Staying Alive: Science Fiction in the Age of the Anthropocene — Philip K. Dick’s Pessimistic Humanism

Tallulah Harvey


In recent years, literary studies have become increasingly invested in environmentalism. As science reveals the negative impacts of climate change, and demonstrates a growing concern for humanity’s contribution, literature operates as a form of cultural documentation. It details public awareness and anxieties, and acts as a conduit for change by urging empathetic responses and rendering ecological controversy accessible.

To explore the relationship between literature and environmental politics, this paper will focus on the work of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, and his dystopian visions. In his particular brand of sci-fi, there is no future for humanity. Science and technology fail to pave the way for a better and fairer society, but rather towards, as far as Dick is concerned, extinction. He argues that scientific advancement distances us from reality and from a sense of “humanness”. His pessimistic futures are nihilistic but tender; nurturing a love for humanity even in, what he considers to be, its final hours.

Unlike the work of other prominent sci-fi writers, Dick’s fiction does not look towards the stars, but is in many ways a return to earth. The barren landscapes of Mars and other planets offer no comfort, and the evolution of the human into cyborgs, androids and post human species is depicted as dangerous and regressive. Dick’s apocalyptic visions ground his readers in the reality around them, acting in the present for the sake of the earth and humanity’s survival. His humanism is critical of grand enlightenment ideas of “progressivism”, and instead celebrates ordinariness. In the shadow of corporate capitalism and violent dictatorial governments, Dick prefers the little man, the ordinary everyday domestic hero for his narratives. His fiction urges us to take responsibility for our actions, and prepares us for the future through scepticism and pessimism, and a relentless fondness for the human.


Climate change; science fiction; speculative fiction; futurism; energy crisis; sustainable and unsustainable energy resources; Anthropocene

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