Saturday, March 5, 2016

‘Cli-fi’: can a new literary genre help save the planet? -- A CONVERSATION in 2014 with David Holmes in Australia

That is the question David Holmes at Monash University asked in his Feb 20th 2014 article in the Australian ezine The Conversation.

RE: the question posed by David Holmes. One answer, of course, is a resounding yes: cli-fi can save the planet — IF it provides direction and the opportunity for resolution and triumph. Otherwise, it’s just a disaster story; something to endure.

Literature can provide a loud clarion call for action, change and evolution. It always has. Think of how the cautionary tales of Huxley, Orwell, Heinlein, Bradbury and Atwood nurtured the seeds of dissent and change. Think of how a single book — Silent Spring by Rachel Carson — helped spawn the American environmental movement of the 1960s.

Cli-fi is growing in prominence because it needs to. Writers from all around the world are responding to this global need and leading the wave of change. It starts with genre identification.


BEGINS: More than 10 years ago, in an issue of Granta, environmentalist Bill McKibben lamented the fact climate change has not been able to capture the literary imagination in the same way as the nuclear and political pathologies of the last century:
Global Warming has still to produce an Orwell or a Huxley, a Verne or a Wells, a Nineteen Eighty-Four or a War of the Worlds, or in film any equivalent of On the Beach or Doctor Strangelove.
The need for a narrative form that can communicate the seriousness of climate change to a broad public is more urgent than ever, but one impediment has been been in its way. This situation is about to change, with the imminent rise of cli-fi, a new genre of climate fiction.
And to analyse this new genre, I interviewed Dan Bloom, a journalist and self-described “public relations climate activist” who began the first ever blog on cli-fi. Dan is an irrepressible ambassador for authors and readers of this literary and cinematic form. He was the first to use the term “cli-fi” in 2008, which last year was honourably mentioned by the Macquarie Dictionary as an important new word.

David Holmes: You’ve described cli-fi as a dystopian fiction form, that differs from most science fiction in that it can just as easily be set in the present than in the future. What makes cli-fi … cli-fi?
Dan Bloom: First I need to explain the way I coined the term and have tried to popularise it in English-speaking countries. Cli-fi can take place in novels or movies either in the past, the present, or the future, and it does not have to be dystopian if the authors or screenwriters don’t want to go down the doom and gloom road.
A cli-fi novel could also be utopian, and present an optimistic and hopeful future for the readers. I never started with a fixed agenda, and for me cli-fi is open to definition by writers and critics (and readers).
In general, I think cli-fi novels will take the position that climate change and global warming are real and are happening, but I am also open to the fact that some cli-fi novelists or screenwriters might take a skeptical view of global warming and climate change, as Michael Crichton did in his 1994 novel State of Fear.
But I myself am deep green and very worried about the future of humankind due to what I see as devastating climate impact events coming down the road in the next 500 years, if we as a world community do not stop C02 emissions soon. So for me, cli-fi is a fiction genre that might be helpful in waking people up and serving as an alarm bell.
Some literary historians and sci-fi writers I have spoken to have told me they like the cli-fi term but feel it is best to see it as a subgenre of sci-fi. And I accept that point of view, too. For me, in the way I am working with it and trying to popularise it, cli-fi is a new fiction genre of its own and will define itself more and more as time goes by.
The potentially devastating consequences of climate change are not widely understood. Robert De Vodo, CC BY-NC

What makes cli-fi, cli-fi? Novelists, screenwriters, literary critics, and academics will determine what makes cli-fi in an organic way over the next 100 years. This is just the beginning of a whole new world of literary and cinematic expression. I’m just a fan. I want to read good cli-fi novels and see powerful cli-fi movies.


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