Danny Bloom
I seek the truth wherever it lies.

Can novels save the planet? Cli-fi Is giving it a go, writes Theodora Sutcliffe

Can Books Save the Planet? asks literary critic Theodora Sutcliffe in a recent news article. Her answer: ”Cli-fi Is Giving It a Go”

”It’s a truism that fiction teaches us about the world we live in: norms and cultures, values and beliefs, the complex interplay of external events and personal relationships that keeps us reading (or watching) until the end,” she writse.” Now, an emerging genre of writing known as climate fiction, or cli-fi, is teaching us about the world as we need to see it: a planet in the grip of a climate crisis that will shape our lives for as long as we inhabit Earth.

Writing a long essay on the ”Means & Matters” website, she says she sees cli-fi as an urgent genre, a route to “wake people up via storytelling.”

”Cli-fi is teaching us about the world as we need to see it: a planet in the grip of a climate crisis,” she shares.

So what makes climate fiction ”Cli-Fi”?

Sutcliffe notes: “Not least because humans have explored flood myths since long before the [Hebrew Old Testament], many experts prefer a more nuanced definition.”

Sutcliffe interviews Andrew Milner, a professor emeritus at Australia’s Monash University and co-author with his son James of an important academic study of climate fiction (”Science Fiction and Climate Change: A Sociological Approach”). Dr.Milner is more specific, Sutcliffe says.

For him, ”the climate change explored has to be caused by humans, so that the novel is a response and reaction to the crisis authors know (or, in a very few cases, deny) exists today.”

Milner also classifies ”cli-fi as part of the sci-fi genre,” he told Sutcliffe. Yet, far from being limited to what bookstores might feature on their Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF) shelves, cli-fi embraces everything from detective stories to literary novels. It includes authors, such as Margaret Atwood, who reject the term “science fiction,” and even climate denial fiction such as Michael Crichton’s 2004 [cli-fi thriller] ”State of Fear,” featuring murderous eco-terrorists and cynical fabricators.

Cli-fi highlights and  intensifies the risks of climate change in a way that reporting simply can’t match, Sutcliffe insists.

As for “the subtle power of cli-f? Read it and see for yourself.

There’s an international footprint now, too.

For Dr. Milner, who is a passionate environmentalist, his location in Australia is one reason for his interest in climate fiction, he tells Sutcliffe during the email interview.

“[My co-author J. R. Burgmann and I] both feel that Australia is obviously vulnerable,” he told her. “Australia is an enormous continent, the middle of which is a desert, and with warming, the desert spreads. But where the people tend to live, the vast majority of them, is on a narrow coastal plain, which will be hit with rising sea levels.”

It’s perhaps no coincidence that one of the earliest works of cli-fi, ”The Sea and the Summer,” is Australian and set in a drowning Melbourne. As is 2015’s ”Mad Max: Fury Road” — many consider the post-apocalyptic movie set in Australia’s red desert cli-fi, as it highlights the need for water in a future beset by climate catastrophe, Sutcliffe notes, adding: “One of cli-fi’s most prolific authors, veteran science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, is based in California, a state whose vulnerability to climate change has been so dramatically underlined by the string of deadly wildfires. Yet he somehow managed to summon a future eco-utopia in his 1990 novel ‘Pacific Edge’.”

Sutcliffe concludes: “Researchers have shown that reading climate fiction changes readers’ attitudes to climate change, at least for a time. And as factual writing struggles to cut through humans’ rich wealth of cognitive biases, the novel has its own part to play in changing hearts and minds to achieve the action the planet so desperately needs.

And she adds: ”Explore the subtle power of climate fiction, with 12 must-reads to help you get started listed in the link below”:

A CLI-FI READING LIST

 

About the Author
Dan Bloom curates The Cli-Fi Report at www.cli-fi.net. He graduated from Tufts University in Boston in 1971 with a major in Modern Literature. A newspaper editor and reporter since his days in Washington, D.C., Juneau, Alaska, Tokyo, Japan and Taipei, Taiwan, he has lived and worked 5 countries and speaks rudimentary French, Japanese and Chinese. He hopes to live for a few more years.
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