Imaginations of the future: Ecological futures
Editor’s Note: We feature the brilliant recommendations of our partner, the Champaca Bookstore, in the Read section twice a month. FYI: Champaca is an independent women-run and founded bookstore and children's library in Bangalore. Since it is the beginning of 2024—only to keep it interesting—we have a selection of books that look far ahead into the future. This list of good reads takes a nab at how nature and technology might intersect in the upcoming future.
What kind of technology will become widespread by 2100? What kind of social order will exist? What will the natural world look like? Read the first post in a three-part series by Nirica that brings you books with different imaginations of the future.
We all find ourselves, in one way or another, imagining some form of the future. Whether it’s personal – where do we see ourselves in five years? – or not, there’s always big changes we come up against: what kind of technology will become widespread by 2100? What kind of social order will exist? What will the natural world look like?
Science fiction and speculative fiction do a lot to contribute to our imaginations of what the world can look like, whether utopian or dystopian – though, let’s be honest, mostly dystopian. But it’s a good moment to remember something Ursula K Le Guin wrote in her introduction to the 50th anniversary edition to The Left Hand of Darkness:
“I write science fiction, and science fiction isn’t about the future [...] All fiction is metaphor. Science fiction is metaphor. What sets it apart from older forms of fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors, drawn from certain great dominants of our contemporary life – science, all the sciences, and technology, and the relativistic and the historical outlook, among them. Space travel is one of these metaphors; so is an alternative society, an alternative biology; the future is another. The future, in fiction, is a metaphor.”
A metaphor for what?
In this three part series, we present to you a collection of books from our shelves that bring us imaginations of the future, whether set a mere five years ahead of today or a few centuries. In each, you will find a world that is slightly or vastly different from the one we live in today, but most importantly, an opportunity to find a new and interesting way to engage with questions of the now.
Part One: Ecological Futures
Listening to Wildlife: In Laura Jean McKay’s ‘The Animals in that Country’ and Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Children of Time’ and ‘Children of Ruin’, we are forced to confront what we think of as “intelligence” and communication. In Adrian Tchaikovsky’s books, evolution takes on alternate possibilities, and we meet some very intelligent octopuses. In the award-winning ‘The Animals in That Country’, a disease sweeps the planet, allowing people to understand the thoughts of animals. What do they have to say? Do people have the strength to hear?
Controlling Forces: In Alexandra Kleeman’s ‘Something New Under the Sun’ and Martin Macinnes’ ‘Gathering Evidence’, we enter vivid ecological landscapes—one a sun-drenched, water-scarce California, and another a lush forest ecology. In these books, characters grapple with the effect of their own existence on the world around them, and vice versa, especially in a world fueled by capitalism and technological advancement. As they navigate their landscapes, they also confront the question of what, or who, is in control—and to what end, and their effect on the world around us.
Alternate Intelligences: Jeff Vandermeer’s ‘Annihilation’ and Ursula K Le Guin’s ‘The Word for World is Forest’ are two ostensibly different books — one takes place on our Earth, changed beyond recognition, and the other on an alien planet. Both books introduce us to alien intelligences that see, live with, and transform nature in a way unrecognisable to what their human characters are used to. ‘Annihilation’ is heavily inspired by the real, wild, and wacky landscape of Florida, and ‘The Word for World is Forest’ has parallels with how many real-life communities interact with the natural world.
Complement your fiction reading with nonfiction stories of the present—we recommend Mary Oliver’s ‘Upstream’, for a reminder of the wonder of the world we live in; Merlin Sheldrake’s ‘Entangled Life’, for a new way to look at our assumptions and categories; Robin Wall Kimmerer’s ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’, for an indigenous perspective on living in the natural world; and Sejal Mehta’s ‘Superpowers on the Shore’, about coastal sea life of India, for a reminder of the world of wildlife we find in the most unlikely of places, right under our feet.