Saturday, February 23, 2019

Novelist Liz Jensen (''RAPTURE'') on why "cli-fi" matters now more than ever - 2500-word oped


Novelist and literary critic Liz Jensen on why "cli-fi" matters now more than ever

Full 2500- word text on her website here:

Lizjensen.com/our-house-our-fire-our-fiction/

Friday, February 22, 2019

Listen in as David Wallace-Wells and Robinson Meyer discuss the role of the cli-fi genre in an imaginary conversation about David's new ''panic attack'' climate book






The  two guys recently talked about  the difficulty and allure of writing ''cli-fi'' stories about climate change, and how the genre has been rising steadlily ever since NPR did a 5 minute segment on cli-fi in an April 20, 2013 radio piece produced by Angela Evancie.



Robinson Meyer: ''So David, tell me, what led you to embrace the ''cli-fi'' genre of novels and movies as an important way of using storytelling to communicate with readers and movie viewers about the huge ''hyperobject'' of a subject.''

 



David Wallace-Wells:  ''Well, the person whose work most flicked this cli-fi light on for me was the Indian-American novelist and literary critic in Brooklyn named Amitav Ghosh and his nonfiction essay book The Great Derangement, which is about cli-fi narratives. I actually found a lot to disagree with in his interpretation, mostly because I come from kind of a literary background. I used to work at The Paris Review, and I studied all this stuff at Dartmouth in college, and I had a slightly different idea of what the basic function of novel writing is. Therefore I had a different interpretation of why we have been seeing more and more novels and movies about climate change.''
 

Meyer: ''Dr Ghosh argues that climate change is hard to write stories about, right? Where did you disagree with him?''

Wallace-Wells: ''Ghosh’s basic argument is that the novel is a form about the inner life of an individual. And the problem of climate change is a very different category of problem for him. You can place the stories of individuals within it, but you end up with something like The Day After Tomorrow, where it’s like, Oh, here’s a person who’s dealing with a struggle, but the story is also about climate change. And the disconnect feels almost corny and staged. And yet at the same time, Ghosh has recently confessed that he enjoys watching cli-fi movies. In an interview with a reporter in Canada last summer, he said confessed that he is a self-admitted fan of some of Hollywood’s cli-fi disaster epics, such as ”The Day After Tomorrow” and ”Geostorm,” and Ghosh said that that he enjoys those films. Here's the money quote:

“I love them! I watch them obsessively,” he told an interviewer last summer in Canada, adding: “My climate scientist friends joke and laugh at me for this because the practical science in a movie like ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ is bad. But I find these movies very compelling. And I do think both film and television are very forward-leaning in dealing with climate change.”

So that's Ghosh for you.

''Me, I tend to think about climate fiction novels, that is to say cli-fi novels, more in terms of ''responsibility'' and ''villainy.'' I think that we have a very hard time processing our own complicity as white Westerners reading novels or seeing movie and wondering about climate change. We really prefer to see ourselves as truly innocent, and therefore want our climate storytelling to reassure us about our own culpability, and tell us in fact that it’s someone else’s problem in our culture, outside of narrative.''

 



Meyer: ''Do you think there’s a way to write that kind of cli-fi narrative that doesn’t wind up feeling like The Jungle? Which ends with a giant Socialist rally, and the narrator being absorbed into the fervor of the crowd.''

Wallace-Wells: ''I guess it depends on whether what you’re looking for in a narrative is ''polemic'' or ''humanity.'' I actually think that one of the features of my mgazine writing on this subject is that it demonstrates that if you handle them right, the simple accumulation of facts can take on an enormous narrative force. And I don’t really think that that’s something that many other writers about climate have done before, although Nat Rich does something similar in his 66,000 word New York Times feature which is now a nonfiction book coming out in April titled LOSING EARTH.  His book will be competing with mine for readers' minds and emotions. I know Nat, I like him. Good guy. Probably a lot smarter than me. He even wrote a cli-fi  novel "Odds Against Tomorrow" and I hope someday to write  a cli-fi novel as well. We'll see. I'm a storyteller of the journalist kind but I think I have a novel or two in me, too.''

