By Emily B. Martin

“Of course, it is likely enough, my friends,” Treebeard said slowly, “likely enough that we are going to our doom: the last march of the Ents. But if we stayed at home and did nothing, doom would find us anyway, sooner or later.”

The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien

Sunshielf by Emily B. Martin
SUNSHIELD by Emily B. Martin

Describing nature as “magical” can be a tired cliché—we hear it used to describe everything from a beautiful view to a migration pattern to animal instincts. But! For fantasy and sci-fi writers, sometimes the word magical means just that—a forest of enchantments, an herb’s potent powers, a pantheon of gods living in the stars. Even when our magic and fictional science systems don’t necessarily stem from nature, we as writers are presented with the exciting opportunity to ponder how our worldbuilding affects the world—especially these days.

Climate change is a scary reality for most of us. We are starting to really feel the impacts of generations of ignorance and carelessness—stronger weather patterns, disappearing species, damage that we can’t undo. Many would argue that fiction, and SFF especially, should serve as an escape from our sad world, and I agree—mostly. But I think it can also be an outlet for us to explore our connection to nature, our grief for our sick planet, and our celebration of resilient species. Who doesn’t shiver a little when Treebeard rouses the Ents and goes to war against the deforestation and degradation of Saruman?

Magic, after all, is often presented as a form of energy. As writers, that gives us the intriguing opportunity to ask—what impact does my magic system have on the natural world? Is there a cost to it? Does it pollute? Is it a limited resource? Science fiction has even more tangible plot bunnies. What raw materials is this tech made from? How is it obtained, and what does it run on? What natural patterns are being disrupted by society’s advances?

Because it’s becoming more and more of a universal issue—something that touches all of us somehow—climate change also gives us the opportunity to worldbuild around it. Questing fantasy protagonists may run across the ruins of civilizations affected by a changing climate. Space-jumping sci-fi pilots may run across refugees from now-uninhabitable planets, like Becky Chambers’ protagonists in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. For some plots, climate change itself might be the Big Bad, a silent conqueror, as for the insects in Laline Paull’s The Bees. These moments create great opportunities to show readers a character’s values and beliefs—perhaps your starry-eyed protagonist feels palpable grief at confronting a dying environment, while your antagonist sees nothing but the inevitable march of progress.

I won’t lie—as an author with two separate WIPs entrenched firmly in the grips of climate change, sometimes creating these worlds can be depressing. I had to stop working on one recently because, combined with the stresses of COVID-19, I just couldn’t bring myself to keep researching the irrevocable damage we’ve wrought around us. I switched to working on something happier and fluffier for a while, and turns out, having had a break, I’m still drawn back to my climate fantasy WIP. I want to keep investigating how the magic system I’ve built is impacting the environment, and how my characters react to it. I want to see them rise up and bravely face the challenges of a deteriorating world and a legion of skeptics. I want to see them fight these things and win, because I have to believe we can achieve some of the same victories here on our home planet. Because if we don’t believe we can fix a few things, why bother trying?

Climate change in SFF isn’t for everyone, and certainly not all the time. But I think it’s a strong mirror for our own world, an outlet to inspire change. A battle cry, a balm to grief. And, perhaps above all, a celebratory reminder that the place we call home is, ultimately and absolutely, magical.

Emily B. Martin is the author of SUNSHIELD, a new novel about a lawless wilderness, a polished court, individual fates, each on a quest to expose a system of corruption. She splits her time between working as a park ranger and an author/illustrator, resulting in her characteristic eco-fantasy adventures. An avid hiker and explorer, her experiences as a ranger help inform the characters and worlds she creates on paper. When not patrolling places like Yellowstone, the Great Smoky Mountains, or Philmont Scout Ranch, she lives in South Carolina with her husband, Will, and two daughters, Lucy and Amelia.

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One Response to Magic and Melting Glaciers: Climate Change in SFF – Guest Post

  1. […] Magic and Melting Glaciers: Climate Change in SFF – Guest Post […]

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