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Green Planets

Ecology and Science Fiction

Gerry Canavan

Publication Year: 2014

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 Miéville, 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 Höhler, Adeline Johns-Putra, Melody Jue, Rob Latham, Andrew Milner, Timothy Morton, Eric C. Otto, Michael Page, Christopher Palmer, Gib Prettyman, Elzette Steenkamp, Imre Szeman.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

As its title suggests, this volume was first inspired by Mark Bould and China Miéville’s Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction. But where that book focused primarily on the long-standing connection between science fiction and political leftism, Green Planets takes up instead the genre’s relationship with...

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Introduction: If This Goes On

Gerry Canavan

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pp. 1-22

Borrowing his categories from Auden, Samuel R. Delany has written that two ideological positions are available to us in modernity, each one carrying either a positive or a negative charge. One can imagine oneself to be the citizen of a marvelous New Jerusalem, the “technological super city where everything...

PART 1: Arcadias and New Jerusalems

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1: Extinction, Extermination, and the Ecological Optimism of H. G. Wells

Christina Alt

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pp. 25-39

Over the course of his long writing career H. G. Wells passed through alternating periods of optimism and pessimism in his views of humanity, science, and the future of the earth. In his late-Victorian works of scientific romance, he reveals a pessimistic attitude arising in part from evolutionary ideas circulating...

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2: Evolution and Apocalypse in the Golden Age

Michael Page

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pp. 40-55

In the 1974 anthology Before the Golden Age, Isaac Asimov writes of The Man Who Awoke series of stories by Laurence Manning: “In the 1970s, everyone is aware of, and achingly involved in, the energy crisis. Manning was aware of it forty years ago, and because he was, I was, and so, I’m sure, were many thoughtful...

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3: Daoism, Ecology, and World Reduction in Le Guin’s Utopian Fictions

Gib Prettyman

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pp. 56-76

For scholars who approach Ursula K. Le Guin’s fictions from the perspective of Marxist critical theory, ecology and Daoism can be problematic aspects of her work. In the effusion of Le Guin scholarship that coincided with the establishment of the journal Science Fiction Studies (SFS) in the early 1970s...

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4. Biotic Invasions: Ecological Imperialism in New Wave Science Fiction

Rob Latham

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pp. 77-96

In an essay on H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898), Peter Fitting argues that tales of “first contact” within science fiction tend to recapitulate “the encounters of the European ‘discovery’ of the New World.” They are thus, whether consciously or not, conquest narratives, though “usually not characterized...

PART 2: Brave New Worlds and Lands of the Flies

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5: “The Real Problem of a Spaceship Is Its People”: Spaceship Earth as Ecological Science Fiction

Sabine Höhler

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pp. 99-114

ZPG, released in 1971, deals with the rigid measures for population control that a densely populated Earth might require in the future. In the effort to ensure the survival of the human race the World Council rules that having children will be strictly illegal for the coming thirty years. Set in a thickly polluted...

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6: The Sea and Eternal Summer: An Australian Apocalypse

Andrew Milner

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pp. 115-126

Despite the international success of individual writers like Greg Egan and of individual novels like Nevil Shute’s On the Beach,1 Australian SF remains essentially peripheral to the wider contours of the genre. Yet there is a long history of what Adam Roberts describes as “works that located utopias and satirical...

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7: Care, Gender, and the Climate-Changed Future: Maggie Gee’s The Ice People

Adeline Johns-Putra

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pp. 127-142

Anthropogenic climate change, global warming, the sixth mass extinction event — whatever we want to call it — is now fixed in the science fiction imaginary: witness the recent success of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2010) and consider Kim Stanley Robinson’s near-future depiction of abrupt...

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8: Future Ecologies, Current Crisis: Ecological Concern in South African Speculative Fiction

Elzette Steenkamp

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pp. 143-157

In a 2004 essay titled “Science Fiction in South Africa,” Deirdre Byrne laments “the regrettable dearth . . . of published science fiction and science fiction readers” in South Africa. Byrne argues that “one cannot expect an advanced awareness of technological or scientific developments” or “even a basic...

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9: Ordinary Catastrophes: Paradoxes and Problems in Some Recent Post-Apocalypse Fictions

Christopher Palmer

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pp. 158-178

In a recent essay, Perry Anderson offers a parable that reflects on the novel as a form. He tells how Franco Moretti and Carlo Ginzburg visited the Metropolitan Museum in New York; Moretti paused before a Vermeer painting with a lucid depiction of everyday life and proclaimed, “That is the beginning...

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10: “The Rain Feels New”: Ecotopian Strategies in the Short Fiction of Paolo Bacigalupi

Eric C. Otto

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pp. 179-191

With many of his stories, Paolo Bacigalupi instigates a reconsideration of dominant ways of thinking in response to ecological degradation and its related social consequences. As such, the author is an environmentalist and a utopian, an ecotopian whose environmental concerns influence his participation...

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11: Life after People: Science Faction and Ecological Futures

Brent Bellamy and Imre Szeman

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pp. 192-205

In a May 9, 2012, New York Times article, James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a leading environmental critic, made a startling and blunt declaration about Canadian oil extraction and climate change: “If Canada proceeds [in the tar sands], and we do nothing, it will be...

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12: Pandora’s Box: Avatar, Ecology, Thought

Timothy Morton

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pp. 206-225

The movie Avatar was so successful because it speaks, and fails to speak, about issues related to ecology, environment, and world, some of the most pressing issues of our age.1 And yet, despite the surface-level anticapitalist and anticolonialist appearance of Avatar, the picture is more complex. Avatar...

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13: Churning Up the Depths: Nonhuman Ecologies of Metaphor in Solaris and “Oceanic”

Melody Jue

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pp. 226-242

The first time I watched the BBC’s Blue Planet documentary series, I was fascinated by deep-sea footage of a dark, calm pool of water whose surface was carpeted by a bed of mussels. How could there be a second surface of water — underwater? David Attenborough’s voice patiently explained that this was...

Afterword: Still, I’m Reluctant to Call This Pessimism

Gerry Canavan & Kim Stanley Robinson

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pp. 243-260

Of Further Interest

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pp. 261-280

About the Contributors

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pp. 281-282


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pp. 283-298

E-ISBN-13: 9780819574282
E-ISBN-10: 0819574287
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819574268

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Science fiction -- History and criticism.
  • Ecofiction -- History and criticism.
  • Ecology in literature.
  • Environmentalism in literature.
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