Saturday, January 2, 2016

A brief note to my Twitter friend James Bradley, the top literary critic in Australia

Dear James,

In a recent blog post of yours, titled ''The End of Nature and Post-Naturalism: Fiction and the Anthropocene'' on December 30, 2015,  you brought up some very good points about the new literary genre of cli-fi, which for some reason still occludes your understanding, but that is okay and understandable since you are coming at cli-fi from the point of view of a literary critic and newspaper book reviewer Down Under with a deep background in science fiction. So when you knock cli fi, you do so in cahoots with Niall Harrison, another fine literary critic with deep roots in science fiction, and also a very good writer who you refer to out of friendship as ''a characteristically thoughtful and perceptive reviewer'' at the sci-fi magazine Strange Horizons.

And in his review of CLADE, Niall only had nice things to say about you, so you and Niall are good friends with a deep interest in all things sci-fi, and that's fine. He wrote there:
''The other thing that is happening in the second half of the novel, however, is a thematic broadening, revealing climate change as a specific example of the more general challenge of wrestling with change over time. And Bradley, it turns out, has been here before. His second novel, The Deep Field, was published in 1999 and set in a version of 2010 imaginatively recreated by a narrator living in the twenty-second century. On a line by line basis it doesn't have the cool focus of Clade—at times it feels rather strained—but the extraordinary conflation of timeframes achieves the same end as the restless structure of the more recent novel, exploring a human experience while ensuring the reader is always aware of the fleeting nature of that experience. It is a theme to which I am deeply sympathetic, that I wish was more central in contemporary SF, and for which I will forgive a lot; so if in Clade it requires accepting an increasing narrative diffuseness, I accept, and if it means that it becomes slightly too easy to decompose the book into its component parts and separate out the bits that work and the bits that do not, I will look away. Because in the end I'm with Noah, the astronomer, who knows that looking up into the sky really means looking out into time.''
In speaking of your own novel CLADE, you, James,wrote:
''In Clade’s case this process was complicated by the fact a lot of people didn’t seem to know quite how to categorise it. For my part I tended to say it was science fiction, simply because that’s easy and relatively uncontroversial. A number of reviewers, especially in literary outlets, called it dystopian, which it isn’t, or not quite, while a couple of reviewers with an interest in science fiction described it a slow apocalypse or breakdown novel, which I suspect it is, at least in one sense. Others have called it ''cli fi,'' or climate fiction, a term that has some utility as a marketing category but seems to occlude more than it reveals when deployed as a critical tool.''
''Like others, Niall Harrison thinks it’s possible to distinguish such novels from other kinds of science fiction because “climate change is already happening, which means it is in a different class of speculation and social relevance to, say, a pandemic: writing about it is a question of degree and perspective, not whether or not it will happen at all, and the degrees and perspectives that writers choose can be usefully compared” (a point Dan Bloom has also made). But he also – rightly – points out that acknowledging this distinction then demands we recognise the existence of novels such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, which are engaged with these questions but are not science fiction in any meaningful sense.''
''Like me Harrison is unconvinced of the utility of the notion of “cli fi” in this context (as I have also done he notes its troubling tendency to elide the long history of environmental science fiction), and similarly sceptical of trying to group such books together as dystopias or post-apocalyptic stories, even though many books in this area deploy tropes and strategies associated with these traditions, before acknowledging that while he doesn’t have a solution to the question he believes it deserves further attention, if only because “this is a vital literary area, and … we need to get better at describing and discussing it”.
aad finally
''What we call the literary expressions of this condition is an open question. The obvious choice is Anthropocene fiction, although I’m resistant to that term, both because like cli fi it suggests a set of generic boundaries, instead of emphasising the degree to which this transformation leaches into everything, and because it emphasises human agency when, to my mind at least, what many of the books and stories we wish to discuss are attempting to find ways to talk about the non-human in fictional terms (I also think it’s worth making the point that while the idea of the Anthropocene is usually assumed to embrace the effect upon the natural world by human activity, but it also – and importantly – embraces a different and more interstitial kind of ecological awareness, one that recognises the presence of wildness and the natural world within the fabric of the human world).''
