Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
TerraformingEcopolitical Transformations and Environmentalism in Science Fiction$

Chris Pak

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781781382844

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781781382844.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM LIVERPOOL SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.liverpool.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Liverpool University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in LSO for personal use.date: 27 July 2021

Terraforming: Engineering Imaginary Environments

Terraforming: Engineering Imaginary Environments

(p.1) Introduction Terraforming: Engineering Imaginary Environments

Chris Pak

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Beginning with the coining of “terraforming” by science fiction writer Jack Williamson, this chapter explores the boundaries of the term in scientific discourse and in fiction, focusing attention on its significance for stories of interplanetary colonisation. It compares terraforming with its Earthbound counterpart, geoengineering, thus highlighting how science fiction explores modes of relating to Earth’s environment. It introduces James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis and explains its significance for terraforming, and explores the nature of science fiction’s environmental engagement and its intersections with ecocritical concerns. It also introduces the concept of nature’s otherness and of landscaping, and connects the latter to Bakhtin’s chronotope, thus delineating an analytical framework for exploring how space and time is invested with human value and meaning in science fictional narratives.

Keywords:   Bakhtin, Dialogism, Chronotope, Terraforming, Geoengineering, Landscaping, Environmental philosophy, Science fiction, Gaia Hypothesis, Ecology

Science-fictional (sf) stories of planetary adaptation – terraforming – construct imaginative spaces to explore society’s orientation to ecological, environmental, and geopolitical issues and concerns. Terraforming involves processes aimed at adapting the environmental parameters of alien planets for habitation by Earthbound life, and it includes methods for modifying a planet’s climate, atmosphere, topology, and ecology. Combining the Latin terra for ‘earth’ or ‘land’ with the gerund ‘forming,’ the term refers to ‘[t]he process of transforming a planet into one sufficiently similar to the earth to support terrestrial life’ and is chiefly associated with sf discourse (‘Terraforming, n.,’ 2015). While the Online OED credits the first use of the term to Jack Williamson (writing as Will Stewart) in 1949, Jeffrey Prucher traces the verb ‘terraform’ to Williamson’s 1942 short story ‘Collision Orbit’ (2007, 235). To a primary definition similar to the Online OED’s, Prucher adds two others: ‘to modify a world’s environment so that it can support life that evolved on a planet other than the Earth’ (dated to 1969) and ‘to modify the Earth’s environment’ (dated to 1997) (235).

These definitions encompass three modes of terraforming. The first designates the human colonisation of space where alien planets are shaped in the image of Earth. The second involves an alien colonisation of space and the alteration of planets to resemble the aliens’ homeworlds. The third, the alteration of Earth’s landscape, is at first glance puzzling when paired with the Online OED’s primary definition: what does it mean to alter Earth to make it more closely resemble itself? Martyn Fogg helpfully defines terraforming alien planets and terraforming Earth, or ‘geoengineering,’ as two subsets of ‘planetary engineering,’ arguing that ‘phrases such as “terraforming the Earth” have a ring of nonsense about them – how does one make the Earth more like itself?’ (1995, 90). He explains that ‘[g]eoengineering is planetary engineering applied specifically to the Earth. It includes only those macroengineering concepts that (p.2) deal with the alteration of some global parameter, such as the greenhouse effect, atmospheric composition, insolation or impact flux’ (90).

Prucher’s primary definition offers a clue to this conundrum: ‘to modify a world’s environment so that it can support Earth life-forms, especially humans’ (2007, 235). When considered against the definition of the adjectival form of the term, ‘terraformed,’ ‘(of a world) having been modified to support life-forms alien to it,’ avenues for reframing orientations and perspectives towards the habitation of Earth are opened (235). These definitions encode a conception of humanity as fundamentally alien to Earth. Modification through agricultural technologies could be considered early instances of an impulse to shape the planet for human-centred purposes, culminating in images and narratives that feed into real-world motivations to terraform other planets.

The date of Prucher’s third definition reflects a shift in awareness of humankind’s ability to alter planets through climate change and other global effects. The link between terraforming, geoengineering and climate change has been articulated by many scientists and commentators on contemporary environmental issues. Christopher McKay suggests that ‘it is becoming increasingly clear that humanity is already engaged in both deliberate and inadvertent global modifications of at least one planet – Earth’ (1982, 309), while Michael Dumiak explains that ‘[t]erraforming Mars is basically a radical application of human-induced climate change’ (2007, 62). This sense of terraforming as an extension of anthropogenic climate change illustrates a connection between climate change and geoengineering, and by a further conceptual extension geoengineering and terraforming.

Terraforming as a narrative, a motif, and a concept exemplifies the feedback between sf, science, and wider popular culture. The term was adopted by scientific discourse, before feeding into sf through borrowings from scientific speculation about terraforming. In his scientific survey of planetary adaptation, Fogg explains that the technical study of terraforming involves environmental, social, political, legal and ethical complexities that impact on real-world considerations of planetary adaptation (1995, 24). Although he acknowledges the root of the theme in sf and includes a short discussion of such literature, Fogg’s focus as a scientist remains largely on the technical possibilities for terraforming. While the dialogue between sf and science is central to the theme, it has also gained traction in both environmental and wider popular spheres.

