Powers of Fiction

Powers of Fiction

Yesterday in class we discussed how pessimistic speculative fiction reflects the author’s, and society’s, fears relating to the changes happening to our planet. I believe that this notion – that our imaginings reflect powerful internal sentiments – gives fiction the power to shape the design of nature’s future, whether it be positively or negatively.

Take, for instance, the post-apocalyptic futures of The Road, Fahrenheit 451, Mad Max or even Wall-E. Shared amongst these is the fear that the Earth will drastically change in such a way that society must follow suit, and the ‘solutions’ (if they can be considered as such) and repercussions are frighteningly terrible. Whether it be the abandonment of Earth, or the remnants of humankind racing across the desert in war machines, life as we know it now no longer exists. These stories can be so powerful because they are born of fears common to all people: fears of death, loss and change. These central fears allow fiction to disseminate a fear of climate change. While I certainly agree that climate change and its repercussions are frightening, these tales do little more than sow into the collective conscious that climate change will be cataclysmic, in turn undermining efforts to plan and prepare for it. Although, novels and films with pessimistic imaginings can still yield positive effects in real life. These tales may impress the gravity of the situation on those who do not yet believe that the planet is changing.

On the other hand, optimistic fiction perpetuates the idea that climate change doesn’t have to be the end of humanity, and fights the fear of climate change that makes pessimistic fiction so powerful. However, this effect only applies to those who have accepted climate change as reality, and those who deny the empirical evidence of climate change do not seem likely to be persuaded by fiction. As such, both optimistic and pessimistic fiction serve a valuable purpose, for pessimistic fiction helps awaken all of society to the planet’s reality, and optimistic fiction reassures us that we can do something about it. Both are vital, as humankind must step together into nature’s future.

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