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Gathering Futures: Speculative Fiction as a Map for Transforming the Climate Crisis
AuthorWagner, Phoebe D
AdvisorBranch, Michael P.
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This dissertation explores how the predictive futures unintentionally imagined in speculative fiction can inspire new systems of surviving the climate crisis. While environmental literature warned of this crisis, climate change has outpaced warning. Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reiterates that the scale of necessary change is beyond any other course correction in human history. Speculative literature imagines new narratives and impacts our daily lives already, whether it’s the invention of the cell phone inspired by Star Trek (1966-69) or words like “cyberspace” lifted from William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984). By reimagining the future and the past, speculative literature argues it can change the present. Dystopic, utopic, and everything in between has been imagined by speculative literature, sometimes with surprising accuracy (see Octavia E. Butler and Margaret Atwood). If these writers have, knowingly or not, predicted elements of our present, perhaps the narrative of the future can be rewritten. By treating speculative literature as hypotheses—a playing out of different futures—then we can prepare for a future of our choosing. Combined, my two primary areas of study—ecocriticism and speculative literature—provide a foundation for conceiving these new futures. This dissertation examines the futures created by four award-winning speculative writers: Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler, N. K. Jemisin, and Jeff VanderMeer. By mapping the way characters adapt to new systems of living, my dissertation pivots to applied scholarship: can humanity implement these ideas and how? As the climate crisis defines this century, another ecocritical text is the last thing needed. Therefore, a practical response learned from each author that can be turned into praxis will be a necessary component of each chapter. These authors’ popularity suggests a cultural connection to this environmental era, but the change these stories depict must be translated from the page to practical action. Rob Nixon’s writer-activist must now become something else: a writer-transformer, a writer-salvager, a writer-teacher. Ultimately, I argue that speculative literature has already designed the change necessary to help us survive the climate crisis and create a sustainable alternative. Here’s the map.