Can Science Fiction Help Solve Our Biggest Problems?

Over his nearly four-decade career as a novelist, Neal Stephenson has built complex visions of future worlds that, looking back at them now, feel eerily prescient. He writes about the possible ways unchecked globalization, pollution, and technological capitalism could transform our planet. Along the way, he’s introduced readers to concepts like cryptocurrency, virtual reality, and the metaverse. In his new novel, Termination Shock, Stevenson brings readers into a near future when an eccentric billionaire puts forward a radical plan for slowing climate change by blasting sulphur into the Earth’s atmosphere. Sounds plausible, doesn’t it? Maybe.

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WIRED senior correspondent Adam Rogers spoke with Neal Stephenson at the annual RE:WIRED conference earlier this month. This week, we’ll listen to the audio from that interview, and we’ll hear from Adam about what it was like to profile Stephenson—and examine his fiction’s role in shaping policy and fostering action—for the November issue of WIRED magazine.

Show Notes

Neal Stephenson’s new book Termination Shock is available now. Read Adam’s WIRED story about Neal Stephenson taking on global warming. Check out more from our RE:WIRED sessions here.

Recommendations

Adam recommends getting your Covid-19 vaccine booster shot if you’re eligible, and also the show Star Trek Prodigy. Lauren recommends Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy on HBO Max. Mike recommends The Veggie newsletter from The New York Times.

Adam Rogers can be found on Twitter @jetjocko. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Neal Stephenson is @nealstephenson. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.

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Transcript

Michael Calore: Lauren?

Lauren Goode: Mike.

MC: Lauren, do you think billionaires are going to rescue our planet from the climate crisis?

LG: Is that a trick question? Yeah, they’re totally going to do it. They’re going to do it from their yachts and their private jets or PJs, as they said on Succession the other night: “PJs.”

MC: It’s hard to imagine, but maybe that’s what we need to do. We have to imagine our way out of the climate crisis. So maybe we should turn to one of the most celebrated modern writers of science fiction?

LG: I mean, I’m game to try it if you are.

[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays.]

MC: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I’m Michael Calore, a senior editor at WIRED.

LG: And I’m Lauren Goode, a senior writer at WIRED.

MC: We’re also joined this week by WIRED senior correspondent Adam Rogers. Adam, welcome back to the show.

Adam Rogers: It is always a pleasure to be one among several seniors.

MC: Nice. It’s good to have you, senior sir. We’ve got a special show for you this week. We are going to play for you a conversation that Adam had with the acclaimed sci-fi novelist, Neal Stephenson. This conversation took place at our RE:WIRED conference last week. You probably know Neal Stephenson from his books like Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, or the three-novel Baroque Cycle. My personal favorite is the long essay, In the Beginning … Was the Command Line. His newest book, Termination Shock comes out this week and it’s about a near future where the world is nearly ruined by the effects of climate change.

So Adam, you talked with Neal Stephenson recently for a featured length profile you wrote for the magazine, which people can also read online at WIRED.com. And you talked to him just last week at the RE:WIRED conference, which we’re going to listen to in just a minute. But give us some of the highlights here. You guys talked a lot about climate change in both of these chats. So Neal thinks we’re all just doomed, right?

AR: You know what? I have to admit, it was hard for me in both of our conversations to extract from Neal what he thinks the outcome is going to be. For somebody who writes speculative fiction, science fiction, he’s kind of cagey. The book, the premise of the book is that a billionaire attempts without asking a government’s permission, what’s called solar geoengineering. He tries to basically fix climate change by shooting millions of tons of sulfur into the atmosphere to cool off the earth. And that has tremendous geopolitical consequences as well as tremendous ecological consequences.

But when I have asked Neal, “Well, do you think that would happen? And do you think that’s a good thing?” He sort of says, “No, I don’t think it would really be a billionaire. This isn’t really a tech billionaire. He’s an oil billionaire and I’m not trying to stake out a position, whether it would be good, I’m just trying to kind of say it’s probably going to happen and what would happen now next.”

