Climate Fiction: Cli Fi


Over the past decades a new genre of fiction -Climate Fiction or Cli Fi – has emerged at the intersection of sci-fi and ‘speculative fiction’ (SF, Haraway 2016). Cl-fi entangles, in ways that are only available to these genres, with many of the themes that energise this blog, our conference, and the programs of research that we want to develop.

Interestingly, the genre traverses and constitutes a sense that our futures, fundamentally embedded in and shaped by our pasts and presents, might range from the utopian to the dystopian. In this way, there is also often a sense of hope and of possibility in these probable futures – even if that hope and possibility is tempered by our presents. James Bradley, an Australian author of novels that have been called ‘cli-fi’ – even if he, himself, is a little wary of the ‘tag’ – suggests that the genre is about:

“…making space for change”. “You can say the world is ending… but as soon as you have to write a story about it, you can see that that’s a hopelessly simplistic response,”… “People will still be alive, people will still be going on with their lives and doing things, and that forces you to engage with what it might actually be like. “The world is not actually going to end; it’s going to be transformed…

In this post we provide some links to a number of stories about Cli-Fi, which include reviews of some of the more important, significant, popular authors and books in the genre.

10 Cli-Fi Novels for the Dark Days Ahead

From The Drowned World to the Broken Earth trilogy, the books that imagine catastrophic futures for our already-imperiled natural world

October 22, 2018, By Book Marks

‘…The end is nigh, unless we drastically reduce the rate of our greenhouse gas emissions within the next few years that is. The landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change, released earlier this month to a combination of shock and abject terror, revealed conclusively what many in the scientific community have been saying for years: that the immediate consequences of climate change will be vastly more devastating than previously thought.

Though it is technically possible to achieve the rapid adjustments required to an avoid atmospheric temperature rise of 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial levels (the new threshold for the most severe and potentially irreparable effects of climate change), having men like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro at the helms of two of the largest greenhouse gas emitting countries in the world pushes this already remote possibly into the realms of fantasy.

Now if, in 2018, you require a science fiction novel to remind you of the single greatest threat facing humanity, then you really have not been paying attention and should probably turn on the (not Fox)news once in a while (ideally before November 6th). Still, cli-fi may very well end up being the defining literary genre of our era, and it’s interesting to look back at the ways in which some of the most inventive and prophetic authors of recent decades imagined the kinds of futures that may lie in store for us if we continue down our current path….’

Could cli-fi help inspire real climate change action?

By Monique Ross and Julie Street for Late Night Live

‘…Climate fiction novels catapult readers into a future ravaged by the catastrophic effects of global warming.

Survival is a struggle amid dwindling food and water supplies, extreme weather and pandemics. Environmental emergencies are slowly unfolding: animals dying, forests vanishing, sea levels rising.

The genre — variously dubbed ‘cli-fi’, ‘slow apocalypse’ and Anthropocene fiction — has become a publishing phenomenon, with Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan among those conjuring up dystopian near-futures.

“You could say it’s because it resonates with a culture on the verge of collapse,” says Australian author Alice Robinson, whose cli-fi novel Anchor Point was longlisted for the Stella Prize in 2016.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

For some the genre is simply a new take on science fiction, but for others it’s a timely wake-up call that could inspire real change…’

How Climate-Change Fiction, or “Cli-Fi,” Forces Us to Confront the Incipient Death of the Planet


By Katy Waldman

November 9, 2018

‘…There is something counterintuitive about cli-fi, about the fictional representation of scientifically substantiated predictions that too many people discount as fictions. The genre, elsewhere exemplified by Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy and Nathaniel Rich’s “Odds Against Tomorrow,” brings disaster forcefully to life. But it is a shadowy mirror. Literature has always been a humanist endeavor: it intrinsically and helplessly affirms the value of the species; its intimations of meaning energize and comfort. But what if there is scant succor to be had, and our true natures are not noble but necrotic, pestilential? We have un-earthed ourselves. Yet we claim the right to gaze at our irresponsibility and greed through fiction’s tonic filter. The stories in “Warmer,” which possess the urgency of a last resort and the sorrow of an elegy, inhabit this contradiction. They both confront and gently transfigure the incomprehensible realities of climate change…’


