I’ve recently been re-reading all my interviews at Dragonfly, going back to 2013, and am re-inspired by ideas these fiction authors have while writing about lost ecosystems and what that means for everyone and everything. I know this is a long post, but bookmark it for when you need motivation and check back often. I still have some existing interview quotes to add and will add new ones as time goes on.
I’ve always explored weird real-life biology in my fiction, especially in the context of fungi, which often seems alien in its details. These are in a sense transitional forms, between animal and plant, that are incredibly complex and which we don’t quite understand in all of that complexity just yet. So often it’s not that you go out to explore ecology through weird fiction, but that the weirdness of the real world suggests certain impulses in your fiction.
I’m deeply interested in stories that have been left untold and erased from history, and in the reasons behind such erasure. I see this happening with climate change today to some extent.
I believe climate change and the Sixth Great Mass Extinction–which we are in the middle of, and which has been caused by us–are the stories of our time. I think about them all the time. So, when I sat down to write my first novel, they had to inform the writing and the story.
OK, first let’s gather around a campfire, somewhere in one of the most remote areas left in North America. Beyond the thin, fragile fringe of light afforded by the fire, is a vast forest, wrapped in a darkness that is unimaginable to those who have passed their lives in cities and towns. The trees hiss in the wind, obscuring any sounds, leaving us sightless and senseless. We have our backs to the unknown, and the unknowable. Quiet now. Did you hear that … Just a branch crashing to the forest floor says one grizzled old guy hopefully. The circle pulls in tighter.
There are so many sources of dismal news, so many depressing scientific developments; I think it’s crucial to look for a light in the darkness, to emphasize that we as a species still have a chance to chart a course to a better future rather than a dystopia.
As we move into the era of actual climate change, struggling through the mayhem and trying to keep step with the ludicrous out-of-control experiment we’ve wrought on the earth’s biogeochemical systems–to paraphrase the final lines of Carbon Dreams—novelists can’t help but write about climate change even if they are not writing about climate change.
When I wrote Since Tomorrow I did not know that post-apocalyptic was a literary genre. I was simply writing a story set in a world that seemed to be a plausible projection of today’s trends, i.e. what is waiting for us at the end of the primrose path. It scared the hell out of me and still does.
As humans our own stories are inevitably part of the immediate world we are living in, and so too as a writer setting is never just a backdrop to my character’s lives—it is as essential to their stories as the air they breathe.
I could see beyond any doubt that our civilization was capable of accidentally destroying nature as we know it. Memories of my father telling me in the early 70s that greenhouse effect was real, and even earlier memories of bringing a blanket to elementary school so that my classmates and I could sleep in the school basement in case of nuclear war – all these astonishing revelations made it clear that our civilization needs major redirection. Humans must become stewards of our planet and all life, handing on this precious gift to the children and life forms of the future.
as the forests burn
as the rivers slow
thick with the sludge
of spilt oil
and the oceans press
their plastic waters
to the gummy shore
under the scorched sky
their children will curse themtheir children will curse them
their children will curse them
their children will curse them
I think that in a lot of these stories I am not really writing speculatively. The scenarios they describe are plausible extrapolations of the current world. (Parenthetically, I am a firm believer in the idea that science fiction is never really about the future, but is about the present as we experience it.)
The combination of storytelling, reflection, and communal experience is why I think theatre is a great ally for addressing climate change. We get to watch how people just like us navigate some of the challenges posed by climate change. We get to see, hear, and feel the climate crisis in three dimensions instead of staring at abstract charts and graphs and trying to figure out why we should care. We’re also given free rein to subjectively experience the full scope of the climate crisis, with all of the emotions that it might generate however inappropriate these might be.
I believe Thomas King was right when he said “The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.” Whether the issue is climate change, as it is in Code Blue, or something else altogether, like socio-political issues (1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale), I think that stories connect us to our worries in a deep visceral way.
I believe it was Ursula Le Guin who said that speculative fiction writers aren’t writing about the future, but the present; that is, they’re holding a mirror up to the world and showing us how we see the world and ourselves in it. That is quite powerful, particularly in a time when we’re facing so many challenges, and we literally are creating the problem.
I think the idea of haunting is a really powerful one. One of the great ironies of contemporary Western culture is that many—if not most—of us exist in a state of constant denial about the human and environmental cost of our lifestyle…I suppose Clade is a kind of ghost story, because it’s a book that’s quite consciously shadowed by a profound grief about what’s happening around us.
I wrote this book as a current story that could happen anywhere tomorrow–it is not a futuristic dystopian setting. It is also a very real life story. As a result readers come away with a visceral feeling that things could get pretty bad if we don’t act now.
When I originally came up with the concept for my first novel, Cry of the Sea, I didn’t intend for it to be an issue-oriented book. It was born out of a “what if?” idea during the reporting of the 10-year anniversary of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. I thought: what if mermaids were caught up in an oil spill?