Given the impossibility of human evolution that would be swift enough to allow the safe habitation of other planets, the colonisation of other worlds depends on a series of technological adaptations. In the same year that Williamson coined ‘terraforming,’ James Blish coined (p.3) ‘pantrope,’ loosely translated as ‘changing everything,’ to refer to the genetic modification of humans for habitation of alien environments (2001 [1956], 8). Pantropy has since been expanded to include biotechnologies alternative to genetic engineering, such as cyborgisation. Terraforming involves the adaptation of space via industrial methods, through a series of ecologically informed adaptations, or through a combination of both. Terraforming and pantropy can also be combined, such as when humans are genetically engineered to cope better with the climate of the terraformed yet still alien Mars in Kim Stanley Robinson’s acclaimed Mars trilogy (1996c [1992]; 1996b [1993]; 1996a).

Prucher’s three definitions are useful guides to tracking how terraforming is imagined in 1942 as part of a human colonisation of space, before it becomes established by 1969 as inclusive of any civilisation and, implicitly, the alternative worlds that act as models guiding alien planetary adaptation. By 1997 the imaginative spaces offered to environmental speculation by sf narratives of terraforming are reconnected to Earth, another development that has influenced wider scientific and philosophic discourse amidst contemporary anxieties about environmental change. These changes to the context that terraforming is understood in and the way they emphasise different aspects of an ecopolitical intersection suggest that sf has continually shifted focus in response to new conceptions of human relationships to physical, value-laden spaces. Terraforming provides a clear example of the dialogue between sf, science and environmentalism that makes it especially significant for ecocritical examination. This book is not about the scientific and technical aspects of terraforming but about terraforming as a motif and a narrative that engages with ecology and environmentalism, socio-politics and ethics. Pantropic themes are not analysed in equal depth for reasons of space, but at times it will be important to consider how pantropy, as a supplement or alternative to terraforming, foregrounds concerns that underlie decisions to physically adapt other worlds.

Shaping Earth and the Solar System

Making your world more habitable began on the Earth itself, with the first dancing fire that warmed its builder’s cave.

(Reed, 2001, 199)

The significance of geoengineering and its overlap with terraforming makes it important to keep in focus their correspondences and distinctions. The historians John McNeill and J. Donald Hughes discuss (p.4) the effects on the environment of such projects as the Boulder Dam on the Colorado River (renamed the Hoover Dam) and the Aswan High Dam across the Nile, along with other related endeavours such as urbanisation and rapid technological change. The relationship between terraforming and geoengineering is implied by the similarity of language used by advocates of large-scale engineering projects to justify these developments. As McNeill and Hughes argue, projects such as dam construction are often motivated by political agendas that sometimes exceed strictly economic concerns (McNeill, 2001, 157–82; Hughes, 2009, 175–81).

In M. Vassiliev and S. Gouschev’s speculative account of the benefits that Soviet science might bring to Russia in the future, geoengineering themes that relate directly to the adaptation of landscapes are anticipated with delight. In the chapter ‘The Dawning Age of Plenty,’ several ‘glimpses’ of the future are described, including ‘the enrichment of the soil, the promotion of rain, and the conversion of salt lakes and inland seas into fresh-water ones’ so that desert environments can be adapted into fertile agricultural land (1961, 94). In ‘The Creators of Nature,’ the global distribution of various natural resources is criticised in order to buttress an argument advocating the transformation of ‘our communal house, the earth,’ to the needs and tastes of humankind (185). While such transformations of nature have already occurred in Russia, it is predicted that, ‘as man’s power increases, this transforming activity will develop even further’ (186). ‘In the Lunar City’ takes the logic of the technological transformation of nature into space, recounting as it does the construction of dome-like glass cities on the Moon (205–08).

Adrian Berry focuses particular attention on terraforming and astrophysical engineering in his popular scientific work, The Next Ten Thousand Years, citing examples of such projects in sf by Olaf Stapledon and Poul Anderson (1976, 93, 91). Berry critiques the apocalyptic strand of environmentalist discourse, which he sees culminating in the publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972, the ‘Rousseau-like dreams […] of a “return to nature,” and the desirability of living without technical aids like the “noble savage”’ (187). Sir Francis Bacon’s notion of progress and the publication of his scientific utopia The New Atlantis in 1627 are significant in Berry’s view because ‘[i]t was perceived for the first time that humanity might have a hidden purpose, and might be able to execute a long-term plan whose nature had been hitherto concealed’ (23). Berry argues that terraforming and the colonisation of space are precisely such activities and concludes, in contrast to warnings of economic and environmental decline, that ‘[t]he Baconian scheme can be delayed, but it cannot be stopped’ (189).

