When a prestigious book trade magazine like PW (Publishers Weekly) in Manhattan, edited by veteran book industry maven Jim Milliott, decides to start promoting the cli-fi genre term for climate change themed novels, you know the world is changing. In a recent section in the PW daily newsletter, editors linked to an article in The Baffler magazine, about cli-fi novels.
New School professor Siddartha Deb’s piece was crossposted in PW, and one quote stood out, among others: ”In the United States too, even well meaning liberal fiction, often falling under the rubric of ‘cli-fi,’ reveals itself as incapable in grappling with this.”
In addition, the New Yorker magazine, not to be outdone by PW, ran a piece in its Page-Turner section recently, which also used the cli-fi term in the article, a first for this glossy magazine targeting the wealthy opinion makers of Manhattan and points east and west.
There, literary critic David Cantwell writing under a headline reading “An Early Dystopian Trilogy About Resistance — and What Comes After,” noted: “Along with Christopher’s “The World in Winter,” from 1962 — published as “The Long Winter” in the USA — it deserves recognition as a key antecedent of climate fiction, or ‘cli-fi,’ another of our new century’s more notable genres.”
Last summer, the BBC website also promoted the cli-fi term, following similar promotions in Britain in the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Independent newspapers. These promotions followed earlier citations in the New York Times, NPR, the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Washington Post.
The BBC headline read: ”How the literature of 1816 has inspired the creation of ‘cli-fi’.”
After appearing seemingly out of nowhere in early 2013 when radio producer Angela Evancie did a piece on the rise of cli-fi for the NPR radio network headlined ”So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created A New Literary Genre?” the ‘cli-fi’ meme slowly gained traction worldwide in several languages, from Spanish to Italian (and 14 other languages). It’s now everywhere, in the air, on the air, in print and online. Cli-Fi is here to stay.
Even a review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel “New York 2140” received a ‘cli-fi’ review in Australia by literary critic Rjurik Davidson in the Sydney Morning Herald that was headlined: ”Kim Stanley Robinson’s masterly novel of the future.” The very first sentence read: ”How should literature approach the problem of climate change? The genre most equipped to do so is science fiction and pre-eminent among “cli-fi” writers is Kim Stanley Robinson, who has assembled the most significant oeuvre on the climate disaster facing us.”
So in this Age of Trump and the Paris climate accord, cli-fi is the genre genie that is out of the bottle and is working its magic now on writers, critics and readers worldwide. What will cli-fi novels and movies look like 100 years from now is anyone’s guess, but it all started in the first two decades of the 21st century.