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Rats, Gardens, and Stories from a "Post-Impact" Future

Rats as you’ve never seen them; the journey of restoring a garden; stories from a “post-Impact” future

Covers of three books


Stowaway: The Disreputable Exploits of the Rat
by Joe Shute.
Bloomsbury Wildlife, 2024 ($26)

New Yorkers will recall a sanitation commissioner’s now infamous proclamation: “The rats don’t run this city. We do.” Rat chroniclers often show disdain toward their subjects, but in Stowaway, journalist Joe Shute positions himself instead as a kind of Lorax, speaking for the rats when few others will. He guides readers down sewers, into bustling (rat-filled) metropolises and through mounds of research in pursuit of a deeper understanding of rats and, by extension, humans. Shute’s earnest, playful descriptions of these creatures—“a shadow of us,” “the ultimate transgressors”—betray some bias. But his enthusiasm spreads easily, much like the ultrasonic laughter that his pet rats, Molly and Ermintrude, make when tickled. —Maddie Bender

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The Garden against Time: In Search of a Common Paradise
by Olivia Laing.
W. W. Norton, 2024 ($27.99)

When the COVID pandemic shuttered communal outdoor spaces, author Olivia Laing began restoring a private 18th-century garden in Suffolk, England. Her memoir alternates between vignettes of this restoration process—from uprooting obnoxious nettles to planting floors of wallflowers—and thoughtful research on the cultural significance of reconstructing Eden. As Laing guides readers through the exclusionary history of plant domestication and land ownership, she seeks to transform her garden into a place of universal refuge. Written in lyrical prose that almost begs to be sung, this book offers captivating insights into “the cost of building paradise.” —Lucy Tu

Honeymoons in Temporary Locations
by Ashley Shelby.
University of Minnesota Press, 2024 ($22.95)

Unsettling and satirical, this collection of stories and errata from a “post-Impact” near future considers life amid escalating climate disasters, focused on the lived experience of change as it’s happening. Freighters relocate Arctic life to the Antarctic; “Internally Displaced Persons of Means” flee America’s coasts and head to heartland Resettlement Zones; and a pharmaceutical company offers Climafeel, “a recombinant DNA biologic that blunts the effects of solastalgia,” the psychological distress afflicting survivors in a world up­­­ended. Writer Ashley Shelby’s storytelling is brisk, sharp-elbowed and deeply empathetic, even as she experiments with a host of forms, including the brochure text for a cruise to flooded cities. —Alan Scherstuhl

Maddie Bender is a science writer and a producer at Hawaii Public Radio. She was a 2021 AAAS Mass Media Fellow at Scientific American

More by Maddie Bender

Lucy Tu is a freelance writer and a Rhodes Scholar studying reproductive medicine and law. She was a 2023 AAAS Mass Media Fellow at Scientific American.

More by Lucy Tu

Alan Scherstuhl is an editor at Publishers Weekly and a jazz writer for the New York Times.

More by Alan Scherstuhl
Scientific American Magazine Vol 330 Issue 6This article was originally published with the title “In Brief” in Scientific American Magazine Vol. 330 No. 6 (), p. 85