Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sci-fi expert and literary critic Gautham Shenoy in INDIA on ''A genre called Cli-Fi''

I'm excited to be ''quoted'' in this news report from INDIA by literary critic Mr. Gautham Shenoy about the rise of the new literary genre everyone is calling  ''cli-fi''  now....

''A genre called Cli-Fi'' 

 with Mr. Gautham Shenoy in INDIA reporting

TEXT by Mr Shenoy ....with a few slight edits here for clarification and amplification

Two years ago, the Indian-American author of a sci-fi novel titled ''The Calcutta Chromosome'', Amitav Ghosh, asked “Where are all the novels and movies about climate change?”, lamenting the fact that “serious literary fiction” had often failed in its duty when it comes to addressing climate change, noting that ‘fiction that deals with climate change is almost by definition not of the kind that is taken seriously: the mere mention of the subject is often enough to relegate a novel or a short story to the gutter genre of science fiction’. But  Ghosh’s next novel, set for a 2019 release in India, Italy, the UK and the USA is a cli-fi novel. He describes the novel, ''Gun Island,'' as a story about a world wracked by climate change in which creatures and beings of every kind have been torn loose from their accustomed homes by the catastrophic processes of displacement that are now unfolding across the Earth at an ever-increasing pace.
When it comes out next year, ''Gun Island'' will be the latest amongst cli-fi novels to deal with climate change. So many are the books that deal with this subject – especially in recent years when climate change has gone from science fiction to science fact – that they are now classified under a separate genre – Climate Fiction, or Cli-Fi for short.
Climate change is underway, and unless concrete steps are taken, its effects could be irreversible and so far, sadly, looks so inevitable that for any novel set in the future to be a realistic extrapolation it cannot afford to ignore climate change. As Annalee Newitz, the author of ''Autonomous'', a novel set over a century in the future, in a world where climate change has taken its toll, notes in a cli-fi columnist Amy Brady interview, “Any story about the future that’s at least a century out has to include a dramatic picture of climate change Any good world-building will grapple with climate change in some way.” Sometimes, it doesn’t even have to be set 100 years in the future. Eliot Peper’s ''Bandwidth'' which I wrote about in an earlier  column, is set in the near-future in a climate-changed world, while in Ian McDonald’s acclaimed novel, River of Gods – portraying India in 2047 – water wars rage across the country, and one of the more desperate states has plans of towing icebergs from what’s left of the Antarctic ice sheet into the Bay of Bengal to the mouth of the Ganga, to overcome the freshwater shortage but mostly in the hopes of kick-starting long-delayed monsoons.
Cli-Fi books sharpen this focus by taking it even further, by bringing climate change and its effects from the background into the forefront, to consider the specific problem of human-made global warming and its effects thereof. Because now more than ever, we need well-told stories. It will be critical to raise awareness and put the spotlight on the implications of climate change, on the planet, on societies, on individuals.
As Dan Bloom, the journalist who coined the term ‘Climate Fiction’ and its short eye-catching contraction ‘Cli-Fi’ tells me, “Cli-fi is relevant today more than ever and will remain so for the next 100 years because such novels shine a light on today’s daily headlines worldwide. It’s a global viewfinder. Climate change is on everyone’s mind now with wildfires, floods, heat waves, cyclones, droughts worldwide. So put sci-fi together with cli-fi and the hybrid mix is ablaze with timely immediacy.” And the genre’s purpose as per him? “To act as a wake-up call, a warning flare, a cri de coeur, an alarm bell. Literature matters and cli-fi has a future in the 21st and 22nd centuries for sure. Cli-fi can minister to our anxieties and fears.”
The findings of the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes for alarming reading. It predicts dire consequences if the global average temperatures increases 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, with the future a lot grimmer if it reaches 2°C.
So, is Cli-fi what we need to spur a change in our thinking, to spark action that could accelerate a positive political transformation? And can works of fiction contribute to saving this world, from itself? Perhaps they can. Because cli-fi can help us imagine our planet’s dystopian future through the eyes of people like us and in doing so help us avoid it. To quote the late, great Ursula Le Guin, “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.” Climate change may seem inescapable, but at the very least, cli-fi can drive home the enormity of what awaits us if we don’t change through stories that engage us and help us comprehend what lies ahead, and in doing so spur us and inspire us to do our bit in doing something about climate change.

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