I’ve found activism to be an effective and productive way to deal with climate change angst. There is great joy to be found in the struggle and to be surrounded by active young folk who want to change the world is incredibly inspirational.
Solarpunk is more than a literary genre, that’s for sure. It’s rapidly becoming a lifestyle.
Rapa Nui has an austere beauty of its own. Imagine a place that somehow combines the Black Hills of South Dakota, the prairies of the Midwest, extinct volcanoes on an island whose coasts are dotted with monolithic moais or ancestral statues, all of it surrounded by the bluest ocean you can imagine. It’s unlike any other place in the world.
For The Story Collector, the rural environment was always going to be a strong character in its own right. Irish culture and tradition is so intricately linked with nature, that it would be impossible to write a story like this and not pay homage to the natural world.
Get your bearings, lose your marbles, this might very well be the basic principle by which advocacy and literature will meld in the face of the climate crisis. I can’t think of a period in history when poets and writers are more needed than the present. This is our Thermopylae, our defining moment; we are faced by change that will only become even more violent the longer the spectatorship of the public remains ascendant.
Being a journalist, I would say that environmental reporting was truly an awakening experience, because the survey and research works were meant to monitor potential threats to one of Southeast Asia’s last remaining stronghold of virtually undisturbed rainforest.
The challenges and difficulties of creatively engaging with the unimaginable aspects of worldwide disaster caused by human actions in the Anthropocene have driven me to write this book.
Good literature has always tackled the major issues of its time, be it war and peace or crime and punishment or pride and prejudice. So how could we not deal with the major issue of our epoch, the ongoing exploitation and destruction of our habitats.
I write to inspire today’s youth to take a stand for justice or equality or the environment, or any other cause that’s important to them. Our youth are the leaders of tomorrow, they are the ones who will win justice and equality for indigenous people in this country. They are the ones who will clean up the environmental mess that my generation has caused, but only if they know about it and only if their hearts have been touched.
I think that novels that deal with climate change are essential. Not only do they raise awareness, but they can also prepare us for what is coming. It seems increasingly likely that we have passed the tipping point for stopping climate change, but rather than dwelling on that, I think that novels can help us mentally and emotionally wrap our heads around something as huge as the climate.
I tend to write about the issues that concern me most: the destruction of natural habitats, ecosystems and species extinction in (Southern) Africa, and global warming in general.
I wanted to convey a deep sense of caring and respect for elephants in my book. But I believe that too much negativity can depress people or turn them off, making them shut down instead. I didn’t focus on the threats to elephants; rather, I showed how they are fascinating, dignified, intelligent, sensitive, caring, loyal and strong–characteristics we admire in people. We can identify with them and their struggles, especially when we hear them “talking” to each other like people, as they do in To Follow Elephants.
Climate change is both the backdrop of this story as well as the driving force of the plot–things would have happened very differently had there been no tsunamis and heavy rains ravaging this little island in the middle of the Mediterranean in 2064.
The world is full of beauty and small, miraculous kindnesses, and poetry, and we must never give up on those gifts. They’re what we live for, and that’s as close to immortality as we’re going to get. As they say in one of my favorite songs (“Mayfly” by Dolly Varden), we are lucky, and the story is not over yet.
I live between both Taipei and Hualian. The former is a big city where people try to ignore the fact that they are living under nature; the latter is a small city located in the joint between a 3,000 foot mountain and the great Pacific. People who live near nature could witness the changes, and become more touched by the fact that the environment has changed dramatically. Despair in people’s lives intertwines with the further despair after comprehending the total destruction of nature. I wanted to express this feeling.
The ice caps are melting, the glaciers are melting, and in ten to twenty years some countries will become uninhabitable because of severe weather conditions. Most of these countries will be in the underdeveloped world, meaning in Africa and Asia. Most of the increase in migration and refugee movement is because of climate change and loss of livelihood resulting from that.
There is nothing that is happening to the characters in my story that is not happening to children and young people somewhere in the world today. Right at this moment there are children pollinating crops by hand because of loss of bee population or harvesting cotton for the textile industry because it is less “damaged” by small fingers.
Yes. I wanted the book to be aimed at young adults, because I believe they are the generation that needs to know—and most in the West don’t seem to be aware that their grandchildren might not see elephants, except in the odd zoo. They will be the most affected by animal extinction and we, as adults, have a responsibility to tell them.
It’s the particular genius of fiction to inspire empathy in the reader. And empathy is exactly what we need in order to find a way to care about the difficult truths about the natural world without succumbing to the paralysis of despair. My hope is that by creating empathy and a sense of urgency, fiction can release people from both self-protective apathy and self-defeating despair. It can create an openness that allows for action.