(p.5) Sf as Environmental Literature

Environmentalism is a broad term involving several areas of discourse. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, environmentalism had been preoccupied with issues of conservation and preservation. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, published in 1854, greatly influenced the environmental movement, as did Ralph Waldo Emerson’s American transcendental poetry. The Sierra Club, founded in 1892 by John Muir, did much to establish conservation in America. Samuel Butler’s 1872 Erewhon portrays a future pastoral utopia where machines have been banned because of the perceived threat that their evolution poses to humankind. Richard Jefferies’s 1885 After London is an early work of scientific romance set in a post-apocalyptic England divided into feudal counties. It possesses a strong environmental orientation and contrasted the new pastoral landscapes of this future with a submerged and contaminated region where London used to stand. In W.H. Hudson’s 1887 A Crystal Age, a matriarchal society of independent family households live in a radically depopulated far future. The narrative follows the struggles of a protagonist, brought by an accident into this vividly depicted pastoral landscape, who fails to adapt his contemporary values to the expectations of his adoptive household. Responding to Edward Bellamy’s 1888 Looking Backward, 2000–1887, William Morris’s 1890 socialist utopia, News From Nowhere, depicts a deurbanised pastoral England visited – as with Hudson’s and Bellamy’s works – by a visitor contemporary to the narrative’s publication. Since the 1960s, ecology has played a larger role in informing environmental awareness, shifting this early investment in preservation and conservation in new directions.

Susan Stratton suggests that sf owes more to environmentalism as a separate collection of social, political and economically focused movements or projects of protest, activism, reformation and deconstruction than it does to any relatively unified notion of environmentalism (2000, 2–6). Silent Spring (2002), Rachel Carson’s foundational exposé of the far-reaching chemical pollution of the ecosystem, is often cited as the popularising text that brought environmental issues to the forefront of an international awareness. Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1971) and the first images of Earth taken by the US Weather Bureau’s TRIOS satellite, launched in the 1960s, also highlighted concerns that were popularised by the first Earth Day in 1970 (Daly and Frodeman, 2008, 136). Environmental philosophy grew out of, and to some extent alongside, a burgeoning ‘activist’ strand supported by environmentally focused philosophies. Debates in environmental philosophy tend to centre primarily on issues of ethics and value, although aesthetics, (p.6) theology and ecofeminism are also dominant areas of philosophical enquiry.

Both environmental philosophy and ecocriticism developed in response to the growth of environmental awareness, but only became established as academic disciplines in the 1980s. Ecocriticism is a form of literary criticism focused on the contribution to environmentalism of literary texts, and it involves literary-aesthetic as well as philosophic examination of the relationships between humanity and the environment. The term ‘ecocriticism’ was coined by William Rueckert in his 1978 article ‘Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism,’ since collected in The Ecocriticism Reader (1996, 105–23). Nevertheless, several works published before 1978 anticipated the concerns of ecocriticism: Raymond Williams’s The Country and the City (2011 [1973]) includes a chapter on sf and Annette Kolodny’s retrospectively ecofeminist The Lay of the Land (1975) examines the gendered discourse involved in the colonisation of America.

In Trillion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove define sf as ‘the search for a definition of mankind and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science)’ (2001, 4). By characterising sf as a ‘search for a definition,’ Aldiss claims that sf is a literature of epistemology, an exploration of how science and technology force a re-evaluation of humankind’s place in relation to its environment and the cosmos. Aldiss argues for sf’s potential value as environmental literature by claiming that ‘[t]he greatest successes of science fiction are those which deal with man in relation to his changing surroundings and abilities: what might loosely be called environmental fiction’ (8). His emphasis on a loosely defined ‘environmental fiction’ highlights the wide range of issues that inform an environmental awareness while implicitly acknowledging the multiple ways sf explores two major themes that are essential to the mode: our relationship to the environment, and the way our abilities – our technologies – allow alteration of both the environment and the range of environments made available to us.

Noel Gough argues that sf’s focus on the external world and on our interaction with it is a result of sf’s object orientation. Like Aldiss, he claims that ‘this attention to externalities may mark SF as an environmental literature par excellence’ (1998, 411). Patrick D. Murphy concurs when he calls sf a nature-oriented literature. Like Aldiss and Gough, he argues that this is because it ‘directs reader attention toward the natural world and human interaction with other aspects of nature within that world,’ but he also points out that it ‘makes specific environmental issues part of the plots and themes of various works’ (Murphy, 2001, (p.7) 263). Terraforming is a significant instance of such environmental issues because the motif flexibly accommodates a range of environmental events, thus opening up a potentially vast field for environmental philosophical speculation.

Sf, as the example of terraforming illustrates, is a mode that allows us to explore the status and the consequences of various forms of relationship to space. While consideration of these issues in terraforming stories is usually focused on our attitudes to planets other than Earth, such stories allow us to examine and evaluate our historical relationship to our home planet and to postulate alternatives to current practices. The ‘terra’ in ‘terraforming’ always refers us to its paradigmatic example, especially when used in sf discourse. The extremes of spatial and temporal scale explored in terraforming stories allow us to imaginatively re-situate our values with respect to our place in the universe, thus calling for a re-evaluation of the assumptions behind varying positions to nature and to each other.

