5 Questions with Hal Niedzviecki, Author of Trees on Mars

trees on marsWe start another big week of author events at City Lights Bookstore this fall with our friend Hal Niedzviecki, whose new book is Trees On Mars: Our Obsession with the Future, published by Seven Stories Press.

Event: Tuesday, November 3, 7:00PM at City Lights Bookstore. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco.

About the Book: What is it like to live in a society utterly focused on what is going to happen next? In Trees on Mars: Our Obsession with the Future, cultural critic and indie entrepreneur Hal Niedzviecki asks how and when we started believing we could and should “create the future,” arguing that the short-term purview of innovation is not always as effective as we think it is. On the contrary, it’s often damaging. “Innovation” may be the most overused and fetishized term of the past five years. Tech bloggers livecast the launch of the latest Kindle, crowds form serpentine lines outside of Apple stores on the eve of new iPhone releases, stock markets surge and recede on rumors of what Intel and Microsoft have in the pipeline, and, on college campuses across the country, universities offer master’s degrees in Future Studies. . . .

Trees on Mars will introduce readers to futurist consultants who preach the need for constant change, to a fourth-generation New Jersey dairy farmer grappling with the increasing complexities of a once-bucolic industry, to a group of Stanford undergraduates pulling all-nighters in an effort to produce the next must-have app, to a Michigan teacher struggling to integrate mandatory iPad use into her third-grade curriculum, and to a recently laid off auto worker being sent to state-sponsored retraining. Through these characters and others, Niedzviecki shows how future-obsession and future-anxiety are affecting real people.

“Hal Niedzviecki’s urgent, eye-opening Trees on Mars exposes our mania for the future as exactly what it is: an ideology as narrow and dangerous as any we’ve known from history. Read this book and be the first on your block to recall the rebel thrill of living in the present.”—J.B. MacKinnon, author of The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be

About Hal Niedzviecki: Hal Niedzviecki is a writer, speaker and teacher. His work is known for challenging preconceptions and confronting readers with the offenses of everyday life. He writes and thinks about the effects of mass media, pop culture and consumer technology on individual life and society. He is the author of books of nonfiction and fiction, most recently the collection of short stories Look Down, This is Where it Must Have Happened (City Lights Books) and the nonfiction books Trees On Mars: Our Obsession with the Future (Seven Stories Press) and The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors (City Lights Books). The Peep Diaries was made into a television documentary entitled Peep Culture produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Niedzviecki is the current fiction editor and the founder of Broken Pencil, the magazine of zine culture and the independent arts.  He edited the magazine from 1995 to 2002. Hal’s writing has appeared in newspapers, periodicals and journals across the world including The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, Playboy, the Utne Reader, The Globe and Mail, The National Post,  The Walrus and Geist. Niedzviecki is committed to exploring the human condition through provocative fiction and non-fiction that charts the media saturated terrain of ever shifting multiple identities at the heart of our fragmenting age.

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City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Hal Niedzviecki: The first time I was at City Lights I was browsing when out of nowhere this giant tour bus pulled up. All of these German tourists piled out of the bus chanting FER-LIN-GHETTI, FER-LIN-GHETTI, FER-LIN-GHETTI. Only at City Lights.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

HN: I really wanted to quote from two songs in the book, but it’s so hard getting permission to quote from songs in a book I had to give up on the idea. So here are the songs and the quotes I wanted to use!

from “In a Future Age” by Wilco

Some trees will bend
And some will fall
But then again
So will us all
Lets turn our prayers
Into outrageous dares
And mark our page
In a future age


from “Big Red Sun Blues,” by Lucinda Williams

Everything is goin’ wrong
It’s not right anymore
We can’t seem to get along
The way we did before
Sun is hangin’ in the sky
Sinkin’ low and so am I
Just for the love of someone
And a big red sun

Also anything by apocalyptic post-punk band Godspeed You! Black Empire.

CL: What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

HN: I have a terrible memory. There was a great I Can Read reader I think I really liked because the main character was Hal the Pal or something like that.

CL: If you weren’t a writer, what might you do?

HN: My alter ego is a horribly conceited high-end chef who berates his customers and his staff with equal zeal. No one would understand my creations, and they would pay mucho money for the privilege. That’s not all that different from my current status, minus the money.

CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no wifi). 

HN: I wouldn’t need anything! I would build a cell tower out of the island’s only tree,  craft an iPhone out of rare earth metals and live on the organs of the island’s resident komodo dragons. Human beings are endlessly awesome and innovative don’t you know. We can do anything we want if we just set our mind to it!

Join us on Tuesday, November 3 for this event as we welcome Hal back to City Lights to discuss his new book, Trees on Mars.

For more about Hal, check out his official site and follow him on Twitter. His new book is available through citylights.com, from Seven Stories Press, or at your local independent bookseller. Check out our events calendar for more great readings, discussions, and book parties happening at City Lights Bookstore for the rest of 2015.

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