News | April 07, 2015

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What aliens are trying to tell us

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. And sometimes fiction reveals strange truths about life.

Associate professor Eric Otto's book looks at environmentalism through a science fiction lens.
Associate professor Eric Otto’s book looks at environmentalism through a science fiction lens.

That Eric Otto became a college professor falls under the first category; his recent book, “Green Speculations: Science Fiction and Transformative Environmentalism” (Ohio State University Press), the second.

Growing up in St. Petersburg and then Naples, Otto didn’t read much. He earned an associate’s degree at Edison (now Florida SouthWest State College), learned to play guitar and taught others. He also learned about a new local university, FGCU.

Under the guidance of his FGCU professors, he grew to love reading and discovered he was good at thinking and writing. During his time as a student here, he also realized that literature can have an impact on people.

He delved into environmental literature, graduating in 2000, then went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in English at the University of Florida. In 2007, he joined the FGCU faculty, teaching environmental humanities.

“Green Speculations” is an expanded version of his doctoral dissertation, which examines science fiction’s take on environmentalism.

Although science fiction’s conventional message involves saving the world with technology, “that’s not the way environmentalists think about it,” he says. “They are usually suspect of technology. There’s a subset of books that say we’re damaging the world and we need to think more about certain practices we engage in.”

The medium can also serve as a mirror and means of connecting to nature.

“When there’s an alien attack, the aliens are us,” he says. “It’s a metaphor. H.G. Wells is talking about colonialism when showing Martians attacking us. In that type of story the aliens will point out ‘What you’ve done to other species, we are just doing that to you.’”

Brad Busbee, associate professor and chair of the English department at Samford University, observes in his review of Otto’s book: “The notable insight of ‘Green Speculations’ is how science fiction, with its imaginative worlds and possible futures, makes visible the costs and damages of our current economic systems that are simply ignored, overlooked or erased by particular ideologies. Eric C. Otto’s study greatly expands the purview of ecocriticism and makes an impressive case for the relevance of science fiction in environmental discussions.”