In Green Speculations, Eric Otto explores the shape of a form of radical ecology he calls transformative environmentalism, which combines influences from a diverse range of oppositional politics that have emerged since the 1960s, the science of ecology, environmental philosophy, deep ecology, ecofeminism and ecosocialism. He argues for ‘environmental science fiction’s place as a body of literature that reflects, sometimes prefigures, and in its finest moments theorizes transformative environmentalism and its assorted targets of criticism’ (Otto, 2012, 4–5). Otto considers the different responses to environmental degradation that sf has offered, highlighting the prominent belief in the ‘Illusion of Disembeddedness’ from nature and its converse, ‘part-of-nature’ thinking, which builds on the implications of ecological interconnectedness. He also investigates different modes of environmental activism as a response to this degradation, alternatives that are influenced by sometimes contrary feminist approaches and by deep ecological thinking. Arguing that ‘estrangement, extrapolation, and sense of wonder constitute an ecorhetorical strategy for works of fiction and nonfiction whose interests lie in questioning deep-seated cultural paradigms’ (16–17), Otto identifies capitalism and its logic of limitless growth as the agent of this environmental degradation and the target of transformative environmentalism’s critique.

In order to draw out the range of influences feeding into portrayals of terraforming, Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis needs to be considered in relation to the motif. The Gaia hypothesis claims that the Earth’s planetary environment and its organisms are fundamentally interconnected in a biogeochemical cycle and that life provides feedback that (p.8) assists in regulating Earth’s climate (Lovelock, 1987). Although the implications of this paradigm for terraforming begin to cohere in the late 1980s, the Gaia hypothesis is central to the way terraforming develops during the 1970s. Ernest J. Yanarella argues that these two themes reflect each other and that terraforming is the Jungian shadow of the Gaia hypothesis (2001, 225–88). Lovelock suggests that terraforming Mars would be an ‘unremitting task of nurture and the daily guidance of the newborn planetary life until it could, by itself, sustain homeostasis,’ thus implying that terraforming would fulfil the reproductive criterion of a Gaian planet seen as a living organism (1995, 189). He goes on to write that ‘[t]houghts of Gaia will always be linked with space exploration and Mars, for in a sense Mars was the birthplace of the theory’ (189).

In addition to the images associated with space exploration that have been informed by sf, Lovelock refers to his initial inspiration for the Gaia hypothesis, which he traces back to his work developing methods for detecting extraterrestrial life on Mars at NASA. Lovelock also collaborated with Michael Allaby to write The Greening of Mars (1984), which he explains inspired three scientific meetings, during one of which Robert Haynes ‘coined the word ecopoiesis – literally, “the making of a home” – for the practice of transforming an otherwise uninhabitable environment into a place fit for life to evolve naturally’ (Lovelock, 1995, 174–75). Ecopoiesis is a terraforming process that often appears in speculative scientific accounts and in sf as an early stage of a more comprehensive project. Haynes writes that ‘the term refers to the fabrication of a sustainable ecosystem on a currently lifeless, sterile planet, thereby establishing a new arena in which biological evolution ultimately might proceed independent of further human husbandry’ (1990, 180).

A Disciplined Thought Experiment: Landscaping, Sf, and Terraforming

As science now approaches the ‘how’ of terraforming, science fiction must continue to explore the ‘why’.

(McKay, 1982, 309)

Sf narratives of terraforming offer imaginative spaces for reflection on fundamental issues regarding our place in relation to Earth, the planets of the solar system and the universe, reflection that in turn feeds into our practical attitudes and behaviour towards those spaces. Scientists and environmental philosophers have used the concept of terraforming as a thought experiment to consider human relationships to environments (p.9) undergoing change. Daly and Frodeman cite Haynes’s assertion that ‘such a grand experiment would yield valuable information about the complex interworkings of ecosystem processes on Earth,’ thus highlighting the experimental and scientific knowledge component involved in such thought experiments (2008, 145). This theme is prevalent in terraforming narratives and is often associated with the transformative image of a pastoral garden in contrast to desert spaces: in Pamela Sargent’s Venus of Dreams, Iris Angharad explains that ‘[m]aking deserts here [on Earth] green again is not going to seem such a problematic undertaking if we can make Venus bloom’ (1989a [1986], 237). Philosopher Robert Sparrow uses terraforming as a construct for the exploration of an agent-based virtue ethics, justifying his choice of scenario by arguing that ‘[t]he sheer scale of such a project allows many issues which arise around other modern technologically oriented environmental projects to be writ large’ and that it demonstrates ‘a shocking moral bankruptcy at the heart of our attitude toward the environment’ (1999, 227, 229–30). Sf, as a literature of ideas that uses thought experiments to raise the idea or the imagined world to the status of hero, affords an ideal mode for speculative enquiry. The capacity for terraforming to be used to magnify issues connected to technologically based environmental projects and to examine the moral shortcomings that give rise to ecopolitical conflict makes it suited to contemporary environmental philosophical speculation.

