The World Lives with Water

Elizabeth Minkel in The New Yorker:

Jan If you haven’t seen it yet, go and watch “Beach Creatures,” the video that accompanies Ian Frazier’s “The March of the Strandbeests” in this week’s issue. The piece is a profile of the Dutch artist Theo Jansen, who began building his extraordinary kinetic sculptures two decades ago, after contemplating the dangers of global warming to a nation built on the water. Frazier writes that Jansen, worried about rising sea levels that “might re-flood Holland and reduce its size to what it had been in medieval times,” came up with a solution: “he proposed to build animals that would toss sand in the air so that it would land on and augment the seaside dunes. What he envisioned were self-propelled creatures that would restore the balance between water and land, the way beavers do in Dutch marshes.”

Jansen admits that his solution was that of an artist; he tells Frazier, “A real engineer would probably solve the problem differently, maybe make an aluminum robot with motor and electric sensors and all that.” It got me thinking about a Dutch hydraulic engineer, albeit a fictional one, who quietly works to manage rising sea levels in the near future. He’s the protagonist of Jim Shepard’s extraordinary short story “The Netherlands Lives with Water,” originally published in McSweeney’s (and available in full on their Web site). I read it in last year’s “Best American Short Stories,” but now you can read it alongside Shepard’s other extraordinary short stories in his most recent collection, “You Think That’s Bad.” (Another story from the collection, “Boys Town,” was originally published in this magazine.) Shepard wrote “The Netherlands Lives with Water” after being asked to contribute to an issue of McSweeney’s in which all stories were set just a few decades in the future.

More here.