Ecological Weird Fiction

Note: Updated for part 3 of the SSF World series.

The Writer’s Workshop isn’t just a place for critique. It’s a space for conversation involving fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and prose authors who put nature central to their stories. It’s a place to share tips and resources for such writing. I’d like to share some resources and thoughts on “ecological weird” fiction.

After sitting in a couple panels about ecologically oriented fiction at Science Fiction and Fantasy World, I came onboard as a volunteer writer for the site. My first articles are a series called “Exploring the Ecological Weird” (with one more part to come). Part I explores the genre overall. Part II covers, in a very broad sense, classic works in this branch of literature, leading up to the late 1960s. The exploration covers a lot of ground, so it’s tough to be too detailed. The goal of the series is to introduce readers and writers to weird fiction that has a strong sense of nature, place, and ecology. Part III covers topics central to what we call the Anthropocene.

Note that this era’s beginnings may vary, according to source, but the Anthropocene is seen, in part, as when human impact resulted in a trajectory off the natural course–one that has caused negative impact on the planet. Whether this began when humans first began populating the Earth, during the agricultural revolution, or during the industrial revolution, the impact has gotten larger over time, and it has only been relatively recently that the Anthropocene term has been recognized, coinciding with modern science’s findings about climate change and other environmental catastrophes. Part III of the series will cover modern weird fiction, including what some have called “new weird fiction”.

The concept of exploring the ecological within weird fiction was kind of a neat surprise, which I didn’t really look at clearly until I began reading Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories; in it was a short story by Michael Bernanos (originally published in France) titled “The Other Side of the Mountain.” I still remember the afternoon I read the story. My husband had built me a hammock stand, and I strung my hammock into it, poured some red wine, and read beneath a shade tree in our back yard–the summer sun shining hotly through dappled leaves. It was a great experience. Bernanos painted a story with poetic wildness, and his attention to the natural surroundings was so great it seemed almost surreal. When I later asked Jeff about it, he said:

In an existential yet unique way, Bernanos’ novel encapsulates the way in which we come up into conflict with the walls of the world, with a nature that is not our modern human nature/tech and how we misunderstand it and yet also the novel is sympathetic to the attempt to survive, to understand, even, when understanding is impossible. It’s a deeply sad book but also deeply human and deeply hopeful in its way.

Of course there were deeper things going on in the novel, but I’m a big lover of place and how it sets mood and action–and this type of story, to me, which brought ecological surroundings into the forefront and made them characters and movers of plot, is central to the idea behind eco-fiction overall.

Since that time, I have gone on to read other novels and short stories that fall into the ecological weird–thus the series. I think weird fiction is a strong way to explore topics such as climate change and extinction. Look at VanderMeer’s powerful Southern Reach series and novel Borne–strange and surreal stories that have captured mainstream audiences and are being made into movies.

The featured image is licensed for use and (c) Can Stock Photo / AlfaOlga

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