We face terrible problems and challenges. But they will only be solved by people who look at what we’ve already accomplished—like reducing child poverty and saving the whales, and learning from those victories how to do much more.
I have lots of thoughts on international exploitation of natural resources, but I think what I’d like to most emphasize is the way in which this exploitation is always intrinsically linked with how the corporations and people in charge view those people who inhabit the lands being exploited. Because it’s never just about the land. This is why indigenous groups worldwide are some of the most severely affected by climate change and environmental exploitation.
I suspect these days people get ‘bad news’ fatigue. When they hear one more story of humans compromising an aspect of the environment, they don’t always have the emotional fortitude to take the information on board. I hope with contemporary fiction we can take these difficult issues and package them in ways that are more palatable for people to digest and think about.
The exploitation of Beringia’s lands and waters through centuries of commercial whaling, mining, and oil and gas drilling have resulted in an enormous environmental crisis. The landscape in these areas is changing quickly, with disastrous effects for the people and animals who live there.
I believe humanity has an obligation to the planet and to other species—if only for the legacy we leave to our descendants—to preserve as well as produce. The Suicide Season tries to draw attention—both in its references to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species 1973) and, in a more subliminal way, through its plot and its descriptions of nature—to the need to be environmentally aware, and of the need to preserve the natural environment that provides homes to native species.
An entire library is waiting to be written about the many battles going on around the world on behalf of its animals.
My biggest hope here is to inspire people of color to see themselves as climate activists and part of the movement for climate justice.
We are fascinating creatures, there’s no doubt. The beliefs we’ve put forward, the problems we’ve solved, the stories we’ve written, the things we’ve made in this short stretch of our existence, are nothing short of sublime. Yet, I have to say, we seem sometimes, as the saying goes, like legends in our minds. I believe that right beneath our feet the natural world has done, is doing, and will continue to do, things far more amazing than our minds could conjure or contemplate.
Waste Tide could not be simply reduced to black and white, good and bad: every country, every social class, every authority, and even every individual played an important part in the becoming of Guiyu. All of us are equally as responsible for the grave consequence of mass consumerism happening across the globe.
With a climate crisis likely, I tried to think of all that would be lost in Bangkok, not just in terms of the physical aspects, but the sensuous and spiritual. I think fiction can help perpetuate a few complex visions of the city, just as an old painting can let us emotionally glimpse the impressions of city or landscape from centuries ago.
How do we make stories out of the crisis or in response to the climate emergency? This is the question. I want Blaze Island to have the seductive air of an almost-fairytale yet to be highly realistic.
My next novel partially deals with climate change. I’m much more aware than I was when I wrote The Disaster Tourist seven or eight years ago, and because the environmental situation has only gotten worse since then, I feel like I can’t avoid writing about climate change.
The book is inhabited by this dreamlike spirit, by a wild imagery, by a desire to be connected with our animal instincts in a positive way.
Writing is a blank page to paint your pain across…It [“Eclipse our Sins”] was an amalgamation of many things: climate change, crimes, fear, pain.
Nature can be much more to us than a pretty photograph on our screen savers. It has the power to help us feel connected to the universe. And I can testify that it has the potential to mend emotional wounds. I include nature in my stories because it’s an integral part of my evolution into the person I am today. On a grander scale, that’s true of all of us.
My premise is that human civilization evolved in a stable and nurturing climate, and without that, everything we take for granted is under threat.
The climate crisis is global. To reflect on the scope of the challenge we’re facing I wanted to create narrators from parts of the world I’ve visited that have fired my imagination. I chose a mountainous area of Gobi-Altai near the Gobi desert of Mongolia, the tropical forest region of Ghana in West Africa, and the stormy moors of Cornwall in England.
I was inspired to write about them because working with coral reefs I was in the front line of climate change. Our reefs are projected to be lost almost completely at 2ºC warming, a threshold that will be reached within the lifetimes of many of us unless there is more global action on climate change.
One of the things speculative fiction is best for is allowing us to “imagine otherwise,” as Daniel Heath Justice says, imagining other worlds than the one we live in. Some of those worlds are warnings about what might go wrong if we continue on our current paths. Others are visions of futures we might choose instead, if we make changes to our ways of life, if we reshape our societies in different ways. It’s very hard to arrive at a better kind of future if you can’t imagine what it would be like to live in it: that’s one of the things novels and films and other mode of storytelling can do to help us, in addition to being entertaining.
Ghosts exist in the shadowlands; mythical creatures dwell on the borders, in the thin places—part of our collective psyche but increasingly lost to us.
Even just in terms of variety, I would like to see a body of literature that’s slightly hopeful, because I do think that fiction has the power to help introduce new ideas into people’s minds.
Thorunn explores what happens when humankind seeks to control nature instead of work harmoniously with it, what is lost due to that greed, and what happens when someone stands up to push back against a destructive ambition.