I will admit, I’m sort of surprised at that, especially because a lot of Neal’s work is pretty trenched into criticism of technology and its practitioners. Especially for someone who is so popular with a particular breed of technologists. He’s like a patron saint of Silicon Valley and I think a lot of his books, people forget how much it’s not quite parody, but how skeptical he can be. Certainly Snow Crash, which was his first big book, 1992, ’93, where he invented the word metaverse. But it wasn’t like a … And someday people are going to use this as a great app and make a lot of money. He was cautioning against exactly what seems to be happening. So it’s been very interesting. And you’ll hear in the conversation where he kind of both does come down and then won’t come down on, on whether we’re doomed and what to do about it.

LG: It was interesting because, and the folks will hear this shortly, but at the top of the conversation, you ask him about the metaverse and the commercialization of it. And you read a passage from Snow Crash. I think your intonation is a little bit like, “Hey, you wrote this dystopian thing and now what do you make of this?” And he actually said, he was fairly to on the idea of the metaverse when he wrote about it.

AR: Yeah, look, every reader takes away something different from a piece of art, but I didn’t feel like that book was neutral then, I don’t think it’s neutral now. Neal’s interesting because he’s one of the few people who has both written for WIRED and written about by WIRED. And one of the stories, one of the articles that he wrote for someone else in WIRED we published was about 10 years ago. He put out this call kind of famously at the moment to other science fiction writers, where he said, “Science fiction has become too dystopian, too grim to post-apocalyptic. And we should harken back to our golden age roots and essentially pitch big technological and scientific solutions to the existential problems that humanity now faces like climate change.”

That was a big ask for somebody as important as he is in that community and to the WIRED world that he was sort of saying science fiction hasn’t been doing its job. We have to think bigger. That the engineers, the technologists, the billionaires, the entrepreneurs, aren’t thinking big enough, we have to do that big thinking for them. So that they’ll be as inspired by us, as we were by Arthur C. Clark and Isaac Asimov. And those guys were all problematic for other reasons, too, but you see what I mean.

But then, when I’ve tried and others have asked him about this too, as he’s done publicity for the book to say, “Is this what you meant. Is this the kind of big think technology that you’re hoping will inspire people?” He will still say that he was trying very explicitly to get at how complicated the issue was and not take a position, but just say, someone’s probably going to do it. What would that mean? And how do we deal with it then? Which I don’t know. Maybe I should ask the question better.

MC: Well, you did a great job of asking questions, particularly somebody like Neal, who we’ve all been reading his books since we were teenagers. And as you said, his philosophy has sort of permeated our daily lives, whether or not we realize it. It must be kind of cool to interview somebody who’s like fully wormed their way inside of your brain.

AR: Oh, well, that’s a whole other thing. I mean, yes. Not only have I read all … People ask me whether I like the book or whether I think the book is good. And the only thing I can answer is, “I can’t answer that,” because there’s no … What am I going to do? Not read it? I’ve read every one of his books since 1992. I still remember the moment that I, the book I showed him in this interview that I held up to the camera was the copy that I bought, because I was cutting my summer job to go to the bookstore and picked the thing up. I was like, “What’s this?” And you read. The first 30, 40 pages of Snow Crash are some of the best … It’s one of the best leads in the history of science fiction.

It’s like, “What the hell’s this?” And I have read ever since that. It’s like when people ask me whether I think the new season of Dr. Who was any good or something? Well, what am I going to … there’s no answer. I’m not going to not watch it. So it doesn’t really matter. I don’t know if it’s going to be for you, but it’s for me.

And in fact, Neal was one of the first science fiction writers I ever interviewed when I was just starting out as a journalist. I was talking to science fiction writers about kind of the culture of nerdiness that was getting built in the 90s. He was one of the first people I was so excited to get the call. So it was sort of, God, I was about to say it kind of book ended my career. I hope that’s not right.

MC: Well, we hope you stick around a little bit longer.

LG: Yeah. I feel like what you’ve just described is goals for this podcast too, that people are, “Well, what am I going to do?” Now listen to it.

AR: Yeah, how would that work?

LG: It’s Neal Stephenson with Adam Rogers and Michael Calore, and that Lauren person. We have to listen.

AR: I don’t see people figuring out how to not listen to this. No.

