“As a child I watched with pleasure ant nests and rain pools with all kind of insect life. I have always believed that there is intellect, motivation and aims everywhere in nature, even in plants. Today I read about an intelligent slime mould, which can learn and remember, even though it has no brain. And such organisms exist everywhere around us. We have brains and we are so proud about them, but why do we make the same mistakes again and again?” – Leena Krohn
“I, as most Finns do, have pretty strong ties with nature. I have lived a substantial part of my life practically in the woods, and to a Finn the wild nature is never something to be afraid of; it’s a source of nutrition, and adventure, and a place for wondering the versatility of life, and and a place of tranquillity. I think that might be why a lot of my works are about the relationship and power structures between humankind and the environment. I am especially fascinated about biology: how much our biological features, our animal roots, still actually affect our behaviour even though we think we are rational beings and all above instinct.” – Johanna Sinisalo
“Before it can even be a repose for the senses, landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as firm layers of rock.” – Simon Schama
Wilderness settings seem to me not as explored in SF/fantasy, but perhaps more vital than ever before given what our planet is experiencing in terms of species die-offs and what amounts to psychotic terraforming of the planet. For me, these are also the most personal settings; my latest novel, Annihilation, doesn’t exist without the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, for example. Simon Schama’s book Landscape & Memory is particularly useful in thinking about using nature in fiction.
“Ecosystems that sustain life proceed independently of human agency, but there is hardly a single such system that has not been changed by human actions,” Schama writes. He’s talking of course about:
- invasive species (introduced)
- ancient and modern horticulture and agriculture
- including things like fire-clearing by indigenous peoples
- species extinctions
Even if some of these things cannot be seen because we don’t have the specialist knowledge needed to recognize them, they’re part of the landscape. Books on how the New World changed as a result of the species-transfer between New World and Old are fairly fascinating on this subject. This creates a challenge to fiction writers to find new and interesting ways to convey or express some of these advanced and complex concepts–through character and situation.
“…to produce an anti-landscape where the intervention of the artist is reduced to the most minimal and transient mark on the Earth.”
My own, admittedly flawed approach (in this regard, at least) through my new novel is to use a viewpoint character who has largely turned away from the human world. I say flawed because the attempt is doomed to fail—although the attempt should yield interesting results regardless, along the way. And thinking about photographers thinking they could somehow be more objective than painters: “The organization of the artist is merely displaced from the hand on the paintbrush to the finger on the shutter. And in that split second framing, the old culture-creatures re-emerge from their lair, trailing the memories of generations behind them.” This idea again of hauntings from the past, and the inescapable implications of the human world around us. The idea of weight, which sits easily or uneasily on us.
“Now a strange mood took hold of me, walking silent and alone through the last of the pines and the cypress knees that seemed to float in the black water, the gray moss that coated everything. It was as if I traveled through the landscape with the sound of an expressive and intense aria playing in my ears. Everything was imbued with emotion, awash in it, and I was no longer a biologist but somehow the crest of a wave building and building but never crashing to shore.” – from Annihilation