Bruce Sterling's "White Fungus" -- architecture fiction for rising seas and the econopocalypse

In White Fungus, an "architecture fiction" published in the first issue of Beyond magazine, Bruce Sterlng marries the sardonic and the hopeful in a gripping, hilarious story about how every aspect of civic life from schools to tomato-farming will be reformed after ecotastrophe and econopocalypse destroy our present way of life.
Logically, industrial farmers should move into places like White Fungus and industrially farm the lawns. Derelict buildings should be gutted and trans formed into hydroponic racks. White Fungus was, in fact, an old agricultural region: it was ancient farmland with tarmac on top of it. So: rip up the parking lots. Plant them. Naturally, no one in White Fungus wanted this logical solution. Farming was harsh, dull, boring, patient work, and no one was going to pay the locals to farm. So, by the standards of the past, our survival was impossible. The solution was making the defeat of our hunger look like fun. People gardened in five-minute intervals, by meshing webcams with handsets. A tomato vine ready to pick sent someone an SMS. Game-playing gardeners cashed in their points at local market stalls and restaurants. This scheme was an 'architecture of participation'. Since the local restaurants were devoid of health and employee regulations, they were easy to start and maintain.Every thing was visible on the Net. We used ingenious rating systems.
White Fungus (PDF) (Thanks, Patadave!)


  1. Pretty good, but reads somewhat like an early draft for a better story that needs to be written at some point in the future.

  2. Valid point,but will you be there to validate it?
    Prescience is Precious[forgive Plums penchant for
    alliteration] but are you absolutely sure that YOUR future is not now,this moment!

  3. I think the utopianist are a little too optimistic in the reports of the d00m of the current order. Our vaguely capitalistic system didn’t break in some fundamental and irreparable. What happened was that one very new little market tool that had way too much money invested in it imploded hard enough to cause lending to dry up. That really is the extent of it. There was a housing bubble, someone morons who don’t know the difference between a Gaussian distribution and a power law spent a lot of money making a very bad bet on the housing bubble while deluding themselves of the risk using very bad statistics. The bubbled popped, the “this will never lose money!” assets lost a lot of money, and all of a sudden it is “OMFG where did the credit go?!?” Everyone panics and here we are, gun shy, still intact with 1929 still just a bad memory that most people have no memory or personal understanding of.

    That really is the extent of it. Now government are going to put commoditized housing assets into the grave where they belong, providing the markets don’t get around to doing it first. Problem solved and the world moves on. The engineers are not going to clear out of the semi-conductor fabs and start a farm., the lawyers will keep on lawyering, the doctors will keep on doctoring, and most people are still going to buy absurdly cheap produce from a third world country half of the world away instead of wasting any hours of their lives farming for themselves to save a trivial amount. That goes double, triple, and quadruple if said person doesn’t live in SoCo and lives in the north where eating local sustenance crops over the winter is really unappetizing (unless pickled food and potatoes 24/7 sounds fun to you).

  4. I’m all for optimism, but I think doom is an undeniable possibility. In this case, the currency that the entire world uses as common backing is in the process of being devalued almost beyond recognition. The country that created the dollar (and the housing credit fiasco)has also created a national debt that is of an almost incomprehensible scale, accelerated far faster than at any time in the past. Yes, the resetting of housing values is one small part of it, but the US has given the rest of the world pause whether trust can be found in a Dollar backed investment system. Without that trust it seems there isn’t much to underpin commercial or even government credit systems. Virtually no projects are backed by real money, whether it’s a house, a shopping mall, a bridge, or a freeway.

    The average American might have a bit of a struggle if they haven’t been downsized already. But that absurdly cheap produce has to come from somewhere, and cost to produce must be covered. At some point it will not be economically viable in the now to refrigerate and burn oil to move strawberries from Chile or whatever. Farmers are killing themselves in India because they can’t afford seeds.

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