Dreading the Future. The Ethical Implications of Contemporary Speculative Fiction

Carolin Gebauer


Given that today’s world is preoccupied with climate change, it comes as no surprise that recent speculative narratives predominantly focus on the future of planet Earth. Yet such Anthropocene novels do not make up the entirety of contemporary speculative narratives. This essay first explores how the genre draws on current societal, political, economic, and ecological trends to create dystopian scenarios, and then goes on to investigate the ethical dimension of these models for the world. In the first step it takes John Lanchester’s The Wall (2019), Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), and Joanne Ramos’s The Farm (2019) as examples and shows how speculative narratives stage ideologies and negotiate human values on the level of both narrative content and narrative transmission. The second step, an investigation into the interplay of the ethics of the telling and the ethics of the told, then serves to illustrate the degree to which the aesthetic form of a narrative can determine the ethical implications of reading speculative fiction in the age of the Anthropocene.


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