Danny Bloom
Danny Bloom
I seek the truth wherever it lies.

Wikipedia page for ‘cli-fi’ leads way forward for 21st century literary genre

The long entry for the ”climate fiction” page at the Wikipedia website is worth taking a look at online. The first stub for the page was actually for “cli-fi”  and it  began life that way in 2013. Later the link morphed to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_fiction and that’s where the page is now and will be for the next 100 years or so.

Meanwhile, here are some excerpts from the page the names of some authors and literary critics listed, too.

Climate fiction (sometimes shortened ”cli-fi”) is literature that deals with climate change and global warming, the introduction of the top of the page reads. Not necessarily speculative in nature, cli-fi works may take place in the world as we know it or in the near future. University courses on literature and environmental issues may include climate change fiction in their syllabi. This body of literature has been discussed widely by a variety of literary critics and publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, and Dissent magazine, among other international media outlets such as The New Republic, The Chicago Review of Books and the BBC.

Margaret Atwood was one of the first major authors to put out a tweet boosting the fortunes of the cli-fi term. Her tweet became so popular that some people thought she had coined the term. The literaray critic at the Irish Times newspaper insisted Atwood had coined it. Maybe she did.

The term “cli-fi” first came into common use on April 20, 2013 when the NPR radio network did a five-minute radio segment by freelance producer Angela Evancie on the Weekend Edition Saturday show to describe novels and movies that deal with human-induced climate change, and historically, there have been any number of literary works that dealt with climate change in earlier times as well. The Cli-Fi Report, curated by a team of PR consultants, has been an influential website in the development of “cli-fi” as a distinct genre.

Some examples of early ”cli-fi”: Jules Verne’s 1889 novel ”The Purchase of the North Pole” imagines climate change due to tilting of Earth’s axis. In his posthumous ”Paris in the Twentieth Century,” written in 1883 and set during the 1960s, the titular city experiences a sudden drop in temperature, which lasts for three years.

Several well-known dystopian works by British sci-fi author JG Ballard dealt with climate-related natural disasters: In ”The Wind from Nowhere” (1961), civilization was reduced by persistent hurricane-force winds, and ”The Drowned World” (1962) described a future of melted ice-caps and rising sea-levels caused by solar radiation In ”The Burning World” (1964, later called ”The Drought”) his climate catastrophe was human-made, a drought due to disruption of the precipitation cycle by industrial pollution]

Susan M. Gaines’s ”Carbon Dreams” was an early example of a literary novel that “told a story about the devastatingly serious issue of human-induced climate change,” set in the 1980s and published before the term “cli-fi” was coined. Michael Crichton’s ”State of Fear” (2004), a techno-thriller portrayed climate change as “a vast pseudo-scientific hoax” and is critical of scientific opinion on climate change.

And of course, Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood explored the subject in her dystopian trilogy ”Oryx and Crake” (2003), ”The Year of the Flood” (2009) and ”MaddAddam” (2013).

British cultural critic Josephine Livingstone at The New Republic magazine has written: “From Jeff Vandermeer’s ”Annihilation” to Nathaniel Rich’s ”Odds Against Tomorrow,” the last decade has seen such a steep rise in sophisticated ‘cli-fi’ that some literary publications now devote whole verticals to it. With such various and fertile imaginations at work on the same topic, whether in fiction or nonfiction, the challenge facing the environmental writer now is standing out from the crowd (not to mention the headlines).”

The popular novelist Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a popular climate-themed novel, titled ”New York 2140,” that was published in March 2017. It gave a complex portrait of a coastal city that is partly underwater and yet has successfully adapted to climate change in its culture and ecology. His new cli-fi novel is titled ”The Ministry of Truth” and was published in 2020.

More novels: Ian McEwan’s ”Solar” (2010) follows the story of a physicist who discovers a way to fight climate change after managing to derive power from artificial photosynthesis. ”The Stone Gods” (2007) by Jeanette Winterson is set on the fictional planet Orbus, a world very like Earth, running out of resources and suffering from the severe effects of climate change. Inhabitants of Orbus hope to take advantage of possibilities offered by a newly discovered planet, Planet Blue, which appears perfect for human life.

Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, ”Flight Behavior” (2012), employs environmental themes and highlights the potential effects of global warming on the monarch butterfly.

Some important anthologies include “Loosed Upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction” (2015) edited by John Joseph Adams and “Drowned Worlds” (2016) edited by Australian literary criticJonathan Strahan.

Many journalists, literary critics, and scholars and have speculated about the potential influence of cli-fi on the beliefs of its readers. Two empirical studies have examined this question (see below).

One found that readers of climate fiction “are younger, more liberal, and more concerned about climate change than nonreaders,” and that climate fiction “reminds concerned readers of the severity of climate change while impelling them to imagine environmental futures and consider the impact of climate change on human and nonhuman life. However, the actions that resulted from readers’ heightened consciousness revealed that awareness is only as valuable as the cultural messages about possible actions to take that are in circulation.

Another empirical study, focused on the cli-fi novel written by Paolo Bacigalupi and titled ”The Water Knife,” which found that cautionary cli-fi set in a dystopic future can be effective at educating readers about climate injustice and leading readers to empathize with the victims of climate change, including environmental migrants.

Will the cli-fi genre still be around in 100 years? If Wikipedia’s cli-fi website is any clue, you can bet on it.

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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