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In Apocalyptic Visions in the Anthropocene and the Rise of Climate Fiction, editor Kübra Baysal has curated a text full of diverse authors and perspectives concerning the apocalypse, the Anthropocene, and climate fiction. In the twenty-first century, climate fiction, or cli-fi, has increased in popularity due to a multitude of reasons. From the reality of global warming to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have turned to cli-fi to try and make sense of the current world we are in: a world that is still moving out of a global pandemic, and one that is impacted by climate change and global warming. With this text, Kübra’s hope is to promote discussion and centre the “importance of climate change fiction as a part of popular literature, media, and art” (p. xi). 

As a scholar who analyses fantasy literature and its application of climate change to fiction, I would certainly argue that climate fictions can teach consumers a lot about our world. The power of a story, a novel, a TV series, or even a video game can enhance our imaginative sympathy in, and desires for, the futures that we create. Climate fictions can offer one key element that nonfiction texts about climate change cannot: they actually take place in the future. These futures start conversations. As the rise in popularity of pandemic texts during COVID-19 can attest, climate fictions can also provide stories about climate change, and these can act as an entry point to the topic for many across the world, making the terrifying term “climate change” approachable. 

I do want to acknowledge that this text could be challenging for readers who are new to cli-fi, or terminology surrounding “the Anthropocene.” This isn’t to say that the essays are disappointing; in fact, it is the exact opposite; I found Baysal's collection to be a good introduction to the terminologies and histories of climate fictions. Definitions of “cli-fi,” “the Anthropocene,” and the “apocalypse” vary on their application, and this text provides multiple options for how these terms can be applied under the bigger umbrella category of “ecocritical theory,” or the study of literature and the environment. Even as someone who consumes a great deal of cli-fi narratives for both academic purposes and enjoyment(?), this volume includes texts that were new to me and broadened my understanding of how a climate narrative can be defined. It is a challenging volume.

However, the book also doesn’t move too far out of the “safe-zone” that is often seen in climate fictions. This text could have benefited by utilising a broader range of fantasy and science fiction subgenres and tropes to achieve a wider variety of texts. Some of these might include, but are not limited to, Punk fictions, African speculative fiction, Ecological weird fiction, Magical Realism, and -opias besides utopia and dystopia to name a few. Climate fiction has no clear boundary for the type of texts it can be involved with. While texts in this volume are located within fantasy and science fiction worlds, its understanding of them doesn’t go beyond the base analyses of these worlds as fantastical. 

Even with these provisos, there are still very good essays and analyses here, ranging from the work of authors like Henry David Thoreau, Amitav Ghosh, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Paulo Bacigalupi, to the TV series Raised by Wolves. (There are also thoughts on how visual art can be applied to discussions about climate change). In this sense, then, Apocalyptic Visions has much to offer to seasoned and new cli-fi consumers alike. 

Composed of fifteen chapters, Kübra’s text moves chronologically with the publication or release dates of the texts being analysed. A keener structure might have allowed for a surer flow through the book’s chapters. As it is, they feel disjointed, jumping from very theoretical heavy analyses into narratives concerning historical contexts, from climate narratives that discuss the past and future to ones that cut across mediums and others which are stand-alone essays focused on a single form. Ultimately, the text could have benefited from dividing itself into thematic parts, especially considering the volume has fifteen chapters. In this review, I’ll attempt to offer my own framework for reading these essays, and split the book’s contents into four sections: Theoretical Analyses, Climate Histories and Futures, Climate Fantasies, and Climate Across Mediums. Hopefully, by providing these thematic sections, readers interested both in Baysal’s text and climate fictions alike can locate texts that interest them—and relate them more reliably outwards.

To take the theoretical essays first: these texts provide an in-depth analysis of climate fiction theories. They provide a multitude of secondary resources, authors, and suggest texts that readers interested in cli-fi will benefit from. 

