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Speculative Vegetation: Plants in Science Fiction

deadline for submissions:
April 30, 2017

full name / name of organization:
Katherine E. Bishop, Jerry Määttä, & David Higgins

contact email:

Plants have played key roles in some of the most notable science fiction, from prose to graphic novels and film: John Wyndham’s triffids, the sentient and telepathic flora in Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Vaster than Empires and More Slow,” the gene-hacked crops of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, the agricultural experiments of Andy Weir’s The Martian, the invasive trees and mechaflowers of Warren Ellis’s Trees, and the galactic greenhouses of Silent Running represent just a few. Plants surround us, sustain us, pique our imaginations, and inhabit our metaphors—and yet in some ways they remain opaque. As Randy Laist writes in Plants and Literature (2013): “Plants seem to inhabit a time-sense, a life cycle, a desire structure, and a morphology that is so utterly alien that it is easy and even tempting to deny their status as animate organisms” (12). The scope of their alienation is as broad as their biodiversity. And yet, literary reflections of plant-life are driven, as are many threads of science fictional inquiry, by the concerns of today.

Throughout human history, plants have supported as well as controlled populations; influenced and revised how we think about ourselves, nature, temporality, and history; fostered technological innovation; and raised new legal issues, such as biomatter copyrights and the borders of non-human personhood. Even though speculations about terrestrial and extraterrestrial plant-life have ever abounded in science fiction, we are only just beginning to understand plant communication, kinship systems, and intelligence. Following the rise of fields such as ethnobotany, agricultural phonobiology, and phytophenomenology; the embrasure of ecology, environmental philosophy, and ecocriticism; and the concomitant increase in concern regarding our fragile and endangered planetary ecosystem, this edited collection is timely, if not overdue.

Science fiction allows us to speculate further on what—or who—plant life may be while exploring how we understand ourselves in relation to the mute (?) sentient (?) world of flora. Thinking about plants differently changes not just our understanding of plants themselves, but also transforms our attitudes toward morality, politics, economics, and cultural life at large. How do the parameters of good and evil, villainy, heroism, and responsibility shift when plant-based life comes into play? How do plant-based characters or foci shift our understandings of institutions, nations, borders, and boundaries? What roles do plants play in our visions of utopian and dystopian futures? How do botanical subjectivities impact our empathic reactions? Our understandings of sentience and agency? How does the inclusion (or exclusion) of plant-based life impact the genre of science fiction?

This volume will be the first to investigate the importance of plants in science fiction. We encourage contributions contending with diverse works from any and all global, national, extranational, or regional positions and all periods. In particular, we welcome essays which consider genre with broader ethical, political, aesthetic, and historical concerns tied to the representation of botanical subjects and subjectivities in science fiction across all media.

Authors are encouraged to consider, but are not constrained to, the following topics and subjects:

Authorship/readership: plant-based authors/readers

Ecocriticism/Green studies: ecology, human/animal/plant interaction and interdependence; anthropomorphism vs. plant subjectivity and agency

Empire: postcolonialism, colonialism, anti-imperialism, pastoral, anti-pastoral

Ethics: individual responsibility, corporate responsibility, global responsibility; carbon trading

Green activism: ‘eco-terrorism’; indigenous lands; environmental legislation; non-human personhood

Habitats: space exploration and colonization; extraplanetary agrarian systems; diasporas, migration, borderlands; heterotopias, utopias, New Edens, dystopias; wilderness vs domesticated

Hybridity: botanical technology; plant-animal / plant-human hybrids; arcologies

Medicine: drugs, poisons, health, ability/disability

Monstrosity: plant-animal / plant-human hybrids; dehumanization; zombification

Narratology: plant perspectives, subjectivities, narrators and/or focalizers

Sentience: consciousness, collective intelligence, ontology, posthumanism

Symbolism: plants as symbols, metaphors, metonymies

Time: alternate time scales; histories; chronologies (“tree rings”)

Value: capitalism, plants and finance; weeds, crops, ornamental

War and peace: weapons, agents of destruction; agents of salvation

Prospective contributors to this edited collection should send an abstract (300-500 words) and brief CV or short biographical statement to Katherine Bishop (, Jerry Määttä (, and David Higgins ( For full consideration, abstracts are due by 30 April 2017. Completed essays of between 4,000 and 8,000 words will be due by 30 November 2017 for a projected publication date in early 2018.