The Cambridge EcoFiction Bookfroup met for the first time on Wednesday 28th November 2018 to discuss Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer (2014). A group of 10 people gathered in the Modern Languages Faculty Library building, ready to discuss one of the most interesting ecofiction novels of the past few years. The meeting started with a brief introduction to the book and to Jeff VanderMeer’s writing. The author writes by his own account what he himself refers to as ‘EcoStorytelling’, and ‘weird nature writing’, and he has been called the ‘weird Thoreau’ by The New Yorker. The group discussed the elements of speculative fiction tales, considering whether their strategies show more light on issues such as environmental catastrophe, and can anticipate or re-imagine what the role of humankind may be in the current ecological metamorphosis. The uncanny/weird aspects of the novel, taken up and magnified by the film adaptation, cast a particular reading on the environmental message posed by VanderMeer. Do the gothic elements of the text allow for a greater emotional impact when communicating these issues? Connections were made with the next two texts that the group will discuss, Sealed (Naomi Booth, 2017), and The End We Start From (Megan Hunter, 2017). All three texts fall within the ‘speculative fiction’ genre. The group will investigate this year the strategies and impact of speculative and dystopian fiction to communicate climate change.
Transformations/mutations were also discussed, in particular their possible ‘adaptation’ reading within the novel, a topic that was somehow controversial within the group: is it possible that we just need to adapt, and embrace change? Is this a possible conversation we can have when discussing global warming? Another topic touched upon was the de-humanisation of the characters in the book, what are the implications of this for the purposes of ecological discussion. The meeting closed with a dialogue about the role of memory in the novel. Is this constant un-remembering narrative a comment on the futility of the climate change message? The discussion was also further illuminated by comparisons between the novel and the film, currently available in Netflix.
This successful first meeting was hosted by librarians from the Modern Languages and English Faculty libraries, and comprised a mixture of English and Modern Languages students, Geography students, and staff members from the UL and wider University. The teaching and discussion resources can be accessed and downloaded for free use following this link.