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Green planets: Ecology and science fiction

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Abstract

Contemporary visions of the future have been shaped by hopes and fears about the effects of human technology and global capitalism on the natural world. In an era of climate change, mass extinction, and oil shortage, such visions have become increasingly catastrophic, even apocalyptic. Exploring the close relationship between science fiction, ecology, and environmentalism, the essays in Green Planets consider how science fiction writers have been working through this crisis. Beginning with H. G. Wells and passing through major twentieth-century writers like Ursula K. Le Guin, Stanislaw Lem, and Thomas Disch to contemporary authors like Margaret Atwood, China Mieville, and Paolo Bacigalupi-as well as recent blockbuster films like Avatar and District 9-the essays in Green Planets consider the important place for science fiction in a culture that now seems to have a very uncertain future. The book includes an extended interview with Kim Stanley Robinson and an annotated list for further exploration of “ecological SF” and related works of fiction, nonfiction, films, television, comics, children's cartoons, anime, video games, music, and more. Contributors include Christina Alt, Brent Bellamy, Sabine Hohler, Adeline Johns-Putra, Melody Jue, Rob Latham, Andrew Milner, Timothy Morton, Eric C. Otto, Michael Page, Christopher Palmer, Gib Prettyman, Elzette Steenkamp, Imre Szeman.
... In this vein, predicting what that world will be like and preparing individuals and organizations to create and work in such a world may well be the greatest and potentially most exciting intellectual adventure finance professors and professors in all disciplines have ever had the opportunity to undertake. All academic fields, such as political science (e.g., Park, Conca, & Finger, 2008;Meadowcroft, 2011), sociology (e.g., Passerini, 1998;Burns, 2012), psychology (e.g., Schmuck & Schultz, 2002;Myers, 2013;Jaipal, 2014), and the arts (e.g., Harden, 2012;Canavan & Robinson, 2014), among others, are likely to have significant contributions to make in this transformation. ...
... Just as a reading of Under the Skin from the perspective of critical animal studies would tend to focus on the novel's apparent animal rights "message," an ecocritical interpretation may find grist for its mill in Faber's representation of the pristine landscape of the Scottish Highlands. Isserley often contrasts the beauty of the Earth with "the awful desolation, the darkness, the putrefaction" (2000, 260) of her own planet, ravaged by pollution and industrial exploitation (a familiar motif in dystopian science fiction; see Canavan and Stanley Robinson 2014). When Isserley takes Amlis for a drive around the farm, he is dumbstruck by the beauty of the landscape, which stretches until the edge of the sea: ...
... Trexler and Johns-Putra (2011) maintain that while a variety of earlier novels on climate change starting in the 1960s could be considered SF, more recent CF falls into several genre categories, including thriller and literary fiction (see Trexler & Johns-Putra, 2011). The contours of SF have been a focus of many debates and commentaries that are beyond the scope of this article (see, e.g., Booker & Thomas, 2009;Canavan, 2014;James & Mendelsohn, 2003;Milner, 2012;Parrinder, 2000;Rieder, 2010;Thomas, 2013). While there may be disagreement about the fiction family to which individual CF novels belong (see Atwood, 2013;Haq, 2013;Trexler, 2015;Trexler & Johns-Putra, 2011), there are important connections between CF and SF that allow us to discuss the former within the SF domain. ...
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A new generation of climate fiction called Cli-fi has emerged in the last decade, marking the strong consensus that has emerged over climate change. Science fiction’s concept of cognitive estrangement that combines a rational imperative to understand while focusing on something different from our everyday world provides one linkage between climate fiction and science fiction. Five novels representing this genre that has substantial connections with science fiction are analyzed, focusing on themes common across these books: their framing of the climate change problem, their representations of science and scientists, their portrayals of economic and environmental challenges, and their scenarios for addressing the climate challenge. The analysis is framed through Taylor’s ideas of the social imaginary and the sociology of expectations, which proposes that expectations are promissory, deterministic, and performative. The novels illustrate in varying ways the problems attending the science-society relationship, the economic imperatives that have driven the characters’ choices, and the contradictory impulses that define our connections with nature. Such representations provide a picture of the challenges that need to be understood, but scenarios that offer possibilities for change are not as fully developed. This suggests that these books may represent a given moment in the longer trajectory of climate fiction while offering the initial building blocks to reconsider our ways of living so that new expectations and imaginaries can be debated and reconceived.
... To learn about current and potential effects of climate change, students can read and respond to " cli-fi " fiction (Canavan & Robinson, 2014 ) listed in Figure 1. These texts feature protagonists coping with conflicts among the competing systems described previ- ously. ...