MC: All right. Well, we do have to listen to it. So we’re going to take a break. And when we come back from the break, we’re going to hear Adam talking to author Neal Stephenson recorded at RE:WIRED earlier this month.

[Break]

AR: Hi, welcome to another session on RE:WIRED. I’m Adam Rogers, senior correspondent at the publication, the magazine and the website. And I am delighted to welcome one of my favorite science fiction writers, Neal Stephenson. Thank you for being with us, Neal, we really for appreciate it.

Neal Stephenson: Hi, Adam. Good to be here.

AR: So Neal has a new book coming out next week called Termination Shock.

NS: It’s always Tuesday, for some reason, it’s an ancient ritual.

AR: So that’s mostly what we’re going to talk about, but I want to start with a question that I warned you I was going to ask about to begin with, and that everyone has been asking you about for the last couple of weeks, at least. This is my 1992 copy of Snow Crash.

NS: Oh, that’s a beauty.

AR: This is classic, the one that I picked up that summer, when I would go to the bookstore to hide from the job that I had at lunch hour. And there’s this paragraph on page 22, after you’ve spent a couple pages describing the experience of what we would today probably call virtual reality of wearing a set of goggles that images are being beamed in onto the screens of the goggles and stereo sound being beamed to the headphones. Main character’s name is Hero.

Hero’s not actually here at all. He’s in a computer generated universe that his computer is drawing onto his goggles and pumping into his earphones in the lingo, this imaginary place is known as the metaverse. This is your coinage. Sorry to read this back to you. I know you know the book better than most would. But now the metaverse has been adopted, not perhaps as the caution maybe that you meant, but as the next big business opportunity in social media, at least. And I know that you’re not involved in the business side of that, but I do want to know what you feel like about whether these folks read the book before they called something the metaverse. How does that feel for you to have that coinage?

NS: Well, the overall tone of the book as many people have pointed out is kind of broadly dystopian, although it’s meant to be dystopian with a sense of humor. It’s both dystopia and kind of satirizing the dystopian tropes of the genre at the same time. And so when people are arguing about the metaverse in the last few weeks and months, there’s a tendency for the more skeptical people to point to that dystopian quality of the book as saying something or meaning something about the metaverse as being currently worked on by active tech companies. So I get it.

I think that in the book, the metaverse per se is not neither dystopian nor utopian. I mean, it’s a thing that exists in that world. And people use it frequently as a way to sort of step out of the possibly kind of gloomy dystopian lives that they might be living. That’s certainly what Hero is described as doing in the passage that you’re reading. He’s in real life, living in a storage container by the airport. But in the metaverse, he gets to have a more full and beautiful experience. So I think that metaverse as described in the book is kind of neutral. It’s neither dystopian nor utopian, that catharsis is what people do with the idea.

AR: We’re going to talk about that, the neutrality or dystopian utopian idea thing more because I think it’s important to Termination Shock too. But I also, you can tell its science fiction and Snow Crash because somebody has actually built housing near the airport for Hero to live in, which of course doesn’t happen in real life. Nobody has that now. He can afford a place to live. So clearly your predictive abilities were waning. All right.

NS: Imperfect, yeah.

AR: That’s right. Your Termination Shock is broadly about climate change, about global warming and about a billionaire decides to attempt solar geoengineering, this really aggressive program of shooting sulfur into the atmosphere to try to cool off a planet that in Termination Shock is well past the point where places are not livable for humans.

Just thinking about, as you mentioned, dystopias and utopias, is it your intent to pitch that in a way as what ought to happen or should happen, or are you aspiring there to some neutrality as well? What’s your hope that people will take away from this vision of climate change is happening and now somebody’s got to do something about it.

NS: The overall tone of the book, if you read the book all the way through is reasonably balanced. At the beginning of the book, the program you’re describing is already sort of a fait accompli. Not everyone knows about it, but it’s about to start running. And so most of the book is really on the topic of how people around the world from different countries and different walks of life responds to what this guy is doing.

