Eco-Fiction, Edited by John Stadler

Eco-Fiction, Edited by John Stadler, Washington Square Press, Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, April 1971.

Yes, that’s right. 1971, which suggests that Eco-Fiction was inspired by the first Earth Day, April 1970, in the dark and smoggy days before the EPA and Clean Air Act. This paperback is long out of print, but was once part of many an enlightened high school curriculum. In the preface, Stadler notes that in the midst of catastrophic demise of the natural world, people rarely listen to scientists, but maybe they will listen to the artist and short-story writer. In Stadler’s words “it is a collection which seeks to make the reader think about his[1] relationship with his natural environment.”

The stories in Eco-Fiction, most written in the mid-20th century, are by very well-known authors. Some are sci-fi, some are dated, and others are sadly prescient, such as Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” which makes the connection between authoritarianism and ecological disaster. Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds,” the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s movie of the same name, is about the terrifying revolt of nature. “Nat listened to the tearing sound of splintering wood, and wondered how many million years of memory were stored in those little brains, behind the stabbing beaks, the piercing eyes, now giving them this instinct to destroy mankind with all the deft precision of machines.” In Robley Wilson, Jr.’s “A Stay at the Ocean,” it is water that fights back, but mostly nature succumbs in defeat. From J.F. Powers’ “Look How the Fish Live”: “One of the old oaks, one of which had appeared to be in excellent health, had recently thrown down half of itself in the night. ‘Herbal suicide,’ his wife had said.”

Vonnegut’s story “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” brings back memories of Soylent Green[2], the 1973 ecological dystopian movie, where the elderly must make room for the generations below, one way or another. “The world wouldn’t be able to support twelve billion people if it wasn’t for processed seaweed and sawdust.” Along the same lines, J.G. Ballard’s “The Subliminal Man” is consumerism run amok as the planet becomes paved over and depleted.

Some stories are hopeful, particularly the gorgeous “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett, one of literature’s finest observers of the natural world. William Saroyan’s “The Hummingbird That Lived Through Winter” is equally beautiful, touching, and life-affirming.

Because this book is out of print, and outrageously expensive in the used book world (keep your eyes out for this small paperback on shelves at thrift shops and rummage sales, where I got mine for $1.00, five cents more than the original price), I’m going to list the stories below, and you will probably be able to track them down in other collections.  

Ray Bradbury, “A Sound of Thunder”

John Steinbeck “The Turtle”

Edgar Allan Poe “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion”

A.E. Coppard “The Fair Young Willowy Tree”

James Agee “A Mother’s Tale”

Robert M. Coates “The Law”

Daphne du Maurier “The Birds”

Robley Wilson, Jr. “A Stay at the Ocean”

E.B. White “The Supremacy of Uruguay”

J.F. Powers “Look How the Fish Live”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”

Sarah Orne Jewett “A White Heron”

Frank Herbert “The Mary Celeste Move”

Saki (H.H. Munro) “The Toys of Peace”

J.G. Ballard “The Subliminal Man”

Isaac Asimov “It’s Such a Beautiful Day”

William Saroyan “The Hummingbird That Lived Through Winter”

[1] No his or her, they or them, persons or people, in this book. This is 1971, and the male pronoun is the coin of the realm.  

[2] Based on the 1966 science-fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

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