Saturday, March 30, 2019

'Fledgling new genre in fiction' from 2012 is all grown up now in 2019




by Dan Bloom, staff writer

"There is a fledgling new genre in fiction." 

Those eight words were how the climate blogger Judith Curry in 2012 introduced her blog titled "Climate Etc."

She wasn't talking about science fiction, but about a new approach that NPR radio (after interviewing Curry) called "climate fiction."

Curry pointed out to her blog readers the work of Adam Trexler, then a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Exeter in Britain was worth reading, in particular his blog post titled ''The Climate Change Novel:  A Faulty Simulator of Environmental Politics.'' 

Trexler stated in 2011 that “Over the last three decades, more than 200 novels have been written that try to imagine our future in a climate-changed world.”

He later turned his blog into a full-length academic book titled "Anthropocene Fictions," that looked into the 200 novels his blog had mentioned.

''I suspect that we will see the Cli-Fi genre grow in the future, it is certainly a rich topic to mine for fiction," Curry said on her blog in 2012. "Another issue that interests me in particular is the reaction to the use of novels to ‘teach’ the public explicitly about climate science. As a scientist, I would love to see more books in the genres of scientists in fiction and Cli-Fi.''

Since 2012, more and more writers have begun to set their novels and short stories in worlds, not unlike our own, where the Earth's systems are noticeably off-kilter. The genre has come to be called, according to NPR, climate fiction -- "cli-fi," for short.

That was then, this is now.

''I think we need a new type of novel to address a new type of reality, which is that we're headed toward something terrifying and large and transformative. And it's the novelist's job to try to understand, what is that doing to us," said writer Nathaniel Rich in 2013, whose debut cli-fi novel "Odds Against Tomorrow" became a modest bestseller that year and was translated to French as well.

According to Curry, who in 2013 was a professor and chair of Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, when novelists tackle climate change in their writing, they reach people in a way that scientists can't.

"You know, scientists and other people are trying to get their message across about various aspects of the climate change issue," Curry told NPR. "And it seems like fiction is an untapped way of doing this -- a way of smuggling some serious topics into the 'consciousness' of readers who may not be following the science.''

Curry, who began assembling a list of climate fiction novels on her blog in 2012, says she first saw a renewed interest in climate change fiction in 2004 with Michael Crichton's novel, ''State of Fear,'' which was about ecoterrorists.

Fast forward to 2019 and cli-fi novels are the talk of the town in over a dozen countries and languages. 

You've come a long way, baby.

Oprah Winfrey lists 7 top ''Cli-Fi'' novels in April 2019 issue of ''O'' magazine

Oprah Winfrey lists 7 top ''Cli-Fi'' novels in April 2019 issue of ''O'' magazine

The Day on March 20, 2019 when JEOPARDY TV show with Alex Trebek as host used the cli-fi term as a clue
and
Jeopardy’ goes ‘cli-fi’ on Alex Trebek show, while Oprah Winfrey boosts genre
and
Oprah Winfrey magazine ''O'' goes ''Cli-fi'' with list of 7 top ''cli-fi'' novels
and
Waiting for another 'On the Beach' novel about climate change in the 21st century
and
Cli-fi (climate fiction) on the big screen changes minds about real climate change
and
for cli-fi news links:
 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Novelist Liz Jensen (''RAPTURE'') on why "cli-fi" matters now more than ever - 2500-word oped


Novelist and literary critic Liz Jensen on why "cli-fi" matters now more than ever

Full 2500- word text on her website here:

Lizjensen.com/our-house-our-fire-our-fiction/

Friday, February 22, 2019

Listen in as David Wallace-Wells and Robinson Meyer discuss the role of the cli-fi genre in an imaginary conversation about David's new ''panic attack'' climate book






The  two guys recently talked about  the difficulty and allure of writing ''cli-fi'' stories about climate change, and how the genre has been rising steadlily ever since NPR did a 5 minute segment on cli-fi in an April 20, 2013 radio piece produced by Angela Evancie.



Robinson Meyer: ''So David, tell me, what led you to embrace the ''cli-fi'' genre of novels and movies as an important way of using storytelling to communicate with readers and movie viewers about the huge ''hyperobject'' of a subject.''

 



David Wallace-Wells:  ''Well, the person whose work most flicked this cli-fi light on for me was the Indian-American novelist and literary critic in Brooklyn named Amitav Ghosh and his nonfiction essay book The Great Derangement, which is about cli-fi narratives. I actually found a lot to disagree with in his interpretation, mostly because I come from kind of a literary background. I used to work at The Paris Review, and I studied all this stuff at Dartmouth in college, and I had a slightly different idea of what the basic function of novel writing is. Therefore I had a different interpretation of why we have been seeing more and more novels and movies about climate change.''
 

Meyer: ''Dr Ghosh argues that climate change is hard to write stories about, right? Where did you disagree with him?''

Wallace-Wells: ''Ghosh’s basic argument is that the novel is a form about the inner life of an individual. And the problem of climate change is a very different category of problem for him. You can place the stories of individuals within it, but you end up with something like The Day After Tomorrow, where it’s like, Oh, here’s a person who’s dealing with a struggle, but the story is also about climate change. And the disconnect feels almost corny and staged. And yet at the same time, Ghosh has recently confessed that he enjoys watching cli-fi movies. In an interview with a reporter in Canada last summer, he said confessed that he is a self-admitted fan of some of Hollywood’s cli-fi disaster epics, such as ”The Day After Tomorrow” and ”Geostorm,” and Ghosh said that that he enjoys those films. Here's the money quote:

“I love them! I watch them obsessively,” he told an interviewer last summer in Canada, adding: “My climate scientist friends joke and laugh at me for this because the practical science in a movie like ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ is bad. But I find these movies very compelling. And I do think both film and television are very forward-leaning in dealing with climate change.”

