Imagined Energy Futures in Contemporary Speculative Fictions

Bradon Smith

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This essay examines the representation of post-fossil-fuel energy systems in the imagined futures of three works of speculative fiction: Sarah Hall’s novel The Carhullan Army (2008), Emily St John Mandel’s novel Station Eleven (2014) and Anne Washburn’s play, Mr Burns (2014). It begins by arguing that speculative fiction has an important role in imagining alternatives to our current petro-modernity, and in reminding us that in energy systems, change is constant. Since speculative fictions turn our present into the “determinate past of something yet to come” (Jameson 2007), it is instructive to look at these futures’ ideas of the past. This essay identifies two forms of nostalgia: an agrarian utopianism, which depicts an idyllic pre-fossil-fuel world; and a petro-nostalgia, a desire for an early-twenty-first-century fossil-fuelled society of casual luxury. Tracing these ideas through the three texts, this essay shows how these narratives imagine a non-fossil-fuel society, but also how the past of fossil-fuel dominance continues to have a presence, preserved in language and cultural memory in these futures. The essay concludes by arguing, following Jameson, that speculative fictions such as those examined here allow us to return to see our present anew, and to see our petro-modernity as more malleable and more changeable than it can sometimes appear.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-154
Number of pages19
JournalResilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities
Issue number2-3
Early online date11 Jul 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Jul 2019


  • energy
  • speculative fiction
  • contemporary fiction
  • fossil-fuels
  • nostalgia

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