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Popular Science and Apocalyptic Narrative in Frank Sch tzing’s The Swarm

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Abstract:

This paper analyses the use of the rhetoric of the Apocalypse and the concept of nature's revenge in Frank Sch tzing's eco-thriller The Swarm. Ecocritical research has identified these narrative patterns as characteristic of contemporary environmental literature. In The Swarm, the apocalyptical rhetoric fulfils the double function of providing thrill and pleasure to the readers and warning them about imminent environmental peril, thereby combining conventions from the two genres of eco-thriller and science fiction. Contrasting reviews have described the novel as either enlightening or pseudo-religious. This ambivalence is the effect of various strategies employed to popularise scientific knowledge in the novel. The narrative embraces various scientific fields, for example the depiction of a network in contrast to swarm theory. The key conflict in the story embodies conflicting concepts of nature - anthropocentric vs. eco-systemic - which are represented by two contrasting groups of characters: one aiming to extinguish the alien superorganism that attacks the human race, the other aspiring to integrate the alien organism into the human world and propagating a holistic view of the Earth. The concepts of a 'tragic' and a 'comical apocalypse' correspond to the double closure which first features a show-down, the annihilation of the 'bad' characters, and then, in the epilogue, a warning message delivered by a 'good' character which confirms - in contrast to, for example, Michael Crichton's State of Fear - the ongoing environmental crisis. Although the epilogue extensively appeals to the human ability to rethink attitudes towards nature, the novel's support for environmental concerns is limited, not only because this message remains rather abstract but also because the vision of a reconciled, pseudo-religious ecosystem as a holistic superorganism has a highly ambivalent meaning for humanity.

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