Episode 7: Retrospective Futures

Retrospective Futures emerged from an open-themed October edition, where a number of related issues soon began to coalesce around a clearly identifiable theme: for in their different ways, all the pieces in this episode engage with aspects of SF that acknowledge the past as a way of re-imagining our future. The contributors reflect on their own experiences as well as SF texts that engage with issues of the environment, matters ecological, posthumanism and the self.

SF texts show us many futures. From the shiny hoverboards of Back to the Future to the violent dusty outback of Mad Max, SF in popular culture allows us to envision our humanity, our past and our future. It asks us to question what we have done and how this will affect the world after we are gone. Post-apocalyptic and dystopian futures are popular thematic concerns in many SF texts. These types of texts reflect a not too distant future, informed by current political, social and environmental matters. Recent demonstrations on climate change, deforestation and coal mining in Australia and abroad shift the dystopian theme into new focus around predictions of global warming reaching in excess of 2°C this century [1]. The idea of a post-apocalyptic future is no longer such a speculative one.

Current films in this genre seem to be constructed as a warning to younger generations, or perhaps a threat. Films like Divergent and The Maze Runner among others, ask the next generation to consider a future on an uninhabitable Earth. These dystopians are a whole generation whose relationship to the future is shaped by real fears of climate change and a fatalistic perspective of the world. Following on from our previous episode’s YA themes, this episode looks at how these dystopian narratives are present in classic and contemporary texts.

As adults, we may look at current SF as a warning for the next generation. But there was a warning for us, too … did we miss it? Texts like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and The Sea and Summer (1987) showed us bleak futures caused by human actions. And let us not forget the classic SF films that showed us a dystopian society in Metropolis (1927) or the biological warfare of Things to Come (1936). Classic SF engaged with issues of nuclear war and environmental destruction long before the idea of global warming was a social concern. So can we learn anything from this?

Whether we admit our past mistakes, or change our current behaviour, one thing is clear – SF might be less fictional than we think.


Isiah Lavender III is an Assistant Professor in English at Louisiana State University. In his piece ‘Black Grit’, Lavender embarks on an expression of self and SF. He expresses his professional and personal interest in race and racism within the genre, while bringing his childhood engagement with various SF texts to life. It is an extremely personal and deeply moving reflection piece.

Elana Gomel is an Associate Professor at Tel Aviv University. In ‘Character Degree Zero: Space and Posthuman Subject’, Gomel examines Kim Stanley Robinson’s novella A Short, Sharp Shock (1990) and Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy (2014) to discuss issues of posthumanism and inner space. With vivid and poetic language, she draws on SF narratology to understand the types of characters that are constructed within the genre.

Andy Hageman is an Associate Professor of English at Luther College, Iowa. ‘Karel Čapek Energies: The Absolute at Large as Proto-Cli-Fi Literature’ explores issues of global warming and the SF texts that engage with matters of environment, climate, and energy. The term cli-fi, coined by Dan Bloom, is used to explore Čapek’s novel The Absolute at Large from 1922. Hageman says, “Cli-Fi is popping up everywhere in popular media right now, and I’m excited about tapping that popularity as a way to return to some classic SF.”

David McCooey is a professor in the School of Communication & Creative Arts at Deakin University. His interest in poetry and SF is impressed in his sublime and contemplative poem ‘Notes on 2001: A Space Odyssey’. It engages with the primeval and modern idea of internal and external spaces. The poem has previously been published in Outside, Salt Publishing, London, 2011.

Mhairi McIntyre is a PhD candidate at Deakin University. As a creative writer, she is interested in folklore and mythology. In this post-apocalyptic short story, ‘The Last Bee’, she explores a future in which pollution has laid waste to the world.


— Mhairi McIntyre and Rose Woodcock



[1]        ‘The climate policy narrative for a dangerously warming world’, Nature Climate Change, March 2014. Source: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n3/full/nclimate2148.html Accessed September 30 2014



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