Social-science fiction or Thrutopia?

At a session at COP27 with speculative fiction writer Andrew Dana Hudson on how fiction can help save the climate, I may have accidentally coined a term ‘social-science fiction’. Just as science fiction helps us to imagine the pros and cons of new technologies, social-science fiction can help us imagine how transformative systemic solutions, such as personal carbon trading or switching from GDP to a well-being index, might look in practice. I was speaking to best-selling author Manda Scott last week from the Accidental Gods podcast, and she uses Rupert Read’s term ‘thrutopia’ which captures a similar idea – that is, how do we get from where we are now to where we’d like to be?

For example, an essential step is to upgrade our democracy to a form that allows us to think beyond short-term electoral cycles so we can make more sustainable decisions. Citizens’ Assemblies are a positive step here, and my most recent story ‘The Assassin’ is a fun whodunit, set in a citizens jury, where eight participants meet to deliberate upon climate solutions, one of which is an assassin. The biggest barrier to citizens’ assemblies being taken up more widely and given full legislative authority (a House of Citizens to replace the House of Lords perhaps?) is lack of public awareness. We’re adapting ‘The Assassin’ as an interactive play, which we hope will help to address this.  

‘The Assassin’ is published as a standalone novella of 16,000 words but is also included in the anthology of 24 stories: No More Fairy Tales: Stories to Save Our Planet. If any stories inspire you, you can see how to help make them happen by following links to the accompanying website which shows what can be done to help progress each idea.

This anthology fills an important gap. There are numerous ‘cli-fi’ stories that present dystopian visions of what will happen if we don’t act. These can be unexpectedly problematic as such stories may lead to denial or fear-driven ‘prepping’ responses (buying up all the toilet rolls!) rather than to positive climate action. There are also numerous eco-fiction stories that persuade us to love nature and plant trees, but get us no nearer to understanding what the really effective solutions are and, even more importantly, how we might get there from where we are. This is a gap that I haven’t seen any fiction (other than Ministry for the Future) fulfil. No More Fairy Tales: Stories to Save Our Planet uses fiction as a safe space to explore the more radical transformative ideas necessary for a truly sustainable society – ideas that are hard for politicians to talk about for fear of misunderstanding as they can’t easily fit into a soundbite.

Stories in No More Fairy Tales: Stories to Save Our Planet range from technical solutions relating to carbon dioxide removal projects to more systemic aspects such as switching from GDP to a well-being index, sharing economy, personal carbon allowances, giving citizen assemblies legislative power – all which would allow a more sustainable long-term mindset conducive to directing investment towards sustainable technologies, practices and decisions. We have already made some headway. For example, our goal is that reality would mirror fiction and we’ve had interest from leaders at the World Ocean Summit who were inspired by some of the stories that proposed giving the nation status to the Ocean. They suggested scheduling a session to discuss at the next ocean summit.

So what do you think? Which term wins – ‘thrutopia’ or ‘social-science fiction?’ Either way, I’m excited to see that we are finally learning to tell climate stories that people want to listen to that can provide an engaging and entertaining blueprint for action. If you want to learn more, check out the Green Stories project.