Cli-Fi: The Emerging Genre of Climate Change Literature

October 15, 2013

I did this video as kind of a lark a few years ago, exploring the ways writers and story tellers are dealing with emerging climate science. Since then, there’s been an acceleration in the number of examples of an emerging genre, “Cli-Fi”. In some cases, climatic change is an essential theme of the stories, and in other cases, it simply is a fact – it exists as a background to the action, an accepted part of  life in the future of the planet – as in the imagined “New Seoul” cityscape in “Cloud Atlas”.

The Earth 101 conference in Reykjavik was specifically devoted to the ongoing task of processing the awesome new understanding that scientists are giving us about how the planet works, and what our future here may be like.  Part of our work as communicators of this understanding is to change the story from one of helplessness and catastrophe, to empowerment and hope.

Writer Dan Bloom sends me this:

During the sweltering British summer of 2013, several bookstores in
the UK did something that was a long time coming: They set up
dedicated ”cli-fi” tables with a simple yet eye-catching signs
promoting fiction and non-fiction books with climate themes.

We spoke with the display window manager at the one of the London
bookshops about why she set up the cli fi tables and signs. When asked
what the motivation was, she explained that after she read the Rodge
Glass piece in the Guardian in May, she became very concerned about
finding ways to promote climate fiction (and nonfiction climate-themed
books, both pro and con global warming issues) in her store. So she
asked her design team to come up with some posters and signs, and
tables were set up. Customer reaction was positive, she said.

Among the books displayed were Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and
James Lovelock’s “The Revenge of Gaia” as well as Stephen Emmott’s
bestseller “10 Billion” sitting alongside such dystopic scenarios as
J.G. Ballard’s “The Drowned World,” John Christopher’s “The Death of
Grass,” Joe Dunthorne’s “Wild Abandon” and Liz Jensen’s “The Rapture.”

books

Most of the books on the table are also available as e-books as well.

These ‘cli-fi’ signs in-store may be the first of their kind anywhere
in the now-warming world, and they follow extensive media coverage of
the emerging cli-fi genre in TeleRead, The Guardian, the Financial
Times, and The New Yorker.

Other cli-fi novels on the tables included Barbara Kingsolver’s”Flight
Behavior” and and Ian McEwan’s “Solar.”

Will other bookstores and book-selling websites around the world
follow these sterling British bookstore examples and set up similar
cli-fi sites at bookstores in New York, San Francisco, Seattle,
Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington and Paris?

Is this a trend or just one-off events and photo opps in the UK?

NPR:

When Superstorm Sandy hit New York City last fall, the publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux, like most everything else, totally shut down. It was a week before power returned to FSG, according to Brian Gittis, a senior publicist. When he got back to his office, he began sorting through galleys — advance copies of books. And one of them caught him off guard.

oddsIts cover had an illustration of the Manhattan skyline half-submerged in water.

“It was definitely sort of a Twilight Zone moment,” Gittis recalls.
-
Over the past decade, more and more writers have begun to set their novels and short stories in worlds, not unlike our own, where the Earth’s systems are noticeably off-kilter. The genre has come to be called climate fiction — “cli-fi,” for short.
-

“I think we need a new type of novel to address a new type of reality,” says Rich, “which is that we’re headed toward something terrifying and large and transformative. And it’s the novelist’s job to try to understand, what is that doing to us?”

Of course, science fiction with an environmental bent has been around since the 1960s (think J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World). But while sci-fi usually takes place in a dystopian future, cli-fi happens in a dystopian present.
-
When (Barbara) Kingsolver spoke with NPR in November, she said her writing was driven by a simple question: “Why do we believe or disbelieve the evidence we see for climate change?”
When Kingsolver spoke with NPR in November, she said her writing was driven by a simple question: “Why do we believe or disbelieve the evidence we see for climate change?”

“I really wanted to look into how we make those choices and how it’s possible to begin a conversation across some of these divides,” Kingsolver said, “between scientists and nonscientists, between rural and urban, between progressive and conservative — that when it comes to understanding the scientific truths about the world, there must be another way to bring information to people … that’s beyond simply condescending and saying, ‘Well, if only you had the facts. If only you knew what I did, then you would be a smart person.’ That gets you nowhere.”