''Of course, Rob, as you know, we are still in the infant stage of figuring out how to tell stories about this issue. Going forward, I suspect that the more interesting cli-fi narrative forms are likely to background climate change and make it appear like the theater in which human dramas are unfolding. Think about, for instance, a climate refugee camp, where the story is effectively some rivalry between two quasi-criminal-like figures in the camp. Or a honeymoon where people are going snorkeling through Miami Beach. The rise of the cli-fi genre is one of the untold stories of the age we now live in. I hope to change that silence about cli-fi by talking about it more. And Rob, cli-fi has gotten  a bad rap by many media peiople, who alwys say cli-fi novels are always dystopian and pessmistic and dark and unrelenting, but it's not true. Cli-fi novels can also be uplifting, optimistic and positive emotional reads that produce empathy and action in the reader. I am fully behind the ruise of climate fiction, and I'm glad you asked.''

MEYER: ''I didn't ask. I have never mentioned cli-fi term in any of my reporting or podcasts.''.
 
Wallace-Wells: ''Oh, I thought you were already a fan ot cli-fi novels and movies.''

Meyer: ''I am getting there.''

Wallace-Wells: ''There are whole imaginative theaters for storytelling about climate that we haven’t yet begun to explore. But if all that is considered “responsible” is optimistic hopeful storytelling about how we can solve the problem, then that’s just—from a narrative perspective, it’s kind of corny. The best climate storytelling has been written by people like J. G. Ballard, William Gibson, and Margaret Atwood, who have really thought about all the weird ways that these forces might transform our lives. So new writers coming up in the literary world will start tackling the cli-fi genre in similar ways. My friends in the publishing world in New York tell me it's just a matter of time. Cli-fi is catching on. ''

Meyer: ''Gibson’s cli-fi novel, The Peripheral, seems like one of the better presentations of how you’re talking about history now—about how day-to-day, lived existence would feel like in a world where progress has gone wrong, where there are cataclysms in the past from which people really haven’t recovered. Some guy in Taiwan is very busy promoting the cli-fi genre, I can't remember his name.''

Wallace-Wells: ''Yeh, I've heard about him and he writes to me now and then. He even wrote a blog post about my hyphenated last name and how it came to me. My brother Ben tweeted about it, too.''

Meyer: ''He writes to me. too.''

Wallace-Wells: ''I know Willism Gibson personally a little bit because I conducted the Paris Review interview with him. We were emailing a few weeks ago and I was like, Oh, I’m just adding a couple sentences to the book, last minute, about how science-fiction writers are likely to be understood even more as prophets because of climate change, and he wrote back and he was like, You know what, every time people say that to me, I always say “We haven’t successfully predicted anything! We got all of our predictions wrong. The only thing we’ve gotten right is the mood.” And I wrote back and I was like, No, the mood is a prediction! It’s a really important prediction, and actually you guys got it extremely right.''




Meyer: ''What’s the meaning of cli-fi novels and movies to you? What’s their larger import? Are they the stuff of literary history or is it something else?''

Wallace-Wells: ''My short-form answer is that I think that the 21st century will be dominated by cli-fi novels and movies in the same way that, say, the end of the 20th century was dominated by financial capitalism, or the 19th century in the West was dominated by modernity or industry—that cli-fi will be the meta-narrative of the coming 8 decades, and there won’t be an area of literaatre or cinema that is untouched by it. Often people talk about climate change as a global problem, which it obviously is, but I don’t think we’ve really started to think about how novels and movies can raise awareness of certain issues. Not just THE JUNGLE but also Uncle Tom's Cabin and ON THE BEACH in 1957 and the movie version in 1959.

''My basic perspective is that everything about human life on this planet will be transformed by cli-fi novels and movies. Even if we end up at a kind of best-case outcome, I think the world will be dominated by cli-fi in the coming decades in ways that it’s hard to imagine and we really haven’t started to think hard enough about.