Fogg explains that ‘[i]f one imagines the playground for thought experimentation as being a multidimensional space controlled by as many parameters as there are dimensions, it can be appreciated that, without any limits on the values of the parameters, the space can enfold an infinite number of possibilities’ (1995, 88). To distinguish scientific enquiry from sf, Fogg describes a reduction ‘to a subset of real possibilities’ and the ‘accept[ance] first and foremost [of] the constraint of physical law’ (88). This book does not investigate the boundaries between science and sf, and nor does it read sf against ‘real possibilities.’ Fogg’s description of the conceptual space of the scientific thought experiment suggests an avenue for the literary analysis of representations of space.

Michael J. McDowell has argued that Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories of dialogism and the chronotope incorporate ‘much of the thinking about systems and relationships long ago embraced by the hard sciences,’ thus offering ways to analyse texts from ecological perspectives (1996, 372). Murphy connects dialogism to Bakhtin’s notions of ‘answerability,’ which ‘represents the necessity of our responsiveness to be ethically grounded and morally justifiable,’ and transgredience, the imaginative assumption of an external position to ground the writing and evaluation of artistic representations of nature (2011, 156). Murphy explains (p.10) that transgredience ‘encourages authors and critics to see themselves through another’s perspective: those of the rest of the natural world at the general level, and of specific ecosystems, plants, or animals at the particular level’ (156).

The chronotope as metaphorically applied to literature is a borrowing from the mathematical discourse underlying Einstein’s theory of relativity. Bakhtin describes the ‘chronotope (literally, “time space”)’ as ‘the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature’ (2002, 84). The way time and space are ‘expressed’ and how time is used to qualify spatial meanings and vice versa is central: language is used to give voice to the landscape by representing it as a site of traditional symbolic value as well as a space for the interaction of differing discourses. These values are represented synchronically, as textual spaces that are juxtaposed. Examples include the contrast between the icon of the domed city in Sargent’s Venus trilogy and the Venusian environment visible outside of these domes. This environment is revealed diachronically through its representation within the text. Narration and character dialogue allow these spaces to come into contact with one another to construct a network of positions towards value systems within the text.

Darko Suvin draws on Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope for his adapted definition of sf, which he defines as ‘a literary (etc.) genre defined by the interaction of estrangement and historical cognition, and whose main formal device is a narrative chronotope and/or agents alternative to the author’s empirical world’ (2008, 116, emphasis in the original). The chronotope as a unit of analysis collapses two central parameters of the sf thought experiment (space and time) with a third, the iconicity of particular spaces in textual representations of terraforming. Terraforming is an especially relevant motif with regard to the concept of the chronotope because it collapses textual world-building (imagined worlds) with representations of physical world-building. In Bakhtinian terms this involves the construction of a global chronotope (the planet to be terraformed) within a dialogic text that puts into play multiple interacting voices and their relationships to the environment. As the global chronotope can itself be broken down into a series of nested spaces at ever-decreasing scales, the fields for articulating various positions span a variety of continental, regional and local spaces.

The dialogic element of the chronotope usefully coheres with Damien Broderick’s discussion in Reading by Starlight (1995) of the sf text’s propensity to engage in a megatextual dialogue with other texts and discourses. Sf has developed a series of codes and reading protocols through the linguistic and discursive construction of sf icons, tropes and (p.11) narrative trajectories. The sf megatext encompasses multiple sf discourses that have been constructed between texts and reader engagement, and its elements are open to considerable reformulation. By reconfiguring these icons a statement is made that resonates with the associations built up by the sf megatext. New meaning, icons and dialogues can thus be created by texts that engage with the sf megatext.

The environmental philosophical concept of landscaping emphasises that intentional modification of physical space involves an anthropocentric projection of cultural values onto nature. Bakhtin’s discussion of the chronotope can thus be seen as a form of landscaping. Simon Hailwood defines ‘landscape’ as ‘nature insofar as it is modified and interpreted for human oriented ends, moulded and used, or viewed as malleable and useful, for human interests and needs’ (2007, 132–33, emphasis in the original). Landscaping thus involves both physical and intellectual processes: ‘landscaping [is] the ongoing historical process through which humanity physically shapes its environment[,] fills it with symbolic meaning, historical and aesthetic significance, and so makes itself at home’ (Hailwood, 2007, 133, emphasis in the original). Hailwood extends Holmes Rolston III’s original concept to include ‘any discernible item assigned a symbolic significance within a culture’ and notes that ‘[a]lthough physical and intellectual aspects of landscaping are distinguishable, they are not entirely distinct. The process is dialectical: possibilities of further action, modifications and interpretations are conditioned by those already in place’ (2007, 133). Drawing on Karl Marx’s note in The German Ideology regarding the socially constructed nature of landscape and on Gary Lease’s notion in Reinventing Nature? that ‘humans and nature exist in a dialectical relationship, each imagining the other,’ Hailwood explains that ‘[i]n landscaping we interact with nature and each other to create and transform the “material conditions” of human life and culture and so recreate ourselves’ (133, emphasis added by Hailwood). In relation to this concept of landscape, Hailwood uses ‘the term nature to mean nonhuman nature – nature insofar as it is not landscaped – although, of course humanity and human landscapes remain part of […] nature in the all-encompassing sense of “everything”’ (133, emphasis in the original). The concept of nature that Hailwood describes is cosmological (nature as everything) but exclusive of the human.

