Imagined Energy Futures in Contemporary Speculative Fictions
- Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities
- University of Nebraska Press
- Volume 6, Numbers 2-3, Spring-Fall 2019
- pp. 136-154
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This essay examines the representation of post–fossil fuel energy systems in the imagined futures of three works of speculative fiction: Sarah Hall’s novel The Carhullan Army (2008), Emily St. John Mandel’s novel Station Eleven (2014), and Anne Washburn’s play Mr. Burns (2014). It begins by arguing that speculative fiction has an important role in imagining alternatives to our current petromodernity and in reminding us that in energy systems, change is constant. Since speculative fictions turn our present into the “determinate past of something yet to come,” it is instructive to look at these futures’ ideas of the past. This essay identifies two forms of nostalgia: an agrarian utopianism, which depicts an idyllic pre–fossil fuel world, and a petronostalgia, a desire for an early-twenty-first-century fossil fuel society of casual luxury. Tracing these ideas through the three texts, this essay shows how these narratives imagine a non–fossil fuel society and also how the past of fossil fuel dominance continues to have a presence, preserved in language and cultural memory, in these futures. The essay concludes by arguing, following Jameson, that speculative fictions such as those examined here allow us to return to see our present anew and to see our petromodernity as more malleable and more changeable than it can sometimes appear.