Humans as Ecological Actors in Post-Apocalyptic Literature

I have a new paper out! “Humans as Ecological Actors in Post-Apocalyptic Literature” has been published in MOSF Journal of Science Fiction, in their special issue on environmental SF. This is also the first paper I’ve ever co-written, and my fellow author is Meryl Stenhouse. It was a really enjoyable writing experience, so I think we’re going to work together again once we can figure out our next topic!

Post-apocalyptic literature is frequently environmental in nature, or explores significant ecological impacts. These affect the surviving human and nonhuman populations, and are characterised by scale. While some of the apocalypses of science fiction literature are limited to the destruction of a single species – as occurs, for instance, in P.D. James’ The Children of Men – others, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, illustrate an environmental collapse that destroys entire ecosystems.

Human response to apocalypse occurs on both an individual and a communal level, but that response, within the literature, tends to focus more often on social or economic consequences. However, the ability of humans to further shape their natural environment tends to be heightened in environmental apocalypse, as compromised ecologies become ever more vulnerable to human activity. The ability of humans to function as ecological actors, as shapers of surviving ecologies, is therefore not only a fundamental – if frequently underexplored – part of that narrative, but it also indicates potential pathways for real-life response to ecological apocalypse.

Notable, in the post-apocalyptic narratives explored in this paper, is how the impact of human behaviour on environment is dependent on apocalyptic scale. The construction of refugia, the realignment of surviving communities to sustainable practices, and the increasingly destructive human presence on ecologies incapable of reclamation contrasts with, for example, the increasing nonhuman biodiversity that can follow the widespread destruction of the human population.

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