''I am a child of the 1990s. I’m Jewish, I'm American. I grew up in New York.  I went to expensive private schools in Manhattan, I went to Dartmouth for 4 years.''
 
END OF CONVERSATION, slightly edited for amplification and clarification purposes. 

Novelist and literary critic Liz Jensen on why "cli-fi" matters now more than ever

Novelist and literary critic Liz Jensen on why "cli-fi" matters now more than ever

Full 2500- word text on her website here:

Lizjensen.com/our-house-our-fire-our-fiction/

Thursday, February 21, 2019

What are we to make of this current literary moment in the Anthropocene? Liz Jensen offers us a cultural prism to peer into.

''Verdens forfattere har fundet genren, der moder klimakrisen," is how a Danish newspaper recently introduced a new literary essay by Liz Jensen about how novels are tackling the global climate crisis.

The English translation might look something like this: "Novelists are responding to the climate crisis in a variety of ways."

What Jensen was getting at was this: A new literary genre that's been dubbed ''cli-fi'' is rising to meet the challenge of runaway climate change."


"If climate change challenges the imagination by demanding that we re-frame our relationship to the entire world, then that shift of perception calls for powerful new stories, and powerful new ways of telling them," Jensen says.

She adds: "So, since we are famously a storytelling species, how have the fiction writers of the Anthropocene tackled the rolling catastrophe of a world heading for four degrees of warming in the lifetime of any baby born today?"

Her answer: "The ancient Chinese curse ‘may you live in interesting times’ has found its moment,
and the moment has found its genre: cli-fi."

Jensen, the author of 8 novels herself, including globally-acclaimed "Rapture," notes that Amitav Ghosh’s new novel ''Gun Island'' is joining a veritable ocean of literature rising to the occasion of our times, while older works such as Maggie Gee’s startlingly prophetic 1998 novel ''The Ice People'' are being rediscovered, thanks in part to the increasing surge in interest in the planet’s predicament, and the fictions it engenders.

In her oped, written in English and translated also into Danish, Jensen mentions a timely joke:

''Two planets meet in space. One is green and blue and healthy; the other is
pale and chocking and sick.''

''The healthy planet looks at the sick one sand says. 'Oh, I had that disease once. It’s called Mankind. But don’t worry: it goes away all by itself'.”

Many of our direst scientific predictions have come measurably true, Jensen says, noting how in the form of melting glaciers and ice-caps, bleached coral reefs, warmer oceans, unprecedented species extinction, extreme weather events, disappearing
shorelines and destabilized seasons, the future has become easier to picture.

"Indeed, we can take a highly-educated guess at what it will resemble: a faster-moving, uncannier and more furious version of the
 present."Jensen writes.

And in this context, she says, the literary genre of ''climate fiction'' is becoming the new realism, and evolving fast.

She mentions how Jeff Vandermeer’s ''Southern Reach trilogy'' (the first volume of which, ''Annihilation,'' became a haunting film), explored the notion of the natural world developing a hive mind with its own colonizing agenda.

She also points to Kim Stanley Robinson’s cli-fi novel ''New York 2140,'' whose huge cast of characters ''duck, dive and thrive'' in a semi-drowned Manhattan, adding that the novel,has been hailed as a pioneer of the emerging sub-genre dubbed ''solarpunk,'' whichcelebrates the notion that whatever fine mess we have gotten us into, our ingenuity and adaptability might just see us through.

Much ''cli-fi'' is inevitably preoccupied with water: not enough of it, or too much, Jensen, who has read widely in the genre, observes.

Rising seas are the backdrops in Sophie Mackintosh’s unsettling
dystopia ''The Water Cure,'' Paolo Bacigalupi’s ''Drowned Cities'' and the
inundated New York of Nathaniel Rich’s ''Odds Against Tomorrow,'' Jensen notes.

While Britain is far from being a flat country, that has not stopped the British  writer John Lanchester from flooding its shores in his new  novel ''The Wall,'' which Jensen says represents his first foray into ''climate fiction.''