And so in the course of that, they talk about the pros and cons of this kind of geoengineering in what I hope is a reasonably well-informed way. They’re intelligent people who have access to good information. And so they’re able to anticipate the possible problems that are going to result from that kind of intervention and to make their own decisions as to how they should respond to it. I hope I’ve depicted all of that in a reasonably balanced and realistic way.

The particular scenario in which an individual, a billionaire decides to do this, I think probably is not super realistic for various reasons, but it made for a good story. I think that if this kind of intervention does happen, it’s likely to be a government somewhere that just decides it’s in its own national interest to go ahead and pull the trigger on this.

AR: I wasn’t trying to put you on the spot for saying that it should be neutral. Part of the thing that you’ve done just by talking about it is saying, yes, climate change is real. Yes, it’s an issue, it’s a problem. And where we sit right now with COP26 going on, the large international program of trying to address climate change while there are still people. I don’t think it’s really a problem, or who don’t think that it’s feasible to do anything about it or willing to sacrifice some amount of coastline and some number of people to it. This book takes that as a given. That this is an issue, it’s serious.

Geoengineering is a controversial solution or approach to it. But when you say it’s neutral, I’m struck by … Like 10 years ago, you wrote an article, WIRED ran it too. You’re one of the few people who’s both written for WIRED and had WIRED write about him. Where you said that in the golden age of science fiction, nominally, the sort of ‘30s, ’40s, ’50s, science fiction writers wrote these big idea books with big technological solutions, and that now those are what’s needed. Well, what you said, “The imperative to develop new technologies and implement them on a heroic scale, no longer seems like the childish preoccupation with funerals with slide rules, it’s time for the SF writers, the science fiction writers to start pulling their weight and supplying big visions that make sense. So is this a big vision?

NS: It could be. The situation that we’re in I think sometimes isn’t fully understood even by people who think of themselves as environmentally aware and staying in touch with what’s going on, with climate. The parts per million of CO2 in the air is now well above 400. That’s the highest it’s been for millions of years. And it’s up from 200 and something at before the industrial revolution. So it’s a big change. And the various efforts that are being made are great and we absolutely have to do those things, but I’m not sure if everyone totally gets the fact that even if we brought emissions of new carbon dioxide down to zero, which is something that cannot happen realistically for several decades into the future, that wouldn’t reduce the amount of CO2 that’s already in the atmosphere. It takes something like a million years for natural processes to bring that number back down to the pre-industrial revolution level.

So we need carbon capture on an enormous scale in order to achieve that. We have to do that. That’s the big solution that we really need to implement. And it truly is a solution in the sense that it would get rid of the underlying problem and kind of undo the mistake that we made by putting all that CO2 into the atmosphere in the first place.

I think that between now and when those carbon capture programs actually begin to make a positive impact, some really bad things are going to happen geopolitically as the result of all that CO2 in the air. I think we’re going to see mass fatality events when the weather gets too hot and humid to support human life in certain areas. We’re going to see large rise in sea level that’s going to create refugee problems and resulting famine and war and strife.

And so these kinds of, like solar geoengineering schemes are something that could be considered as a sort of tourniquet. It’s like putting a tourniquet on a grievously wounded limb at the emergency room. You don’t want to leave the tourniquet on, but it may be, it may be necessary to save a person’s life in the meantime.

AR: When we talked for the story that I wrote about the book, one of the things that you said was that there’s a reticence even, especially among progressives among the left to have technological solutions. And science fiction as a genre, there’s some expectation, I don’t know that’s totally right, that a technological solution will be sort of the denouement or the inciting event in your case, in the case of Termination Shock, for the story. But there’s this concern that any technological solution here is worse than a stop gap. It’s moral hazard. I don’t know if that’s something that you can ask a science fiction story to get you out of, it maybe just makes the science fiction story interesting. I don’t mean to put you on the spot to solve global warming, so much is to try to figure out what the role of the fiction writers and even of the journalists, if you have any advice is to try to deal with this existential issue.

NS: Well, it begins with a story in the case of journalistic piece, and then what matters is where the story goes and what the characters do. So I guess, as I mentioned before, most of Termination Shock is about how people respond when one person does decide to intervene in the global climate.

