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Reviewed by:
  • Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction ed. by Gerry Canavan, and Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Everett Hamner
CANAVAN, GERRY, and KIM STANLEY ROBINSON, eds. Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2014. xii + 295 pp. $27.95.

Green Planets is immediately one of the decade’s most significant contributions to ecocriticism and science fiction criticism. A product of an exemplary collaboration between a creative writer (Robinson) and a literary critic (Canavan), it brims with insightful treatments of both famous and relatively unknown authors. There is a very sobering urgency here; as Robinson observes in the concluding co-editorial conversation,

we use [climate change] now as a synecdoche to stand for the totality of our damage to the biosphere, which is much bigger than mere climate change, more like a potential mass extinction event.…We’re thinking in terms of thermostats, and how we turn them up or down in a building. That image suggests ‘climate change’ has the possibility of a fix, maybe even a silver bullet of a fix. No such fix will be possible for a mass extinction event.


At the same time, the volume’s ultimate effect is to inspire hope, or at the least, to suggest that hope and realism are not necessarily incompatible.

Juxtaposing work from graduate students and senior scholars and featuring a diverse array of methodologies, the book provides a timely overview of the rapidly growing discussion around contemporary ecofiction, both the sort that is obviously science fictional and that which wears the term more lightly. Organized by categories inherited from W. H. Auden and more recently Samuel R. Delany, Canavan and Robinson reach beyond simple oppositions of urban and rural ecologies to illuminate the positive and negative potential of each. The glorious city is the New Jerusalem, but its flipside is the Brave New World; the idyllic countryside is Arcadia, its inversion the Land of the Flies. And even these topoi subdivide with postmodernity into more nuanced possibilities: the New Jerusalem may fade into Junk City as maintenance schedules fail, or it can mature into “an ecstatic vision of improvisational recombinative urban chaos.” Arcadia may of course become polluted, a ruined countryside, but it can also yield “an unexpectedly sublime vision of decadent beauty” (3), the Culture of the Afternoon.

Those who know Robinson’s fiction will appreciate that this critical project is similarly attentive to texts not only as written forms, but as political, socioeconomically relevant actions. As Canavan notes, thinking especially of the films Avatar and [End Page 514] Daybreakers, the “active fantasy” of much ecological science fiction is “that the nightmare of exploitation, and our own complicity in these practices, might somehow be stopped, despite our inability to change” (14). Many of the included essays instead demonstrate that to care about the Earth is necessarily to wrestle personally with the forces of global capitalism, recognizing that the ideology of endless expansion is incompatible with an attractive long-term future for humanity. One of the most impressive chapters, for instance, is Gib Prettyman’s effort to reinvigorate discussion about Ursula K. Le Guin’s interests in ecology and Taoism. Featuring the best evocation of her novel The Telling that I’ve encountered, it challenges earlier readings by Fredric Jameson and Darko Suvin, arguing that “Le Guin’s world reduction is not just an effort to fantasize capitalism away, but a strategic response to the worldview of capitalism” (63).

I especially appreciate the collection’s willingness to engage less-known ecofictions. I’m much the richer for Melody Jue’s recommendation of Greg Egan’s 1999 short story “Oceanic,” for Andrew Milner’s introduction to Australian writer George Turner, and for Eric C. Otto sending me back to Paolo Bacigalupi’s short stories, through which I’d rushed in my eagerness to read The Windup Girl. Others will no doubt find similar inspiration in Christina Alt’s theory-rich but jargon-free opening chapter comparing the early and late H. G. Wells and in Rob Latham’s historical review of ecological science fiction’s engagement with colonial issues, which draws upon his broad expertise in New Wave science fiction and features close looks at Thomas...


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pp. 514-515
Launched on MUSE
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