As I wrote at Impakter, eco-fiction is made up of fictional tales that reflect important connections, dependencies, and interactions between people and their natural environments. Dragonfly.eco is a place to find meaningful stories about our natural world and humanity’s connection with it. The site explores the wild, crazy, and breathtaking literary trail of eco-fiction. Despite the genre’s rich history, beginning in the 1970s, eco-fiction has kept up with the times. The range of stories found in this field of literature, which can include environmental and nature themes in Black and Indigenous fiction and futurism, decolonization literature, magical realism, literary and contemporary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, lunarpunk, solarpunk, 2SLGBTQ+ literature, and more, is evolving. Diversity and inclusion are central.
I think of eco-fiction not so much as a central genre than as a literary mode that joins environmental issues, natural landscapes—and usually human connection—into any genre and makes it come alive. The ecological elements of stories do not usually exist simply in the background but are integral to the story, even if used as symbols or metaphor. Often times, writers refer to this mode of writing as rewilding the novel. The human connection is diverse and can refer to anything from cultural diaspora to climate refugees to weather event impacts to reverence of and protection of nature.
Definitions and Explanations of Eco-fiction
Jim Dwyer researched hundreds of books for Where the Wild Books Are: A Field Guide to Ecofiction (University of Nevada Press, 2010) and stated that his criteria in choosing whether or not a book was eco-fiction was closely related to Lawrence Buell’s:
- The nonhuman environment is present not merely as a framing device but as a presence that begins to suggest that human history is implicated in natural history.
- The human history is not understood to be the only legitimate interest.
- Human accountability to the environment is part of the text’s ethical orientation.
- Some sense of the environment as a process rather than as a constant or a given is at least implicit in the text. (1995, 6)
Further, Dwyer was not exclusive with genre when describing eco-fiction:
[Eco-fiction is] made up of many styles, primarily modernism, post-modernism, realism, and magical realism and can be found in many genres, primarily mainstream, westerns, mystery, romance, and speculative fiction. Speculative fiction includes science fiction and fantasy, sometimes mixed with realism, as in the work of Ursula K. Le Guin.
Note that John Yunker, author of The Tourist Trail and co-founder/editor at Ashland Creek Press, called eco-fiction more of a “super genre” (personal correspondence, August 2016).
Dwyer said that eco-fiction “might be simply described as a critical perspective on the relationship between literature and the natural world, and the place of humanity within.” Source: Chico News & Review
Eco-fiction, according to Mike Vasey, includes:
Stories set in fictional landscapes that capture the essence of natural ecosystems…[They] can build around human relationships to these ecosystems or leave out humans altogether. The story itself, however, takes the reader into the natural world and brings it alive…Ideally, the landscapes and ecosystems–whether fantasy or real–should be as ‘realistic’ as possible and plot constraints should accord with ecological principals.
Eco-fiction became popular in the 1970s, along with other environmental movements, and opened up a new literary study that connected humanities and nature. In 1971, Washington Press published editor John Stadler’s anthology Eco-fiction, a collection of environmental sci-fi, which included such authors as Ray Bradbury, John Steinbeck, Edgar Allen Poe, A.E. Coppard, James Agee, Robert M. Coates, Daphne du Maurier, Robley Wilson Jr., E.B. White, J.F. Powers, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Sarah Orne Jewett, Frank Herbert, H.H. Munro, J.G. Ballard, Steven Scharder, Isaac Asmiov, and William Saroyan.
According to The Cambridge History of the American Novel‘s chapter titled Contemporary ecofiction, “Ecofiction is an elastic term, capacious enough to accommodate a variety of fictional works that address the relationship between natural settings and the human communities that dwell within them. The term emerged soon after ecology took hold as a popular scientific paradigm and a broad cultural attitude in the 1960s and 1970s.” Eco-fiction, or ecologically oriented fiction, includes topics such as human impacts on the environment, like climate change, and nature-oriented literature. Source: Jim Dwyer’s Where the Wild Books Are: A Field Guide to Eco-Fiction (University of Nevada Press, 2010). Eco-fiction includes other mediums, such as film, art, and poetry, but this site mostly focuses on novels and short stories.
We live in a world where fiction covering ecological themes, including climate change, is bursting out all over. Are you confused about these genres? Here’s a helpful guide.