Cli-Fi: Birth of a Genre

Perhaps climate change had once seemed too large-scale, or too abstract, for the minutely human landscape of fiction. But the threat seems to have become too pressing to ignore, and less abstract, thanks to a nonstop succession of mega-storms and record-shattering temperatures. Several new novels make climate change central to their plot and setting, appropriating time-honored narratives to accord with our new knowledge and fears. Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, Summer 2013

Books discussed in this essay:

Far North
by Marcel Theroux
Picador, 2010, 320 pp.

I’m With the Bears: Short Stories from a Damaged Planet
edited by Mark Martin
Verso, 2011, 208 pp.

Back to the Garden
by Clara Hume
Moon Willow Press, 2012, 271 pp.

The Healer: A Novel
by Antti Tuomainen, Henry Holt and Co., 2013, 224 pp.

Odds Against Tomorrow: A Novel
by Nathaniel Rich, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013, 320 pp.

by Ian McEwan,
Nan A. Talese, 2010, 304 pp.

Wild Ones:
A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America

by Jon Mooallem
Penguin Press HC, 2013, 368 pp.

‘…Makepeace Hatfield, the heroine of Marcel Theroux’s 2009 novel Far North, is one of the last survivors of a Siberian settlement. Her father was an early settler: an American Quaker who fled a decadent world for a frontiersman’s life. In the Siberian summer, he discovered fertile terrain, purple and brown, and water that “heaved with salmon,” as Makepeace recalls. “Nothing I’ve known in the Far North resembles the land of ice that people expected him to find here.”

We are in the future, or, at any rate, a future. The settlement has collapsed under the pressure of an influx of starving refugees. Makepeace—a stoic, androgynous woman—forges her own bullets and hunts wild pigs. When she witnesses the crash of a small plane, she sets out on her horse to find the rump of civilization that must have produced it. She is welcomed into a small religious community, then imprisoned at a work camp, and eventually makes her way to a dead metropolis.

Far North, hailed by the Washington Post as the “first great cautionary fable of climate change,” is one of the strongest of a recent crop of similar books, most of which are also post-apocalyptic or dystopian. But the novel is no straightforward eco-parable. Indeed, at one point, Theroux seems to have a little fun with green pieties. In the book, knowledge about the origins of the crisis is fuzzy, but Makepeace’s learned confidant offers an explanation:

Shamsudin said the planet had heated up. They turned off smokestacks and stopped flying….Factories were shut down….As it turned out, the smoke from all the furnaces had been working like a sunshade, keeping the world a few degrees cooler than it would have been otherwise. He said that in trying to do the right thing, we had sawed off the branch we were sitting on…’

Liz Jensen: Our House, Our Fire, our Fiction

“I want you to act as you would in a crisis,” the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg told Davos last month. “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

When a kid in pigtails speaks truth to power, the world listens.
At a time when the science could not be clearer, Thunberg’s burning house metaphor turned her appearance at Davos into an iconic moment in climate history.

Our house on fire: an image everyone on the planet can understand. Our, implies an us: a community or family. House implies a home, and shelter. Fire spells danger. Instantly, a mental narrative is triggered, leading to three choices.

Choice One entails pretending there is no fire, or that there is one, but it is a containable household accident. Choice Two involves doing one’s best to douse the flames and limit the damage. Choice Three offers the simplest solution to the crisis: run.

But where to?

Thunberg’s simple, evocative metaphor mobilized millions around the world: proof, if ever it were needed, of the impact language can have. As the novelist Margaret Atwood once put it, “A word after a word after a word is power.”…’

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