Yes, in a long interview with a prestigious American magazine, ”Annihilation” author Jeff VanderMeer has warmly and personally endorsed the rising new genre of ”cli-fi’‘ — and cli-fi novelists as well — in far-ranging Q&A with reporter John Maher at Pacific Standard magazine.
VanderMeer, 48, sat down with Pacific Standard to discuss that future, his books, and why “anyone” — not just science fiction writers — can write cli-fi.
John Maher: Do you think science fiction and speculative fiction are particularly well equipped to address present environmental issues?
JVM: I don’t think it’s a particular domain of science fiction. I think it’s something where we all have areas where we default to foundational assumptions that we should be questioning. I have my own spots like that, I’m absolutely sure, but it’s certainly not when it comes to animal behavior science and things like that.
It’s an issue for discussion because I think mainstream literary realism is just as well equipped. And I do want to push science fiction writers to think more about these issues because science fiction can also fall back on old defaults of plot and trope that are not useful to exploring these things. Sometimes you need new fictional modes. You hear the term cli-fi, for example, and I’ve heard some science fiction writers say, “Well, why do we need that when we have the term ‘science fiction’?” Well, because it means climate fiction, and anyone can write climate fiction. It’s not necessarily science fiction—it’s not necessarily set in the future! And the reason is that it’s happening right now. Climate change is happening right now. The future is happening right now.
Jeff VanderMeer is one of America’s most important and well-read novelists exploring climate change in his short stories and novels.
He told Maher during the interview: ”This has always been my issue, so to speak — the thing that I’m interested in. And even my work in the ’90s and ’80s dealt with climate change to some degree, so it’s hard to pinpoint, because for Annihilation and those books, I didn’t have to do any research. I just had to make sure that most of the biology was OK. I actually sent it to some biologists and physicists and stuff, and just basically was along the lines of, “Is this within the realm of possibility?”
”I’ve always written about what you might call “weird biology.” I’ve always been drawn to animals like squid and to organisms like fungus, so when you research that, you kind of as a byproduct come across stuff that has to do with ecology and environmental issues and things like that. There are seminal texts that I remember — there’s a lot of Rachel Carson’s stuff that really stuck in my memory because it’s very poetic and lyrical at the same time that it’s evoking landscapes that, to some degree, no longer exist.
”Also, my dad is a scientist — he’s an entomologist — and there are certain ways that his study of invasive species, like fire ants, touches on these issues. And my daughter works for a sustainability company. She actually wrote part of that World Wildlife report on what we need to do to survive 30 years.”