This essay examines two kinds of speculative fiction focused on the management of climate change: preparedness documents on climate change as a threat to national security, and Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (1993–96), a science fiction trilogy about the terraformation and colonization of Mars. Focusing on narrative scenarios and exercises that train officials to respond to natural disasters, this essay positions these preparedness documents as part of a system of affective management. They teach participants to cultivate a feeling of neutral detachment—to stay calm and cool so that they can react automatically and repeatedly when disaster strikes. This emphasis on detachment and repetition reveals the political stakes of preparedness as a national security paradigm: to maintain the status quo by extending the always-catastrophic present into the future. The essay's second half turns to the Mars trilogy to argue that by emphasizing duration, or the heterogeneous lasting of time, the trilogy invites its readers to experience climate change as the intersection of various scales and compositions of time, both human and nonhuman. Demonstrating that the management of climate change is inseparable from an experience of it, the Mars books challenge preparedness by emphasizing ongoing change rather than the containment of a never-ending series of disasters.
Lindsay Thomas is assistant professor of English at Clemson University. Her current book project, “Training for Catastrophe: National Security, Speculative Fiction, and the Management of the Future,” argues that the media of the national security state train us to accept disaster as part of everyday life and to expect its perpetual re-emergence. By focusing on the formal strategies and nonconscious effects of governmental print and digital media, the book shows how they produce catastrophic futures in order to manage political imagination in the present. Thomas's work has also appeared in Surveillance and Society and Contemporary Literature.