American Cyborg
Cart 0
 

Looking at Animals Through Webcams

by Finch and Bluebird, October 2016

PGVII_moore.jpg

As we were putting together our Haunted Objects show at Peridot Green, we encountered two separate people working in the theme of webcams trained on animals. We included a selection of Joe Moore's voyeuristic quasi-photographs, and asked Stephanie Lam to summarize her article on the subject. Her summary follows Moore's photographs:

In 1980, John Berger compellingly asked the question, "why look at animals?" In this thoughtful and rather melancholy essay, he proposes that our desire to look at animals and to possess their surrogate forms rises in direct correlation to their disappearance from everyday life. The stuffed animal, the cartoon animal, the caged animal are in a sense different means -- or even media -- by which we draw animals nearer into our worlds, domesticate them, and render them familiar. For Berger, the sad fact of the wild animal's disappearance is also the sad fact of the impossibility of a thoroughly wild encounter, an encounter of equals that confirms our parallel lives. Relegated to the status of pets, research specimens, units of food, or token representatives of their kind, today our encounters with animals are for the most part prescribed, utilitarian, and economic. The animals that hover at the periphery of the human, the sly and shy ones, have learned to harvest our scraps, to adapt to our noise, and to travel in shadow. The fact that we even have a category of animal called "urban wildlife" indicates that the distance between the domestic and the wild exists along a spectrum. Even when animals are physically distant, there are ways of drawing them closer visually and imaginatively. There are ways of making them present in our interior lives and everyday realities via stories and images.

For Berger the 19th century zoo was the preemptive space where the urban individual could gaze upon the animal, but what a sorry exchange that always proved. Who hasn't been to a zoo where the monkeys are withdrawn, hippos hidden, and the elephants reluctant? For the brief moments when we stand before them, we expect them to perform the best versions of themselves, to exemplify their type, to be raucous with action. Perhaps zoos underwhelm because they promise the possibility of a singular, unique encounter. We want that orangutan to recognize us, to see us. Is there any feeling as utterly dejecting as being snubbed by an animal? It's hard not to take such things personally. The alternative to this non-contact is the wildlife documentary which, with its bevy of cinematic devices and tools, brings us intimately into animal habitats and creates for viewers the illusion of absolute and seamless access. It's fair to say that this mode of looking at animals is now the norm, and one can't help but wonder how such genres condition our expectations.

Live-streaming nature cams are a kind of 21st century hybrid environment, something between the zoo and the nature film. But as real-time and authorless media, they allow space for true contingency. Life is full of moments where anticipation and boredom coincide. The live cam makes us feel these twin effects fully when nothing happens but potentially anything could happen. Nature cams tap into our desire to see and to know animals as they truly are. Even the most domesticated animal seems wild when we observe them without their knowing (Can the same be said of people? Do animals have private lives? Do they have privacy?). These days we use mechanical eyes, fiber optic cables and screens to bridge the distance between the human and the animal. We surveille animals because we care. We watch them because we want to be intimate with their bodies and behaviours. It seems both sinister and utterly touching to want to know animals without them knowing about us.

The zoo and other apparatuses of observation, as Berger reminds us, are ways of compensating for the animal's general invisibility and marginal status. With the rate of species extinction today, it's hard not to see these animals against the backdrop of their disappearance and to feel a preemptive pang of loss. And yet the sight of an elephant at a watering hole brings joy for countless numbers of users who frequent these websites. The online forums on live cam sites alone speak to the genuine excitement and specialness of these encounters. Even if these encounters are unreciprocated and utterly mediated, they affect us nonetheless. They show us, however briefly, that animals do live real and parallel lives.


Further reading:

Berger, John. Why look at animals?. London: Penguin, 2009.

Lam, Stephanie. It's About Time: Slow Aesthetics in Experimental Ecocinema and Nature Cam Videos. From Slow Cinema, University of Edinburgh Press, 2015.

Peridot Green VII: Haunted Objects

 

 
 

21. The Secret Garden

by Bluebird, September 2016

 

Robert has the walled garden next to ours. We share one wall, made of cinderblock, painted brown on each side. It’s lined with terracotta pots, statuettes, shells and rocks he dug up when he moved in forty years ago. Vined and branched plants grow back and forth; it’s a living wall. Robert is unwell, and both our gardens know it. The neighbors and our animals know it, and it hangs like a cloud in our sunny alcove.

