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Tanvi Berwah on the necessity of eco fantasy

Tanvi Berwah on the necessity of eco fantasy

The American coastal state of California is often in news for its frequent droughts and wildfires that have produced the most biblical disaster imagery in recent times. Now, it has added another new anticipatory disaster in the making: a mega flood. On the other side of the Atlantic, every summer has gotten hotter and hotter in Europe to the point that we’re witnessing ghastly road melts even as continent-traversing rivers have begun to shrink. Closer to my home, India and Pakistan’s burning heatwaves are claiming lives after lives and Bangladesh has just witnessed the worst floods in over a century.

Climate threat is not a new phenomenon but the scale of what we’re dealing with is. We now live in a world where our deteriorating ecosystem is at the forefront of all kinds of ways of being, posing an existential threat to us all. And as with all changes we humans go through, climate change is also one worthy of being explored through literature.

Eco-fiction is fiction that addresses the relationship between humans and their environment head-on rather than using it only as setting. Moby-Dick, for example. It has an evolving history, especially within Black and Indigenous literature. And eco-fantasy is one part of the wide variety of eco-fiction, divided further into sub-genres like solarpunk, dystopia, eco-punk etc.

During the Industrial Revolution, this literature took the form of pastoral poems, nostalgic for the idyllic and resentful of the smoke and ash choking cities. This nostalgia is also explored in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in the form of the beloved Shire and the corruption of Mirkwood, while the industry of Isengard wreaks havoc across lands.

More recently, Octavia E. Butler’s vast bibliography deals with a number of themes and the interpersonal relationship between humans and climate is prominent among them. Her words have proven prophetic especially with the Earthseed dystopian series that shows us a ravaged setting brought about by violent climate change and social disparity.

Similarly, NK Jemisin’s award-winning Broken Earth trilogy is set in an apocalyptic world where cataclysmic earthquakes regularly devastate everything, forcing a remaking every few generations. In a world as destabilized, humanity is further burdened with oppression and exploitation of marginalized people.

My upcoming dystopian fantasy novel, Monsters Born and Made, is set on an island stripped of resources surrounded by a vicious, unforgiving sea. The world burns with a hot sun, and terrifying creatures abound. The rich dwell within a protected underground shelter and the poor are left to fend for themselves. It explores how communities are devastated by an imbalanced nature, disproportionately affecting those without means further dividing communities.

Eco-fantasy is at a unique intersection of being entertaining genre stories and cautionary tales that will hopefully leave an impact on the readers. There is a chasm between scientific facts about climate change and the knowledge with the masses. Eco-fantasy can bridge this chasm by helping us understand these rapidly changing times so we can, as noted by Michael Christie in The Guardian, “realign our conception of nature.” Eco-fantasy can’t replace action, and it certainly can’t single-handedly save the world, but it gives us space to contextualize realities which in turn can start empathetic conversations and raise questions that we all need to be asking.

For further reading, I recommend the following books:

  1. Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  2. Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
  3. The Ministry of Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
  4. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
  5. Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch

Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah is published in hardback by Sourcebooks Fire on 6 September 2022, priced £14.99

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