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Here, at the End: Contemporary North American Ecocritical Dystopian Fiction

  • Author / Creator
    Scott, Conrad
  • “Here, at the End: Contemporary North American Ecocritical Dystopian Fiction” argues that a distinct speculative subgenre has arisen within current dystopian fiction—one that contains some properties comparable to the “critical dystopia” identified by Tom Moylan and others as having emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, but with considerations unique to the present moment. In a sense, this new subgeneric permutation, which I am calling the “ecocritical dystopia,” is an extension of that earlier form. Yet thanks to its attention to the environmental, it also reminds us that dystopian literature is perhaps always, at its root, concerned with changes to the environment and subsequent changes to society. This last aspect is the process highlighted by ecocritical dystopianism, which articulates its near-future alterations through the use of real-world place known in some way to the reader as different from the completely fictionalized settings common to some other sf work, such as with off-world narratives or even locations with fictive names that do not correspond to the geographical and instead resonate with the issues of the times. With its emphasis on environmentally-changed places, the ecocritical dystopia lessens our sense of cognitive estrangement, which means that the near-future crises of a narrative are brought into focus much more closely as issues that already affect the present. The conclusion is that problems encountered now will be magnified in the future as our sense of places is physically altered through changes to ecology, weather, climate, biomes, etc. Human society, always environmentally entangled to some degree, will also be affected. Ecocritical dystopianism therefore imparts a sense of urgency with its narratives, which bring the abstractions of something like anthropogenic climate change down to the more-focused local or even regional perspective. My study’s intervention through delineating and investigating this contemporary dystopian subgenre insists that, in this time of the Anthropocene, we are actively and aggressively driving changes to our future that will dramatically alter coastlines, living spaces, agricultural processes, and freshwater sources, as well as displace millions of people and further the ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction. But this study also demonstrates that ecocritical dystopianism has been in development nearly since the inception of the critical dystopia, with potential analytical applications prior to both. To examine the recent emergence of this new dystopian movement, this dissertation analyzes the complex generic resonances of Octavia Butler’s Parable books (Parable of the Sower, 1993; Parable of the Talents, 1998), Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series (Oryx and Crake, 2003; The Year of the Flood, 2009; MaddAddam, 2013), and Thomas King’s novel The Back of the Turtle (2014), with references to other texts emerging in the subgenre as concerns about the dystopian now become increasingly vocal. Through their ecologically-focused, placed-based imaginings, the ecocritical dystopias, though set in the near future, underscore that our present moment is already in crisis, and that we, too, are connected to its narratives.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/r3-bkrg-1855
  • License
    Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.