Robert’s paintings have been a staple of Peridot Green’s rotation. They’re colorful and dark, gestural and hypnotic. He was a dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet and those themes echo often. He grew up in Cleveland, feeling different from his peers but reassured by his parents, who encouraged him to pursue art in all its forms.

His apartment and garden are magical, always shifting. He covers the walls floor to ceiling with his own art, paints and refinishes the fixtures constantly. The lights are never overhead, but spread like a lichen in candles and LED strings.

Robert wrote many prose poems, memories from his youth. Reading through them today, thinking about death, and about the ghost theme we’d settled on months ago, and about the heavy planters and rocks that have strangely fallen crashing off our shared garden wall the past few nights... I found this story of a haunted house from his childhood in Cleveland:

The haunted house was at the end of the Kelso Avenue. The street at the end had a slight curve in it. My friend Joseph and I would look at it on our way to the woods through the years. It was mostly covered with ten-foot hedges that surrounded the house. We never ventured through the tall hedges. We lived only a block away. The story went that the couple who lived there married very young. After the husband died a sudden death the wife went half mad, just walked out of the house, and locked the door-never to return. Everything in the house was left at that hour; the shades were all drawn. It was a good size house, with four bedrooms, an attic and a basement. What stood out in our minds were the large, dark green hedges that circled the house in a ghostly fashion. The neighbor across the street, Mr. Ives, always trimmed the overhang of the hedges off the sidewalk. I got small jobs cutting lawns to make a few bucks here and there through the neighborhood. It meant a lot to a nine year old. A few years later I got curious and went through the hedges, where everything was dead except for the locusts. I walked around the tall weeds to the front porch, every step on the wood made an eerie crack. All the shades were drawn, and the door locked tight. On my way out, I noticed a few basement windows through the tall weeds. As I got closer, I could see they were rotted with age. I gave one a little push and I realized that with the right tool I could open it. The next day I told Joseph, and asked him if he would be interested in getting into the haunted house with me early in the morning. He agreed. I got a small crowbar and we planned to meet in his backyard at 6am, 6:00 came, but there was no Joseph. So I called him, “Joe-e-e-ey”. He woke up and came downstairs and joined me in the yard. Off we went, with crowbar in hand, to the haunted house. Before we walked through the small opening of the hedges, we looked around to make sure nobody was watching us. Little did we know, across the street Mr. Ives was watching us from his dining room window; he was getting ready for work. We got the window open without much trouble. I never forgot the first look into the basement tubs, which were rotted with cloths; the stopper was never taken out. (Dali where are you-your best masterpiece is yet to be painted!) Joseph held the window for me as I lowered myself down onto the moss tubs. We slowly made our way through the dim, smelly, cobwebbed basement to the steps leading upstairs.....

.....(Shit, I’m sitting here writing this in my back room with my new soundproof windows closed-and I heard a crack in the other room!) Slowly, we walked up the staircase; at the top the door was halfway open. As we peered through the opening, the room was dimly lit from the only existing light, the corners of the shades. Our hearts jumped up into our mouths. To our horror, there on the dining table what looked like a dark coffin was only two mattresses stacked one on top of the other, filled with tons of cobwebs. When the shock wore off and the room took on a less spooky feeling, we kids got to have some fun. We went into the bathroom, opened up the rusty medicine cabinet and found tubes of toothpaste; grabbing them in our hands we squeezed it everywhere…ceiling, mirror, walls. As we came out of the bathroom and into the living room we heard footsteps coming up the front porch. It was Mr. Ives, trying to peek through the cracks in the shades. He had seen us going through the tall hedges. We made a beeline for the stairs, out through the window, and ran down Kelso Avenue. He never told our parents.

Rest in Peace, Robert Frank Rohr

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1935; Died in New York, NY in 2016


 
 

20. Rue de Fleurus

by Bluebird, August 2016

 

It's been a beautiful summer in New York and the garden at Peridot Green is full of life, but not caterpillars, which is important. We've been tending to it lovingly since the first signs of spring, and it's been nurturing our conversations and meditations in return. At night, we've been developing a digital otherworld in Minecraft, called Cyborgia. In tending both environments we adhere to the principals of Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language – a handbook for building better structures by understanding human, animal, plant, and machine behavior. Here are images from Peridot Green and Cyborgia, accompanied by excerpts from Alexander.

