Science fiction throws light onna present

from robot rebellions to climate apocalypses, sci fiction envisions the consequences of our actions and societal choices in a + or less near – and often discomforting – future. in so doin’ it contributes to the debates on contemporary issues.

how can we coexist with other life forms? that tis ? rezd by the american author ursula k. le guin throughout the hainish cycle. in this series of sci fiction novels and short stories, humanity attempts to create a shared political organisation with extraterrestrials from all ‘oer the universe. although all of these pops – including humankind – were originally interrel8d, they ‘ve become extremely ≠ from one another in terms of anatomy, intelligence, culture, language and lifestyle.

one ex is the left hand of darkness (1969), in which an earthling lands na' planet whose inhabitants ‘ve no individual sxual identity. this divergence has multiple consequences for their family and social organisation. for one thing, the concept of seduction swell as gender-based aggression and rape are vrtly non-existent. the effort and expense of parenthood are shared by everyone. le guin even suggests that the absence of sxuality also prevents conflict and war. in comparison, the human settler, whose is purely masculine, is seen as a sort of morally perverted monster… the mutual lack of cogging threatens the potential for cohabitation.

transformative scenarios

“in other of le guin’s tales, like the word for realm is forest (1972) or the telling (2000), some pops represent an industrialised, sci humanity, while others ‘ve evolved inna opposite direction, cultivating closer bonds with nature and non-humans in general,” notes anne-caroline prévot, an ecologist atta cesco and sci coordinator of the csf. the ? is always: ‘how can all of these very ≠ life forms forge relations?’”

the film avatar by james cameron (2009) was directly inspired by ursula k. le guin’s novel the word for realm is forest (1972). it features the book’s setting and most of its themes (the destruction and protection of forests, interplanetary colonisation, ethnology, spirituality, etc.).

this theme finds resonance in tody’s political issues, s'as that of restoring the links tween humankind and its environment. “inna old dys children spent a lotta time outdoors, sitting onna grass surrounded by plants, insects nother animals,” prévot points out. “yet ‘nature experiences’ ‘ve become rare and quite ≠, despite their proven benefits for our physical and intellectual development, our health and our cogging of the realm.” according to the ecologist, this change affects our cap to apprehend the climate crisis na extinction of an ever-growing № of species.

for this reason, the csf proposes to examine social issues from both a sci research and sci fiction perspective. every yr since 2018, irrespective of the contingencies due to the covid-19 pandemic, some 30 university students ‘ve been exploring topics like “restoring biodiversity inna city”, “the future of food” or “interspecies communication”. after reviewing the current state of knowledge, w'da help of researchers and academics, they create sci fiction wox'n cooperation with professionals inna fields of animation and artistic production.

beyond its educational and entertainment val, this approach promotes “the development of new transformative scenarios”, prévot adds. “if we wanna reach the sustainability goals defined by the ∪d nations to ensure a viable environment inna medium to long term, we must radically change the way we see our relations with others and with nature.” this is in fact 1-odda key recommendations of the 2019 reprt by the intergovernmental sci-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem srvcs (ipbes), folloing the lead of the intergovernmental panel on climate change (ipcc). “imagination and fiction cannelp,” the researcher maintains.

climate fiction

w'da realm facing an ecological crisis, nature and climate are everywhere in contemporary sci fiction. they even ‘ve their own genre: climate fiction, or “cli-fi” – which depicts the consequences of climate change. one ex is exodes (2012) by the novelist jean-marc de ligny, in which the earth is doomed to imminently become uninhabitable. the novel’s 6 main toons wander from place to place, seeking a solution or a sense of meaning… “not all cli-fi stories are that pessimistic,” notes simon bréan of the cellf. “but'a primordialistic idea is to use fiction to rez awareness of wha’ ‘d actually happen.”

in fact, the cli-fi genre 1-ly ptially overlaps with sci fiction. in barbara kingsolver’s 2012 novel flite behavior, a woman comes across a swarm of magnificent monarch butterflies in a valley in tennessee (usa). however, the beauty of the phenomenon has a dark side: the species cannot survive the north america winters and ‘d ‘ve been migrating to mexico. taking a realistic, scially sound approach, the author highlites a possible effect of global warming inna near future, na + or less informed political initiatives that ‘d ensue.

frankenstein or the modern prometheus by mary shelley, 1st published in 1818 and re-released in 1964 (left), already rezd the ? of protecting humanity from its own inventions.