Article
This Commentary posits the need to analyze how the energy/transportation, agricultural/food, and economic/political systems influence climate change through responding to literary “cli-fi” texts, place-based writing, visual representation of the effects of climate change, and drama activities.
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Recent films are increasingly using themes and conventions of science fiction such as dystopian societies, catastrophic environmental disasters, apocalyptic scenarios, aliens, monsters, time travel, teleportation, and supernatural abilities to address cosmopolitan concerns such as human rights, climate change, economic precarity, and mobility. This book identifies and analyses the new transnational turn towards cosmopolitanism in science fiction cinema since the beginning of the twenty-first century. The book considers a wide selection of examples, including case studies of films such as Elysium, In Time, 2012, Andrew Niccol’s The Host, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, and Cloud Atlas. It also questions the seeming cosmopolitanism of these narratives and exposes how they sometimes reproduce social hierarchies and exploitative practices. Dealing with diverse, interdisciplinary concerns represented in cinema, this book in the Studies in Global Genre Fiction series will be of interest to readers and scholars working in the fields of science fiction, film and media studies, cosmopolitanism, border theory, popular culture, and cultural studies. It will also appeal to fans of science fiction cinema and literature.
Chapter
This chapter focuses on the depiction of the environment and people of the planet Arrakis, otherwise known as Dune. It explains the origins of Herbert’s story in his research on the control of sand dunes in Oregon, and how the book tapped into the emerging movements of ecological awareness and environmentalism in the wake of ecologist Rachel Carson’s revolutionary book Silent Spring. The chapter discusses the role of the ecologist, Dr. Liet-Kynes, in explaining scientific principles to readers even as he overlooks the consequences of his terraforming project and his trust in a hero figure. It recognizes the pivotal role of Dune in offering detailed world-building and an important environmental message about humans’ disruption of ecosystems.KeywordsScience fictionFrank HerbertEcologyEnvironmentScienceTerraforming
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Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2009), set in the post fossil-fuel, post turbo-capitalist country of Thailand, portrays the shocking after effects of bioengineering and gene-hack modifications in food crops. The narrative depicts a country tottering on the brink of an agricultural apocalypse on account of food production being severely affected by crop driven anomalies and rogue diseases such as “cibiscosis” and “blister rust” transmitted by variants of mutating pests. Natural seed stock becomes completely supplanted by the new genetically engineered seeds which become sterile after a single seasonal cycle of sowing and harvesting. The native population of Thailand is adversely affected by the pandemic scenario, which becomes aggravated by an expedient “scientocracy” that is at the heart of the neocolonial enterprises of American megacorporations and calorie companies like Agrigen, PurCal and Redstar who hail gene hacking as the new future of food resources and market profiteering. The consumption of the gene-hacked produce spreads through crops and affects the human body in unimaginable ways thereby resulting in a considerable rise of health issues including digestive and respiratory failures. This paper intends to articulate the idea of a pandemic, its historical understanding and affective influences in the context of a post techno-fossil fuel economy set in Thailand. It will analyse the idea of epidemiological colonialism; diseases introduced by colonising forces that reshape the natives’ existing environment thereby bringing forth a deep pandemic anxiety that percolates the collective memory of the Thai people. It also highlights how the novel portrays the conflict between traditional ecological knowledge systems and modern extractive enterprises that acts as a catalyst to hasten the destruction of sustainable systems of agriculture and food production that have endured the impact of climate change and ecological fallout. The paper will study the relevance of the pandemic as an agency of ecocatastrophe and its function in an eco-speculative science fictional narrative. Finally, the paper looks into the concept of the posthuman android, genetically modified humans in a “technologiade”, a society reconfigured by technoscience to resist the impact of environmental collapse, and explores how this trope is incorporated in Bacigalupi’s narrative to celebrate human striving for hope and survival in an imagined environmental future marked by a self-created agro-scientific grotesqueness.
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In this essay, I argue that the novel Dissipatio H.G. is constructed as a (geological) crime scene in which the protagonist and the reader participate in a forensic analysis of the world without us. In this context, the narrating subject survives in order to be the ultimate witness, the last human that can attest to the ecological crimes of mankind and who willingly accepts extinction as punishment for the entire species. I believe that this deep-time archeological investigation foreshadows the forensic logic of the Anthropocene (Weizman 2017; Yusoff 2016; 2018; Demos 2019; Luisetti 2020) and allows us to read Morselli's final work as one of the origin stories of the Anthropocenic paradigm.
