The history of the future

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This is number two in a series of three blog posts about climate fiction around the following discussion to be held at the Life Centre, Newcastle on 14 September 2022:

Read the first post here.

Life Speakeasy Climate Fiction event promotion Image

Humanity – and I mean that part of humanity which rode the crest of the industrial revolution – began the 20th century believing that with science we had conquered the world; Nietszche declared that God is dead, Einstein seemed to prove that we had taken his place when he united energy, matter and time, but Freud discovered a new side to human beings, a hidden part, our unconscious minds, that could trip us up when we least expected it.

That would happen in the 20th century, with two world wars, the Holocaust, and the invention of the atomic bomb. We learnt what it meant to be God – with as much power as was attributed to God – if you are a human being (with an unconscious mind).

Ever since then we have been so dominated by the idea that we could destroy the planet at the touch of a button that we have been unable to deal with the bigger existential threat, climate change, even though science warned us about that too, 60 years ago (both threats have provided a context for my life). We have been paralysed in the face of this unprecedented warning.

In this overwhelming context Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the most pertinent and prescient novel ever. The first wave of climate fiction novels and stories lived in its shadow, as did most dystopian fiction. Apocalypse was our creation; the end of the world our doing, not God’s judgement. Dr Frankenstein was a scientist; his creation turned into a tragic monster.

Cover of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein penguin Classics edition

Science has delivered huge benefits, but there have been unforeseen consequences.

It is the job of science fiction and climate fiction now to reconcile science with humanity, humanity with science, and to let humanity understand how it can live with its unconscious mind, unifying itself to become decently and properly responsible for every living thing on the planet that is their home.

To achieve this requires some humility on our part.

No writer is producing work of this nature better than Kim Stanley Robinson. Ministry for the Future paints one picture of how we can confront our dire future, with a set of plausible solutions.

Front cover of the book the Ministry for the Future, and a photograph of Kim Stanley Robinson its author

Front cover of the book the Ministry for the Future, and a photograph of Kim Stanley Robinson, its author

Some of these he discovered in his own research, others he has imagined. His book has inspired many, who now seek to close the circle by applying these solutions in the real world.

How rare it is that a work of the imagination has such power.

The third post in this series is here.

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