''The Wall'' conveys what Martin Luther King once called “the fierce urgency of now” with eloquence and panache, Jensen says, while noting that the book intelligently explores some of the challenges and ethical dilemmas and injustices that the planet’s youngest humans have already begun to face.

So what are we to make of this current moment in the Anthropocene?

"Historians will look back on this era and note its defining paradox: that while the public imagination was increasingly occupied with the dangers ahead, those in power were either in active denial, busy plotting how best to profit from a range of oncoming disasters, indifferent, or -- at best -- doing far too little, far too late.," Jensen, looking into her crystal ball, predicts.

''But those same historians may also note that today´s storytellers, inspired by solid science and the evidence of their own eyes, have begun to reclaim the power of the prophets and seers of past ages by resuming their almost forgotten role as the cognitive avant-garde," she adds.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

REVIEW - "The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming" (Tim Duggan Books), by David-Wallace-Wells


"The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming" (Tim Duggan Books), by David-Wallace-Wells.


The science is clear: Massive fossil fuel use by humans is raising temperatures in the oceans and air, the seas are rising, and we aren't building nearly enough green energy to slow the process.

But does preaching global doom inspire change, or just resignation?

 The worth of "The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming" by David Wallace-Wells hinges on that question.

"The Uninhabitable Earth" originated as a long essay for New York magazine in 2017, and the book repeats the same formula.

Wallace-Wells argues that it is past time to be very afraid about the devastation that humans and ecosystems will suffer.

Some scientists criticized the extreme tone of the magazine piece, but David Archer, a respected climate expert at the University of Chicago, said then that Wallace-Wells "is not wrong, wildly misleading, or out of bounds of the discussion we should be having about climate change."

But if the book is justified in discussing worst-case scenarios, Wallace-Wells repeatedly confuses the message by bouncing between alarm and caution.

There's the title, yet soon we're told that "it is unlikely that climate change will render the planet truly uninhabitable."

 He writes that the Syrian civil war was "inflamed by climate change and drought," but later adds that scientists say it is "not exactly fair to say the conflict is the result of warming."

Books should also have deeper narratives than magazine pieces, and "The Uninhabitable Earth" doesn't.

Wallace-Wells speculates about climate doomsday from every possible angle, but says little about the tremendous global progress in reducing wind or solar power costs.

A single wonky chapter on the benefits, costs and challenges of bringing a green energy revolution to New York City would have been welcome, and timely.

Generals motivate troops by searching for ways to win, not by telling everyone they are doomed to die.

The book suffers from unnecessary hyperbole, too.

Wallace-Wells loses credibility with claims that "global warming has improbably compressed into two generations the entire story of human civilization" and that three or more degrees of warming "would unleash suffering beyond anything that humans have ever experienced through many millennia." WHAT THE FUCK?

One wonders where Wallace-Wells places the Bubonic plague and deaths from malaria, typhoid, AIDS, starvation, war, the Holocaust and the like.

Yet the time to slow climate change is running out, so perhaps the tone of "The Uninhabitable Earth" is a necessary response. If the book inspires a new generation of climate activists, more power to Wallace-Wells.

================

"


But does preaching global doom inspire change, or just resignation?

 The worth of the book hinges on that question.

The book originated as a long essay for New York magazine in 2017, and the book repeats the same formula.



While the book is justified in discussing worst-case scenarios, Wallace-Wells repeatedly confuses the message by bouncing between alarm and caution.

There's the title, yet soon we're told that "it is unlikely that climate change will render the planet truly uninhabitable."

 He writes that the Syrian civil war was "inflamed by climate change and drought," but later adds that scientists say it is "not exactly fair to say the conflict is the result of warming."

Books should also have deeper narratives than magazine pieces, and "The Uninhabitable Earth" doesn't.

Wallace-Wells speculates about climate doomsday from every possible angle, but says little about the tremendous global progress in reducing wind or solar power costs.

A single wonky chapter on the benefits, costs and challenges of bringing a green energy revolution to New York City would have been welcome, and timely.

Generals motivate troops by searching for ways to win, not by telling everyone they are doomed to die.

