While science fiction as a literary and movie genre has been around since 1954 — for over 50 years now — and dubbed ”sci-fi” by the media, climate change issues in the 21st century that we are in now has nurtured a new genre of science fiction that’s been dubbed “Cli-Fi.”
Climate change has become prominent in headlines in recent weeks with the advent of several hard-hitting hurricanes and typhoons worldwide, as ocean temperatures get warmer and more powerful storms affect a slowly-warming — drip! drip! drip! — world.
And these media headlines in the New York Times, the BBC, The Washington Post and the Guardian, have helped nurture a relatively new genre of fiction — more specifically, ”climate fiction,” also known more popularly as ”cli-fi” — that focuses on climate change and its impacts events.
During a recent appearance at the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, Arizona State University’s Piper Center hosted the New York Times bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson, who writes both sci-fi and cli-fi now. His talk was called “The Comedy of Coping: Alarm and Resolve in Climate Fiction” and it was well-received by the audience of students, professors and fellow writers.
Robinson’s latest cli-fi novel is titled “New York York 2140″ and that is what he talked about. An imagined Manhattan set 120 years in the future from now, and a city that is then-submerged under 50 feet of sea water. As you can imagined, all hell breaks loose in the inventive storytelling that Robinson is famous for.
So what happens when sci-fi meets cli-fi? Or as Stan Yang, a friend of mine in California recently asked me: ”When Sci-fi collides with Cli-fi, which will win?”
It’s a good question. I told Mr Yang what I am going to tell readers of this blog now: When sci-fi collides with cli-fi, both will win. Because sci-fi gave birth to cli-fi, and cli-fi now nurtures sci-fi. It’s a win-win for both genres when they collide, as they do in Robinson’s new comic novel. The result is a kind of hybrid of two standalone, independent genres.
As the 21st century moves inexorably toward the 22nd century — and onward for the next 1,000 years — sci-fi and cli-fi will prove to be cousins joined at the hip. Some novelists will call their short stories and novels ”sci-fi,” while others will call their work ”cli-fi.” There’s room on this Earth (and in literary circles) for both genres in this age of the Anthrocene.
Two genres that matter now more than ever.