Danny Bloom
I seek the truth wherever it lies.

Apres la sci-fi, la cli-fi: C’est cette facon qu’on les artistes d’imaginer le futur, au prisme de catastrophes climatiques

As the above headline shows, the cli-fi term is catching on now in France, among other nations around the world, including Germany, Brazil and China, among others. Italy and Spain, too.

So when the Reuters News Agency in Britain reports that more and more college classrooms are offering cli-fi classes and graduate courses, it’s time to pay attention: “Move over Sci-Fi. Cli-fi is finding its way into university classrooms” the Reuters headline reads.

To translate the French-language headline above, we might say: “After sci-fi, here comes cli-fi.” With the subheadline reading, in translation: “Do you speak cli-fi? This new genre of imaginative fiction looks into the future of our planet, through the prism of climate change impact events. And it’s enjoying a huge success now worldwide.”

In the original French: “Le cli-fi, ça vous parle? C’est cette facon qu’on les artistes d’imaginer le futur, au prisme de catastrophes climatiques, Et ca a un succes fou.”

Another French article about cli-fi also caught the same theme, written by Claire Perrin in Paris, with a headline reading “La cli-fi: une nouvelle facon de parler du changement-climatique.”

Professor Perrin’s headline might be captioned in English as “Cli-fi is a new way to talk about man-made global warming.”

In the States, students at many colleges now read novels like “The Windup Girl” and “The Water Knife” by Colorado writer Paolo Bacigalupi, one a tale of a dystopian future Bangkok where climate change has pushed up temperatures and sea levels, and viruses acquired from genetically-modified food are killing people, and the other a dystopian story about water problems when the rivers run dry.

The two books are often called “climate fiction” or “cli-fi”, a relatively new variant of science fiction. In fact, they are not really sci-fi at all, but focus more on the here and now, in ways that speculative fiction can do so well.

Around the world, from the USA to Britain to India, cli-fi classes are on the menu as academics try to bring a growing international concern into the classroom in a lively way that combines science and emotion. It makes sense, and students are lapping it up.

“Cli-fi is capturing what is in the air now, the human impact on the environment, and I think literature is a great tool to raise awareness for this,” says one professor teaching such classes.

And at Temple University in Philadelphia, a similar class has been offered with the syllabus teaser: “Cli-Fi: Science Fiction, Climate Change and Apocalypse.”

The class examined novels such as H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”, a look at the future written in 1895, and Margaret Atwood’s “The Year of the Flood”, in which characters warn of a disaster that will dramatically reshape life on Earth.

“Our key questions will be these: How can something so gradual, so significant, and so mind-boggling as climate change be treated in literature? And can fiction help to alter our conceptions of the Earth and our role in changing it?”, the class syllabus stated.

This cli-fi trend is not just a trend in the United States. In India, the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur launched a cli-fi class as well. .

English professor T. Ravichandran hoped to teach a course analyzing cli-fi novels and films to “help identify and understand the driving forces causing ecosystem degradation”, according to his course proposal. He did teach the class last summer and student reaction was positive and thumbs-up, he told this reporter in an email.

The class looked at popular cli-fi books including Harry Harrison’s “Make Room! Make Room!” — which explores the consequences of unchecked population growth — and Jim Laughter’s “Polar City Red”, which looks at life in a dystopian domed (and doomed) ”polar city” in 2075 in Alaska.

So there you have it. No matter what language you speak or read or write in, cli-fi novels and movies are catching on worldwide, and there’s more to come over the next 100 years.

About the Author
Danny Bloom is editor of The Cli-Fi Report at www.cli-fi.net. Danny graduated from Tufts University in Boston in 1971 with a major in Yiddish Literature. A newspaper editor and reporter since his days in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan, he has lived and worked in 14 countries and speaks French, Japanese and Chinese. He hopes to live until 2032, when his tombstone will read "I came, I saw, I ate cho-dofu."
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