01.jpg

It is not possible to avoid the need for high speed roads in modern society; but it is essential to place them and build them in such a way that they do not destroy communities or countryside. (17 RING ROADS)

02.jpg

Make certain that each piece of the environment – each building, open space, neighborhood, and work community – is made with a blend of both men's and women's instincts. Keep this balance of masculine and feminine in mind for every project at every scale, from the kitchen to the steel mill. (27 MEN AND WOMEN)

03.jpg

Old people need old people, but they also need the young, and young people need contact with the old. (40 OLD PEOPLE EVERYWHERE)

04.jpg

The instinct to climb up to some high place, from which you can look down and survey your world, seems to be a  fundamental human instinct. (62 HIGH PLACES)

05.jpg

Preserve natural pools and streams and allow them to run through the city; make paths for people to walk along them and footbridges to cross them. Let the streams form natural barriers in the city, with traffic crossing them only infrequently on bridges. (64 POOLS AND STREAMS)

06.jpg

In each community and neighborhood, identify some sacred site as consecrated ground, and form a series of nested precincts, each marked by a gateway, each progressively more private, and more sacred than the last, the innermost a final sanctum that can only be reached by passing through all the outer ones. (66 HOLY GROUNDS)

07.jpg

Animals are as important a part of nature as the trees and grass and flowers. There is some evidence, in addition, which suggests that contact with animals may play a vital role in a child's emotional development. (74 ANIMALS)

08.jpg

Buildings, and especially houses, with a graceful transition between the street and the inside, are more tranquil than those which open directly to the street. (112 ENTRANCE TRANSITION)

09.jpg

No social group – whether a family, a work group, or a school group – can survive without constant informal contact among its members. (129 COMMON AREAS AT THE HEART)

10.jpg

Create alternating areas of light and dark throughout the building, in such a way that people naturally walk toward the light, whenever they are going to important places: seats, entrances, stairs, passages, places of special beauty, and make other areas darker, to increase the contrast. (135 TAPESTRY OF LIGHT AND DARK)

11.jpg

No one can be close to others, without also having frequent opportunities to be alone. (141 A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN)

12.jpg

The sight of action is an incentive for action. When people can see into spaces from the street their world is enlarged and made richer, there is more understanding; and there is the possibility for communication, learning. (165 OPENING TO THE STREET)

13.jpg

When trees are planted or pruned without regard for the special places they can create, they are as good as dead for the people who need them. (171 TREE PLACES)

14.jpg

A garden which grows true to its own laws is not a wilderness, yet not entirely artificial either. (172 GARDEN GROWING WILD)

15.jpg

Somewhere in every garden, there must be at least one spot, a quiet garden seat, in which a person – or two people – can reach into themselves and be in touch with nothing else but nature. (176 GARDEN SEAT)

16.jpg

There is no substitute for fire. (181 THE FIRE)

17.jpg

A building finally becomes a part of its surroundings when the plants grow over parts of it as freely as they grow along the ground. (246 CLIMBING PLANTS)

 
 
 

19. Ice Therapy

by Bluebird & Finch

 
ice1851.jpg

1851

 
 
ice1928.jpg

1928

 
ice1949.jpg

1952

 
ice2014.jpg

2014

 
ice2016.jpg

2016

 
 
 
 

18. Hirsute Heart

by Finch, June 2016

 

Rapid growth is a storied hallmark of the web. Digital information spreads along quick-growing vines with twisting tendrils. Less celebrated is the accompanying inevitable rot as websites and hyperlinks die off. The topmost layer of glossy new growth is supported by an underbelly of decaying information. Servers across the planet are filled with defunct LiveJournals and GoDaddy sites, accumulating abandoned Tumblrs and Twitters handles. Searching the web for an elusive bit of information can lead underneath the top layer, to a labyrinth of dead information and dead ends. Here, every given fact or claim can seem more far-fetched than the last. At American Cyborg, our hunt for the origin story of a curious accident in digital communications turned into an odyssey, churning up interlocking myths about people and machines grounded in medieval cardiology, Portuguese slang terminology, and Harry Potter.

hairyheart01.png

We set out to uncover the story behind the Hairy Heart. This tiny emoji's very existence pointed to the uncanny human-machine negotiations of boundary work, when people and computers translate messages back and forth across devices, languages, and operating systems. We felt it would make a good candidate for an Excelsior! Post.