AR: Because in a weird way, the surprising thing in real life is the people who decide not to intervene. Is that with climate change, it’s the people who don’t believe it’s an issue, or who waste time dealing with it. And even with the pandemic, the shocking thing about COVID 19 was more, the people who for political or other reasons said it wasn’t a problem, it’s not a big deal. I mean, that’s sort of a surprising moment, I think.

NS: Yeah. Even after Trump and everything else, I did not see that coming. The idea that we could have a pandemic that by this point has killed going on twice as many Americans as died in World War II, and in a much shorter span of time. And yet there’s still a sizable number of people in this country who don’t even think it’s real. So when the pandemic started, it didn’t occur to me that that could ever happen. But the polarization of opinion and ability of people to live in walled off kind of bubbles has advanced to the point where even there have been many cases reported to people who are literal dying of COVID lying there in the hospital bed, being intubated insisting with literally their last words, that it’s all a hoax.

So when I see that, and then I look at climate change, climate change far more abstract and difficult scientific concept to understand even for scientifically sophisticated people than a pandemic that kills people all around you. And the consequences are much farther away and much more abstract than having a friend or a neighbor or a loved one gets sick or die of this disease. And so, you have to be pretty realistic, which means pessimistic about the possibility that large numbers of people are going to believe in human created climate change to the point where they would all get together and support expensive and difficult and complicated measures to reduce emissions, to set up carbon capture facilities on a massive scale, or what have you.

AR: There’s a question from one of the folks watching that’s relevant here. And so I want to go to that some of the time we have remaining. This is Andre from Russia says, yesterday, the one time apple designer, industrial designer, Jony Ive, was on RE:WIRED and was talking about Steve Jobs, in that case being a leader for change. And that’s one thing when it comes to running a company, especially in technology, but Andre asked what you think the role is of individual leadership here. If there are specific individuals you think are particularly important versus that collective action that you were just talking about.

NS: Well, we’ve gotten into a really weird place in how things work in our society, where billionaires are the answer to everything. 50 years ago, if something big needed to happen, we would look to the government, or we would look to private industry to take care of it for us somehow. And now the expectation that a lot of people just seem to have is that if there’s a big thing that needs to be done, then a billionaire needs to step in and handle it for us. And that is kind of a new thing in the world and seems to be where we are. And that’s why I chose that particular trope as the basis for Termination Shock.

AR: But you’ve through your work and through the kind of things that you’ve done, even when you’re not writing, you’ve met some of these guys. They’re, I think it’s almost all men. In your estimation of … I don’t know which billionaire I should be talking about specifically, in your estimation, are they up to that task. It has seemed to me that the kind of personality one has to have to acquire more than a billion dollars may preclude helping people who haven’t acquired more than a billion dollars. I wonder if you agree,

NS: It turns out there’s a lot of billionaires besides the famous ones. I mean, there’s like deca-billionaires, we tend to look at the centa-millionaires, people who only have 12 billion or something like that, that we never hear about. And I think a lot of people who do have that kind of money lying around do make efforts to apply that money in a beneficial way. They’re not all sociopaths, they have the same kind of emotional life as anyone else. And so why wouldn’t you want to apply that money in a way that you think is going to make things better.

In the particular case of Termination Shock, I had to pose the existence of a deca-millionaire that nobody’s really heard of in Texas, who comes from a background in the oil, gas, and mining industry, and sort of parlayed that into a chain of gas stations. So I’m kind of bending over backwards, in other words, to make it obvious that my fictional billionaire is not meant to be a thinly veiled depiction of any real billionaire, but he does what he does. He has a story for why he does this, that is based on a kind of economic argument that he’s got investments in Houston, real estate the value of which is being depressed by rising sea level. And he figures that by implementing this scheme, the cost of implementing it will, will be more than covered by the rise and value of his real estate portfolio.

AR: Dave from Ontario asked this, and it sort of along the lines that we’ve been talking about, about whether science fiction writers predict the future, or whether writing about things in science fiction kind of gives people some guidelines or rails and ways that they can be thinking about. Whether science fiction opens spaces for new way of thinking about the future or whether it is in some senses limiting, because it sets certain guide points.

