One of the more significant trends of the 1960’s and 1970’s in the West was the rise of the ecological movement. This was the first broad-based attempt to question the basic assumptions of the advanced, industrial nations’ reliance on science and technology. Ecologists argued that these disciplines often did more harm than good by interfering with the web of life in ways that eventually would impair the planet’s support system.
Such views affected science fiction and fantasy profoundly. Historically, science fiction has reflected guardedly on the fruits and consequences of science. Early on, in “The Celestial Railroad” (1843), for example, American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne pointedly challenged the widely held idea that scientific progress would lead to the production of morally improved people.
In the 1960’s, a less playful interrogation of science took hold. In science fiction, a prime proecology document was Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965). Although this novel had something of a “sword and sorcery” plot, it was distinguished by the author’s meticulous imagining of a viable ecosystem on the sand dune planet. Herbert’s careful interlacing of meteorological, geological, and biological data rooted the book in a committed, ecological outlook that emphasized how human actions were embedded in a world’s environment.
Fantasy literature also was touched by the rise of ecology. Although The Cloud Walker has a largely anti-ecological tone, in two ways it acknowledges the truth of some ecological contentions. First, the time line indicates two previous technological disasters that nearly wiped out the human race. People’s tendency toward self-destruction often is on Edmund Cooper’s mind. His book The Overman Culture (1971) concerns aliens who come to Earth centuries after humans have destroyed themselves and then cultivate a new Adam and Eve out...
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