Do you want to be impressed by environmental issues? But eco-activists can be distrustful and lectures by scientists can be boring. It doesn’t matter, thankfully to Knife we’ve collected four of the best novels inspired by environmental issues: from fantastic mutations and novels about bioethics to semi-documentary studies of fifteen hundred pages and manifestos of eco-primitivism.
Anxiety about the faded world around and the fact that one day nature will give back to humanity with its last strength, worried both science fiction writers and Christian mystics. Some examples of works speculating on the topic of ecology are scattered throughout the history of world literature. There were worldwide floods in the Bible, supernatural storms in medieval treatises, pollution of the environment in Jules Verne novels. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, writers increasingly began to construct the world of the near future, mired in environmental disasters. In Anna Kavan’s dystopia “Ice”, the globe is glazed with an icy crust, and in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick smog is so dense that people haven’t seen sunlight for decades.
However, for a very long time, such literature could not be attached to any trend or take shape in a specific genre. Most often, the theme of eco was an important component of science fiction and cyberpunk until it spun off into its own genre – climate fiction.
Rachel Carson’s “Under the Sea Wind” (1941), Neville Shute’s “On the Shore” (1957) and Peter George’s “Red Alert” (1958) can be considered some of the first examples of cli-fi, although the name itself appeared only in 2007 thanks to an eco-activist Dan Bloom.
The strengthening of the role of eco-issues in the literature was accompanied by an increasingly depressing state of affairs: the threat of nuclear water, global warming and the hypothesis of specialists that the sixth extinction of species is expected. The pernicious consequences of human activity on Earth contributed to the creation of the context that rallied the content of the cli-fi books.
Annihilation (2014) by Jeff Vandermeer
Science fiction writer Jeff Vandermeer belongs to the representatives of the so-called new strange. They’ve created a new subversive sci-fi genre interested in mutations of organic nature, mixing of material flows and deterritorialization (when the author “makes” a species live in an unusual habitat).
“Annihilation”, recently filmed by Alex Garland with Natalie Portman in the title role, is one of the books in the cycle of “strange new” fiction.
In the United States, the Southern Limit organization is discovering the anomalous Zone X, where all flora and fauna are locked in an endless cycle of mutations. A detachment of biologists, physicists and anthropologists who went there discovers that flowers of different species grow on the same stem, alligators arm themselves with shark teeth, and bears are able to absorb the human genotype and speak English, luring victims with cries for help.
“Annihilation” exactly repeats the lines of the treatise Titus Lucretius Carus “On the nature of things”, where “long branches would sometimes grow out of a living body; many of the members of the sea would have been animals on the earth, and then nature would have grown chimeras, spewing fire from their mouths, on the all-bearing earth. “
With Vandermeer, those who entered the “Zone X” from the first steps were subjected to mutations: after a few days they begin to turn into a walking fertile soil for flowers, while their lungs become like a fire-breathing dragon.
He is fascinated by the circles of mutation and provides the neo-fauna and neoflora, growing in creeping, frightening and at the same time beautiful dynamics, to win back on humanity.
By the way, Vandermeer is an amateur marine biologist (in his hometown of Tallahassee, Florida, he studies how dolphins adapt to freshwater bodies), and his hypotheses about the future symbiosis of humans and fungi are seriously studied by mycologists and speculative realists.
“People among the trees” (2013) by Hanya Yanagihara
Known to many for her novel “A Little Life”, which snuck into the Booker Prize shortlist, Hanya Yanagihara has always been interested in the pressure and power incorporated into virtually every area of life.
And if “A Little Life” was about the link between the body and pseudo-democratic power, then “People among the Trees” was about bio-violence and violation of bioethics.
Virologist Norton Perina, together with anthropologist Paul Tallent, travel to the Micronesian island of Iwu’Iwu to find an unsociable tribe there. Having made their way into the heart of the island, the researchers discover not only the Ivu’ivians, but also the secret of their longevity. The aborigines, whom Perina would later call dreamers, demonstrate remarkable physical endurance, despite the fact that they are several hundred years old. At the same time, the persistent aging youth is compensated by pronounced cognitive impairments.
Perina discovers that their secret lies in the ritual eating of the opa’ivu’eke turtle meat. For the sake of research, he’s ready to break the taboo that prohibits touching the reptile to everyone except the elite: despite numerous protests from colleagues, he abducts a turtle.
