For your amusement, I present a book review of Eaten from an Austrian academic specializing in contemporary literature by the name of Michael Fuchs. I came across his book chapter last week, buried deep within Google offerings, while looking for something else. I laughed all the way through it.

Here is the abstract:

This chapter draws on Margaret Atwood’s vision of Canada as a Gothic space, examining how contemporary texts continue to invoke imagery of human and animal as antagonists competing for the same space. Fuchs analyzes a corpus of three “bear horror” fictions, the horror film Backcountry (2014) and two novels, The Bear (2014) by Claire Cameron and Susan J. Crockford’s near-future polar bear-themed Eaten (2015). It argues that animal predation on humans provides a powerful symbolic vehicle for bridging the human–animal divide, as it overrides the theory of human exceptionalism, offering a critical view of the entanglement of humans and nonhumans in the Anthropocene.”

A friend that I shared the essay with commented:

“My favourite sentence (new word of the day, class, please use “diegetic” in a sentence):

These constant slippages between ontological levels puzzle the reader in ways similar to how Anna is confused by the goings-on in the diegetic reality.” [pg. 263]

This essay is one of the best examples I’ve seen recently of the morass of trouble that ideological bias produces and is also an excellent example of the contortions of English language academics can achieve while trying to prove they are deep thinkers.

Fuchs, trying to elevate his own status among his peers by denouncing me, determined that my objective in writing Eaten was to “convince readers that liberal scientists have exaggerated the effects of climate change for years, and that measures aimed at countering the anticipated effects of global warming may, in fact, endanger humankind.”

In an endnote, he revealed that he formed this opinion about Eaten not by reading the story but from things others have said about me. He also revealed how badly he misinterpreted my ‘Arctic Fallacy’ paper from 2015.

His motivation is so transparent and his language so esoteric, it’s actually quite funny.

Here’s the reality: I wasn’t mucking around with subtle literary metaphors in Eaten. Nor was I trying to impress academics like him or literary writers like Margaret Atwood. My polar bear attack narrative was a vehicle for science communication and nothing more. I tried to write an easy-to-read and enjoyable story about polar bear attacks as a way to convey scientific information about polar bear life history for readers who would never pick up a science book. Feedback from many dozens of readers tells me I successfully did the job I set out to do and I’m proud of it.

I have copied an excerpt of Fuchs’ essay below but you might want to read the whole thing. Or not.

Excerpt

In this chapter, I examine some recent narratives that showcase animals’ “transgressions against humanity,” a process which goes hand-in-hand with the animals’ return to human lives. In particular, I discuss three examples of Canadian bear horror: Claire Cameron’s novel The Bear (2014), Susan J. Crockford’s sf/horror hybrid Eaten (2015b), and the movie Backcountry (2014; released as Blackfoot Trail in the UK). Unsurprisingly, these texts feature bear attacks and even scenes of bears preying on humans. This animal predation on humans provides a powerful symbolic vehicle for overcoming the human–animal divide.

While all three texts discussed in this chapter knock humankind off its horse, Eaten emerges as the text most explicit in its reflection of contemporary questions in green cultural studies and ecocriticism. As I will suggest, although Crockford does not believe in the negative effects of man-made climate change, Eaten paints a wonderful picture of life in the age of the Anthropocene—an era in which humankind has (purportedly) come to understand that the complex entanglements of different forms of life on the planet undermine simple cause-and-effect logic, which, at the end of the day, implies that humankind cannot control the natural environment.

In Crockford’s near-future novel Eaten (it is set in 2025), the unexpected effect of our worldly entanglements is that polar bears begin preying on human beings in settlements in Newfoundland and Labrador (particularly on Fogo Island). Crockford’s book is by far the least engaging of the texts discussed here, in part because the novel’s primary function is to push the author’s agenda: to convince readers that liberal scientists have exaggerated the effects of climate change for years, and that measures aimed at countering the anticipated effects of global warming may, in fact, endanger humankind.2

In terms of their goals Crockford and Kolbert could hardly be farther apart, but through Crockford’s insistence on the ideologically motivated construction of polar bears’ endangerment and Kolbert’s “unnatural history” of humankind’s negative impact on the planet, they do, in fact, have something in common. Eaten states that it “appears” as if a distemper epidemic devastated the seal population; however, one cannot be certain—there might be dozens of possible reasons for the drop in the seal population, including global warming. Implicitly, Eaten thus inadvertently acknowledges that, at the end of the day, natural phenomena elude human understanding and control. In this way, Eaten, in fact, reflects life in the Anthropocene.

Notes

2. Crockford, who has a Ph.D. in zoology, has appeared on a list of “scientists” receiving payment for supporting the Heartland Institute, the primary mission of which is to “undermine the official United National’s IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] reports” (Marriott 2012). She was also included in US Senator James Inhofe’s (in) famous list of “scientists” questioning climate change (Morano 2008). She has referred to studies about the endangerment of polar bears and other arctic creatures as the “arctic fallacy” (Crockford 2015a) created and perpetrated by liberals, as she believes animals fit for survival will adapt to the changing environment; those who won’t would simply fail to pass natural selection processes.

Citation

Fuchs, M. 2019. “I can’t believe this is happening!”: Bear horror, the species divide, and the Canadian fight for survival in a time of climate change. In A. J. Ransom and D. Grace (eds.), Canadian Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror: Bridging the Solitudes. Studies in Global Science Fiction, Palgrave McMillan, Switzerland. pp. 257-273. 

https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-15685-5_15 Pdf here.

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July 28, 2021