The book suffers from unnecessary hyperbole, too.

Wallace-Wells loses credibility with claims that "global warming has improbably compressed into two generations the entire story of human civilization" and that three or more degrees of warming "would unleash suffering beyond anything that humans have ever experienced through many millennia."

One wonders where Wallace-Wells places the Bubonic plague and deaths from malaria, typhoid, AIDS, starvation, war, the Holocaust and the like.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Meet Iris, the 11-year-old British girl who whose brief climate protest video will break you heart


https://www.euronews.com/2019/02/17/watch-girl-11-makes-tearful-climate-plea-i-love-our-planet-and-i-don-t-want-it-to-ever-sto


This is the moment caught on a brief 20 second video clip that an emotional 11-year-old girl broke down in tears during a recent climate change rally in the UK.


Her name is Iris and she was one of the youngsters who was speaking at an outdoor public protest in Truro, south-west England, when it all became too much for her.

“I love our planet and I don’t want it ever to stop,” said Iris, with other children surrounding her outside county hall in the Cornish city.If we do want everything to stop then we’re going the right way about it at the moment.”

“This isn’t good,” she added, beginning to cry.

The youngster was one of thousands to take part in a nationwide demonstration calling on the government to do more on global warming.

It was part of a burgeoning European movement that has seen protests in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland and now also in Australia, France, Canada and the USA, also Japan and China.

They were inspired by Swedish student Greta Thunberg, now 16, who has been skipping school every Friday to protest about climate change in front of the Swedish parliament

---- ''Our House, Our Fire, Our Fiction'' -- a cli-fi literary essay by novelist Liz Jensen in Denmark

Essay

"Our House, Our Fire, Our Fiction"

Full text at:

lizjensen.com/our-house-our-fire-our-fiction/

OpEd by Liz Jensen, novelist, ''Rapture''

(C) copyright 2019 Liz Jensen

Published in Denmark in Danish today online website there.

This is the original English version. It also appears on Liz Jensen's blog on her website now, see link above.

Headline: ''Verdens forfattere har fundet genren, der møder klimakrisen: Cli-fi''
Subheadline: ''Klimaforandringerne udfordrer den menneskelige forestillingsevne og afkræver os stærke nye fortællinger og nye fortælleformer''
Danish headline means: "A new genre dubbed cli-fi rises to meet the challenge of the climate crisis."
ENGLISH TEXT:

“I want you to act as you would in a crisis,” the Swedish climate activist
Greta Thunberg, 16, said in Davos in January: “I want you to act as if our house is
on fire. Because it is.”

When a kid in pigtails speaks truth to power, the world listens.

At a time when the science could not be clearer, Thunberg’s burning house
metaphor turned her appearance at Davos into an iconic moment in climate
history.

Our house on fire: an image everyone on the planet can understand. Our,
implies an us: a community or family. House implies a home, and shelter.

Fire spells danger. Instantly, a mental narrative is triggered, leading to
three choices.

Choice One entails pretending there is no fire, or that there is one, but it is a
containable household accident.

Choice Two involves doing one’s best to
douse the flames and limit the damage.

Choice Three offers the simplest
solution to the crisis: run.

But where to?

Thunberg’s simple, evocative metaphor mobilized millions around the
world: proof, if ever it were needed, of the impact language can have. As the
novelist Margaret Atwood once put it, “A word after a word after a word is
power.”

If climate change challenges the imagination by demanding that we re-
frame our relationship to the entire world, then that shift of perception calls
for powerful new stories, and powerful new ways of telling them.

So, since we are famously a storytelling species, how have the fiction writers
of the Anthropocene tackled the rolling catastrophe of a world heading for
four degrees of warming in the lifetime of any baby born today?

With shocking inadequacy, according to Amitav Ghosh, who in his 2016
lecture series and nonfiction book based on the lectures ''The Great Derangement'' argued that literary fiction had been slow to address the issue upon which the survival of our
ecosystem depends.

“It’s our job, as writers, to make imaginative leaps on
behalf of those who don’t, can’t or won’t,” he admonished.

