Extinction Fiction

Thursday, 22 November 2018

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I don't feel fine…


In my eco-SF novel, Black Box, I ask ‘what will survive of us?’ This goes beyond the current trend in what is called ‘Climate Fiction’ or Cli-Fi, and could be termed ‘Extinction Fiction’. I wanted to look hard into the abyss, but crucially still see a gleam of light – an approach I have defined as Goldendark in my PhD thesis, and one I have articulated in two other recent novels, a Fantasy, and a Transapocalyptic adventure-romance. Between the three of these novels it is possible to get a sense of what I mean by my concept Goldendark. Here, in Black Box I have gone to the darker end of the spectrum – to the bleakest point I can imagine in the future survival of the species. Set against a backdrop of a dying Earth, a desperate mission seeks out signs of life on one of the moons of Jupiter (where it is hoped water will be found frozen beneath the surface of Europa). In parallel with this is a far-flung mission to our nearest habitable neighbour (Proxmia Centauri B) where an arkship, Ithaka, comprising ten biomes containing a cross-section of all of Earth’s remaining flora and fauna, has broken down in orbit, tantalisingly close to its goal. I play with paradigmatic possibilities on a riff of the famous Schrödinger’s Cat theorem, but the underlying takeaway ‘message’ of it all is – no matter how far in the universe we go we will always have to deal with our Shadow. I wanted to challenge the often unquestioned neo-colonialist rhetoric of less sophisticated space exploration SF, which takes humankind’s interstellar expansion as a given and a good thing. The rapacious myth of limitless progress that late capitalism (aka NeoLiberalism) is based upon will lead to our inevitable extinction, I fear, long before we reach some ‘Earth-like planet’. As the recent IPCC report urges, we have 12 years in which to act – 2030! – before the planet’s tipping point is reached and the climate goes into an irreversible terminal tailspin (or ‘death spiral’ as George Monbiot recently described it). And thus, my novel has topical resonance as in Britain the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ campaign takes to the streets, recently closing down five bridges in central London in an impressive piece of non-violent direct action. Watching the footage, it could almost be the opening of a science fiction movie – but it is real, and it is happening now. I am not personally interested in getting arrested or blocking traffic – each to their own. My strengths lie in the spoken and written word. As an author I can ‘do my bit’ via the narrative form. It may not have the news-friendly immediacy of lying down on Westminster Bridge and getting dragged off by PCs, but it is playing to my strengths. Many people, when finding their journey delayed by protesters in the road, will simply get annoyed, or worse – and so it can be argued that the Extinction Rebellions approach is just going to alienate more people than anything. Whileas, a novel, if written well enough, with sufficient nuance and space for the reader to reach their own moment of gnosis, has the potential to win over more hearts and minds. Of course, getting a novel written and published and marketed is a long-winded and chancy affair, and we need significant action right away. The approaches are not mutually exclusive and the arts have their role to play, as the Chair ofArts Council England, Nicholas Serota, acknowledges: ‘The arts has an important role in helping society to face up to the challenge of climate change and create a more sustainable future for us all.’ It is an agenda I have been consciously engaged in for decades – articulating an approach with fellow storytellers back in 2004 (An Ecobardic Manifesto, Awen) – but in Black Box I have, with the help of supporters, the possibility of reaching a far wider audience than the modest numbers reached through oral storytelling, audiences harder and harder to attract in the current cultural climate of dumbed down, passively-consumed entertainment. Perhaps I should have written a musical instead, and fiddled while the world burned.


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