Lavie: Science fiction with environmental concerns tends to be a bit of a downer, doesn’t it? It’s very “some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice,” as Robert Frost would have it. One title I liked a lot that never got much attention was British author E.J. Swift’s “Osiris,” set on a floating city in post-climate change collapse world. On one side of the city live the rich people who built it; on the other side are the storm refugees. It’s a mystery novel and it’s science fiction and it just has some lovely writing in it. It came out in 2012 but feels so current.
Silvia: “Ice” by Anna Kavan, published in 1967, answers Frost’s question. Definitely a cold world, where the protagonist believes “there would soon be only ice, snow, stillness, death; no more violence, no war, no victims; nothing but frozen silence, absence of life.” It’s a surrealist book, so don’t go into it expecting a Mad Max type of scenario: The army has taken command of several locations but the book drifts like an iceberg. It’s beautifully written, but wrenching — there’s sexual violence and a sense of malaise.
What about some recent environmental science fiction, what’s out there?
Lavie: Recently, I was very taken with a new Chinese sci-fi novel, “Waste Tide,” by Chen Qiufan and translated by Ken Liu. It’s set on an island used for dumping electronic waste, apparently based on a real place in China called Guiyu. “Waste Tide” is set in the near-future, with added cyborgs, bioengineering and a deadly virus, and it thoughtfully examines the relationships between the producers of waste and those living in it.
Silvia: I’ve been reading “Bangkok Wakes to Rain” by Pitchaya Sudbanthad, which, like “City” is a mosaic novel composed of 23 segments. It’s not really a science fiction novel, but it is speculative because as it charts the life of a city, it jumps into the future and wonders what Bangkok will look like once the waters rise. In that sense, the book performs the neat trick of changing genres while you read it: from historical fiction to climate fiction. It’s ambitious and it feels like gazing at those pesky ants through a microscope, the individual stories constructing the tale of a metropolis. I wouldn’t say “Bangkok Wakes to Rain” is a sunny book, but in detailing such a long view of a place, it gives us hope we’ll still be around in a couple of centuries. Do you want to mention some of the more optimistic books of environmental science fiction available?
Lavie: Yes, I think that’s kind of the exciting thing that, at least from small-press publishers, we’re getting more work that looks at, not so much how do we survive the apocalypse as how do we live with nature? How do we live in this world? This genre is called solarpunk. It attempts to radically reimagine the future, with technological solutions to environmental problems — think green cities, solar planes, recycle artists, biodegradable fashion wear. It’s a very global movement and it’s, well, hopeful!
There’s a volume from Brazil that came out last year: “Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World,” edited by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro and translated by Fabio Fernandes. Another one is “Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation” edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland, and yet another one — this time from Australia — is “Ecopunk!” edited by Liz Grzyb and Cat Sparks. And there’s the Italian press Future Fiction, which is dedicated to near-future books, and some of these are solarpunk.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of the novels “Gods of Jade and Shadow” and “Signal to Noise.” Lavie Tidhar is the author of several novels, including “The Violent Century,” “A Man Lies Dreaming,” “Central Station” and “Unholy Land.”
SCIENCE FICTION and FANTASY