So why weren’t we doing that job? Why couldn’t we acknowledge the
elephant in the room?

In part because the “inconvenient truth” of climate
change and the likely consequences of runaway global warming were too
huge, to horrifying and too complex to take in: they were quite literally
“unimaginable”.

So, lacking the mental apparatus to convey the temporal
scale and the complexity of the crisis, we looked the other way and wrote
about anything and everything else.

Future readers, Ghosh contended,
would look back on our era and “conclude that ours was a time when most
forms of art and literature....prevented people from recognizing the realities
of their plight.”

Ghosh (whose novel ''The Hungry Tide'' addresses the social and political
repercussions of catastrophic flooding) cited notable exceptions to his
criticism including Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 ''The Road,'' Barbara
Kingsolver’s ''Flight Behaviour,'' Margaret Atwood’s ''Oryx and Crake'' and Ian
McEwan’s ''Solar.''

But there was pushback:

Many accused Ghosh of ignoring
science fiction and young adult fiction, which had been tackling climate
change and ecocide for years: had Dr Ghosh read the ground-breaking works
of Kim Stanley Robinson, many argued, he might have muted his
complaint.

Yet his point remained a salient one that resonated not just with
climate scientists, activists and the reading public but with Ghosh’s main
target audience: other writers.

And what a difference 3 years makes.

Since Ghosh issued his challenge to world literature, the tide has turned:
the Chinese curse ‘may you live in interesting times’ has found its moment,
and the moment has found its genre: cli-fi

Ghosh’s next novel ''Gun Island''
(published later this year) joins a veritable ocean of literature rising to the
occasion of our times, while older works such as Maggie Gee’s startlingly
prophetic 1998 novel ''The Ice People'' are being rediscovered, thanks in part
to the increasing surge in interest in the planet’s predicament, and the
fictions it engenders.

The man who has since 2011 tirelessly promoted the term ''cli-fi,' is a 70-year-old American
climate activist who has not boarded a flight since 1996. Since he doesn’t
own so much as a laptop, he spends his days in an internet café near his
home, raging against the stupidity of the not-
clever-enough ape – and campaigning to get cli-fi firmly established in the
lexicon, pausing only when a hurricane blows in and scuppers his
connection.

Dan thinks we are doomed, and likes to quote the
environmentalists’ joke:

''Two planets meet in space. One is green and blue and healthy; the other is
pale and chocking and sick.''

''The healthy planet looks at the sick one sand says. “Oh, I had that disease
once. It’s called Mankind. But don’t worry: it goes away all by itself.”

Dan contends that we have always created -- and indeed reveled in --
apocalyptic narratives: the Bible is bursting at the seams with floods,
plagues, storms of locusts and other signs of God’s mighty wrath. The
theme of judgement and punishment is a particularly resonant one in
movies such as ''The Day After Tomorrow,'' ''Mad Max:Fury Road'' and
''Snowpiercer.''

Climate disaster movies operate on a scale that reflects the extremity of our
accelerating times: hyperactive narratives in which humans must struggle
to survive the wrath of what Nature (Mon dieu, did we once call her
Mother?) has become.

Post-disaster scenarios paint a more elegiac picture
of a Lost Eden: while ''Wall-E'' mourns a planet converted into a titanic trash-
heap, ''Beasts of the Southern Wild'' imagines a waterlogged delta community
in which humans must re-invent themselves, their myths, and their
relationship to nature if they are to survive.


In storytelling terms, Apocalypses are seductive -- and inevitably extreme.

While many supporters of voluntary human extinction –Dan among
them - warn that Homo Sapiens is an infestation which will wreck the
planet unless we remove ourselves from the equation, some 50 million
Christian Americans believe in a religious event called the Rapture in which, come
Doomsday, the pure in heart will be airlifted to heaven while the sinners
will remain on Earth suffering the consequences of their depravity.

The roaring success of the Christianity-themed ''Left Behind'' novels of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B
Jenkins testifies to the traction of the judgement theme among believers.

