Monday 5 September 2011

E is for Eco-SF

It is hard to write good ecological science fiction.

This may sound paradoxical, because environmental catastrophe is very much in our cultural attention right now, for obvious reasons, and we often argue that warnings about the future are one of the most valuable things science fiction can do. Surely a science fiction story that takes us to task for our current self-destructive trajectory—preferably without offering a magical cure that doesn’t involve proactively cleaning up our act—would be exactly what TFF is looking for.

And yes, it would. But it is more difficult to write great eco-SF. I mean, it could be very easy to write disaster adventure stories involving some of the many documented symptoms of climate change, or other environmental mishap, in which the white, male, heterosexual, rich, educated, possibly military, heroes save the day (if not the world) in ways that perpetuate the worst stereotypes and the laziest political attitudes we have. (You’ve all seen The Day After Tomorrow or 2012, or if you haven’t—and good for you—you’ve seen the trailers and the reviews and know what I’m talking about.) None of that would be what we want.

Interestingly enough, most of the eco-SF themed stories we’ve published over the years have not been about climate change or global scale catastrophe (the cynical and lovely ‘Ephemeral Love’ is an exception), so much as about smaller examples of humanity’s dysfunctional relationship with our planet. Some involve environmental problems on other planets (‘Silent Song’, ‘Drown or Die’), others show individuals dealing with the impact of our hubris (‘Neap Tide’), or deciding to do something about it (‘Maryann Saves the World’).

So although we’d love to see more eco-SF, and we do feel that environmental concerns are among the most pressing topics that social-political speculative fiction can and should address, a good story needs to do more than pay lip service to this subject matter. And it needs to be inclusive and progressive in all socio-political areas it covers, not just confounding the reader’s expectations in one while conforming to lazy assumptions in all others.


Regina said...

Well said! So jaded with writers using ecological issues as a foil for egocentric white privileged characters. Down with that type of thing!

Djibril said...

Thanks, Regina. This same point is being taken up in the post on Feminist SF: there's a certain sine qua non of responsibility and sensitivity that needs to be shown in social-political fiction, which includes ecological awareness, women's rights, queer issues, race issues, etc. Above and beyond this, a story can also be about such issues, or other issues, or beautiful or useful in an infinity of other ways, but these are the baseline.