Beginning with what I think is a core chapter for the volume, Risha Baruah curates an ecological reading of Amitav Ghosh’s texts The Hungry Tide (2004) and Gun Island (2019), giving an extensive background for Ghosh and his impact in the cli-fi communities, both academic and non-academic. Baruah also highlights other scholars’ critical approaches to humanity’s role in the Anthropocene, climate change, and notions of the apocalypse. Baruah’s essay provides a lot of groundwork that the rest of the volume’s essays draw on. 

There are two other entries in this particular “section” of mine. Andrew Erickson’s essay analyses Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones (2011)—which, it argues, represents what the “millennial apocalypse” might meanwhile also discussing the socioeconomic treatment of Black lives and Black people in the American South. Erickson’s main discussion involves posthumanist theory and creating a connection between “humans” and “nonhumans” (he focuses especially on the fact that Black lives are often dehumanised in cli-fi texts). Erickson’s takeaway is that we should not read Ward’s novel as a hopeful one, but instead re-evaluate what resistance through an apocalyptic scenario might look like. 

Ward’s work, Erickson suggests, “reconfigures millennialist thinking about the end of the world in meaningful ways” (p. 198). Usefully, Işıl Şahin Gülter discusses how The Rapture (2009) by Liz Jensen approaches issues of overpopulation, human destructiveness, and awareness that the destruction of the earth can be avoided if we exercise care towards the planet. She provides a theoretical background for climate narratives, arguing that many scholars of cli-fiand human beings in generaldo not care about the environment. Gülter writes that “human beings should care more and destroy less” concerning the environment (p. 148). Her essay utilises an ecofeminist approach to the Anthropocene, emphasising woman’s role in nature through multiple ecofeminist theories.

A second set of essays moves away from theory and discusses what I call “Climate Histories and Futures.” These chapters blend the historical groundwork of cli-fi narratives, creating narratives that can depict either an imaginary past and/or an alternative future. These chapters also have a connection with the past or future that critiques modern assessments of anxiety that focus on mistakes made in the past and present. Beginning with an author that many English students might know, Onur Ekler analyses Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1885), dissecting humanity’s impact on nature, and arguing that Walden is “Thoreau’s long ignored apocalyptic vision” (p. 5). Ekler’s chapter re-analyzes Walden as an apocalyptic vision that centres around Thoreau’s clear stance on the anxieties and ignorance of humans. We as humans are so preoccupied with the mechanical world, Thoreau suggests that we have looked away from the natural world and stopped caring. This reading is insightful: Walden as an apocalyptic warning is not common! 

Reassessing another classic text, Adrian Tait uses After London (1885) by Richard Jefferies as a response to contemporary anxieties of urbanised societies and how they are facing the problems of global warming and expanding oceans. After London, according to Tait, is an important progenitor of cli-fi, as it is “a flood narrative that takes a recognizable modern, industrial society, and subjects it to the renewed and resurgent agency of the nonhuman world” (p. 26). He notes that popular texts like The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard (1962) were subsequently influenced by After London. Because of its graphic and realistic depiction of a barbaric climate-change future, Tait applies a “new materialist” reading to After London, fusing the “more-than-realist” account of a drowning London with that of a disappearing population. This “more-than-realist” approach to cli-fi can both repackage and reimagine much about contemporary twenty-first-century anxieties about the natural world because of the subgenre’s beneficial position in how it can depict something like reality, but also SFF worlds unlike what we have seen. 

