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Special Feature: Envisioning Sustainable Transitions

Credit: Hachette Book Group.

Collection launched: 01 Nov 2016

Guest Editor: Kate O’Neill, University of California at Berkeley
Guest Editor: Alastair Iles, University of California at Berkeley
Guest Editor: D.G. Webster, Dartmouth

Envisioning sustainable transitions: Insights and challenges from science fiction

From richly-drawn ecotopian visions to prophecies of large-scale ecological collapse, speculative fiction offers fresh insights and powerful visions related to sustainability transitions. Science fiction is arguably in its most creative, diverse, productive, and popular era. While a few novels in the early decades of science fiction explored ecological themes (eg. Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Frank Herbert), the past 30 years has seen a massive growth in works that consider such themes. Far from being a niche genre that speaks only to hard technology geeks, science fiction now travels to many places and times that resonate with many more people around the planet. 

This is all the more the case as ecological science fiction emerges as a prescient genre, anticipating the rapid climate change, biodiversity loss, plastic waste, water wars, environmental refugees, and other developments of today. Ecological science fiction foresaw the genetic engineering of foods, big data, agrarian robots, ecological economies, desalinisation plants, and many other technologies, relations, and forms of life. We are living through not only intensifying climate change but a global pandemic that was glimpsed in science fiction long before.

The ecological science fiction genre shows us how the choices we make today shape the best and the worst features of our futures. The genre has much to teach about the planet’s present environmental condition, our many alternative paths, and the kinds of actions that make transitioning to sustainability more likely. It can shed much light on what sustainability transitions might look like, what processes and politics are involved, what structural lock-ins impede transitions, and most of all what ‘sustainability’ may mean to diverse peoples worldwide. 

We are especially excited to consider papers in the following areas:

  • Pandemic eras (eg. Margaret Attwood, Emily St. John Mandel, Louise Erdrich)
  • Climate change (eg. Kim Stanley Robinson, Paolo Bacigalupi, Claire Vaye Watkins, John Barnes) 
  • Energy, water, and food transitions (eg. Omar El Akkad, Paolo Bacigalupi)
  • Politics of change and alternative economic systems (eg. Kim Stanley Robinson, Ursula K. LeGuin, Ernest Callenbach) 
  • Multi-species and biodiverse worlds (eg. Sheri Tepper, Joan Slonczewski, Octavia Butler, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Dan Simmons)
  • Competing visions of sustainability and technology (corporations, wealthy elites like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, communities, movements)
  • Indigenous, Black, Latinx, feminist, and queer eco-futurisms (eg. N.K. Jemisin, Rebecca Roanhorse, Charlie James Anders)
  • Ecological science fiction in and from China, Africa, Latin America, and other regions (eg. Cixin Liu, Chen Qiufan, Namwali Serpell, and many others).


Papers can explore a variety of media – not only traditional books but graphic books, films, and TV programs. We will also consider papers on pedagogy (the use of ecological science fiction in teaching), policy practice (sci fi as imaginative scenarios), and popular knowledge-making (the role of sci fi in stimulating community understanding of the present and future).

We welcome ongoing submissions. This is a never-ending special feature, as the future continues to arrive all the time. If you have questions, please contact one of the guest editors.

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