Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
The Fifth Sacred Thing
published 1993 by Bantam (New York)
The Fifth Sacred Thing is a 1993 post-apocalyptic novel written by Starhawk. The title refers to the classical elements of fire, earth, air, and water, plus the fifth element, spirit, accessible when one has balanced the other four.
This tale is set in California in the year 2048 after a catastrophe, which has fractured the United States into several nations, and a time of ecological collapse. The hideously authoritarian and corporate-driven Stewards have taken control of most of the land and set up an apartheid state, one region has declared itself independent: the Bay Area and points north. Choosing life over guns, they have created a simple but rich ecotopia, where no one wants, nothing is wasted, culture and cooperation are uppermost, and the Four Sacred Things are valued unconditionally.
They have reverted to a sustainable economy, using wind power, local agriculture, and the like. The City of San Francisco has turned into a mostly pagan city where the streets have been torn up for gardens and streams, no one starves or is homeless, and the city's defense council consists primarily of nine elderly women who "listen and dream". The novel describes "a utopia where women are leading societies but are doing so with the consent of men.”
In this new City of San Francisco every house is equipped with a small garden plot. The food is available to everyone and access to food (and water) is not limited by money, power, or ownership. Farms where the city's fruit and vegetables grow are hidden behind the blocks of homes. There is plenty of food and everyone is said to have more than enough to eat. The only remnants of the pavement that once existed are narrow paths meant for walking, cycling, or rollerblading. These paths are accented with colorful stones and mosaics. The city is depicted as a beautiful town where everything is shared yet nothing is lacking.
But the Stewards are on the march northward, bent on conquest and appropriation of the precious waters. It’s the love story of Bird the musician and warrior and Madrone the healer, and of Maya, Bird’s grandmother, ninety-eight year old story teller, whose vision provides a way for them to defend their city from invasion without becoming what they are fighting against. The story is primarily told from the points of view of 98-year-old Maya, her nominal granddaughter Madrone, and her grandson Bird. Through these and other characters, the story explores many elements from ecofeminism and ecotopian fiction.
The novel explores the events before and during the ensuing struggle between the two nations, pitting utopia and dystopia against each other.
Yes, it is true that this book was published some time ago and no, unlike usual for a book review, I did not receive a free copy from the publisher, but bought this one a number of years ago secondhand from a charity shop.
However, as a book it deserves a review, especially in view of the fact that, so I understand, the book is soon to be made into a movie, all things being equal.
This book falls, to some degree, under the label “post-apocalyptic” but it is also utopian, but in a positive way. Though in all its utopianism it could just be a vision of something that could work and we don't have to wait till everything has collapsed to establish a society such as this. In fact, we must create such examples of new a new society in settlements of all kinds now so that when the inevitable happens and the system that we know finally collapses new different kinds of alternatives are ready to spring into action.
Despite the fact that the novel is being made into a movie at some time in the maybe not so distant future I would suggest to read the book rather first. Especially as the book could almost be used as a manual from which to draw inspiration as to how to set us such communities and to run them.
We must find a new way of living and working and of living together and working together and there, I am sure, is no “one size fits all” model that can just be placed in front of people, and also the various groups in the book, even those that cooperate with the people of the city do not, necessarily, all sing, at times, from the same hymn sheet, to some extent.
On Starhawk's website a free e-book is available based on her latest book “The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups called “The Five-Fold Path of Productive Meetings” which may also be of use to those wishing to establish an ectopian style community.