Saturday, January 21, 2017

When Michiko Kakutani speaks, the literary world listens!

by staff writer

Yes, When Michiko Kakutani speaks about cli-fi, the literary world listens!


 @MichikoKakutani  ''Can Science Fiction Save the Earth?'' can climate-change fiction shock readers into awareness of the dangers?

7:52 PM - 4 Jan 2017


And now a twentysomething Millennial journalist in the UK is writing a new post for a major British media outlet about the place cli-fi is taking in the publishing world, as she recently interviewed several top literary agents in NYC and London, as well as a few  cli-fi authors with an important cli fi novels coming out later this year, and those authors' editors in NYC and London -- among other people she spoke to -- and her piece will signal just how much the publishing worlds in the UK and the USA are now taking the rise of the cli-fi genre seriously in terms of agents actually being open to cli-fi novel pitches, editors being open to cli-fi novelists and their works, and in terms of authors themselves being interested in writing cli-fi works of literature.

Her news article will be a scoop of sorts, as no journalist on either side of the pond (nor in Australia or New Zealand) has ventured into this territory: ''Is the publishing world warming up to cli-fi, or is it still cool to its rise?''

Her piece will come with very good timing, as Michiko Kakutani, the top book critic at the New York Times and a legend in the New York publishing industry, recently signaled her own interest and acceptance of the new cli-fi genre in a recent tweet the other day recommending the Literary Hub's piece by James Sullivan on cli-fi's history, and her tweet read:

 @MichikoKakutani  ''
Can Science Fiction Save the Earth?'' can climate-change fiction shock readers into awareness of the dangers?


7:52 PM - 4 Jan 2017


 Now when someone of Ms. Kakutani's stature tweets a tweet like that, entirely unprompted, and out of the blue -- then it signals a major turning point in how the publishing world is reacting to the rise of cli-fi, ever since the
NPR radio piece by reporter Angela Evancie set the literary and academic world on fire on April 20, 2013 when it reviewed two important cli-fi novels, Odds Against Tomorrow by Nat Rich and Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver.

So get ready for this new piece coming soon from the UK, which will be online shortly as in international link, with tweets from all over picking the news article up and sending around the world.

As readers of this blog know, literature is always a comment on the times in which we live regardless of the period in which it is set. This is potentially politically, economically, socially or now - environmentally. A growing subset within fiction --
cli-fi -- is taking on what is the greatest threat of our age: man-made global warming.

This expanding canon of climate fiction is seemingly genre-less, and does not adhere to concepts of high or low brow fiction. Cli-fi encompasses work from literary giants like Margaret Atwood through to Ian McEwan, authors who have produced extraordinary works with a great deal of vitriol about our continued abuse and mistreatment of the planet and our insatiable, unsustainable gluttony of its resources. And it's even got an abbreviation: ''cli-fi.''

In our glib, 24-hour-news-cycle FAKE NEWS world, the unrestrained drip of an iceberg in the Arctic or the slow encroachment of water onto the land of southern hemisphere islands, debated in lengthy terms by austere scientists at dry conferences, doesn't strike us with the immediacy and urgency that it deserves. Perhaps that's where the responsibility of true challenge to an uninformed and inactive audience has fallen, as it always has, to the arts.


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Cli-fi has expanded in popularity in recent years but has roots in themes explored in fiction for decades. Jules Verne explored climate change and sudden atmospheric temperature drops at the end of the nineteenth century in The Purchase of the North Pole. JG Ballard created early climate dystopia with The Wind From Nowhere (1961) with themes of man-made effects on the atmosphere evident in the majority of his works. Most recently, Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy has considered the outcomes of continuing environmental breakdowns alongside questions about societal collapse and gender relations, tying the threads of social equality into a wider tapestry which demands attention. There are now ''climate change literature'' classes in universities as geographically diverse as Cambridge to Oregon.

A brief Amazon search of "climate fiction" returns over 3500 results which not only reflects the emergence of a more socially aware genre of fiction but also a growing demand by consumers for cultural output which debates environmental issues.



The  responsibility of the individual and the potential for turning the tide is one that is expressed very keenly within the cli-fi genre.



Whether climate change exists within or outside of traditional genre limitations which it threatens to outgrow, it retains the ability to present either a dystopian future in which our apocalyptic ends will be a result of our shared responsibility or a utopia in which we can channel our potential into achieving a sustainable, egalitarian equilibrium with our environment. For literature, climate change and cli-fi is merely the new frontier.
 
 


James Sullivan at Literary Hub summed it up well, writing:
 
It wasn’t until Dan Bloom saw the 2004 disaster film The Day After Tomorrow, which imagined the sudden arrival of a new Ice Age, that he started thinking about the power of storytelling to rally like-minded citizens concerned for the future of life on Earth. A few years later, he coined a phrase: “cli-fi,” or climate fiction.
 
He’s committed to promoting the idea that well-told stories are and will be critical to raise awareness about the implications of climate change. Unpaid and unaffiliated, Bloom has devoted the last several years to contacting writers, editors and literary gatekeepers, hoping to draw attention to his notion of cli-fi.
 
“I’m basically a PR person,” he says.
 
His idea of a genre for speculative climate fiction found some traction a few years ago when it was endorsed on Twitter by Margaret Atwood, the novelist whose science fiction trilogy, capped by MaddAddam (2013), dealt with a corrupt anti-environmentalist. Bloom acknowledges and applauds the broader genre of eco-fiction, popularized during the rise of the environmental movement in the 1970s and epitomized by such titles as Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang and, more recently, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.
 
But he’d like to think of cli-fi as “an independent, stand-alone genre,” restricted to those works of fiction that consider the specific problem of human-made global warming. 
 
That makes for a limited category. Yet there are examples as far back as Jules Verne, who imagined—in the 1860s—a future Paris struggling with a precipitous drop in temperature. That was a plot point in Verne’s “lost” novel Paris in the Twentieth Century, which went unpublished until 1994.
 
Given the speed with which the phrase “climate change” (which actually dates back at least 50 years) has overtaken the environmental discussion in recent years, it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s been a surge in books that could be called cli-fi. Among them are Marcel Theroux’s Far North (2009), which the Washington Post called “the first great cautionary fable of climate change”; Ian McEwan’s Solar (2010), which won a UK literary award for comic fiction; and Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow (2014), which imagines New York City flooded by a colossal hurricane.
 
These are all examples of quality fiction that happen to take climate change as a shared theme. “As far as I’m concerned,” Bloom says, “cli-fi needs character-driven stories. It shouldn’t be propaganda novels.”
 
A good story, he believes, will have the potential to attract not only climate activists, but also some of the deniers: “The whole point is to reach people with emotions, not just preach to the choir.”
 
Next up, he thinks, is the forthcoming novel from the Hugo Award-winning science fiction veteran Kim Stanley Robinson. Due in March, New York 2140 submerges the great city under the water of the rising tides. “Every street became a canal,” explains the promotional blurb. “Every skyscraper an island.” How will the city’s residents—the lower and upper classes, quite literally—cope?''
 
The book, Bloom thinks, might be the next phenomenon in the genre he created.
 
“I think it’s going to blow the lid off.”

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