad mother when they read about one incident online? What is the first week of motherhood like, holding a new life in a hospital ward? What do you tell a child who asks about death? What can you do when insomnia and your child’s crying drive you toward the breaking point? Who would you choose if you could magically foresee your future children in every relationship? What are the lengths people will go to have children on a harsh and inhospitable planet? And what would you tell your own mother if you had one last chance? All these stories and more fill the pages within. This issue of the London Reader turns its focus to the trials of motherhood to illuminate the beating heart at the centre of the human experience.

Stories of Love, Loss, & Life features a new story from Emma Donoghue, the award-winning and best-selling author of Room, which has been made into a film of the same name, as well as short stories, personal reflections, poetry, and art from Jayme Koszyn, Louis Evans, Diana Reed, Ewan Morrison (the author of Nina X and Swung), Stacey May Fowles (the author of Infidelity), Micaela Maftei, Laura Tansley, Joanna Streetly, Kay Bolden, Rosaleen Lynch, Nora Nadjarian, Suzanne Skaar, Clare O’Brien, Wilda Morris, Glenna Meeks, Ella Otomewo, Laura Marija Balčiūnaitė, Julie Blankenship, Cynthia Gregorová, and Zena Blackwell. The Motherhood issue is introduced by Kate Everett and includes an interview with Kim Thúy, the award-winning author of Ru and Mãn.

What is motherhood? Can the answer be found in stories of community and isolation, belonging and rejection, hope and fear, love and loss and life? Open this issue, and find out.

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The London Reader is a cooperative magazine. Your donation supports the writers, artists, and collaborators who made the issue.

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Existential Dread in the Digital Void

Ominous Horror Stories for the Present Moment

A second face appears in the dark of your phone’s screen; a web search for life’s purpose comes up blank; and your next right swipe might be your last. We stand on the edge of catastrophe and try to ignore the existential crisis by escaping into our devices, but our dread only deepens. This collection of ominous horror stories for the present moment sharpens its focus on the digital void.

Existential Dread in the Digital Void brings together twenty writers and artists who shine their mobile’s dying light down the darkened hallways of our times. The short stories and minifiction in this issue draw us in, like a foreboding buzzing in our pocket, and don’t let us go until their tragic or twist endings satisfy our digital itch. With a guest introduction by Ann Dávila Cardinal, author of Five Midnights, this issue features fiction from Jeff Noon, the award-winning author of Vurt; Bridget Penney; Michael Marshall Smith, winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction more times than any other author; Clare O’Brien; Simon Bestwick (with a guest foreword by Niwar Ameen Obaid); Tobias Wade; Emma Helen Reid; Claire Holahan; James Dorr; Jennifer Companik; Marie Argeris; and Ramsey Campbell, Britain’s most respected living horror writer according to The Oxford Companion to English Literature. The visual art in this issue comes from Elizabeth Barsham, Michael E Tan, Javier Rodríguez Corpa, Lyssa Omega, Joe Roberts, and the duo d’Ores&Deja. Finally, looking at the horror genre in the current era, this issue also interviews Ellen Datlow, editor of The Best Horror of the Year anthologies, and Tananarive Due, award-winning author and executive producer of the groundbreaking documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror.

The chilling visions in this issue look both inside our minds, at our existential worries reflected in our devices, and outside into the dark, at the faces of strangers lit only by the screens of their phones. These ominous stories warn us of what we should have already feared, and their intimate touch, like a fingernail under the skin, will make you shiver.

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After the Flood

Stories and Poems for our Changing World

Tides reclaim coastal cities, forest fires choke the sky, heat waves scorch the plains, and in the eye of this catastrophe are the stories of families and communities—of fear and hope. The world faces a crisis, and we must search our souls for answers.

How can climate change fit into our stories? This issue of the London Reader re-maps the Earth with new and alternative visions of the present and the future. Stories and Poems for our Changing World faces crisis head-on, but the authors within come to many different conclusions. The cli-fi creative writing in this issue begins with pessimism, revealing the extent of natural disasters. It then revisits and re-evaluates our connection to the natural world. Finally, it finds a path forward, through calamity, with renewed ambition to make a difference.

After the Flood features an interview and fiction from Kim Stanley Robinson, the award-winning author of New York 2140 and the Mars Trilogy. The other creative works within include thought-provoking short stories from Elle Wild, Steve Carr, Hannah Wright, Kai Thomas, Katherine McMahon, Bell Selkie, and Omar El Akkad, author of American War; moving poems from Memye Curtis Tucker, Janette Ayachi, Ivy Archer, Colleen West, Matthew Gwathmey, Alice Mills, Robbi Nester, and Jill Evans; and stunning artwork from Artem Mirolevich, Christina Riley, Claire Price, David Ambarzumjan, and Ira Joel Haber, featured in the MoMA and Guggenheim.

We face a flood of unprecedented destruction. What will come after is up to us.

“A powerful intervention in our moment.”
Kim Stanley Robinson

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Subscribe to either the Print or PDF edition of the London Reader to receive four great issues per year