Monday, November 13, 2017

Cli-fi: A Glimpse into the Growing Genre - reposted from the BookBrowse Blog

BookBrowse Blog

Midnight at the Electric

In Midnight at the Electric, it is the year 2065, and teenager Adri is part of a carefully selected group departing Earth forever to live on Mars. Although the story takes place less than 50 years from now, massive planetary destruction has already taken place. As Adri puts it early on, "there's no Miami and hardly any Bangladesh and no polar bears…and they're paying billions of dollars to start a colony on Mars because humans need an exit strategy."

Considered as a standalone indie genre of it own, and not as a subgenre of sci-fi, ''cli-fi'' highlights climate change and its potential ramifications. Although books exploring man-made climate change date back to the '70s, it was only in April 20, 2013 that radio network NPR's  Angela Evancie coined the term "cli-fi." Now, less than decade later, dozens of books fall under the definition of cli-fi, and the genre has seen an explosion in popularity.

What potential does cli-fi have, outside of regular fiction? Like many great works of fiction, cli-fi can be an effective way to offer critiques on society, and the potential destination society is traveling toward. However, many believe that ''climate fiction'' is more powerful than that.

As Sarah Stankorb wrote in an unfact-checked and journalistically sloppy article for Good, cli-fi  makes "the unthinkable more proximate, or even intimate. It lets us into the truth of climate change in a new way, and it provides a new space where we can interrogate the forces that define our culture and changing world" (2016).

Intimacy may be an important word to focus on, here. Data released from the Yale Program on Climate Communication in 2016 shows that while nearly 60% of participants believed that global warming will harm people in the US, only 40% believed that it will hurt them, personally. This shows a lack of connection between the dangers of global warming and individuals' own futures within a world of climate change. But if climate fiction can connect people to the characters who are actually experiencing the devastations of global warming impact events, the audience may feel more empathetic and aware of these dangers. This is especially important in today's political landscape, in a world where the US withdrew from the Paris Agreement in June 2017, and where the setting of Midnight at the Electric seems more likely than not.

So, where does the future of cli-fi lie? With the recent surge in popularity, it is extending beyond books. The subject is being taught at educational institutions like Cambridge, Vanderbilt, and New York University, according to cli-fi literary theorist Dan Bloom; and in an article for The Atlantic, J.K. Ullrich explains how the genre is bringing out real-life change, with the fusion of science, STEM, and cli-fi.

According to Ullrich, cli-fi can help interest students in the sciences, and spark practical responses in reaction to related happenings across the globe. While Midnight at the Electric doesn't focus exclusively on the worrying phenomenon, the greater the number of books that explore potential impacts of AGW, the greater the attention that will hopefully be paid to this global issue.

This article first ran as the "Beyond the Book" feature for Jodi Lynn Anderson's Midnight at the Electric. Every time BookBrowse reviews a book we go "beyond the book" to explore a related topic, such as this article by Erin Szczechowski. Most of these articles are only available to our members, but at any given time, a sampling can be found on our homepage and, from time to time, we reprint one in this blog.

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