Good literature has always tackled the major issues of its time, be it war and peace or crime and punishment or pride and prejudice. So how could be not deal with the major issue of our epoch, the ongoing exploitation and destruction of our habitats. I am amazed how many journalists in Germany, a country that is supposedly on the forefront of ecological awareness, asked me why I had to write a novel about this subject, as if it were a weird choice. Not to write about it would be weird, would mean succumbing to the blindness of an age that is pillaging the present and burdening the future.
The so-called realist novel, because of its debt to the Enlightenment, has shied away from engaging with Nature and issues involving large collectives, and focused instead on what John Updike calls an “individual moral adventure”. This focus, Amitav Ghosh points out in his seminal work on climate change – The Great Derangement – has ghettoised all other kinds of writing, placing them in genre fiction.
One of the key tenets of the Weird is the idea of the irruption, the entry into apparently ‘normal’ space of the abnormal invader. This corresponds to the Lacanian idea of the Real: the abnormal invader is actually a glimpse of the unmediated, unvarnished, incomprehensible ‘truth’ that stands outside the symbolic and imaginary interpretations of the world we throw up around ourselves. What eco-fiction is giving us is a world in which the Real (environmental forces that are beyond the control of any single individual) is more absolutely present, and this incomprehensible cosmic truth that previously we only saw in glimpses is now breaking through to display itself to us on a day-to-day basis.
Extinction is a rupture in the world. Each time a species is lost it takes with it not just its genetics, but its nature, its way of being in the world. And as it does the universe is lessened.
Faeries, come take me out of this dull world
For I would ride with you upon the wind
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.
Storytelling at its heart comes from the ancient tradition of sitting outdoors gathered around a roaring log fire. To me this is how it should be, how I wish all stories were told.
The sea is a desert of waves,
A wilderness of water.
-Langston Hughes, Selected Poems
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound…
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
“The Peace of Wild Things,” by Wendell Berry
There is no kingdom like the forests. It is time I went there, went in silence, went alone. And maybe there I would learn at last what no act or art or power can teach me, what I have never learned.
–The Farthest Shore, Ursula K. Le Guin
The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
-William Faulkner, Nobel Banquet Speech, 1950
Both utopia and dystopia are often an enclave of maximum control surrounded by a wilderness — as in Butler’s Erewhon, E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops,” and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. Good citizens of utopia consider the wilderness dangerous, hostile, unlivable; to an adventurous or rebellious dystopian it represents change and freedom. In this I see examples of the intermutability of the yang and yin: the dark mysterious wilderness surrounding a bright, safe place, the Bad Places — which then become the Good Place, the bright, open future surrounding a dark, closed prison . . . Or vice versa.
-Ursula K. Le Guin, Electric Lit
The association of the wild and the wood also run deep in etymology. The two words are thought to have grown out of the root word wald and the old Teutonic word walthus, meaning ‘forest.’ Walthus entered Old English in its variant forms of ‘weald,’ ‘wald,’ and ‘wold,’ which were used to designate both ‘a wild place’ and ‘a wooded place,’ in which wild creatures–wolves, foxes, bears–survived. The wild and wood also graft together in the Latin word silva, which means ‘forest,’ and from which emerged the idea of ‘savage,’ with its connotations of fertility….
If we’re lucky enough to get into the wilderness, our bodies and our spirits crackle with life. Our legs on a trail feel stronger. They become animal again. Our sense of smell is honed. Raven speaks to us in one of the 200 dialects ornithologists have been able to measure. When a grizzly inhales my scent, I live for a moment inside his body, inside his mind. How can I not be changed?
-Lorna Crozier, The Wild in You (interview)
What we bloodlessy call place is to young children a wild compound of dream, spell and substance: place is somewhere they are always in, never on.
-Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks
The Game of Thrones has beautiful ecology and lore, which we are studying here at eco-fiction.com, but the books are not intended to be about modern day climate change. According to the author: “Like Tolkien I do not write allegory, at least not intentionally. Obviously you live in the world and you’re affected by the world around you, so some things sink in on some level, but, if I really wanted to write about climate change in the 21st century I’d write a novel about climate change in the 21st century.
-George RR Martin in Nerdalicious
What if we loved the planet the way that we claim we love our spouses, or children, or lovers? If we are learning anything from the speed with which climate change and our knowledges and discoveries about the natural world are barreling forward, in part it’s this: the Earth was never an object for humans to own, nor was anything on it.
-Lidia Yuknavitch, Wired
This coming-of-age story [Borne] signals that eco-fiction has come of age as well: wilder, more reckless and more breathtaking than previously thought, a wager and a promise that what emerges from the 21st century will be as good as any from the 20th, or the 19th.
Science can tell us how we got to the Anthropocene Era, but it takes art to tell us what it’s like to be human in the Anthropocene Era.
In a scientifically illiterate culture such as ours, these kinds of myth-based meta-narratives may be the best way to communicate complex scientific issues like climate change. Myths, as Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell revealed, are not necessarily false, nor are they automatically at odds with science. At their best, they provide another way of viscerally experiencing a truth.
-John Atcheson, author of A Being Darkly Wise
Our local politicians are quite deliberately misinforming us and fighting every kind of environmental regulation that could possibly slow down the release of carbon for the very obvious reason that they’re beholden to the big player in this region, which is the coal companies. Here we are, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. What can I do but write a novel?
No matter how you feel about the politics or the science, the changes we’ll see in the coming decades are ripe ground for storytelling, and I’ve been surprised at how little fiction is published with climate change as a central theme.
-Joe Follansbee, author of the upcoming Carbon Run
Climate change to me is really about water. Who’s going to have it; who will not. Where it goes and where it won’t go. Oceans heating up. I can go on about the intertwined nature of the two, but the one thing we know for isure is that we can’t live without water. We’ve been allowing a small group to profit from the natural resources of our planet and our current way of life is killing everything. If that isn’t something to write about, what is?
Karen Faris, author
The main driving force behind her digital archiving work is to try and save the stories of humanity before climate change destroys the planet.
-Lisa Devaney, author of In Ark: A Promise of Survival
Right now it would seem that there is a need to prepare for the worst, both in order to address climate change and to acclimatise ourselves, but also to — as Stanley Robinson says — ‘figure out what we do right now.’ And maybe stories in the broadest sense are a big part of that, they are doing society’s ‘dream-work’, telling us about ourselves.
Tony White, author of Shackleton’s Man Goes South
I wrote the novel to create images in people’s minds of what is very likely to happen in the next 90 years and beyond…Climate change is irreversible and politically/economically unstoppable.
-Dr. Richard L. Bailey, author of Stormy
I’ll quote as this says it best: http://www.ansible.co.uk/writing/brunner.html. I was urging this on friends 40 years ago. They still come around and tell me they hated reading it at the time, and now, they realize it was very, very accurate about where we were headed.