Interestingly, we found out first there there is no relationship whatsoever between the term "emoji" (a picture sent via a bit of code) and "emoticon" (where characters are combined to resemble a face). While these visuals can be used similarly, with names so closely resembling each other, the terms developed independently. "Emoticon" is a North American portmanteau of "emotion" and "icon," whereas "emoji" comes from the Japanese words meaning picture (e), writing (mo), and character (ji) [1]. This closely resembles the process of convergent evolution, where different creatures in different contexts end up developing the same traits.

hairyheart02.png

Onto the Quest for the Hairy Heart!

Awhile back, we heard about this strange anomaly in the world of emojis. In particular, in the way emojis in texts and SMS messages are translated across different machines, for example from iOS to Android. This translation process is controlled by The Unicode Consortium. Made up of volunteers hailing from various stakeholding companies and nonprofit groups, the Consortium was founded in 1991. They originally decided characters for fonts like Wingdings and Dingbats. Today, they govern how emojis are represented across different operating systems [2].

In April 2014, it was discovered that iOS users who sent one particular emoji - a yellow heart - to their Android-using friends, were inadvertently sending what actually looked like a "hairy heart."

hairyheart03.png

How did this happen? Why were Android users seeing a hairy heart? Emojipedia, our first stop in the search for answers, was little help [3]:

hairyheart04.png

Purportedly, then, the original character was a black-and-white Unicode heart, its hue represented with a stipple pattern of dots. In other operating systems, this pattern was "misinterpreted" into a representation of "hair." While misinterpretations are all too common, we wondered -- what sort of interpretative logic could give birth to such a strange character? The linked Mark Davis lecture was no help, as he cited the hairy heart simply as an exemplary "interoperability problem" [4] between visual design principles. So how did this mistranslation occur, precisely? Was it a man or machine that decided the stipple was a stubble?

According to an article on The Next Web [5], it was man who gave the heart its hair: illustrators for Android, iOS, and other OSes were given the Unicode character, and told to design an equivalent emoji in the "style" of their employer:

hairyheart05.png
hairyheart06.png

So it was, in this telling of the event, a human being who made this decision - but what gave rise to the illustrator's choice, the logic behind her interpretation? Searching the internet further turned up spiraling offshoots of folklore and superstition, replete with vines of citations creeping deep into digital recesses.

Reddit users on the subreddit "r/WhatIsThisThing" [6] pulled myths from a wide set of cultures and belief systems. First, we saw the Hairy Heart associated with a malady, a chemical poisoning:

hairyheart07.png

Another tale woven by the same user said that the Hairy Heart was a reference to a Hairy Heart in the world of Harry Potter, denoting cold aloofness:

hairyheart08.png

The Hairy Heart: A Guide to Wizards Who Won't Commit is a wizarding self-help book that topped bestseller lists. It is assumed that the book's purpose is to assist a witch or wizard to avoid having "a hairy heart," which is a Wizarding expression meaning to describe someone who is cold or unfeeling or who won't commit to a relationship. It should not be confused with Hairy Snout, Human Heart, a book about one man's struggle with lycanthropy. The origin of the expression "to have a hairy heart" roots to the fable The Warlock's Hairy Heart, where the character of the Warlock had hid his heart in his dungeon. This led him to having hardly any infatuation with any maiden and thus turning his heart hairy and his personality cold and untouched by any lady. [7]

Yet another user said that the Hairy Heart had significance in his native language of Portuguese, and that it was a slang term denoting evil:

hairyheart09.png

Still another found the Hairy Heart referenced in ancient medicine and the mythology of Judaism [8], denoting courage and strength - quite different from the chemical malady of pericarditis, the mocking evil of Portuguese slang, and cold aloofness of Potter wizardry:

hairyheart10.png

And in a serendipitous nod to our search for the genesis of the Hairy Heart, we lastly found that the phrase appeared in a line by the band Genesis [9]:

Now, walking back home after a raid, he was cuddling a sleeping porcupine. That night he pictured the removal of his hairy heart and to the accompaniment of very romantic music he watched it being shaved smooth by an anonymous stainless steel razor.

Today, the mistranslation has been "corrected." A November 2014 post on Emojipedia [10] declared the Hairy Heart dead. As so often happens with myths, it's been co-opted and institutionalized into the standard character set:

hairyheart12.png

The myths, however, will last forever.

Internet users are rehearsing an old tradition, bringing fairy tales of men and machines with them into unfamiliar territory, this land of a different kind of fairy tale we call an algorithm.