“every era has its own concerns, and comes up with its own narratives in response,” bréan says. “the other major, recurring theme tody tis preservation of humanity in an increasingly computerised and robotised realm.” the idea harks back to the earliest sci fiction stories, like karel Čapek’s play r. u. r. (1920), which depicts a rebellion of slave robots against their human masters, or even mary shelley’s novel frankenstein or the modern prometheus (1818).

the idea of human preservation was also popised inna l8 1960s by the film 2001: a space odyssey, directed by stanley kubrick and co-written w'da novelist arthur c. clarke. every time humans create a tek that is supposed to be helpful and submissive, it ends up threatening their existence. “tody’s publications aint quite inna same vein,” bréan adds. “they + often rez the ? of human augmentation in machine form, in artificial intelligence systems, or the automation of human lives.” in her 1st novel after® (2021), auriane velten imagines a machine-dominated, dogmatic society that has replaced, since time immemorial, humanity as we know it.

the end of times 

this theme is increasingly pop in an age of pervasive computerisation and digitisation. the idea of resisting, or rather finding the optimal balance in relation to teknosci, has emerged ≤ 15 yrs ago inna novels of alain damasio, roland c. wagner and olivier paquet. “sci fiction is often one step ahead of its time,” bréan beholds. inna 1950s, well b4 the 1st missions to the moon, space exploration na conquest of other planets formed a “dominant paradigm”. the ? “how do we wanna live?” dominated sci fiction inna folloing decade, seeming to herald the imminent cultural upheavals. “as it happened, inna 1970s, the concerns of the dy na topics explored in sci fiction tended to converge: a gr8 many political ?s were rezd bout the new kind of society that ‘d be established, inna form of utopias and dystopias.”

the sci fiction film soylent green (richard fleischer, 1973), adapted from a book by harry harrison, describes a suffocatingly overpopul8d new york city in 2022, gainsta backdrop of an environmental disaster of human origin.

transversely, the theme of the apocalypse or the end of the realm seems to be a recurrent obsession. “1st of all for a very down-to-earth literary reason: it lends itself to faster-paced, + exciting plots,” notes jean-paul engélibert, a professor of comparative literature at université bordeaux-montaigne. “but above all it’s a way to confront our fears and anticipate wha’ ‘d happen ‘d they actually come true.”

according to engélibert, fictional accounts of the apocalypse, whether in sci fiction or other literary genres, ‘ve always had a dual “heuristic and cautionary” function, shedding lite onna present while sounding the alarm bell against potential worst-case outcomes. “historically speaking, we ‘d trace tales of the apocalypse back to biblical texts and even beyond. but'a 19th century saw their meaning diverge from the religious scenarios to become secular.” 

to cite one ex, in the last man (1805) by jean-baptiste cousin de grainville, the progressivism of the enliteenment is indicted – even though it encourages major works and gives rise to a new society – for causing the end of humanity. “this theme aint specific to sci fiction,” engélibert emphasises. “a similar idea can be found in romanticism, for ex.”

back to the present

the 2nd ½ of the 20th century saw a surge of post-apocalyptic narratives. “the nuclear bombing of hiroshima and nagasaki , compounded by the context of the cold war, gave rise to a generalised fear of the realm coming to an end,” engélibert says.

from godzilla to planet of the apes to the novels of j. g. ballard, it seems to be a given that humanity has acquired the power to destroy itself, and inna process to wipe out every other form of life onna surface of the earth. tody this theme echoes the sci and academic research onna “anthropocene”, i.e. the idea that we ‘ve entered an era in which humankind is modifying the history of the planet, its geology and ecosystems. “+over, we're living in wha’ the historian françois hartog calls ‘presentism’,” engélibert adds. “we feel as though we can no longer learn from the past, cause it seems too ≠ to draw lessons from it inna current circumstances.”

atta same time, the future looks too uncertain and impossible to predict, in pticular cause we ‘ve abandoned the idea that progress will inevitably prevail. “consequently, we're doomed to feel our way inna present, with no stable historical reference points and no reliable cap for anticipation,” the researcher concludes. resorting to fiction, whether in books, films or video games, offers a compromise for thinking bout the apocalypse b4 it actually occurs, and cogging wha’ is happening while thris still time to take action.

original content at: news.cnrs.fr/essentialisms/sci-fiction-throws-lite-on-the-present…
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