Representations of literary spaces in terraforming narratives, such representations being analysable as chronotopes particular to the discourse of sf, are examples of intellectual landscapes that construct imaginative spaces where social, political and ethical reflection on their implicit values can be explored. This focus on landscape is important (p.12) because, as Dan McArthur argues, ‘[w]e will take our human moral environment with us to other worlds along with our pith helmets’ (2001/2002, 13). Given that our contemporary attitudes and perspectives will guide our actions, McArthur argues that examining our ethical position with a view to evaluating these actions is of paramount importance. Like the literary notion of the chronotope, the concept of a moral landscape can be considered a specific form of Hailwood’s notion of intellectual landscaping. Terraforming narratives are experimental spaces where political, ethical and aesthetic topographies, developed in a dialectical relationship between culture and Earth’s nature, are overlaid.

The Lay of the Land

Who speaks for the land and for our relation to it? Who has the right to evaluate, judge and initiate a terraforming project that would alter a whole planet and have repercussions for its inhabitants and those involved in and affected by the economic, social and political relationships between that planet and Earth? Terraforming narratives often entail a consideration of economic, social, political and cultural relationships and strategies for negotiation and decision making. Issues of voice and the legacy of colonial history are central to their subject matter, which, through different permutations within and between texts, establishes spaces that allow political-cultural issues to be expressed and examined. Ursula K. Heise notes that considerations of place have become increasingly concerned with issues of globalisation, postnationalism and cosmopolitanism and argues for what she defines as an eco-cosmopolitan perspective towards a range of human politics of place that can embrace the ‘more-than-human-world’ (2008, 60–61).

Terraforming stories are underpinned by a will to transform planets according to a predetermined vision, often one that is homeworld-centric, in that new planets are terraformed against a blueprint derived, most frequently, from ecosystems on Earth. This follows from the definition of terraforming, since its proposed goal is to adapt planets to colonising peoples. The War of the Worlds (2004 [1898]) exemplifies the inversion: the red weed transforms Earth into a new Mars in an act of areoforming. Alternatively, and more in line with contemporary scientific knowledge regarding the possibilities for terraforming, planets are transformed according to the opportunities and constraints inherent in their environments: a compromise between the alien and indigenous is reached, often reflected by the entrance of pantropy into the narrative, as in Robinson’s Mars trilogy.

(p.13) Chapter one, ‘Landscaping Nature’s Otherness in Pre-1960s Terraforming and Proto-Gaian Stories,’ examines how terraforming and proto- Gaian living world stories engage with environmental philosophical concepts. These concepts are based on ideas of nature’s otherness and establish the philosophical discourse for the literary critical exploration of humanity’s relationship to space adopted in this book. Nature’s otherness refers to the relationship between humanity and features of the external world, and as such it intersects theories of mimesis and constructivism. Hailwood argues that nature’s otherness need not be ‘alien’ or ‘unfamiliar,’ and he defines the value of nature’s otherness as extrinsic, relational, non-instrumental and objective (2004, 35). He argues that respecting nature’s otherness involves recognising its autonomy and its teleonomy. These two concepts are taken from philosopher Keekok Lee’s three axioms: the Asymmetry, Autonomy and No-Teleology Theses. The assumptions underlying these theses can be unpacked with reference to Val Plumwood’s examination of the hierarchical logic of dualism, which she argues corresponds to classical propositional logic. This hierarchical structuring has served ‘to “naturalise domination,” to make it part of the very natures and identities of both the dominant and subordinated items and thus to appear to be inevitable, “natural”’ (1993, 32).

One of the reasons Plumwood analyses the historical bases of dualism is that ‘the ancient forms do not necessarily fade away because their original context has changed; they are often preserved in our conceptual framework as residues, layers of sediment deposited by past oppressions’ (1993, 43). She presents five operations by which ‘dualism, the construction of a devalued and sharply demarcated sphere of otherness,’ is conducted: backgrounding (denial), radical exclusion (hyperseparation), incorporation (relational definition), instrumentalism (objectification) and homogenisation or stereotyping (41). Instrumentalism in terms of value theory corresponds to Plumwood’s instrumentalising dualistic operation; both contravene the Autonomy Thesis. Extrinsic worth is compatible with a relational definition, although in Hailwood’s sense it does not involve the backgrounding of nature’s otherness or its radical exclusion (nature’s otherness can feature as elements of human landscapes).