This crime of conscience turns into the discovery of a secret of youth: pharmaceutical companies begin to pull the island apart into golden bricks. The number of animals is sharply decreasing, virgin thickets are being cut down for building into factories, and companies are trying to excommunicate local residents form their knowledge and force them to work.
Yanagihara wonders how far modern anthropology has moved away from its origins – the colonial campaigns. Are anthropologists aware of the damage they inflict on the wild innocence of the tribes under study? Do they think that investors who are destroying the original flora and fauna are bringing their technocratic meaning into expeditions?
At the same time, it’s also a criticism of the academic sphere: it helps to expand not only the boundaries of knowledge, but also Western imperialism with its desire to unify and capitalize all that exists.
“The Beast” (2016) by Paul Kingsnorth
The Irish poet, writer and green activist Paul Kingsnorth calls for a mild form of anarcho-primitivism: there’s no need to destroy metropolitan areas. However, if you do not stop in time, the future will doom their inhabitants to a slow extinction. Cities that were once home to millions of people will be deserted; their lights will flare up for some time until they are completely swallowed up by the darkness of the night.
This tragic picture becomes the origin of the philosophy of the protagonist of the ecotriller “The Beast” by Edward Buckmeister.
Buckmeister lived with the conventions of the middle class, never disobeying the prescriptions of consumerism, until at one moment he realized that he had to leave the city and his family for the sake of forests near peat bogs.
He feeds on roots and allows himself one bar of chocolate a month, listens to the polyphonic singing of Scottish birds and tries to live according to the canon of the hagiographic collection. Having become a voluntary anchorite of the 21st century, he believes that the practice of natural life, related to thickets and forests, is a guarantee of a future without disasters.
However, “The Beast” is not at all a bucolic idyll like in eco-philosophers Thoreau and Emerson books. Buckmeister enters into a very ambiguous and slippery contract with nature, because, despite all the dedication and adherence to it, he becomes the object of the hunt of a mystical creature.
This creature is metaphorical and personifies the inner knowledge of the fact that human beings have never been the center of the universe. In The Beast, the existence of man, brushwood, woodworm and some mystical essence are ontologically equalized. Kingsnorf calls for the forest to dissolve into the night and not be deceived by the greatness of this decision: after all, the relationship between man and nature is no more unique than the relationship between dust and rain.
Carbon Ideologies (2018) by William T. Vollmann
William T. Wollmann is today perhaps the last representative of the great American novel to write in a realistic manner. Each of his works is an invariably weighty volume of Rabelaisian proportions, sometimes several thousand pages.
This time, Viking, the publisher of Vollmann’s patron, took pity on the reader and divided the 1,268 pages of the manuscript into two parts: “Out of danger” and “Without alternatives.”
Like almost all of Vollmann’s books, Carbon Ideologies is a junction of reportage, interviews, photo novels, imaginary dialogues with the great thinkers of the past, a multi-page solipsist lecture and a historical canvas. In order to complete his work, the writer traveled the world for six years and interviewed representatives of the largest oil refining companies, miners, poachers, eco-activists, UN representatives and scientists.
He talks about the personal attitude towards nature of the workers of the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant, Indian miners, oil producers in the United Arab Emirates and intersperses their words with his own self-flagellation because of the unknown why bought a plastic tray in a Tokyo store, which then turns into a viscous excursion into the history of the extraction of epoxy resin, polyvinyl chloride and the consequences of the decomposition of these materials in the bosom of nature.
In addition, Vollmann is transported to the time of Buddha or Shakespeare’s contemporary Edmund Spencer and talks with them about such distant and fantastic concepts as globalism, radical eco-activism and the greenhouse effect.
“Carbon Ideologies” is not only multicultural and supra-historical, but also multimodal research, replete with visual material: ideograms, diagrams and tables on the level of radiation in Nigeria, the increase in meat consumption around the world and the depletion of natural gas in Colorado.
However, one does not need to wade through the entire thickness of the pages to understand the main idea of Vollmann (and this is not the thought of a moralizer who hopes that this work can push humanity towards change).
“Ideologies” is a note on behalf of all suicides. A document left not even for future generations, but for the posthuman era, whatever it may be.
Wollmann says that nothing in the current situation on the planet can be changed – first of all, because of the anthropocentric vision of the world and our selfless narcissism. And narcissism (like any phenomenon that goes to an extreme) turns into its opposite – self-destruction.