Science Fiction Studies numéro 136

Le numéro 136 de la revue Science Fiction Studies est paru.

ARTICLES

SPECIAL ISSUE ON SF AND THE CLIMATE CRISIS

Edited by Brent Ryan Bellamy and Veronica Hollinger

  • Symposium on Science Fiction and the Climate Crisis.   

  • DESIGN EARTHOf Oil and Ice.    

This paper demonstrates how the first major locus of climate-change fiction in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries already integrates climate into an economic rhetoric that views climate policy as a zero-sum competition between rival nations. In speculative fiction of the period, climate change occurs principally as a result of large-scale human geoengineering projects aimed at transforming the world. Examples of this deliberate anthropogenic climate change include texts by Jules Verne, Mark Twain, and George Griffith. Sf writers found ways to monetize as-yet-unincorporated aspects of nature such as climate as resources for the market economy; access to resources, in turn, became part of the economic and political balance of power between state entities. Plots to disrupt, control, and monopolize climate were conceptualized as grandiose capitalist schemes capable of unleashing significant collateral damage; yet many of these novels present geoengineering as laudable entrepreneurship operating out of legitimate economic self-interest. At the extreme, several stories outright weaponize the weather and convert climate change into military might, featuring the same kind of technological brinksmanship that defines an arms race. The economics of early climate-change fiction foreshadows, and potentially conditions us, to view climate as a resource worth fighting for.

Carbon-fueled acceleration of global capitalism provides the main framework through which the interdisciplinary formation of the energy humanities approaches climate crisis. This essay attends to a no less consequential source of power, the atom, from an intersection of spaces, materialities, and enunciative positions that has received little scholarly attention. It focuses on the Russophone Kirghiz author Chingiz Aitmatov’s experimental hybrid of socialist realism, science fiction, and indigenous cosmology to explore a kind of atomic writing that emerged from the secret weapons development and testing sites zoned off on the “naked steppe” at the eastern margins of the Russian and Soviet empires. Challenging the logic of development, progress, sacrifice, and disposability in both capitalist and socialist modernity, the situated aesthetics of Central Asia’s nuclear fantastic generates a planetary consciousness of compound environmental catastrophe—even as it salvages the possibilities of a cosmopolitics for the Anthro-pocene.

This essay examines how Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman (2014) depicts the deep history of both humans and the Earth. Centered around humans living 32,000 years ago during the last ice age, it contributes to the genre of prehistoric fiction as well as, less obviously, climate fiction. As prehistoric fiction, it foregrounds the continuity of human identity across history, particularly our impulses toward art-making and science, and thereby challenges our sense of separation from the deep past. At the same time, Robinson’s novel may also be understood as climate fiction. Typically, climate fiction is associated with contemporary global warming, but this article approaches the genre in terms of its tendency to envision environments historically, a capacity referred to here as the “geohistorical imagination.” While Shaman shares this imagination with other climate fictions, it differs remarkably from most ice-age narratives because it describes the slow pace of glaciation and the persistence of daily life, rather than the apocalypse. Drawing out the consequences of this figuration of geohistory, this essay argues in conclusion that Shaman enables us to think historically about global warming and the Anthropocene.

Building on recent critical conversations about “science fictionality” as a quality that is present in, but not necessarily tethered to, the literary genre of science fiction, this essay articulates scientific and critical debates about the Anthropocene in terms of cognitive estrangement. It argues that the term “Anthropocene” acts simultaneously as nomenclature, as narrative, and as novum. Different definitions of and variations on “the Anthropocene” invoke varying narratives with specific origins, settings, characters, and resolutions. Meanwhile, each of these narratives has a distinct novum that produces different kinds of cognitively estranging relationships to hegemonic histories of Western modernity. The science fictionality of “the Anthropocene” as a concept reveals not only the strategic activation of cognitive estrangement beyond the bounds of science fiction, but also what is at stake in the way that science fiction focusing on climate change articulates a novum in relation to history, as well as futurity.

As a literature of the Anthropocene, contemporary narratives of terraforming and geoengineering draw on a rich tradition of stories that scrutinize the ecological, social, political, economic, and technological relationships that obtain between and within communities, institutions, and local and planetary environments. This article examines three contemporary terraforming and geoengineering narratives to investigate how such works theorize the Anthropocene. Drawing on Reza Negarestani’s “necrocracy” to understand how speculation about terraforming and geoengineering is both coherent with and antecedent to emerging theoretical concepts about climate change, this article examines representations of humankind’s expanding incorporation of the solar system in Ian McDonald’s Luna: New Moon (2016) and Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 (2012), and its critique in Robinson’s Aurora (2015). This article seeks to understand how orientations toward the transformation of planetary environments are configured, how responses to such plans are represented, and how such texts imagine the conjunction of geological processes and human agency. Ultimately, it argues that terraforming narratives can help scholars of science fiction and the environmental humanities think through concepts such as the Anthropocene and the dissipative economies of closed life-support systems.


