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Ice and the Ecothriller: Popular Representations of Antarctica in the Anthropocene


Leane, E, Ice and the Ecothriller: Popular Representations of Antarctica in the Anthropocene, Anthropocene Antarctica: Perspectives from the Humanities, Law and Social Sciences, Routledge, E Leane and J McGee (ed), Abingdon, pp. 87-100. ISBN 9781138367593 (2019) [Research Book Chapter]

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Copyright Statement

Copyright 2020 The Author. This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in Anthropocene Antarctica on 12 September 2019, available online:

DOI: doi:10.4324/9780429429705-6


In The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Amitav Ghosh (2016, p. 8) identifies a ‘[broad] imaginative and cultural failure that lies at the heart of the climate crisis’. Ghosh is concerned specifically with ‘serious’ or ‘literary’ fiction, which, he argues, foregrounds the everyday over the improbable, exceptional or catastrophic event. Novels featuring such events, he observes, are automatically banished to the ‘generic outhouses’ of fantasy, horror and science fiction (p. 24). Ghosh does not mention one of the biggest selling of all popular genres: the thriller. However, this genre – particularly in its geopolitical form – trades on the improbable, with the hero routinely performing spectacular feats of daring to prevent imminent nuclear war, global epidemic outbreak or, more recently, environmental catastrophe.

Ghosh is not alone in overlooking the thriller: literary critics, even those interested in genre fiction, also largely ignore it. In her introduction to Popular Fiction and Spatiality, Lisa Fletcher (2016, p. 4) notes that this popular genre has produced less criticism than any other. This is even more true of the thriller’s environmentally inflected subgenre, the ecothriller. While the term (sometimes hyphenated or separated into two words) is current in popular discourse – a Google search produces more than a hundred thousand hits – it barely registers in academia. Only two of more than two million entries in the Modern Languages Association bibliography mention ‘eco(-)thriller’; none includes the term ‘environmental thriller’; only nine can be found from a general search on the combined terms ‘thriller’ and ‘environment(al)’. Richard Kerridge’s short article ‘Ecothrillers: environmental cliffhangers’, published in 2000, remains one of very few critical efforts to directly address the subgenre as a whole. And yet, the thriller, with its tendency to operate across large, often global, spaces, its willingness to deal with the improbable and its emphasis on action, is a particularly interesting genre to consider in light of Ghosh’s observations about the failure of imaginative literature to address the challenges of the Anthropocene.

In this chapter, I therefore examine the relationship between setting, plot and character in a group of thrillers – many of them ecothrillers – that take place in a specific natural environment: the Antarctic icescape. As several other chapters in this volume demonstrate (see particularly those by Salazar, Hemmings, Nielsen and McGee), ice has taken on new cultural salience in the age of the Anthropocene. Even as scientists analyse the gas contained in ice cores in order to predict the future of our planet, warm currents undermine Antarctic glaciers, threatening future icesheet collapse and rising sea levels. Ice’s increasing prominence in the social, media and political spheres has brought the attention of critics to its distinct physical properties, as well as to the diverse set of functions and meanings it holds for human communities. Historian Sverker Sörlin, arguing for the recognition of the present as a ‘cryo-historical moment’, writes that, ‘Ice is a probing element, in which civilization is put to the test, and crisis is a core element in narratives of ice, in recent decades reinforced by projections of climate change science’ (2015, p. 327). Long relegated to the margins of cultural consciousness, icescapes are currently moving rapidly towards its centre.

Item Details

Item Type:Research Book Chapter
Keywords:genre fiction, popular fiction, thriller, ecothriller, Antarctic, environment, ice
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Literary studies
Research Field:Ecocriticism
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Communication
Objective Field:Literature
UTAS Author:Leane, E (Professor Elizabeth Leane)
ID Code:135275
Year Published:2019
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (FT120100402)
Deposited By:Office of the School of Humanities
Deposited On:2019-10-09
Last Modified:2019-11-11
Downloads:32 View Download Statistics

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