“Men and their works have been a disease on the surface of their plane… you cannot go on forever stealing what you need without regard to those who come after.”
These are not words recently uttered at the UN headquarters, but rather by a fictional planetologist, Pardot Kynes, in Frank Herbert’s renowned sci-fi novel, Dune. With Dune, Herbert managed a rare feat: he created a gripping page-turner while building a universe every bit as intricate and believable as our own, an achievement in scope and execution that deserves comparison to Tolkien. Dune is replete with fully formed religions, philosophies, wars, and Machiavellian politics. But what was perhaps most groundbreaking when the book was published in 1965 — 50 years ago this month — was its attention to ecology.
Ecology in Dune is a vital pillar, without which the story would fall apart. It is every bit as important as a warrior’s ability in battle or a mystic’s ability to see into the future. It may seem surprising, but at the turn of the 20th century, pollution was a concern in the minds of Americans, though these fears tapered off as the Depression took hold. It wasn’t until the extraordinary rise of affluence during the postwar years that many ecological concerns were reevaluated on a large scale. With Dune, Herbert was at the start of a new wave’s swell, albeit a small one. The instigator of the first ripple was Rachel Carson, with her 1962 book, Silent Spring. It highlighted the detrimental effects of pesticides, and is credited with eventually leading to the ban on DDT. After this, the discussion of environmental issues in print increased, but not as much as you’d expect — and certainly not in a novelistic sense — until Dune.
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Nowadays, novels that concern life in extreme or altered climates are commonplace, and even have their own subgenre: “cli-fi.” Climate fiction has even been broached by literary darlings like Ian McEwan (Solar) and Margaret Atwood (the MaddAddam trilogy). And it’s not hard to understand the reasons for its growth as a sub-genre, spiking as it has with real life concerns about Earth’s ecological stability. This reality has shifted the timescale of traditional sci-fi works from the dystopian future (such as that in Dune) to the dystopian present. The flooding and/or desertification of major cities, leading to starvation, mass movement of people, and general catastrophe no longer seems a matter of fictitious distance. Ten years ago we got a horrific snapshot of what such devastation could look like with Hurricane Katrina. Before this, many had gotten by under the illusion that such vulnerability wasn’t possible in one of the world’s richest countries.
Link to the rest at Flavorwire