So James, here is what I want to say to you, since Twitter limits us to just 140 characters per message. I am glad to see that you are slowly warming up to the cli-fi term, even though you stll have your reservations as as a literary critic and book reviewer, and I accept your reservations. I think slowly, you will come around, and accept cli-fi as a bona fide literary genre the more you learn about it, and who better to learn you than me. So, without further ado, my friend in Australia:
1. I did not create ''cli-fi'' term for literary critics or for literary criticism.
2. I did not create ''cli-fi'' term for marketing purposes at all.
3.When you write ''Others [I assume you mean me] have called it ''cli fi,'' or climate fiction, a term that has some utility as a marketing category but seems to occlude more than it reveals when deployed as a critical tool," you need to think again long and hard that I did not create cli fi to be a literary tool and how it is deployed as a literary tool is none of my concern or interest since I am not a literary critic or trying to get literary critics to accept the cli fi term. I also did not create cli fi as a marketing term, as I am not working for any publishers or PR groups, and marketing is not my bailiwick. If some players in the book industry use cli fi as a marketing category that is fine with me but that is not of my concern as again, I am not invovled in marketing.
4. So if you and Niall both remain still unconvinced of the utility of the notion of “cli fi” in this context, that is fine with me and I understand where both of you are coming from. Again, I did not create cli fi for either you or Niall to use as literary critics.]
5. And if you remain resistant to the cli-fi term because for you as a literary critic it suggests a set of generic boundaries, instead of emphasising the degree to which the transformation leaches into everything, then that is fine, too. I have no problem with your remaining resistant to the cli-fi term. That is your right and your perogative as a literary critic.
6. So, James, what am I really up to with cli-fi? Let me put it this way and maybe this will help our literary friendship to grow: I am looking for the Nevil Shute of Climate Change Novels, a Nevil Shute like writer, male or female, from Australia or anywhere, who will someday, perhaps in the next 20 to 30 years, write the ON ThE BEACH of climate change fiction, aka Cli-Fi. That's all I am doing, that's all I am looking for and dreaming about. So the Cli Fi term is a tool to inspire and motivate some writer somewhere in the world, now or in the future, to write the ON THE BEACH of climate change fiction. I am not concerned witb book reviews or literary critisicm. You and Niall do a fine job with your literary criticism and I admire and respect both of your for your erudition and intellect.
But now that you know what I am really up to with cli fi -- using it as a wake up call alarrm bell to writers to use as a platform when they attemtp to write the ON THE BEACH of climate change novels, then maybe you (and Niall) can better understand what this is all about. Nothing to do with genre, nothing to do with marketing, nothing to do with literary theory or literary criticism. Just plain wake up call and motivation appeal to writers and poets and novelists and film directors. The creative people in this field.
7. Does this all make better sense now? I hope so. And I am looking foward to reading more of your good blog posts on these issues in the future, too. I enjoy our friendship and our dialogue.
Dan Bloom
P.S.: Janes, as I see things, in my search for the Nevil Shute of Climate Change Novels, no matter what genre he or she publishes in, doesn't matte, sci fi, cli fi, anthro-fi, literary fiction, whatever, pulp fiction.....i envision his or her novel will be published in 2057 to coincide with 1957 pub date of OTB, and I guess the author of this 2057 novel will have been born maybe in 2007 and is about 9 years old now in 2016 and he or she will go to college in 2027 or so and grad school in 2032 and start writing novels and short stories to get a feel for things around 2035 or 2040 and then the creation of this powerful climate novel will start gestating with delivery to an editor in 2055, with publication two years later in 2057 and the movie in 2059. That's what I envision. I don't think it will happen sooner than 2057. It's going to be a long time coming..... patience is advised.
NOTE TO READERS: Mr Bradley was kind enough to respond to this friendly letter and via a short series of Twitter posts, James wrote ON HIS TWITTER FEED:

''Response to my piece about fiction and the Anthropocene from [Dan Bloom via HIS BLOG POST] is worth a read.''
  1. ''So as I've said from the beginning, not just room for both approaches but important we keep talking about these questions.''


        1. ''Also think there are lots of different approaches, which is excellent, and sign people are thinking about it all.''
        1. ''But what matters is people are writing and thinking about it, and discussion of how we think about it is part of process.''

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