Monday, April 22, 2013

OC's Earth Day Post: Cli-fi

I usually do an environmental post on Thursdays, but today is Earth Day, and, hey, I can adapt. So I'm getting all environmentalish with a climate fiction post on Monday this week.

Climate fiction? you say. Yeah, I just heard about it a couple of days ago, too. Climate fiction, according to NPR is a genre, well, an "emerging" one, anyway, in which writers "set their novels and short stories in worlds, not unlike our own, where the Earth's systems are noticeably off-kilter." That's how it differs from dystopian or apocalyptic novels in which a futuristic world is suffering because of (usually) human-made environmental disaster or just a human-made "oops." Climate fiction is set in a contemporary world.

This article at Grist  looks like a review of a couple of cli-fi novels, though one seems a little futuristic/apocalyptic.

I suspect that NPR's definition of cli-fi as being something separate from the dystopian/apocalyptic stuff isn't generally known. Here someone uses the term "cli-fi thriller" to describe the same book set 75 years in the future with climate disaster that Grist included in its review column.

Climate Change and Contemporary Fiction appears to be a blog that deals with this very subject.

I'm going to admit that though I have an interest in environmentalism, as a reader I find environmental/climate change disaster stories cliched. The first few were interesting, sure, but now they leave me with a feeling of, "Oh. I've read this. Several times." Or, "Of course. The tech people/scientists are the bad guys. Again." It's not that the problems aren't real or serious, but they've become formulaic as far as literature is concerned. I also wonder if there isn't a message quality to some of these books, a lesson that readers are supposed to be learning. There's sometimes a propaganda quality to some of these stories. This preaching issue is discussed in Few A-List Novelists Tackling Climate Change in Their Plots at Climate Central.

Novelists Try Climate Change Story Telling: A Critical Review of Two Recent Entries published at The Yale forum on Climate Change & The Media  ends with "Are there other ways that climate change can make for good reading? It’s a question more than a few hope to see answered in the affirmative. As Bill McKibben wrote in 2005, climate change still lacks resonance in American culture. “Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” he asked. “Compare it to, say, the horror of AIDS in the last two decades, which has produced a staggering outpouring of art that, in turn, has had real political effect.”"

I am not knowledgeable about AIDS literature, but I think the question being raised here is is climate change being used in literature other than in novels? Certainly a different form--poetry or opera, for instance--might help to break the formula of human-made disaster leading to woe.

Happy Earth Day.

5 comments:

dan said...

Gail, very good post. Can i tell you something? This is not about me, nor am i bragging, my name not important here but I am the person who coined the term cli fi a few years and wrote about it on several websites in 2010 and onwards, including articles in Hollywood news sites and book blogs. Google "danny bloom" + CLI Fi and you will see I coined it. nobody in the MSM would give me the time of day, the NYT and NPR would not interview me, but now it' big news due to refent npr story and later christian science monitor article too. Neither article mentioned me or my role or reasons for coining CLI Fi nor the fact the my coinage was not going very far until....Margaret Atwood in Canada tweeted a tweet about "dan bloom's coined a new term for climate sci fi he calls it CLI Fi" google it too and the document of her tweet in on my Youtube account. so, gail, great post on your part here, pro and con, and do interview me, can you, ask me why i coined the term? danbloom At gmail will get you to my door. i am in Taiwan, tufts 1971 grad, age 64, a few more years left before i croak. google POLAR CITY RED to see the cli fi novel I produced as book paacker. in a year we sold 261 copies only. SIGh

Gail Gauthier said...

Dan, When I was looking for information for this post, I did come across your name and "Polar City Red"'s. Not in reference to coining the term, but googling "climate fiction" or "cli fi" took me to you.

dan said...

thanks for note. and yes, while i was setting up the book POLAR CITY RED, which was finally written by Jim laighter, not me, i was just the book packager wtihout a fee, haha, just my hobby, but jim wrote t the entire book all payments go to him so far we sold 271 copies in 12 months so go figure. when i was setting up the book idea which has the title i asked Jim to use, i came up with the concept of CLI FI and asked around, Margaret Atwood in Canada told me she loved the term so i stuck with it...when NPR and CSm did stories on this last week or so, neitther reporeter bothered to find out who coined the term or when or why. They did not do their homeworkd. haha. SMILE. but not importaant. the main thing is the TERM is not official. and not everyone likes it and i can live with that...let's see if oit has a long life or short life....wwant to intterview me by email abotu why i came up with the term, i am in Taiwan danbloom At gmail

dan said...

ps - did you meant to provide a link to Polar City Red "here" of was this pointing to a different book above re ''[*Here* someone uses the term "cli-fi thriller" to describe the same book set 75 years in the future with climate disaster that Grist included in its review column. ]
'' or was that pointing to a grist book?

dan said...

And one more note, Gail: the NPR and the CSM copycat piece that appeared after the radio show aired, both reporters got CLI FI wrong, since they are not climate activist themselves, nor are they cli fi writers or producers, they are merely good newsroom reporters trying to make a mountain out of a trend so they can write a fun story. But in fact, CLI FI is not what they say it is. Let me say this: cli fi is a subgenre of science fiction, and it can take place in the present, the near future and the distant future and the far distant future and even in the past, yes. It is not limited to the boundaries NPR gives it. That was a shallow piece, done on deadline and just to cover a trend and to boost Nathaniel Rich's novel with a push from his PR agent in NYC. See? That entire story was planted by the PR guy in NYC. CLI FI can take place in past presnt or fugure and cli fi can be dystopiean or apocalyptic, too, if the author wants to go there. Sure. And cli fi can also be pedestrain and not dystopiean at all. Cli fi just means the novel is about climate issues, pro or con, and the issues can be that climate change is NOI happening at all, or that it is happening. So NPR got it wrong and the NPR story made you react so strongly. I liked your post. It was good, But you were reacted to a poorly-reserached, shallow radio piece. THere will be better cli fi pieces soon, WAit. meanwhile, interview me about what i just told you here?