Nature’s otherness is represented in texts via depiction of non-human others, either as abiotic or as biotic forms of nature. Exploring the place of terraforming in the scientific romances of H.G. Wells (The Shape of Things to Come, 1967 [1933]) and Olaf Stapledon (Last and First Men, 1966 [1930]; Star Maker, 2004 [1937]), and in John Russell Fearn’s pulp sf story ‘Earth’s Mausoleum’ (1935), the first section of the chapter views nature’s otherness in cosmological terms and connects it to the (p.14) sublime. The section ‘Pre-1940s Proto-Gaian Living Worlds’ shows how nature’s otherness is developed in two further works of scientific romance, M.P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud (2004 [1901]) and Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘When the World Screamed’ (2000 [1928]). Comparing these two stories to Edmond Hamilton’s ‘The Earth-Brain’ (1936 [1932]), Jack Williamson’s ‘Born of the Sun’ (1934) and Laurence Manning’s ‘The Living Galaxy’ (1934) helps illustrate the shift in emphasis from the Burkean and Kantian sublime to sf’s technological sense of wonder in 1940s pulp sf. The last section of this chapter considers the decline of the proto-Gaian theme during the postwar period by examining Murray Leinster’s ‘The Lonely Planet’ (1949). These depictions of alien otherness draw on ideas of the sublime and grotesque to explore alternative conceptions of nature when viewed in a cosmological sense.

Chapter two, ‘The American Pastoral and the Conquest of Space,’ is divided into three sections that explore how sf adapts tropes and structures analogous to the Elizabethan pastoral’s compression of meaning. The first, ‘The Garden of the World in Early 1950s Terraforming Stories,’ examines how Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1958 [1950]), Robert Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky (1967 [1950]) and Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sands of Mars (1976 [1951]) draw on the intersection between colonialism and the American pastoral to explore ideas of terraforming and independence from Earth. ‘The Burden of Hope in the Garden of the Chattel: 1950s Consensus Dystopias,’ shows how Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (1974 [1953]), Walter M. Miller’s ‘Crucifixus Etiam’ (1973 [1953]) and Poul Anderson’s ‘The Big Rain’ (2001 [1954]) and The Snows of Ganymede (1958 [1955]) invert the optimism of space colonisation evident in Heinlein’s and Clarke’s texts by drawing on pastoral and dystopian imagery to depict the failures of colonisation.

Encounters with extraterrestrial life, while not an essential component, often intersect with the terraforming motif. Inhabited worlds pose significant philosophical problems for terraforming alien planets. These concerns are not absent from Bradbury’s, Heinlein’s and Clarke’s texts, but they begin to receive a distinctly different emphasis by the late 1950s. Daly and Frodeman note that discussions of natural spaces often turn on questions of intrinsic and instrumental value, and that a focus on intrinsic value has tended to lead to ‘ethical extensionism,’ which ‘depends on human definitions of moral considerability, which typically stem from some degree of identification with things outside us’ (2008, 140). Identification with nature conflicts with a respect for nature’s otherness that is based on recognising difference, but it does not completely exclude viewing nature as other to humankind. Section (p.15) three, ‘Moral Extensionism in Terraforming Stories of the Late 1950s and Early 1960s,’ examines the shift in the ethical insights developed by the early terraforming narratives’ investment in the exploration of cultural and political environments, which is extended to the landscape and the alien otherness of the indigenous populations. This section links aspects of the pastoral to environmental philosophical speculation in Anderson’s ‘Sister Planet’ (1960 [1959]) and Clarke’s ‘Before Eden’ (2001 [1961]).

‘Ecology and Environmental Awareness in 1960s–1970s Terraforming Stories,’ chapter three, is split into two parts that build on the themes of chapters one and two. The influence of the counterculture on sf transforms the environmental engagement of terraforming narratives during this period, introducing a wide range of ideas from mystical-spiritual engagements with nature, increased interest in communards, and the development of pragmatic environmentalism and appropriate technologies. The first section, ‘1960s–1970s Proto-Gaian Living Worlds,’ considers the mythic-poetic register of proto-Gaian and terragouging narratives of the 1960s–1970s. Stories such as Richard McKenna’s ‘The Night of Hoggy Darn’ (1964 [1958]) and ‘Hunter, Come Home’ (2001 [1963]), James White’s ‘Major Operation’ (1971a) and ‘Meatball’ (1971b [1969]), Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (2003 [1961]) and Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘Vaster Than Empires and More Slow’ (1982 [1971]) and The Word for World Is Forest (1976 [1972]) explore colonial themes in the context of the living world as a counter to exploitative relationships to the land. Lem’s Solaris draws from the tradition of philosophical speculation pioneered by Stapledon to offer a fundamental critique of the colonial and scientific project of discovery and thus departs from the approaches of the other authors considered in this section. Although published in Polish in 1961, it was first translated into English in 1970, and so Solaris is discussed in the context of its English translation. Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest, while not a living world story, deploys the chronotope of the forest in ways that chime with many of the other stories in this part, and so examining it as a work of terragouging offers fruitful insights into the development of the terraforming narrative.