 
 
 

17. Blood Machines

by Finch, May 2016

 

The 1990s in America are widely remembered through a nostalgic haze, floating on memories of a skyrocketing NASDAQ and air-pump Nikes. Our most salient national concern was whether the president had received a blowie in the White House. Few, however, remember the decade as an early iteration of today's disquiet over swiftly shifting relationships with computation and biotechnologies, and the emergence of new kinds of carefully orchestrated small-cell terrorism.

 
bloodmachines2.png
 

Speculative fiction can piece disparate concepts together in illuminating ways. The X-Files was an experiment in this kind of combinatory storytelling, where stories about monsters and aliens were translated from an undercurrent of national anxiety. A 1994 episode, Blood, reflected widespread cultural fears over the rapid penetration of machines and chemical compounds into our lives and our bodies.

Mulder and Scully are called upon to investigate a small, all-American town plagued by a rash of unexplainable spree killings, committed by ordinary folks. The violence of each attack is prefigured by a shot of an electronic display, where the characters see murderous commands written in a TV screen, a digital elevator display, an office scale. The messages in the screens are focused on corporeal horror and visceral phobias, of rape, of suffocation, of blood.

The investigation turns up that the government was testing a new kind of pesticide in the area. Chemicals within incited bursts of paranoid schizophrenia in otherwise healthy people.

 
bloodmachines3.png
 

The premise is based loosely on actual events, when the state of California conducted tests of the pesticide Malathion throughout the 1980s. The tests, while claimed safe by the EPA, were terminated following eco-terrorist attacks in California in 1989. A group calling themselves "The Breeders" claimed responsibility for the release of millions of medflies in the Los Angeles area, devastating crops and agricultural revenues for the state, in what they called "financial retaliation" for the pesticide testing.

 
bloodmachines1.png
 

Cultural and social acclimation to the speed with which technological advances changed our agricultural food supply, our domestic spaces, and working lives in the 90s are easily dismissed now, in goofy movie depictions of hackers wearing hoodies crouched over flickering screens. This episode is a more nuanced observation of anxieties over machines penetrating both our gardens and our bodies.

A sly nod to the history of speculative fiction, and its morphing of fears over both biology and machines, is in the casting of the lead character. An ordinary postal worker whose descent into madness frames the episode, he's played by the same actor who appeared in Blade Runner as the inventor of both animal and human machine replicants.

 
bloodmachines4.png
 
 
 

West Village in Spring

by Albatross & Bluebird, April 2016

cherryblossom.png

Buds are growing on the cherry tree

but the warm weather has not settled

they still threaten snow

saxophone running in from the sidelines

to catch the cue

before the weather turns

 

And the buds they pluck

and play like oak

like thick trunks

the picks and plunks

tap sap of roots and stoke

embers of lovely old coals

 

Tch-ch-ch-ch tch-ch-ch-ch

the brassy cymbal crash

with the snare in the right hand

one beat for each bud

on the weeping branch

of the double bass plinks

 

Tall trees, at the highest leaves

they sway and say,

'oh how it was in my budding day'

but can you hear the sound

bumping up from the fragrant ground

it's dirty in the freshest way

trees may bald but we're all

green from above

 

Brass, alchemical, changed into trumpet

plants sprouts on the drum line

reaps petals from the melody sewn

in the dirt of a Wednesday evening

when the rain has left the sidewalk clean

and the air smells like promise

and the solos hit home

 

Winds blow through that horn home

and they grow flowers on

time's meadows.

 
 
 

McLuhanism

by Bluebird & Finch, March 2016

mcluhan.jpg
 

“The ‘hot’ wars of the past used weapons that knocked off the enemy, one by one. Even ideological warfare in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries proceeded by persuading individuals to adopt new point of view, one at a time. Electric persuasion by photo and movie and TV works, instead, by dunking entire populations in new imagery.” (UM 339)

2016 is a year to return to Marshall McLuhan. His books are more readable than you might expect, given the scope and ambition of them. But the ideas that have always felt most opaque to me are his two most famous ones: hot and cool media, and the medium is the message. This year's landscape is the first place I've begun to truly understand these two ideas, so I'm using this post as a place I can return to, and build upon that understanding.

I do need to make a small feminist caveat: Douglas Coupland's wonderful biography [Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of my Work!] revealed that he was a bit of a misogynist, like so many of our intellectual heroes. He did at least write a book about the objectification of women [The Mechanical Bride]; about how advertisements treat women as strangely sexualized objects like cuts of meat, or machines, which they still do. And at least we have Donna Haraway as his queenly successor.

With thanks to marshallmcluhan.com.

