The recent rise to prominence of Petrocultures and the Energy Humanities is fundamentally a response to the emergent dilemmas surrounding the predicted dire consequences of continuing with a planetary-level modernity constructed and powered by fossil-fuelled extractivism. An insistence on energy forms and their related infrastructures as critical phenomena for Humanities scholars has sparked new research exploring the long – and sometimes unconscious ­or under-determined – inter-relation between energy and culture, now registering in many intersecting fields and genres. In asking fundamental questions of the Humanities’ responsibility and relation to crisis-ridden issues of capital, political power, resource distribution, climate and environment, this work is also asking questions of critical and aesthetic practice; disrupting genre, form and periodization.

The genres of SF and the fantastic have considerable salience here, given the future-orientation of energic concerns as a significant strand in the Energy Humanities’ mission trajectory. We should expect work in the speculative mode to feature strongly, not only in offering radical ‘unimaginable’ alternatives but also by extrapolating and registering contemporary issues around energy. The consensus is on the necessity of some kind of transition, a view which is reliant, to some degree, on the power of imaginaries to present (and sometimes to prevent) speculative visions of life with alternative energy systems. A range of possible worlds and the attendant challenges and theoretical possibilities they offer is represented in the essays in this collection, which chiefly focuses on sf literature. They range from eco-dystopian or resource-pressurized worlds that remain inured in and subject to the extremes of fossil regimes; worlds extrapolating messy transitions and impasses between residual and emergent energy forms; and worlds presenting hopeful scenarios of more just and equitable modes of living with abundant or even inconceivably “clean” energy resources, from solarity to future food to wind transport and spaceship fuel. These essays demonstrate that novel and alternative energy imaginaries – involving both “powered-up” and “powered-down” visions of the future – proliferate across the histories and genres of sf/f. We have only just begun to source and extract such visions, and to debate their ability to engage and conceive the new modes of dwelling, moving, producing and consuming required in the face of climate change.

This Special Collection has been guest edited by Professor Graeme Macdonald, Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick, UK and Dr Caroline Edwards, Department of English and Humanities, Birkbeck, University of London, UK.

Powering the Future: Energy Resources in Science Fiction and Fantasy

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Special Collections