More familiar to the contemporary science fiction or fantasy community than either of these texts will perhaps be David Mitchell’s popular—and popularisednovel, Cloud Atlas (2004). Here, Emily Arvay provides a unique contribution to analyses of Cloud Atlas by centering its chapter “Sloosha’s Crossin’” in her argument. According to Arvay, “Sloosha’s Crossin’” has had little attention from scholars, even though it deserves it. Arvay’s main contention is that “Sloosha’s Crossin’” connects with its audience through engagements with history concerning climate scenarios. Even though Mitchell’s novel makes no direct reference to climate change, Cloud Atlas provides what Arvay describes as an apocalyptic warning: “twenty-first century humans may soon find themselves marooned on hostile terrain once climate change renders the Earth an equally inhospitable site” (p. 107). Similarly, Sukanya B. Senapati compresses the range of historical frameworks often accessed by cli-fi writers and applies it to Paolo Bacigalupi’s acclaimed cli-fi trilogy: Ship Breaker (2010), The Drowned Cities (2012), and Tool of War (2017). In doing so, Senapati also explores “the horrifying consequences of unfettered objectification of Earth materials and life forms alike” (p. 166). For Senapati, the monstrous manipulation of these materials “without considering the agency of the materials and their connections” is a warning to readers to not play with fire (p. 177). 

Elsewhere, Manasvini Rai analyses Zadie Smith’s essay ”Elegy for a Country of Seasons” (2018), and her allegorical short story ”The Canker” (2019), as forms of “dystopian imaginary” (p. 213). Originally defined by Fuyuki Kurasawa, “dystopian imaginary” is here employed by Rai to expose how Smith’s works manifest global and local narratives of cautionary tales about our world’s encroaching calamity. Rai’s essay, while much more in-depth than this short summary allows, considers multiple aspects of Smith’s writing like ecoanxiety, ecofeminism, race, psychosocial effects of environmental crises, and more to draw attention to the psychological impact of climate change. Murat Kabak, however, analyses a text which, unlike these others, emphasises continuity not cataclysm: Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014) and its exploration of art and nostalgia in a post-apocalyptic/post-pandemic civilization. As Kabak mentions, Station Eleven is often revered for its hopeful vision in a post-apocalyptic future: that humankind can survive even after the world has been destroyed. Kabak concludes that Mandel’s novel “foregrounds the regenerative aspects of arts after the cataclysm,” while also confronting its problematic connection with Shakespeare “in terms of the suggestions of the durability of the artwork after the apocalypse” (p. 211). Kabak’s analysis made me reread Mandel’s novel as one that might create negative impacts on our perspectives of the future. Depicting the future in novels like Station Eleven is a double-edged sword: it can showcase the hope of a future and that not every outcome has to be disastrous, but it can also provide false optimism and even apathy if the future can be “hopeful.” 

The collection’s third group of essayswhat I title “Climate Fantasies”—focus on texts that more closely critique climate change, the Anthropocene, and/or the apocalypse in more imaginative fantasy or science fiction worlds. Chapters three and four, for example, analyse Ursula K. Le Guin’s famous novel The Dispossessed (1974). Seher Özsert, analysing the text from an ecocritical viewpoint, writes that the two planets that occupy the novel’s landscapes (Anarres and Urras) “reveal a great deal of criticism of the exploitation of natural resources and its dire consequences for humankind" (p. 43). Much of Özsert’s argument discusses the difference not only between the physical environment of the two planets, but also how the citizens treat each planet because of the influence of their respective environments. Pınar Süt Güngör’s essay on The Dispossessed, meanwhile, eschews a firmly environmental analysis to engage in several conversations about free will and determinism within the novel, and about how it depicts the “human experience, covered with deterministic repressions” (p. 46). Güngör writes about determinism versus free will, and whether Le Guin’s characters have free will in the utopian world depicted in the novel. Güngör assesses these concerns through multiple angles, including the utopian, dystopian, and a combination of both. 

This spirit of critique is made more contemporary in Anastasia Logotheti’s essay, which discusses two works published by Ian McEwan in the twenty-first century: On Chesil Beach (2007), and Solar (2010). These novels, Logotheti argues, “demonstrate not only an environmental consciousness” that takes place within the narrative, “but also an awareness of the repercussions of the alienation of humankind from the natural world” (p. 130). In close readings of the protagonists in both novels, Logotheti borrows Leopold Aldo’s term “ecological conscience.” According to Logotheti, each of McEwan’s texts focuses on characters and how they “lack sense of self as members of a community because they lack ecological conscience” (p. 133). Through the analytical lens of ecological conscience, Logotheti contends that McEwan’s fiction reflects a modern society that needs more honesty, community, and ethics. 

