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In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Jinna Lei’s “What If We Could Photosynthesize?” with commentary by the poet and by editor Romie Stott.


From the poet:

This poem was a little bit different from my other poems, actually, in that “What if we could photosynthesize?” was always a question I had in the back of my mind, like whenever I didn’t want to, you know, prepare food for myself, I would just think, you know, how nice it would be if we could make food from sunlight and air like plants do.

Eventually I mentioned this to someone else, and I started talking to people about it, and asking this question to other people. I had really fun conversations speculating about what a world like that would be like, and there were lots of fun ideas floating around. Everyone started with, “Well, we would be green,” and there were people who speculated, “Oh, you know, the composition of sunlight is different on the ground [than when] you’re farther up in the atmosphere.” There’s a hole in the ozone layer in Australia, and maybe there would be food tourism, or sunlight tourism, where you would go up in an airplane just to sample the quality of sunlight, or go to Australia or something. I did some energy calculations, and I actually learned that if we photosynthesized only at meal times, we wouldn’t make nearly as much energy as we would need to, but I chose to ignore that for this poem.

But yeah, that’s just how it happened. The ideas were kind of crowdsourced, in a way.

From editor Romie Stott:

What’s interesting is this poem was accepted by Sonya during the summer, and I first encountered it when I was galleying it in the dead of winter in Massachusetts. So the fact that in both of those climate exposures—Sonya is also in Massachusetts—of extreme summer and extreme winter, we still both felt that the poem worked extremely well.

What’s funny is it reads as really good speculative fiction. I think it makes some smart imaginative leaps about how our culture would be different if we built our meals around going outdoors rather than gathering indoors around a table, and the ways that it would pattern our vacations would be similar, but not the same. We would still have things like lunch breaks, where we’d maybe leave work, but for different reasons.

So I thought all that was very clever, but I also thought it was a good observation of how we already are. I know a lot of people who, either because of a love of tanning or because of ideas about vitamin D or just about fresh air, already have kind of a feeling that the sun is a nutrient that they need every day that they schedule in, especially in some of the darker, more Nordic countries, where it’s like, I have to go out and walk around and catch this hour of sunlight. I'm talking even about people who don't have seasonal affective disorder.

So it’s kind of nice to have something that feels both next door—and very much next door, because, as I say, I’ve been in a very long winter in Boston—and also that feels like a completely different world.

Jinna lives in San Francisco with a Martian and a cat.
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