Thesis
This dissertation is devoted to Philipp pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, his novellas Lyra's Oxford, Once Upon a Time in the North and The Collectors, as well as his novel La Belle Sauvage. The texts are analysed together and referred to as Multiverse ensemble. This work studies the ensemble as a space created by the author to illustrate his poetics, storytelling, completed by the act of reading, is presented as a, active process thanks to which knowledge, wisdom and experience are passed on. The ensemble functions as a self-reflexive comment on literature and stories in general, showing them to be passages through which meaning can circulate , means of teaching, learning, and gaining experience. Readers are presented with diegetic examples of the act of reading and its effects, and with readerly challenges that train them to become more competent readers, who can then tackle any text. The ensemble thus works as a formative experience, an initiation to active reading.
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This chapter presents infrastructural issues from select Future Fictions within contemporary transmedial Futurisms from the Global South. It specifically highlights infrastructures in the context of imagined future urban spaces (inhabited primarily, if not exclusively, by human populations) and focuses on their functionality, including sociopolitical systems and systems of governance. It presents four different infrastructures that make up the composition of this speculative future urban: recycling and waste management infrastructures, energy infrastructures, health infrastructures, and food infrastructures. These infrastructures connect to different planetary challenges, including climate change, demographic change, and technological change, and are entangled with questions of sustainability. By taking a relatively expansive survey approach, the chapter explores how such Global South narratives can be studied by enunciating a difference between three overlapping but distinct worldbuilding design toolkits: science fiction (as genre toolkit), architecture fiction (as a prototyping toolkit), and future fiction (as a speculative toolkit).
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Investigating the novels that deal with a pandemic apocalypse, this study highlights the dystopian elements preceding and following the end of the world. Inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic in the 21st century, it relates the fears of the pandemic to the literary history and political conditions nurturing that imagined end of the world in a number of post-apocalyptic novels. The novels are examined under three tropes: the early novels prophesying a 21st-century apocalypse; the postwar novels linking the plague to power conflicts; and the recent novels tackling biogenetic experimentation. The study pulls apart, with a limited depth, the parts played by the political and economic world systems in bringing about the pandemic apocalypse as well as the dystopian aftermaths. It concludes that although the novels lash a critique against capitalist recklessness, they ambivalently suspect the existence of a viable alternative.
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The characterization of spice in Frank Herbert's science fiction novel Dune plays a significant role in world-building and focusing readers' attention on natural enhancements to the human mind. Herbert uses historical and social contexts relevant to real-world spices to create layers of meaning by tapping into emerging trends in ecology, psychology, and politics. These include the historic spice trade, drugs in the countercultural movement, the disciplines of ecology and psychology, and foreign interference in the Middle East. Such linkages help position spice as a valuable commodity as well as a psychoactive substance that various characters must consume to accomplish extraordinary feats. In the world of Dune, everything is dependent on one substance, and although spice may give advantages, it also takes its toll. The consequences of spice consumption on an individual level then mirror the larger ecological disruptions in the novel in the realms of politics and the environment. In this way, spice represents a key feature of world-building that assists in tying the threads of the novel together and driving through to readers the ecological message about the interconnectedness of life.
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Science-fiction (SF) provides much-sought inspiration on both methodologies and perspectives for IR in the Anthropocene. SF’s thought experiments can reveal or provide insights into the possibilities of alternative futures. SF approaches can thus be seen as a method of opening up our thinking of the human condition. This is often mediated through two main frames of reference: firstly, humanity seen through the lens of technological advance and geo-engineering dreams of control and manipulation of nature; and secondly, via the establishment of (global) governments and hierarchical structures suppressing the people, on the one hand, and of global corporations putting financial interest ahead of that of the planet, on the other hand—both being a threat to human and non-human inhabitants.
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One way of understanding calls for ‘multispecies justice’ is to interpret them as utopian demands for a desirable future in which the structural anthropocentrism of conventional forms of morality, including environmental ethics, has been thoroughly abolished. I hope to clarify what kind of utopia multispecies justice might specifically entail. Mobilizing a conceptual framework developed by the science fiction author Octavia Butler, three potential plotlines for the utopia of multispecies justice are identified: the What-If, the If-Only and the If-This-Goes-On. Each of these engages the various tasks of utopianism in interestingly different ways. The key argument is that multispecies justice primarily raises a challenging What-If question: as a critical interrogation of how we should process and experience the world (and our place within it), its power derives from the ‘educated hope’ to disrupt and reassemble outdated frameworks for making sense of the nature/culture divide.