While cli-fi is often evaluated by critics and scholars through literature, much of it goes beyond novels. The essays that form my fourth notional section, “Climate Across Mediums,” reveal climate narratives that are conveyed in plays, TV series, the visual arts, and more. Elvan Karaman, for example, assesses that we should juxtapose The Tin Can People (1985), the second play in The War Plays by Edward Bond, against modern societybecause modern people have several negative features, “such as being selfish, ambitious, and cruel” that contribute to the capitalist system of individualism (p. 62). Bond’s play forces its audiences to understand that human beings are responsible for the destruction of the natural world through war. The experience of this play emphasises how ruinous humans can be thanks to our preoccupation with technology, science, and “advancement.”

Moving to screen, Niğmet Çetiner compares Maggie Gee’s novel The Ice People (1998) and HBO Max’s TV series Raised by Wolves (2020-) to “demonstrate the dangerous outcomes of human arrogance failing to see the intricate value of technology in the posthuman world” (p. 79). Çetiner, like many writing about posthumanism and cyborgs, discusses Donna Haraway—a scholar of feminism, cyborgs, and the natural world—to consider the boundaries between the living and nonliving, human and nonhuman. Çetiner writes that both the novel and TV series address the exploitation of the nonhuman and technology, leading to questions about what it means to be human in different mediums. 

Ending the volume, Roma Madan-Soni’s essay concerns a series of their own paintings in 2020. These paintings are titled Are We Listening?, Are We Sniffing?, Are We Watching?, Are We Feeling? and Are We Savouring? For Madan-Soni, these paintings “show how, in the same way we employ the medium of our sensory systems to communicate in the world of the womb, after our birth we need to reconnect with the world’s Ecosystem, our home” (p. 235). Through the medium of paintings, Madan-Soni illustrates that “Visual art and textual cli-fi narrative buttress each other to provide new confidence, visualisation, and renewed viewpoints that can alter social, political and economic planetary relationships” (p. 253). Madan-Soni’s paintings create and establish value in the fight for climate justice as it expands our knowledge of what “cli-fi” means. 

All the authors in this collection advocate for change concerning our environment, a change that they do not hesitate on in their analyses. While my introduction discussed this book’s unstructured format and “safe” selection of texts, I can still highly recommend the volume for its commitment to that change. I know that climate change is a topic that many people fear or avoid because of its fraught connection to our existing circumstances. Perhaps some even want to “escape” into fantasy worlds that plunge them into worlds of magic and wonder that aren’t affected by real-world issues. But climate fiction’s connection to our world can inspire us to live in our own. 

Many of the texts in this collection are fictional. But they are set in fantastic worlds that give us the courage to act and create change. SFF, and all the genres that fit under that wide umbrella term, provides more opportunities to evaluate our reality. Imagination is essential for progress. Each author in this text constructs and applies terminology that can seem too big to handle, too difficult to change, or that climate change is unstoppable. But climate fictions are the opportunity to develop awareness of our world. Each text in this collection provides crucial experiences for readers to reflect and take action. The essays in Kübra Baysal’s text teach us about real people and societies, how to appreciate the extraordinary within the mundane, to accept difficult truths, and how we can respond to real-world problems. If it weren’t real, these stories wouldn’t make sense. If these stories don’t make sense, we won’t connect with them. And without that connection, we put the book aside or stop viewing. 

Hannah A. Barton is a Master’s fantasy student at the University of Glasgow. They have presented at multiple academic conferences concerning ecocriticism, video games, and more. They have an upcoming chapter concerning the Horizon video game series by Guerilla Games from McFarland Publishers in early 2023. Their research concerns fantasy mediums, spatiality studies, Ludomusicology, cli-fi, and ecocriticism.
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