From Seattle Peak Oil Awareness
June 24, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California
The post-oil novel: a celebration!
by Frank Kaminski
Novels that deal with the collapse of our oil-based civilization undoubtedly belong under the heading of speculative fiction—and some even qualify as outright science fiction. But even so, there’s an inescapable irony to their being categorized as such. This is because, by and large, speculative fiction is an optimistic genre. It celebrates technological progress and often tacitly assumes a near-endless supply of both energy and human ingenuity.
Peak oil, in contrast, casts a ruthlessly critical eye on technological progress, human ingenuity, and alternative energy sources. Indeed, it considers the entire technological age to be nothing more than a charade, enabled by the reckless over-consumption of nonrenewable energy resources.
Given how alien the assumptions of peak oil are to some of the most cherished ideals of speculative fiction, it is perhaps unsurprising that only four novels published thus far (at least, by major mass market publishers) have endeavored to tackle the subject head on. Similarly unsurprising is the fact that, out of this small handful of books, only one was written by an author previously known for writing speculative fiction—the German writer Andreas Eschbach, whose post-oil thriller Ausgebrannt (2007) wound up hitting the German bestseller list.
The other three books—the late John Seymour’s Retrieved from the Future (1996), Alex Scarrow’s Last Light (2007), and James Howard Kunstler’s World Made by Hand (2008)—are all the work of first-time speculative fiction writers inadvertently turning the genre on its head.