The Syfy television series The Expanse (2015-) transposes a form of combined and uneven development from Earth to the solar system, making the human reality of life lived in space a central concern. The Expanse envisions a colonized solar system, replete with a United-Nations-controlled Terra and Luna, a military dictatorship on Mars, and a densely populated asteroid belt. This essay proposes that The Expanse offers an image of a worlds-system, by which we mean an interplanetary system of capital accumulation that reproduces the structure of twentieth-century geopolitical-economy at the level of the solar system. At one and the same time, The Expanse imagines a new cycle of accumulation founded in the planetary system and premised on ecological crisis on Earth and it provides a re-narration of the end of the cycle of accumulation that has been called the long twentieth century or the American century, which exasperated the climate crisis in the first instance. The Expanse is a pivotal narrative that promises a new interplanetary cycle of accumulation and its decline all at once, a fantasy of continuity that simultaneously dramatizes the contemporary crisis of futurity.

This paper draws on recent global speculative film and fiction that highlight guilt and remorse to think about what good might come out of feeling bad, focusing especially on how these texts use negative affective responses to encourage positive communal action. Afrodiasporic, African, and Indigenous and Aboriginal futurisms participate in widespread cultural debates about humanity’s responsibility to the environment: Cree-Canadian filmmaker Danis Goulet’s short fantasy film Wakening (2013), Nigerian-American Nnedi Okorafor’s petrofiction Lagoon (2014), Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu’s short sf film Pumzi (2009), and Aboriginal Australian Alexis Wright’s climate-fiction The Swan Book (2013) explore alternative futures in which humans reestablish a sense of relation with their non-human counterparts. Negative emotions register not only as affective modes that signal constitutive relationality and an a priori responsibility to others, to the land, to other human beings and other species, but also invite reparative responses. Located in the interstices of environmental and postcolonial science fictions, these narratives can, at the very least, serve as antidotes both to complacency in light of the uneven planetary distribution of resources and to despair in the face of environmental devastation.

Since the 1950s, many Chinese sf narratives have explored facets of climate change and terraforming. This essay focuses on the atmospheric transformation project depicted in Chinese sf writer Zheng Wenguang’s Descendant of Mars (1983). I read the novel from two perspectives. The first situates it within the Chinese literary scene of the early 1980s, and I argue that Descendant reveals Zheng’s heartfelt skepticism about human interference with nature and climate, in the context specifically of Mao’s radical wars against nature in the 1950s and 1960s. Second, I situate Zheng’s Mars narrative within the topography of world sf. The novel features instances of geoengineering as a form of climate change mitigation and the characters’ different positions and debates about space colonization and terraforming resonate with ongoing debates about climate change and environmental ethics in today’s world.

Matters of politics and human history tend to be rendered meaningless when the climate crisis is described as a release of inhuman forces and/or something so complex as to be sublime. Why seek political power when the scale of climate change appears to dwarf human agency? Why adopt an historical perspective when the implications of global warming seem to stretch into deep time? Against these trends, this essay examines recent developments in weird fiction that move beyond some of the impasses afflicting the environmental humanities. More specifically, this essay turns to the ecological imaginations of Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom and John Langan’s The Fisherman. Each title ends menacingly with the promise of rising seas, but not before they illustrate crucial links between climate change and our racist and patriarchal status quo. Stressing, after China Miéville, the abcanny quality of this status quo, these fictions chart a new path forward for the genre in the aftermath of the New Weird. Indeed, climate-oriented weird fiction renders visible the unequal experience of climate change, connects the crisis to ongoing histories of trauma and exploitation, and critically addresses common reactions, from the paralysis that arises when encountering the sublime to the misperception that this abcanny force is just comeuppance for past crimes.

REVIEW-ESSAY

  • Terry Harpold. “À la Hogarth”: Verne’s Robur the Conqueror.    

BOOKS IN REVIEW

  • Garforth’s Green Utopias: Environmental Hope Before and After Nature (Gerry Canavan).          

  • Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable  (Ericka Hoagland).        

  • Streeby’s Imagining the Future of Climate Change (Conrad Scott).          

  • Ashley’s Science Fiction Magazines from 1981 to 1990 (Paul Kincaid).     

  • Benford/Westfahl/Hendrix/Miller’s Bridges to Science Fiction and Fantasy (Nicholas Ruddick).              

  • Bowler’s Prophets of Progress from H.G. Wells to Isaac Asimov (Patrick A. McCarthy).  

  • Burton’s The Philosophy of Science Fiction (Leslie J. Fernandez).              

  • Edri/Gurevitch’s Science Fiction beyond Borders (Keren Omry).

  • Garlington’s The Adventures of Acidman: Psychedelics and the Evolution of Consciousness in Science Fiction and Superhero Comics from the 1960s Onward(Eric Berlatsky).  

  • Hayles’s Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Unconscious (Colin Milburn).

  • Hubble/MacCallum-Stewart/Norman’s The Science Fiction of Iain M. Banks (Chad Andrews).

  • James’s The Journals of Samuel Delany, Vol. 1 (Carl Freedman).               

  • López-Pellisa’s La Ciencia ficción en la cultura española (Sara Martín). 

  • Segaloff’s The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison (Gary K. Wolfe).            

  • Telotte’s Animating the Science Fiction Imagination (Rick Cousins).       

  • Towlson’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (David Hollands).

  • Trudel’s Petit Guide de la science-fiction au Québec (Amy Ransom).       

  • Wilson’s J.G. Ballard and Sellars’s Applied Ballardianism (Rob Latham).              

NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE

  • Eulogy for Ursula K. Le Guin (Robert M. Philmus)            

  • SF and the Digital Humanities (Lisa Swanstrom)              

  • Reply to Elana Gomel’s Review (Rob Latham)   

  • Calls for Essays                

  • Notes on Contributors