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23 Responses to “Cli-Fi: The Emerging Genre of Climate Change Literature”


  1. Back in 2005, two important essays appeared that prefigured the
    emergence of CLI FI literature as an emerging genre. One was Robert
    Macfarline’s piece in the Guardian in the UK titled “The Burning
    Question” google the hedline and the other was Bill McKibben’s similar
    essay in Grist, one in 2005 and an update at Grist in 2009, and both
    pieces by Macfarline and Mckibben were calling for art and literature
    about climate issues. They both asked the question then: “Where are
    our writers and artists and dancers and poets when it comes to climate
    changes themes? we need them.” Those two essays led the way. Re-read
    them now if you have time. both still online.


  2. see ”CLI FI CENTRAL” blog for photos of UK bookstore Foyles with cli fi table signs

    see MARY WOODBURY’s webzine ”clifibooks” for growing archive and list of all cli fi novels past and present


  3. By the way, for commenters here, via REALCLIMATE’s stefan, a climate professor in Germany, where this text appeared last week and how i saw his videos: “Peter Sinclair is a cartoonist from the U.S. Midwest. Some years ago, out of anger over the aggressive disinformation campaign of climate deniers (he prefers this term), he started his now well-known video series “Climate Denial Crock of the Week”. Sinclair now also produces the film series, “This is Not Cool” for the renowned Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media , and has made more than a 100 short films on climate issues. The following short film “Welcome to the Rest of Our Lives” was created in summer 2012 after the record heat wave in the United States. By his own admission, when he had finished it his film brought himself to tears.


  4. And another cli fi novel to add to the list, by Clara Hume, titled BACK TO THE GARDEN, published by Moonwillow Press. google for it. and see amazon


  5. Robert Macfarlane, Chair of judges, 2013 Man Booker
    Prize. quote today …”It has been a … We read sci-fi, spy-fi, cli-fi, lit-fic,
    hist-fic, screwball and gumshoe.”
    http://www.themanbookerprize.com/…/robert-macfarlane-announces-man-boo...

    ”We read sci-fi, spy-fi, cli-fi, lit-fic,
    hist-fic, screwball and gumshoe.”

    CLI FI mentioned at MAN BOOKER FIRST TIME EVER

  6. daryan12 Says:

    I’d make two points, firstly environmental dystopia’s as a plot element in sci-fi isn’t anything new. Back during the cold war there were many novels and movies set in a post WW3 world (the Postman…the book (1980′s) not the film, or “on the beach” (1950′s)).

    Environmental destruction by pollution is covered by such works as John Brunner’s “the sheep look up” as well as “standing on zanzibar” (1970′s) or “the death of grass” by John Christopher (1950′s). Overpopulation is similarly covered in books such as Sliverberg’s “master of life and death” or indeed films such as “Soylent green”.

    So this is a well established theme and one that has had a political impact from time to time, as films like “the day after” or “threads” had a direct impact on the politics of the cold war.

    Second point, why do I have this feeling that twenty years from now the “humongous” in Mad Max will be a ex-climate denier like omnologos?

    • MorinMoss Says:

      Another sci-fi book dealing with overpopulation is Logan’s Run.

      Sci-fi has long been a way to explore alternative socio-political structures.

      Two of my favorites were both written by Ursula K. LeGuin – The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.


  7. […] I did this video as kind of a lark a few years ago, exploring the ways writers and story tellers are dealing with emerging climate science. Since then, there's been an acceleration in the number of examples of an emerging genre …  […]


  8. […] written about the emerging literature of Climate themed science fiction –  Cli Fi. If you liked Memento, Inception, or the Dark Knight – this may be of interest. Christopher […]


  9. ”The rise of “cli fI’ as a new genre of literature” – ARIZONA STATE UNIV forum – hieroglyph.asu.edu/forums/topic/the-rise-of-cli-fi-as-a-new-genre-of-literature/


  10. UPDATE: TIME mag to report cli fi news in Hollywood long article in May 8 online issue of TIME, but behind firewall, er, paywall, so must read print mag or contact dan bloom in taiwan for xray vision of the article. Date of issue is May 19 issue but online May 8 and on sale as print mag on May 9 re

    ”The rise of “cli fI’ as a new genre of literature” – ARIZONA STATE UNIV forum – hieroglyph.asu.edu/forums/topic/the-rise-of-cli-fi-as-a-new-genre-of-literature/


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