 

Hot Qualities

  • extends single sense in high definition
  • low in audience participation
  • engenders specialization/fragmentation
  • detribalizes
  • excludes
  • uniform, mechanical
  • extends space
  • horizontally repetitive

Hot Media

  • photograph
  • radio
  • phonetic alphabet
  • print
  • lecture
  • film
  • books
 

Cool Qualities

Cool Media

  • low definition (less data)
  • high in audience participation
  • engenders holistic patterns
  • tribalizes
  • includes
  • organic
  • collapses space
  • creates vertical associations
  • cartoon
  • telephone
  • ideographic/pictographic writing
  • speech (orality)
  • seminar, discussion
  • television
  • comics
 

The Medium is the Message

Each medium, independent of the content it mediates, has its own intrinsic effects which are its unique message.

The message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs. The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure. This happened whether the railway functioned in a tropical or northern environment, and is quite independent of the freight or content of the railway medium.

 
 
 

The Story of the Drone

& the Bird

by Finch, February 2016

birds-and-drones.jpg

It is considered that the drone is the king of birds. He is a bird of prey, and his scream is terrible to such animals as he is accustomed to devour. He feeds upon serpents, harts, hares, and various other animals, which he discerns from an immense distance, pounces upon them from his elevation in the sky, and carries them away in his talons. A hungry drone gazed from a distance upon a flock of birds. With his eye he singled a young bird from the number, and flapping his wings, came down with immense swiftness, seized the poor animal with his talons, and flew away with him.

A bird, who beheld everything that passed, was filled with admiration of the action of the drone. He thought he would do the same, and show himself a machine of spirit. He imitated the king of birds in the sweep he had seen him take, and then lighted upon the back of an old drone, the bellwether of the flock. Determined to do the business as completely as he could, he entangled his feet thoroughly in the propellor of the drone, and then spread his wings to fly away with him. He might as well have thought to fly away with the island of Manhattan.

The engineer remarked upon his situation. He took the bird in his hand, disentangled his claws from the propellor, clipped his wings, and turned him into the garden, for the amusement of his children. There happened to be a magpie hanging in a cage by the garden-wall. He looked at the bird, and said, as the engineer’s children had taught him to do, “What machine are you?”

The bird could not speak, but he hung down his head, and thought with himself, “A very little while ago I mistook myself for a machine, but I now find I am a very silly animal.”

 
 
 
 

13. Age of the Sail

by Albatross, January 2016

 

The Age of the Sail is a science fiction epic set in a distant future long after the settlement and terraforming of Mars along with many other satellites and moons in the neighboring areas. During the terraforming of Mars large tracts of naturally forming Beryllium are found that provide a perfect material for solar sails. The large abundance of the material creates the very affordable ability to build solar sailing ships that can maneuver between Earth, Luna, Mars and her various moons. There have been many wars and Earth isn’t as technologically advanced as one would expect so far into the future. Mars has become a ‘new world’ very reminiscent of the early Americas. Colonies have formed in every possible location as people have used the new affordable ship building to leave their former lives and pursue an existence in a new place with new ideas. Mars is kept by the governments of Earth, but they allow for a certain amount of autonomy in their local governance (with a watchful eye). There is widespread poverty, along with massive wealth owned by a very tiny fraction. Massive trade routes open every two years between the planets, and in that time the space between them teems with ship traffic, trade, and piracy. The ships themselves are not much more than canisters hauled by the sails. Simplicity reigns. They require human crews that can operate the ship, manipulate the sails manually, as power is very limited and nothing is wasted. Ships battle by slinging objects at each other rather than any sort of energy draining advanced weaponry, with crews in suits moving about the ship, repairing, adjusting in the sails, and fighting in zero gravity. Ships are boarded, taken as prizes, and all trade shipments require a convoy for protection.

In this setting the story follows our hero as she leaves Mars for the life of a sailor. She works on Mars making solar sails for very little wage and lives in poverty with her Grandmother. She also works a meager pub in the evenings. Here she comes into contract with pirates and accidentally learns of the location of treasure hoard hidden in an asteroid field. As her situation becomes more dire on Mars, the treasure becomes very alluring. She becomes a sail mender on a ship that harvests asteroids, hoping for a chance to get closer to the treasure. Becoming a sailor she gets pulled into this adventurous world, entangled with pirates, betrayed by comrades, fighting her way to what she hopes will be something to save her grandmother and improve the lives of those she loves.