But while Extinctionists, the Rapture-ready and the billionaire would-be
colonizers of Mars dwell on scenarios on the outer fringes of the
imaginable, somewhere in the middle lies the main story.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” wrote E.M.
Forster. This may be true, but as foreign countries go, humankind’s shared
past is so plentiful in maps, documents, films, art, history books, and living
memory that it is not actually difficult to visualize: most of the heavy lifting
has been done for us.

Imagining the future has always been a trickier
matter: a niche preoccupation of Research and Development teams,
planners, futurologists, scientists and sci-fi writers.

But now that many of
yesterday’s direst scientific predictions have come measurably true - in the
form of melting glaciers and ice-caps, bleached coral reefs, warmer oceans,
unprecedented species extinction, extreme weather events, disappearing
shorelines and destabilized seasons, the future has become easier to
picture. Indeed, we can take a highly educated guess at what it will
resemble: a faster-moving, uncannier and more furious version of the
present.

In this context, climate fiction is becoming the new realism.

And it is evolving fast.

Jeff Vandermeer’s beautiful, chilling ''Southern Reach trilogy'' (the first
volume of which, ''Annihilation,'' became a haunting film), explores the
notion of the natural world developing a hive mind with its own colonizing
agenda.

Meanwhile Kim Stanley Robinson’s ''New York 2140,'' whose huge
cast of characters duck, dive and thrive in the semi-drowned metropolis,
has been hailed as a pioneer of the emerging sub-genre solarpunk, which
celebrates the notion that whatever fine mess we have gotten us into, our
ingenuity and adaptability might just see us through.

While post-apocalyptic landscapes vary dramatically according to local
geography, two of its most enduring props are the shopping trolley and the
shipping container: the displaced person’s equivalent of the vehicle and the
dwelling.

Today’s shopping trolley symbolizes the abundance of the
globalized world: as capitalism’s hunter-gatherers we search the aisles for
bargains, collecting avocados from Israel, mangoes from Peru, coffee from
Ethiopia, plastic houseware from China, or home-produced meat from
Europe’s second biggest pork exporter, Danish Crown.

In the climate- altered world of a fictional tomorrow the trolley’s purpose is a simpler one:
as a means of transporting the few possessions you have left. Meanwhile
the shipping container, today the iconic symbol of global movement,
becomes its opposite: a sign of stasis.

 In Omaar El Akkad’s ''American War,''the metal boxes are the only homes that the vast communities of refugees and the internally displaced will know.

Much ''cli-fi'' is inevitably preoccupied with water: not enough of it, or too
much.

Rising seas are the backdrops in Sophie Mackintosh’s unsettling
dystopia ''The Water Cure,'' Paolo Bacigalupi’s ''Drowned Cities'' and the
inundated New York of Nathaniel Rich’s ''Odds Against Tomorrow.''

Given that, it is perhaps surprising that a country as pancake-flat as Denmark has
not spawned more flood and Ark narratives.

Exceptions are the brilliant, but oddly overlooked 2018 Danish movie ''Qeta,'' set in a semi-submerged Copenhagen, while Hanne Richardt Beck’s novel ''7 Sydøst'' contemplates the
societal conflicts triggered by flooding and an influx of refugees.

Britain is far from flat, but that does not stop the distinguished writer John
Lanchester from flooding its shores in ''The Wall,'' his first foray into climate
fiction.

Part philosophical meditation on social control and inequality, part
gripping thriller, the ethical issues it raises distinguish it as a landmark text
of the genre.

Set in the near-future which J.G. Ballard liked to call “five
minutes from now” in the wake of an event referred to simply as the
Change, the Wall of the title encloses a territory that could equally be
Denmark, or any other nation with a coastline.

Lanchester deftly sketches the architecture of a Europe in which rapid sea level rise has devoured the
shores in the space of a mere generation, while the disruption of the Gulf
Stream has brought on freezing temperatures.

Lanchester’s young protagonist, Kavanagh, is on his first compulsory tour
of duty defending The Wall whose primary purpose is not as a buffer
against the sea, but as a deterrent to the desperate “Others” seeking refuge.