When we talked to you, you said something really interesting to me and it stuck with me that you’re not totally sure that fiction is supposed to have that, that role as social to induce or incite social change. And I don’t know if it does either. But do you think that science fiction has had the role of guiding what sort of a future the United States looks for, or the world looks for? Does it still, if it ever did?

NS: People can point to a particular scenario say, “Oh, let’s do that.” Trying to get a large number of engineers and sort of tech workers to pull together in a unified way and do a thing can be surprisingly difficult. And a lot of energy is spent inside of corporations with PowerPoint presentation solely for the purpose of making sure that all of the engineers are sort of doing the same thing in an efficient way.

I believe that there are some cases where if you see the description of the final end result written out in a compelling way in a book or whatever, you can just sort of hand that book out to people, and say “Oh, okay. I see what we’re doing.” It kind of decentralizes the process of getting people to work together.”

AR: Well, I think that’s a good place to start to think about wrapping up. But Neal, thank you. Thank you for doing this. I really appreciate it. And it’s great to have another book from you. And it was a great read.

NS: It’s my pleasure.

AR: All right. Thanks folks. I’m Adam Rogers. Neal Stephenson we’ve been talking to. There’s more RE:WIRED coming. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

MC: Adam, that was a great talk.

AR: Thank you. Yeah, I thought he was terrific. It was a lot of fun.

MC: All right. Well, let’s take another break and we’ll come back with our recommendations.

[Break]

MC: All right. Welcome back, Adam, what is your recommendation?

AR: I have two, but I promise to go faster than I usually do, because I know I always burn this segment.

MC: Nice.

AR: One is, if you’re in a place where you qualify, if you are an adult, and if there are restrictions on the qualifications where you are, get your COVID vaccine booster, now’s a good time for it. It’s great. You get science proofed against a horrible pandemic. You’re much less likely to get sick, you’re much less likely to transmit the diseased other people. This is great, such a deal. That’s my one recommendation.

My other recommendation is there’s a new Star Trek show on, there’s actually a couple. It’s one of the most wonderful times of the year when there’s more than one Star Trek show on at a time. Star Trek: Discovery started again. But there’s a kid’s show called Star Trek: Prodigy, and I’ve watched the first couple episodes of it. And it’s really delightful and it feels like Star Trek and it’s just a lot of fun. So Star Trek: Prodigy.

MC: What makes it more of a kid show than any of the other Star Treks?

AR: The new crew are younger. They’ve escaped from a prison planet. They’ve managed to steal an apparently abandoned star fleet, Starship, and tricked the holographic commander of it, who is captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager, the actress doing the voice. So it’s kids sort of doing it. And there’re kind of learning lessons, but whatever, original series they were always learning lessons too. So I don’t mind that too much. And it’s just gorgeous 3D animation.

MC: It’s animated?

AR: Yeah. And it’s a cartoon.

MC: Very cool.

AR: It’s been a lot of fun so far. That’s my recommendation.

MC: Nice.

LG: So it sounds like after someone gets their booster shot, if they’re just experiencing some temporary, mild side effects, they should watch the new Star Trek.

AR: If you feel a little achy, you can have some Star Trek for a treat.

LG: Why not?

MC: Lauren? What’s your recommendation.

LG: I second the booster, go get your booster shot folks, if you’re eligible for it. And then when you are relaxing on the couch later, when you have a moment, I recommend watching Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy on HBO Max. I’m really keeping consistent here with the HBO Max recommendations. So you can tell, I really want, me and everyone who I’ve given my password to, to really get the most out of this $14.99 per month. It was actually really funny, the other day I got a notification that someone else had logged into my HBO account. And then the next morning I woke up to a text from a friend on the East Coast who I hadn’t spoken to in several months. And she was like, “Oh, by the way, I used your HBO login.” I was like, “I gave it to you too?” I just give it to everyone.

But anyway, anyway, Searching for Italy. What was I saying? Oh yes. If you’re feeling like me right now, and you haven’t been able to travel as much as maybe you would like to have over the past couple years for obvious reasons, feeling a little bit of wanderlust, and you’re just looking for like wonderful food porn with the dashing Stanley Tucci leading the way, then I really recommend checking out, Searching for Italy.

