Worlding Crisis, Crisising Worlds

Gerry Canavan (Marquette University)

Gerry Canavan (Marquette University):
"Worlding Crisis, Crisising Worlds"

As Kim Stanley Robinson has noted, climate change is not a crisis--not exactly. While "abrupt on geological scales," even in its most dire, worst-case scenarios, climate change narratives will always entail "individual humans living variants of ordinary life ... daily life of a slightly different sort, and seldom more." One of the greatest difficulties in contemporary science fiction is finding ways to depict the full magnitude of the ecological situation without resorting to the sort of unrealistic, apocalyptic break we see in such blockbuster films asĀ Pacific Rim or The Day after Tomorrow. How do we tell stories about a planet where every year is just a little bit worse than the last one, and just a little bit better than the next one, on and on down through the decades, until (somewhere in there) the future no longer looks anything like the past? How do we tell stories about a shift that is barely recognizable on the scale of the individual human life, but undeniable in the circuit from grandparents to grandchildren? The strange temporality of climate change as a perpetual not-yet, always arriving but never arrived, haunts not only contemporary science fiction but all contemporary fiction; as Aaron Bady has memorably noted, all fiction set in the present today is really about climate change--just usually starring characters who are in denial. This keynote thus takes up perhaps the most urgent world-building problem in science fiction today: how to depict a planetary crisis on a human timescale, how to make the sheer weirdness of our postnormal future available to the present without sensationalizing it or reducing it into a ludicrous cartoon.

Gerry Canavan is Associate Professor of 20th- and 21st-Century Literature at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is the author of the Modern Masters of Science Fiction volume on Olivia Butler (U Illinois P, 2016) and the co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction (2015), Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction (Wesleyan UP, 2014), a special issue of Paradoxa on "global weirding" (#28, 2016), a special issue of American Literature on speculative fictions (83, no. 2, 2011), a special issue of Polygraph on ecology and ideology (#22, 2010), and the forthcoming Cambridge History of Science Fiction. In addition, he co-edits the journals Extrapolation and Science Fiction Film and Television. Currently, he is co-editing the Cambridge History of Science Fiction and working on book projects on sf and totality and sf and the animal rights movement.