With The Last Panther, I focused on creating the sort of book my ten-year-old daughter would love. I structured the book to address some of the things she cares about most (like species extinction, climate change, and inequality). Then I read each chapter to her at night, got her feedback on what she liked and what she thought could be better, and revised the chapters using her suggestions.
One of Dark Mountain’s core points is that we do not know the answers, that there may not be ‘solutions’ to some of the ‘problems’ we face, and that we are not trying to tell anyone what to do. Our books are not going to put out fires or help ‘fix’ climate change. What they can do is offer a space for people to be honest about the times we live in, to pass through the despair together, and perhaps to emerge to something new on the other side.
Storytelling at its heart comes from the ancient tradition of sitting outdoors gathered around a roaring log fire. To me this is how it should be, how I wish all stories were told. Fiction should be wild and explorative.
Art has room for the entire spectrum of human experiences. What I would suggest to newer writers wanting to tackle global warming or climate change is to consider abandoning the solo hero’s journey happening across a setting which is the background of the story and reconsider the idea that the planet–what we’ve been using as setting–may have a point of view. Maybe the environment has been screaming her story alive since the get-go. Maybe the planet and her corresponding eco-systems and environments never needed humans–but we got a shot at inhabiting this planet–and what we’ve done is tried to discover, conquer, own it in ways that are idiotic and brutal. Maybe newer writers can help us redefine our relationship to the planet, the cosmos, and each other. I hope so. That’s my dare to newer writers. Dislocate all truths. Revision everything.
I watched Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which is a great environmental film, when I was five, maybe six. I remembered being moved for the first time, and that stayed with me. Twenty-plus years later, I discovered Miyazaki had penned a graphic novel series under the same name and was blown away by this huge sprawling ecological epic.
Fiction needs to incorporate or reflect contemporary cultural concerns in order to remain relevant, no matter whether an author is writing science fiction, fantasy, historical or mimetic fiction. But wallowing in perpetual pessimism and apocalyptic forecast is a cop-out.
It was when I was trying to determine what the precipitating factors of a second civil war would be that environmental calamity first became a fundamental part of the story.
We have a narrative about how disasters unfold, that when they occur people turn on each other and attack each other and loot and pillage. It’s a widely accepted idea and is something that appears a lot fiction too. It’s often a lazy trope of fiction, that a breakdown in technology or a natural disaster immediately spurs a breakdown in civil order. But as Solnit shows, by examining contemporary first-person accounts from these disasters, by and large, people are incredibly good to one another in times of crisis. And, in fact, that’s how you recover from a crisis.
Humans have been exploring their connections to nonhuman nature through art for as long as we can remember: from 35,000-year-old cave art to Thoreau’s Walden to work by contemporary writers and artists.
Many dismiss science fiction as escapist literature. Others may not even recognize that they are reading or watching science fiction. From its early form to its contemporary form, writers of the genre have created powerful metaphor of great scope that has examined our greatest creations and deepest choices. Science fiction is subversive literature that illuminates our history and our very humanity. It does this by examining our interaction with “the other”—the unfamiliar and unknown. A scientific discovery. An environmental disaster. A calamity related to climate change.
I gave a talk and book signing at a book club on my earthquake-fracking thriller, Blind Thrust: A Mass Murder Mystery…and the readers were very much worried about how closely the events depicted in the novel matched what is going on environmentally today. I wouldn’t say they weren’t worried about fracking before reading my novel and then Blind Thrust scared the wits out of them; it was more that by reading the novel and being invested in its characters, they understood the detailed science behind the fracking-related earthquakes and how these events could affect the everyday lives of people just like them.
-Samuel Marquis, author of the Joe Higheagle series
Literature is always a reworking of ancient myths and fairy tales, a way of bringing them into the present and, like a two-way prism, shedding light on the story being told, and the stories from the past.
A First Nations’ Elder once said that we get wisdom from places. In order to receive that, we must know all its seasons. We must pay attention to its vegetation, its sounds, the tenor and characteristics of the light. We must keep our eyes and heart open for the other creatures who live there. We must remember that the water we drink comes not just from reservoirs designed by city planners, but from the streams, aquifers, and rain clouds within a certain radius of where we turn on the taps.
Solarpunk imagines the future through a lens of sustainability, community, and diversity. It’s a sci-fi subgenre that draws heavily on existing techs—solar and other green powers, permaculture, 3D printing!—and uses them to create worlds where we managed to overcome eco-disasters, dystopias, and capitalism…It’s important for everyone to be able to project themselves in that future—which means paying attention to racial struggles, and the LGBTQIAP+ community, and how technology and disability interact, and religious minorities, etc.
Any rainforest left standing on this planet is important to protect. Trees are the lungs of the earth, and we now know that rainforest soil is much more delicate and easily destroyed than our ancestors believed.