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This chapter examines eco-textual readings of contemporary Irish horror-zombie films that both overtly and covertly address local climate change concerns, through their representation of farming and rural living. With a recent growth in low-budget horror flicks, these fictional narratives call attention to the under-belly of agriculture and the food industry, especially in a country where this is a major cause of concern with increasing levels of methane emissions. Such anti-romantic genres and narrative formats can, I argue, help promote active engagement with contentious climate change concerns and most importantly address new audiences, particularly those who are not already predisposed to recognising its long-term seriousness. Film and media analysis can further assist in this evolving discipline of environmental studies and encourage more active engagement with a broader range of audiences, using the creative imaginary of audio-visual storylines.
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This article uses a philosophical hermeneutic perspective to present a reading of selected astronaut space selfies, by drawing on ideas of Michel Serres, Paul Virilio, Hannah Arendt, Bonnie Mann, Joanna Zylinska, Nicholas Mirzoeff, and W.J.T. Mitchell. In what follows, the image of the astronaut is unpacked as a visual apocalyptic trope that embodies collective dreams of going beyond Earth in post-earth projections. Michel Serres (2011) distinguished between two regimes of pollution, namely 'hard pollution' that refers to the physical destruction of nature, and 'soft pollution' which involves the destruction of the world through signs. The author uses Serres's distinction between hard and soft pollution to hermeneutically investigate the image of the astronaut as an agent of post-earth dreams. The essay asks: Are space selfies potential 'soft pollution' in Michel Serres's terms? The conclusion drawn after considering evidence of space travel on human physiology and psychology is that although astronauts may be 'marvelous messengers' their images mostly act as 'soft pollutions' that position viewers in a particular way towards Earth.
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This article sets out to examine the ways in which cultural and literary texts actively shape the discourse on human enhancement. First, it identifies the emergence of a "sense of wonder" (Sawyer 87) in TED talks that advance transhumanist ideals. Second, it investigates the critical and ethical potential of Dave Eggers's The Circle (2013) to challenge the notion of a 'post-bodied future.'
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This paper investigates the occurrence of ecocritical thought in two canonical fantasy epics, The Lord of The Rings (1954–1955) by J. R. R. Tolkien and His Dark Materials (1995–2000) by Philip Pullman. Using current ecocritical theory as well as writers and critics of speculative fiction to study the primary works from a marginalized angle, this paper argues that fantasy fiction, more than other literary genres, has an intrinsic exploratory potential for ecocritical ideas because the strong immersive aspect of the genre entices the reader to open up for a less anthropocentric view of the world. If this is investigated further, the narrow space for fantasy literature in literary criticism and academia may be broadened to include a more politically engaged discussion of fantasy than typically assumed.
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Through a close reading of McKenzie Wark’s theoretical treatise 'Molecular Red' (2015) and Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel 'Aurora' (2015), this essay examines how Anthropocene knowledge practices challenge our conceptions of human agency in provocative and potentially productive ways. For example, our knowledge of climate science arises through global material infrastructures. As material components of Anthropocene knowledge practices, these infrastructures reveal the material labors and cyborg structures by means of which our knowledge is produced. Wark sees the heterogenous materiality of Anthropocene knowledge practices as evidence for the value of ‘low theories’ based on a ‘labor point of view.’ At the same time, Anthropocene knowledge practices reveal ‘eco-logical’ complexities and fundamental recognitions of the ‘intra-action’ of entangled matter. These complexities produce very estranged views of human agency. Robinson’s novel highlights the eco-logical implications of contemporary knowledge practices by imagining an interstellar ship that must function as a completely artificial ecosystem for a 170-year voyage to another solar system. The significance of knowledge practices and eco-logical complexity is most evident when failures or crises arise, and 'Aurora' tells the story of many such failures. However, I argue that Robinson’s novel and Wark’s ‘low theory’ ultimately function as hopeful accounts of Anthropocene knowledge practices. Among other things, these practices show the material importance of storytelling and point the way toward more complexly realist theories of human agency.
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This chapter has seven sections: 1. Africa; 2. Australia; 3. Canada; 4. The Caribbean; 5. South Asia; 6. New Zealand & Pacific; 7 Southeast Asia. Section 1 is by Margaret Daymond, Grace Musila, Tina Steiner and Madhu Krishnan; section 2 is by Michael Griffiths and Paul Sharrad; section 3 is by Paul Sharrad; section 4 is by Giselle Rampaul and Geraldine Skeete; section 5 is by Mridula Nath Chakraborty and Ira Raja; section 6 is by Dougal McNeill; section 7 is by Weihsin Gui.
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