"The alternative to those dystopian Hollywood doom-and-gloomers? Cli-fi is here!’
by Dan Bloom
From a Norwegian cli-fi TV series on NetFlix titled “Occupied” to a humorous YA novel titled “KABOOM!” by science professor Brian Adams in Massachusetts, the genre is getting better known day by day – and not just in America.
In Sweden, novelist Jesper Weithz has written a cli-fi novel, as have French novelists Jean-Marc Ligny and Yann Quero. And an English-language translation of a German cli-fi novel by Ilija Trojanow, titled “The Lamentations of Zeno,” is set for publication in New York in May 2016.
So while you may not have heard of the term yet, you will be soon.
Things are about to change in a big way this year of 2016 as ”cli-fi” gains traction among novelists and even in Hollywood.
“You want ‘cli-fi’? I’ll give you ‘cli-fi’!”
I imagine a few Tinseltown producers already thinking that!.
For one, Dean Devlin, who teamed up with director Roland Emmerich to produce 1996’s “Independence Day,” is behind a cli-fi saga titled “Geostorm,” set for release next January.
Devlin wrote the script and secured Gerald Butler to star in it. When I recently asked Devlin via Twitter, if I could call his movie “cli-fi,” he answered in the affirmative.
The story, according to Devlin, centers on an American satellite designer who prevents a major disaster in some near future time when global climate-control satellites fail to function.
The movie is not dystopian at all. It ends with a good dose of optimism and triumph.
Then there’s publishing.
Nan Talese, wife of writer Gay Talese as well as a veteran publisher and editor in her own right, recently tweeted about the cli-fi genre. She runs Nan Talese Books and publishes Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, among others.
Nan has signaled her own interest and acceptance of the cli-fi genre in a recent tweet that read:
”Cli-Fi (Climate fiction): subfield of literary studies that includes @MargaretAtwood.”
When someone of her stature tweets a tweet like that, entirely unprompted, and out of the blue – it signals a major turning point in how the publishing world is reacting to the genre’s rise.
I asked her about the book.
“When I set out to write ‘We Are Unprepared,'” she told me, “I wanted to explore the most intimate human costs of our changing Earth. I had just left a good job at the White House and, while I was proud of the unprecedented environmental steps taken by the Obama administration, I was frustrated by the pace of progress and tyranny of corporate interests.”
Her book is an emotional roller-coaster of story set in a near future Vermont, Reilly’s home state. The narrator of the book is male, the husband of the novel’s centerpiece couple, Ash and Pia.
The Vermont location serves Reilly well, as she mines it for all it’s worth, both as a place full of homespun locals and ”rednecks” and as a mecca that Yuppies from Boston and Manhattan have moved to to claim as their own piece of Paradise.
There’s Ash and Pia, a married couple who left New York for what they hoped would be a new start in life. And then there are the back-to-the-Earth people and even “Preppers” who want to live ”off the grid” and prepare for what they feel could very well be the end of American civilization.
The story also involves religious fanatics, government bureaucrats and idealistic hippies.
It’s cli-fi, yes, and it’s got some mild dystopian elements in it–but it ends on a note of hope and optimism.
Nor is Reilly lecturing – or preaching to the choir.
Reilly is adamant to insist, via her cast of Vermont characters, that we are not doomed.
To repeat: we are not doomed. It’s that kind of novel.
Her vision is not a ”Day After Tomorrow” scenario but a warmed-over, storm-chased Vermont tale that ends on a note of hope.
It’s a love story about climate activists in a once-bucolic state, and not everything turns out pretty.
But the way the author keeps at it, chapter after chapter, never giving in to nihilism or despair, gives the novel its upbeat character.
My hope for “We Are Unprepared”?
Marshall Herskovitz is a climate activist and Hollywood producer, who went to college in New England and he knows Vermont well.
As one of Tinseltown’s most outspoken and visionary producers, Herskovitz is looking for properties to develop into climate-themed movies–and “We are Unprepared” is a book he needs to read.
I hope he does. Taking an option on film rights doesn’t guarantee a movie will ever get funded and greenlighted in a Hollywood that cares more about profits than prophets.
But if anyone could turn Reilly’s take into a feature movie, Herskovitz could.