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Exo-conservation narratives & The Environmental Apocalypse

Posted by Regrette Etcetera on October 8, 2010

Some Notes On Eco-Apocalypse in preparation for the Fauxist  Postmodern Bestiaries Project


–    ‘Terraforming’ & the Universal Nature Reserve in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy.

–    ‘The Imagination of Disaster’: “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” as a post-apocalyptic consumer zoo

Genetic conservation and repopulation, panspermia, off-world conservation and procedures similar to the cryonics of the Frozen Zoos have been featured in innumerable science fiction stories, usually to aid space travel and colonisation, to survive long stretches of time or social upheaval, or as means to transport a character, an environment from the past into the future.

Many of the narratives focus on, and thereby try to fathom/portray the incongruity/strangeness of such a transition, the challenges to received categories or dualities when nature/humanity is taken off-earth, or the world in which it has become commonplace. Many of these narratives are part of politicized eco-dramas about dystopian imaginings of a biologically impoverished future, most often due to human corporate-scientific greed. Here, We will look at a few instances, ranging from more traditional, to those that portray social and political ambiguities of such practices.

Of particular interest to the Fauxist Postmodern Bestiaries Project is the ways in which these often dystopic scenarios of eco-apocalypse have become ‘mainstreamed’, and now constitute fear/fetish and mourning subjects (see for example  SOLASTALGIA, the next liberal buzzword) planning/design problems, and new categories of lifeform, taxonomies, lifeworlds and so on.

‘Terraforming’ & the Universal Nature Reserve in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy.

Robinson’s heterotopian Mars trilogy follows the colonisation of Mars in the not-so-distant future, fuelled by conflicting desires of scientific research and the preservation of a ‘virgin mars’ to the preparation for mass emigration/colonisation of an overpopulated and environmentally unstable earth controlled by corporations. As the trilogy develops, genetic technologies are used to change earth species to suit/adapt to the martian environment- tweaked, exaggerated and mixed to populate and to an extent, familiarise the new planet. The trilogy proceeds thus: Red mars colonisation, green terraforming, blue long term results.

Of interest to us are:

– The ways that the colonists use technology/Engineering to populate other worlds and escape the chaos and destruction of an unstable, overpopulated, corporate-controlled Earth.

– The figure of the animal, and conservation (the use of pristine nature and the ‘wilderness’ concept are used explicitly throughout as a major source of political/moral tension), and The engineering of earth species to allow them to inhabit Mars, which to some characters becomes a sort of planetary zoo

– The broader process of “terraforming” (making earthlike) mars

– How Robinson mashes ‘traditional’ ideas of boundedness, naturalness, wilderness and genesis in the radical displacement of technologically mediated repopulation attempts etc.

– As one of the central questions of the trilogy: what does nature, naturalness, and habitat (whether natural or cultural) mean off-world, when humans are completely responsible for the existence of other species? The re-population, release, control, experiment, quarantining of species, and associated conflict over ‘original’ nature vs. created nature.

– The trilogy captures an important element in surreal conservation- the corporate-political dimension of scientific use and control of organisms. Patenting, competing releases, extractions, mutations etc.

– Robinson’s Mars becomes a space of almost total plasticity, where the recombination of familiar forms, genetic tuning, and enhancements to populate and question it. In an era of increasing space exploration and consumerism (space tourism etc), this narrative, the field of astrobiology and the speculations- for the effects of aliens, space colonies and ‘exo-languages of life’ on taxonomical systems, evolution, the human/earth centred universe and the environment, (see for example the work of Mark Brake: Mark Brake “On the plurality of inhabited worlds: a brief history of extraterrestrialism” International Journal of Astrobiology 5 (2) : 99–107 (2006), Mark Brake & Neil Hook “Aliens and time in the machine age”, and finally Mark Brake and Neil Hook “Darwin to the double helix: astrobiology in fiction”). the Mars trilogy extends that of Silent Running by portraying the multilayered forces of terraforming and populating worlds with existing species, their subsequent status is argued over etc.

‘The Imagination of Disaster’: “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” as a post-apocalyptic consumer zoo

Dick’s novel (1968) portrays a post-apocalyptic future on a ruined Earth, where nature (valued as it now is) is destroyed, reclusive, completely commodified, and otherwise poisonous.  The privileged have left the dying/toxic world, and all animals are endangered. The remaining animals, have become rare class/status items, which show social capital (the rarer the animal the better), and simulation/mechanical animals are all the less-than-rich can afford to maintain appearances.

Electric Sheep is particularly relevant to this project in the following ways:

– It explores the links between class and nature in terms of animals- access to nature and human proprietary, the exposure to pollutants/toxicity and the privilege of leaving a destroyed/polluted earth.

– It presents a future that melds the boundary-crossings, fluidity, cyborgs, appearances and simulations that investigate the moral/ethical/categorical changes,

– In portraying a nature has become completely consumerist: the figure of the ‘real animal’ (or real nature) has become supremely exaggerated, animal vendors and repairpersons sell and replace ‘models’ according to “Sidney’s Catalog”- which includes extinct species, marked “E”, and currently unavailable animals, marked in italic text (and at the last price paid)- the class relations of nature are interrogated.

– The novel reinforces the lack of ‘accidental’ or ‘free’ nature and animals (particularly in the desert toad scene…) which would form such a situation of value and fetish, and explain the reversal of the value system in which animals are considered more valuable than humans due to their rarity and accumulated symbolism.

– The narrative of genetic mutation and corruption that accompanies a global toxicity dovetails with the rhetoric of the Frozen zoo and contemporary eco-apocalypse.

– The novels end-vision of what a world of capitalised animals could be like. The exaggerated forms of social capital and commodity fetishism that could spring from older notions of natural value and uniqueness etc. a pet culture of all species, individualised conservation and care, and the shifting of terms of realness and surface, which could accompany the animation of extinct, rare or symbolic animals in our times.

See wikipedia for list of cryogenic narratives in pop-culture:  HYPERLINK “”


3 Responses to “Exo-conservation narratives & The Environmental Apocalypse”

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