Environments in Science Fiction: Essays on Alternative Spaces
Edited by Susan M. Bernardo
Cover Artist: Photodisc / Thinkstock
Review by Mel Jacob
McFarland Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780786475797
Date: 12 March 2014 List Price $40.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
It's long been noted that world building and environments are critical to science fiction literature. This book is a series of critical essay about environments in science fiction and comments on how noted authors have explored and exploited various themes and the influences and interactions caused by the worlds they created. Much of the language is typical of academic criticism and is likely to intimidate the average science fiction reader.
However, the analysis and conclusions are interesting. Among the works and authors discussed are: War of the Newts by Karl Čapek, The Word for World Is a Forrest by Ursula K. LeGuin, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany, The Long Earth by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick, and a variety of other authors.
Alienation and political commentary are rife. Environments span laboratories, dysfunctional worlds, space, nature in many forms, and various cultural influences. The focus is how humans and others reflect and adjust to these environments. Ecology as such is somewhat peripheral in these essays although the prefix eco is often mentioned.
In Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Cormac McCarthy's The Road, home and community play a major role. Limits restrict actions, but also demand growth.
The essay by Shayani Bhattacharya on Amitav Ghosh's The Calcutta Chromosome discusses the importance of silence. It also shows the heavy influence of the west on India in subtle and not so subtle ways. It thus offers a way of viewing underlings in a new and sometimes subversive way.
All in all, the essays provide opportunity to step back and gain a new understanding of the role of different and changing environments on possible story and character development. Environments shape characters and actions. It is difficult to do justice to all the works considered by the essays and to the critiques themselves. The ideas are challenging and thoughtful.