Marta Tveit is an independent writer and podcaster based in Oslo. A regular columnist for the Norwegian newspapers “Klassekampen” and “Morgenbladet,” she is also development organization communications journalist and project manager. Her favorite topics include: identity, youth, third culture kids, media and digital spaces, and Africa Rising. She has a MSc from the University of Oxford, and am MA in global media studies from SOAS in London.
You’ve heard about and read the cli-fi novels of Maja Lunde, Doris Lessing, Amitav Ghosh and James Bradley, and among sci-fi writers some favorites in the West are Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, William Gibson, and Kim Stanley Robinson. But have you heard of or read the works of Buchi Emecheta The Rape of Shavi (1983) or Kojo Laing Woman of the Aeroplanes (1988, Ghana)? Or Ngugi wa Thiong or Ben Okri or Kenyanske Thiong (Wizard of the Crows (2006)? If not, after you read Tveit’s excellent introduction to Afrofuturism and where it is heading, you will have some homework to do.
According to Tveit, “The relationship between man and nature can be said to be a fixture in all of African speculative literature, especially magical realism. Traditionally, African sci-fi has also been concerned with colonization and power imbalance, perhaps not surprisingly (read, for example, “Why Sci-Fi Keeps Imagining the Subjugation of White People” in The Atlantic magazine of 2014). Even in cli-fi, climate change is quickly linked to power imbalances, inequalities and injustice. The more general ideas of ‘climate justice’ may also have found their way into the literature.”
The relationship between humans and nature can be said to be a fixture in all of African speculative literature, especially magical realism, according to Tveit.
Meet Nnedi Okorafor, a Nigerian-American writer of fantasy and science fiction for both children and adults. Born in 1974, she is best known for her novels ”Binti,” ”Who Fears Death” and ”Lagoon,” among others. She has also written for comics and film,and her writing is heavily influenced by her dual Nigerian and American heritage she has said in interviews
Okorafor’s “Who Fears Death (2010) was set in a post-apocalyptic Africa where magic and high technology mix seamlessly, according to Tveit. “The title character Onyesonwu, whose name means “Who Fears Death”, grows into her own magical powers in a wiped-out world, as she tries to figure out the forces that are trying to destroy her. It’s dark, but it’s also about toughness and resilience.”
Where Western ”climate fiction” and cli-fi written by white writers can be said to be marked by melancholy, the African texts more often carry a different energy. writes Tveit. “They are indignant about injustice, and are at the same time a celebration of “African Toughness”. In these, it is impossible to separate the climate crisis from abuse of power, capitalist greed and (technological) inequality, the source of most of Africa’s problems in the first place.”
”Locally produced cli-fi has an extra important role for the African continent. Novels and films about climate can inspire Africans to envision the future with renewed vigor, and perhaps alleviate some of the feeling of powerlessness,” says Tveit in her essay.
”But the genre deserves more attention in the rest of the world as well. Not as a poor cousin of Anglo-American climate fiction, but in its own right, and as a new angle to look at the climate crisis from. Since those with the least should suffer the most, it is perhaps this angle we should be most aware of.”
The award-winning Sundance film ”Pumzi” takes place in the Maitu community in the East African territory thirty-five years after World War III — the ”Water War.” Director Wanuri Kahiu has commented that the film was partly inspired by her irritation over the price of bottled water in Kenya. Water shortages are already a major problem in Kenya, where only 58 percent of the popularion have access to clean drinking water, according to sources.
When Maja Lunde or Barbara Kingsolver write about bees or butterflies, Tveit says she she reads to a greater extent the sub-text as a melancholy warning, that we must be careful. The African cli-fi is more about a scary reality that is already here (put at the forefront), and inspiration for what is required to deal with it.
Something exciting about South African climate fiction is that several authors draw a line between climate change and life during apartheid, says Tveit, noting that Jenny Robson from South Africa has written a world where “Homosaps” live in reserves so that the continent’s fauna and flora can recover from the anthropogenic eco-disaster. The main character, the teenager Savannah, has a gene boyfriend — people who are genetically engineered so that their organs, when they turn 18, can be harvested for endangered animal species.
“To say something about African climate fiction, one must first say something about the rich tradition of which it is a part — African speculative fiction,” Tveit says, adding: “In the pre-war period, the English texts that I have managed to find were written by white South Africans. They are mostly about what in the world was going to happen if ‘apartheid’ were ever to end. After independence, from 1960 onwards, there are plenty of what can be called postcolonial sci-fi, such as Buchi Emecheta’s ”The Rape of Shavi” (1983) or Kojo Laing’s ”Woman of the Airplanes” (1988, Ghana). In recent times, it is mostly produced in Nigeria and South Africa, and the flows between African America and Africa are so dense and flowing so fast that it is difficult to get an overview of where something originated or who influenced what.”
”Afro-futurism” has undoubtedly influenced science fiction on the African continent and vice versa, also through the diaspora and multicultural writers, Tveit notes in her 2500-word essay, adding: ”This current connects tradition and spirituality that has emerged on the continent with modern and futuristic technologies and lifestyles, and must be said to be political.”
It elevates a vision of the upright, independent Black man, rooted in a rebuilt past (a past that for many African-Americans disappeared in the waves across the Atlantic Ocean) that confidently enters a golden future, Tveit says.
Where our climate fiction ”cli-fi” is marked by melancholy, the African texts have an angry and tenacious energ, Tveit notes.
”Climate anxiety creates a need. A need to process what is happening now, and what we fear will happen in the future. Science fiction is therefore an exciting genre, because it allows us to explore spooky and possible futures in safe laboratory-like surroundings. Therefore, it is not surprising that a new sub-genre in science fiction has emerged. We’re talking about “cli-fi” — climate fiction.”
Texts that can be called cli-fi have been written since the 19th century at least, but their popularity has increased sharply in our time. An important reason may be that climate fiction can analyze technical concepts through accessible language and captivating stories, which makes it easier for the public to participate in contemporary “technical” climate discourse. Today, the genre has been made mainstream by big international names such as Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver.
In Tveit’s native Norway, there are also several writers who have visited the sub-genre. For example, Maja Lunde writes about China in the future year 2098 in her novel ”The Hstory of Bees,” a world where bees have disappeared and one of the main characters, a Chinese woman named Tao, works to pollinate plants by hand.
It is no secret that those who will suffer the most from climate change are those who already have the least, both now and in the future. So what does the future hold for cli-fi on the African continent? Read Marta Tveit’s longform essay in Norwegian here or use Google translation apps to translate the text into English. A whole new world will open up for you no matter what continent you live on.