French reporter Riwan Marhic, writing for the Agence France-Presse (AFP) wire service in Paris, recently published a report titled ”Entre anticipation et ecologie, la ‘climate-fiction’ progresse ‘a la vitesse de l’eclair,'” which in plain English might be amplified to mean something like “As the climate crisis worldwide gets worse and worse, the literary and cinema genre of cli-fi, or climate-fiction, is rising ‘at the speed of lightning.'”
Marhic interiewed me during a 30-minute phone chat across the seas, and he also interviewed three top French cli-fi writers — Jean-Marc Ligny, Yann Quero and Lorris Murail — while at the same time interviewing two internationally-known literary experts in Australia: Monash University Professor Andrew Milner and his son James Burgmann-Milner, also at Monash, where the two men wrote a well-received nonfiction academic book titled ”Science Fiction and Climate Change: A Sociological Approach.”
The Paris-based reporter spent about two weeks researching his topic, including talking with the people he interviewed, and the result was a comprehensive 800-word news report in French that went out on the AFP wire to readers in the Francophone world, from France to Quebec and a dozen other nations worldwide as well.
I was able to read the article in French using the French I learned in college and on two visits to France in the 1960s, and, with the help of a translation service on the internet, I set up an informal English-language translation of the AFP article, mostly for my own benefit (so that I could better understand the article in my own native language.)
This is what I learned.
With bees in some regions of the world disappearing at alarming rates, and a global struggle for “blue gold” due to worldwide shortages of oil and gasoline, the new literary and cinema genre of ”cli-fi” is on the rise not only in America and Britain, but also in bookstores in France and on French TV screens, according to the AFP.
Marhic pointed out two movies that have had an impact on viewers worldwide in the last 15 years, “The Children of Men” (directed by Alfonso Cuaron in 2006) and “The Day After” (directed by German director Roland Emmerich in 2004), helped focus attention of the power of cli-fi movies to serve as wake-up calls and warning flares for future generations.
This new genre for novels and movies has gained traction worldwide at “lightning speed” in both English-speaking countries and other non-English-speaking nations as well, according to one of the experts Marhic spoke to for his story.
“Cli-fi is a subgenre of [speculative] fiction,” Andrew Milner, a professor of comparative literature at Monash University in Australia, told AFP, adding: “Cli-fi authors, readers, publishers and litera identify with the tradition of “what if” [speculative] fiction.” While he believes that the “cli-fi” genre must continue evolve to eventually “become an autonomous” genre, he also notes that the genre is developing “very quickly,” he told AFP.
Emanating first from English-speaking countries, a “cli-fi” wind is blowing all over the world, AFP told its readers. In France, the TV series “La Dernière Vague” on the Frecnch channel ”France 2” and “L’Effondrement”, on the French channel “Canal+,” illustrate cli-fi’s growing popularity. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, Marhic wrote.
Norwegian novelist Maja Lunde’s “A History of Bees”, a best-selling novel in Germany and now translated into some 30 foreign languages, tells the story of a society where flowers must be pollinated by hand, he added.
“I think we will see more of these cli-fi books in the coming years,” Ms. Lunde told an AFP reporter back in 2018, “because people are increasingly concerned about climate change and authors are writing about what scares them.”
Indeed, the cli-fi current seems to be accelerating, according to the AFP report.
In Iceland, Sigridur Hagalin Bjornsdottir’s “The Island” (published in 2018), finds itself cut off from the world and tries to live in self-sufficiency.
“Dans la foret” by Jean Hegland (a great success in 2017 for the French translation) tells the story of two young girls surviving in a world without electricity or gasoline.
American cli-fi novelists Paolo Bacigalupi and Claire Vaye Watkins explored the theme of drought and the battle for “blue gold” in “The Water Knife” (published in 2015) and “Gold Fame Citrus” (published in 2017).
The cli-fi genre has also flourished in children’s YA (young adult) novels in America and now in France as well, written by French writers Jerome Leroy in “Lou apres tout, Le grand effondrement” (published in 2019) and Lorris Murail in “L’Horloge de l’Apocalypse” (”The Doomsday Clock”) in 2018.
“From a certain point of view, there can be no other subject left,” Mr. Murail told AFP, “even if young readers sometimes have the impression that they are being lectured to.”
“It’s become difficult to ignore the subject,” said French novelist Jean-Marc Ligny, a leading French science fiction writer and the main “cli-fi” author in France with his popular novel titled “Aqua TM” and its sequels.
For him, “climate change needs stories, readers, and it needs publishers to release them. Numbers, charts, statistics, they doesn’t reallyt talk to readers, but stories do. The ‘cli-fi’ genre makes it easier to become aware of the situation.”
“Today, a science fiction author cannot miss the point,” says Yann Quero, French author of several “cli-fi” books and coordinator of the anthology “Le rechauffement climatique et apres” published by Arkuiris. “Even in a space opera, one can wonder why humanity will swarm in the stars.”