Eco-fiction – What, Who, Where and Why?
This world of ours has seen better days. Sure, every animal on the planet contributes in some way to changing the face of the Earth, but it is undoubtedly the case that humans are the root cause of the worst kinds of change. All too often we hear about some new disaster, worrying future speculations or another animal relegated to the list of lost species. There is of course the argument that we can and are, to some degree, making things better. Anything that instills a progressive attitude towards protection, preservation and the proliferation of more natural environments is in our best interest.
I’m not expecting everyone to go back to the trees but, if there is any hope of realizing a future we can all be happy with, something has to change.
Eco-fiction is just what we need!
So, what is eco-fiction?
Eco-fiction is considered to have one or more of the following features:
Humanity is held accountable or realizes it is accountable for the outside world;
Environmental themes of protection, conservation or regeneration;
The environment is an active character;
The dependence of humans or the environment on one another.
These themes hardly seem alien: we cause change, we can maintain and grow the world around us, nature is a multi-faceted mistress, and we very much depend on the planet outside our concrete worlds. Of course, our world needs us too. It needs us to stop taking and using without giving something back.
Who are the proponents?
The early '70s saw scientists, such as John Sawyer, beginning to warn the public about changing weather patterns and the greenhouse effect, which the media were all too quick to change to proclamations of imminent global catastrophes. Uncertainty and an attitude to ‘wait and see’ came as a result of these two factors – the media harassing our emotions and sensible science offering no comfort in facts and figures.
The '70s also saw one of the first recognized works of eco-fiction: Heat by Arthur Herzog. It’s a marriage between the emotional aspects of media and the reality of scientific fact, a cultivation of these features to produce accurate, emotional narrative. Narrative is a way of learning through experience, even if it’s not our own. Narratives that encourage eco-fiction themes that influence people and help us to understand our potential for positive change are key.
Other authors who have laid the roots for eco-fiction are H G Wells with The Time Machine. An inventor travels to a future where nature has been conquered by science and has led to a devolved form of humanity, a small, plant-eating, weak species, the ‘Eloi’. We then find that another subterranean descendant controls the natural world through machines in order to prey on the cattle-like Eloi. A grim possibility indeed. Dune is a grandfather of the eco-fiction genre, much of the story has its setting on a desert planet, where the only source of ‘melange’ – a highly coveted spice – can be found. We see the political struggle of different planets as they all fight to control this resource. An all too relevant theme in our world’s previous conflicts and no doubt for possible future ones.
In recent times the genre has become somewhat more established and moved away from the sci-fi tag. J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World was first released in the '80s and was republished in 2010. It is exactly what it says on the tin: the icecaps have melted and humanity has retreated to the Arctic and Antarctic circles from their underwater cities. From too much water to too little we have Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta. In a future where water is scarce a dystopian society has resulted and one family guards a secret fresh water supply. Imagine if it came to that. What would you do? What could you do?
Away from resources and to the environment as a character. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is an unapologetic depiction of the horrible aftermath of Trump’s presidency – excuse me I meant nuclear war (damn auto-correct). The world is in tatters and hope is a long-forgotten word. The dark, gloomy and all too dreary landscape and sky remain constant companions to a father and son as they struggle to even struggle to survive. I certainly hope everyone with the potential to use WMDs is made to read this!
These works do not preach, but the messages are clear: we have the potential for so much – positive and negative, we can be the cause and possibly the solution to all of our problems.
Where else will you find these ideas?
Watership Down, a book and subsequent TV show from many childhoods is a perfect example. It begins with animals being displaced due to human construction and deforestation and is a cautionary tale for all that animals cannot move through this world we are shaping for ourselves.
Wall-E, everyone’s favourite little rubbish-clearing robot, gave adults and children alike a view into a future where our unstoppable production of waste leads to the abandonment of Earth. We also see a human race made rotund from inaction and technological advancement. If we cannot care for the planet we are not caring for ourselves.
With the release of the new Guardians of the Galaxy trailer we have people falling in love with Baby Groot – a tiny humanoid tree with cute eyes and a lot of rage. Much like the Ents of LOTR, these are characters that give us that emotional connection to the natural world that facts and figures cannot.
We may make a distinction between nature and ourselves, but we can make a connection to these animals, robots and alien plants when they have human characteristics. Being able to see ourselves or aspects of humanity in these beings helps us to care and is what we need to influence our actions.
Why is it important?
Environmental catastrophe, sustainability and protection, are topics discussed each day in the media around the world. Scientists and politicians met in Paris in 2015 to discuss climate-conscious measures to be implemented and more and more we see these themes crop up in entertainment. The fact that these themes and issues are being discussed across the pillars of our societies is enough to secure the thought that this topic of climate change and human influence is one on many people’s minds. These changes that we are causing to our world are held to be myth by some, scaremongering by others and even those who consider calamity to be assured feel it may not happen in their life time.
Are there stories of nature that have influenced you? What stories do you think the people in your life and in wider society need to read to have a greater appreciation of this pretty little thing we call life?