I’ve only watched the episode so far on his visit to Naples. There are a few more, I just downloaded all of them so I can watch them offline. I can’t wait. I have a flight coming up, so I can’t wait just to like binge this on the plane and like dream of gelato and pizza.

AR: Stanley Tucci.

LG: And Stanley Tucci, obviously.

AR: Yes, force not to like.

LG: Yes.

AR: HBO Max has the best back catalog of movies of any streaming service, because they have the MGM and the Warner Brothers back catalogs because of deals with Turner Classic Movies and all just the weirdness of where HBO is in the media ecosystem. And you go to where their classics are and it’s just … If it’s 11 o’clock forget about going to bed until 03:00, because you’re going to find something and it’s great.

MC: They have a bunch of Criterion stuff too.

AR: Yeah, that’s right.

MC: Not as much as the Criterion Channel.

AR: They have more.

MC: But they have some hits for sure.

LG: And Mike, what is your recommendation aside from the Criterion Channel?

MC: This week, I want to recommend a newsletter. It’s from the New York Times. It’s called “The Veggie,” and it is a food newsletter. So I guess technically it’s from New York Times Cooking. But it’s written every week by the food writer, Tejal Rao, the James Beard award winning food writer, Tejal Rao, who writes about vegetarian food and vegan food. So it’s just chock-full of great vegetable recipes, vegetarian recipes. Veggie versions of famous things like beef stroganoff, and chicken and dumpling soup.

So it has over the last few weeks really filled my head with all kinds of great ideas for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is obviously the great eating holiday in the United States and probably in Canada. Though, I haven’t asked a Canadian recently. There are a lot of things that vegetarians … The myth is that vegetarians miss out on a lot of things about Thanksgiving, because Thanksgiving is all about the Turkey or the ham or the sausage or whatever.

But in fact, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays as a lifelong vegetarian because I call it Sidesgiving, it’s you just eat all the sides. Tejal has also the philosophy that Sidesgiving is the superior vegetarian Thanksgiving. You don’t need a centerpiece. You don’t need to like navigate your way through a complicated lentil nut loaf recipe, or like go to the store and buy tofurky or something just to satisfy the centerpiece of the table. All you need is just sides. And she’s just been delivering and it’s so good. Especially if you’re into Thanksgiving cooking, I definitely recommend checking out “The Veggie.” You can either get it as a newsletter or you can just read it on the website. If you’re a New York Times subscriber, you have access to New York Times Cooking. You can find it all there.

AR: But it raises an interesting question, right? Which is in vegetarianism or veganism, and you and I talked about this before, are you trying to simulate foods that have meat in them traditionally or you’re trying to create some other eating experience that can be just as satisfying, just as delicious. That’s not in question. What’s the mode of one’s vegetarianism or veganism?

MC: And that’s a personal philosophy that everybody who adheres to one of those diets has. I eat tofu sometimes, but I don’t eat a lot of fake sausages or fake burgers. Just because it’s not something that I necessarily miss about eating meat. However, there is sort of like a cultural thing about the big meal, like the turkey in the center of the table, that gets carved up and is the presentation piece. Same thing with like Christmas dinner or Hanukkah. There’s always some big thing in the middle of the table that’s the centerpiece. And her argument is you don’t need that, and you may feel if you’re one of those people who feels like recreating a specific kind of experience, you may feel the need for that centerpiece. And that’s fine, but I’m telling you, as long as you have the sides, you don’t need it.

AR: Awesome. I’m sold.

MC: Let’s eat. All right. Well, that is our show. Thank you, Adam, as always for joining us.

AR: It’s my pleasure. Always glad to do it. It’s nice to see you.

MC: And thank you all for listening. If you have feedback, you could find all of us on Twitter. Just check the show notes. This show is produced by Boone Ashworth. We want to give special thanks this week to Jane Garcia Buhks and Chris Cona from WIRED’s events team for wrangling the audio of the talk that we just listened to. We will be off next week to celebrate Sidesgiving, but we will be back for a few episodes in December. So until then, goodbye.

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