Patrolling the Wall is a cold, harsh life, and one that the Defenders must
endure in order to ensure their future rights at citizens. But there is a
further, more brutal equation, which puts lives at stake: for every Other
who breaches the Wall, a Defender will be cast out to sea.

“We were used to feeling frightened of them, hostile to them: if they came
here, we would kill them. It was that simple, “ says Kavanagh. “No hard
feelings, the living and the dead, more in common than you might think; a
tiny bit of luck here and there dividing them, taking turns to live, taking
turns to die; all in the same boat. All the same really. Others. Defenders –
what’s the difference? I couldn’t decide if this was the opposite of what it
would be like to fight to the death, or a good preparation for it.”

In light of the isolationism of the militant Brexiteers, of Trump’s vote-
catching plans for an anti-Mexican Wall, and the anti-immigrant policies of
Inger Støjbjerg, Lanchester’s novel hits a nerve that is so of-the-moment it
hurts. Equally timely is its unflinching portrayal of the radical inequality
that exists between the generations, already in evidence today. In ''The Wall,''
thanks to the Change, parent-child relationships are irredeemably poisoned
by resentment and blame.

“None of us can talk to our parents,” reports Kavanagh. “By ‘us’ I mean my
generation, people born after the Change….The old feel they irretrievably
fucked up the world, then allowed us to be born into it. And you know
what? It’s true. That’s exactly what they did. They know it, we know it.
Everybody knows it.”

While Kavanagh and his peers despise the older generation, he does not
question the social hierarchies of the world he has inherited. As one
character puts it. “There was our parents’ world, and now there is our
world.”

“Our world” consists of 3 social strata: the Elites, who fly in the planes
Kavanagh sees crossing the sky, and make the decisions; the regular
citizens who must serve time as Defenders; and the Help. These are Others
who made it over the Wall and have been offered the choice of being
“euthanized”, cast back out to sea, or remaining on land in exchange for a
lifetime of unpaid work.

Deftly, Lanchester plants the notion of a slave state without ever using the word ‘slave’: by presenting slavery as a simple fact of life, Lanchester triggers a queasy cognitive dissonance whereby on the one hand the reader feels horrified, and on the other shares Kavanagh’s guilty satisfaction when on a camping trip, the loaned Help erect the tents, cooks the meals and carries the luggage.

But the future Britain’s Help also serve another, darker purpose.

Since most
young people resist becoming Breeders, given the bleakness of the world
they will inherit, and since there are not enough babies being born to
sustain the population, the Help are allowed to have children, who will
become regular citizens – but they must relinquish them.

 “You see the kids all around the place, often with older parents, or parents who are a visibly
different ethnicity from their children,” reports Kavanagh with characteristic matter-of-factness.

It is an astute move on Lanchester’s part to make Kavanagh an Everyman
figure: apolitical, unquestioning of the status quo, and prepared, when a
Big Question appears on the horizon, to shrug his shoulders and settle for
the monosyllabic non-answer “just because.”

Even when the story takes a
shocking turn, and Kavanagh finds himself and other Defenders cast out to
sea, Lanchester leaves to the reader to guess whether his protagonist’s
sense of injustice will awaken, or whether it will be trumped by the instinct
to survive, no matter what the moral cost.

Like Greta Thunberg’s burning house, ''The Wall'' conveys what Martin
Luther King once called “the fierce urgency of now” with eloquence and
panache, while intelligently exploring some of the challenges and ethical
dilemmas and injustices that the planet’s youngest humans have already
begun to face.

Historians will look back on this era and note its defining paradox: that
while the public imagination was increasingly occupied with the dangers
ahead, those in power were either in active denial, busy plotting how best to
profit from a range of oncoming disasters, indifferent, or – at best - doing
far too little, far too late.

But those same historians may also note that today´s storytellers, inspired
by solid science and the evidence of their own eyes, have begun to reclaim
the power of the prophets and seers of past ages by resuming their almost
forgotten role as the cognitive avant-garde.

And that collectively, they bear a message that the world ignores at its peril.