The discussion then shifts in the second part to an analysis of ecology and politics in Frank Herbert’s seminal Dune trilogy (1965; 1971 [1969]; 1976), before moving on to examine Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (2001 [1966]) and Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1999 [1974]) and their exploration of libertarianism, anarchism and independence as alternatives to the instrumentalising imperialism of Dune. This chapter ends by considering the significance of Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia (1978 [1975]) to ecological and environmental sf. The texts in this part both influence and draw from the mixture of technologism and (p.16) environmentalism that coalesced around Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog (1968), a publication that was connected in multiple ways to sf. The link between politics, the pastoral and terraforming first shaped by the works of the 1950s terraforming boom undergoes a transformation in the light of countercultural influences and the popularisation of ecologism and environmentalism.

Chapter four, ‘Edging Towards an Eco-cosmopolitan Vision,’ examines transformations of the terraforming motif that are rooted in the wider cultural impact of the modern environmental movement and the increasingly widespread popularisation of James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis. Terraforming as an act of world-building resonates with the utopian impulse to remake socio-political worlds. It lies in tension with the urge to explore space and further extend human frontiers. Those who choose terraforming must stay and work to create a habitable planet and equitable society, participate in the continuation of damaging forms of socio-political structures or preserve the planet in as much of its original form as possible. Those who leave must abandon these societies indefinitely.

This chapter considers Michael Allaby and James Lovelock’s The Greening of Mars (1984), Pamela Sargent’s Venus trilogy (1989a [1986]; 1989b [1988]; 2001a) and Frederick Turner’s epic poem of terraforming, Genesis (1988), all of which feature characters who confront this dilemma. Although Sargent’s first two instalments of the Venus trilogy were published in the 1980s, the final part was published in 2001, but it is nevertheless considered in this chapter. Like Lovelock, who greatly influenced wider scientific and environmental perspectives, Turner has had a direct influence on scientists and was one of the first writers to explicitly engage with issues of environmental philosophy, bioethics, the relationship between science and the humanities and space colonisation: his work was placed on recommended reading lists amongst NASA employees, he was involved in the founding of the Mars Society and he was invited to the 1991 terraforming workshop, where he collaborated with scientists such as Robert Zubrin, Carl Sagan and Martyn Fogg. These works articulate a sense of complexity and conflict that accompanies an awareness of the plurality of visions for the future. Terraforming narratives have become highly ramified since the 1980s. Awareness of the past, of traditions that offer resources for habitation and the making of homes on other worlds, are central to the representation of terraforming in sf.

The final chapter of this book, ‘Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy,’ brings the themes explored in previous chapters to a consideration of the groundbreaking terraforming trilogy of the 1990s. The Mars trilogy (p.17) continues the conscious reflection on past traditions that the dialogic aspect of sf has built upon throughout the terraforming tradition. This section connects ideas of landscaping to Jed Rasula’s notion of ‘composting,’ an appropriate figure in the context of terraforming for the ramified dialogism of terraforming texts, which draws not only from sf but from scientific and environmental discourse (2002). Thierry Bardini, too, explores terraforming in the context of ‘junk,’ a notion compatible with composting that turns on bootstrapping, a basic concept for cybernetic conceptualisations of terraforming and ecopoiesis (2011). This chapter considers Robinson’s engagement with pastoral themes, environmental philosophical perspectives, the influence of ecologically informed economics and the socio-political consequences of terraforming. This book ultimately shows how the terraforming motif is used to connect the values that underpin our modes of understanding and relating to culture and politics, habitation and the environment.

The assumption behind attempts to transform planets is that change is enacted for the improvement of society. The utopian tradition, like some sf, draws on pastoral and romantic treatments of the landscape that also feed into visions of terraforming. Terraforming allows for the convergence of multiple and often competing themes and positions in a single narrative that engages with political and ecological issues, thus making it central to sf. Fredric Jameson draws on Darko Suvin’s connection of sf to utopia and Brechtian estrangement to claim that ‘terraforming ought to constitute the utopian moment par excellence’ (2000, 220). This link is given greater resonance in the context of geoengineering. When we allow that attempts to alter Earth’s landscape are also aspects of terraforming, it becomes clear that terraforming touches on a major element of all human civilisations. The concept of landscaping relates to terraforming in a direct way under this broader definition. Robinson considers terraforming in this manner when, in the final autobiographical short story in The Martians, the narrator admires the trees planted alongside a Californian street and describes the scene as ‘[t]erraforming at its finest’ (2000 [1999], 456). The ability to alter the landscape and the ethical dilemmas this poses direct attention towards the future. The fundamental question asked is how we want to live, and it emerges from the concern over whether we can continue living in ways that threaten the integrity of our environments.