So that's Ghosh for you.

''Me, I tend to think about climate fiction novels, that is to say cli-fi novels, more in terms of ''responsibility'' and ''villainy.'' I think that we have a very hard time processing our own complicity as white Westerners reading novels or seeing movie and wondering about climate change. We really prefer to see ourselves as truly innocent, and therefore want our climate storytelling to reassure us about our own culpability, and tell us in fact that it’s someone else’s problem in our culture, outside of narrative.''

 



Meyer: ''Do you think there’s a way to write that kind of cli-fi narrative that doesn’t wind up feeling like The Jungle? Which ends with a giant Socialist rally, and the narrator being absorbed into the fervor of the crowd.''

Wallace-Wells: ''I guess it depends on whether what you’re looking for in a narrative is ''polemic'' or ''humanity.'' I actually think that one of the features of my mgazine writing on this subject is that it demonstrates that if you handle them right, the simple accumulation of facts can take on an enormous narrative force. And I don’t really think that that’s something that many other writers about climate have done before, although Nat Rich does something similar in his 66,000 word New York Times feature which is now a nonfiction book coming out in April titled LOSING EARTH.  His book will be competing with mine for readers' minds and emotions. I know Nat, I like him. Good guy. Probably a lot smarter than me. He even wrote a cli-fi  novel "Odds Against Tomorrow" and I hope someday to write  a cli-fi novel as well. We'll see. I'm a storyteller of the journalist kind but I think I have a novel or two in me, too.''

''Of course, Rob, as you know, we are still in the infant stage of figuring out how to tell stories about this issue. Going forward, I suspect that the more interesting cli-fi narrative forms are likely to background climate change and make it appear like the theater in which human dramas are unfolding. Think about, for instance, a climate refugee camp, where the story is effectively some rivalry between two quasi-criminal-like figures in the camp. Or a honeymoon where people are going snorkeling through Miami Beach. The rise of the cli-fi genre is one of the untold stories of the age we now live in. I hope to change that silence about cli-fi by talking about it more. And Rob, cli-fi has gotten  a bad rap by many media peiople, who alwys say cli-fi novels are always dystopian and pessmistic and dark and unrelenting, but it's not true. Cli-fi novels can also be uplifting, optimistic and positive emotional reads that produce empathy and action in the reader. I am fully behind the ruise of climate fiction, and I'm glad you asked.''

MEYER: ''I didn't ask. I have never mentioned cli-fi term in any of my reporting or podcasts.''.
 
Wallace-Wells: ''Oh, I thought you were already a fan ot cli-fi novels and movies.''

Meyer: ''I am getting there.''

Wallace-Wells: ''There are whole imaginative theaters for storytelling about climate that we haven’t yet begun to explore. But if all that is considered “responsible” is optimistic hopeful storytelling about how we can solve the problem, then that’s just—from a narrative perspective, it’s kind of corny. The best climate storytelling has been written by people like J. G. Ballard, William Gibson, and Margaret Atwood, who have really thought about all the weird ways that these forces might transform our lives. So new writers coming up in the literary world will start tackling the cli-fi genre in similar ways. My friends in the publishing world in New York tell me it's just a matter of time. Cli-fi is catching on. ''

Meyer: ''Gibson’s cli-fi novel, The Peripheral, seems like one of the better presentations of how you’re talking about history now—about how day-to-day, lived existence would feel like in a world where progress has gone wrong, where there are cataclysms in the past from which people really haven’t recovered. Some guy in Taiwan is very busy promoting the cli-fi genre, I can't remember his name.''

Wallace-Wells: ''Yeh, I've heard about him and he writes to me now and then. He even wrote a blog post about my hyphenated last name and how it came to me. My brother Ben tweeted about it, too.''

Meyer: ''He writes to me. too.''

Wallace-Wells: ''I know Willism Gibson personally a little bit because I conducted the Paris Review interview with him. We were emailing a few weeks ago and I was like, Oh, I’m just adding a couple sentences to the book, last minute, about how science-fiction writers are likely to be understood even more as prophets because of climate change, and he wrote back and he was like, You know what, every time people say that to me, I always say “We haven’t successfully predicted anything! We got all of our predictions wrong. The only thing we’ve gotten right is the mood.” And I wrote back and I was like, No, the mood is a prediction! It’s a really important prediction, and actually you guys got it extremely right.''




Meyer: ''What’s the meaning of cli-fi novels and movies to you? What’s their larger import? Are they the stuff of literary history or is it something else?''

Wallace-Wells: ''My short-form answer is that I think that the 21st century will be dominated by cli-fi novels and movies in the same way that, say, the end of the 20th century was dominated by financial capitalism, or the 19th century in the West was dominated by modernity or industry—that cli-fi will be the meta-narrative of the coming 8 decades, and there won’t be an area of literaatre or cinema that is untouched by it. Often people talk about climate change as a global problem, which it obviously is, but I don’t think we’ve really started to think about how novels and movies can raise awareness of certain issues. Not just THE JUNGLE but also Uncle Tom's Cabin and ON THE BEACH in 1957 and the movie version in 1959.

''My basic perspective is that everything about human life on this planet will be transformed by cli-fi novels and movies. Even if we end up at a kind of best-case outcome, I think the world will be dominated by cli-fi in the coming decades in ways that it’s hard to imagine and we really haven’t started to think hard enough about.

''I am a child of the 1990s. I’m Jewish, I'm American. I grew up in New York.  I went to expensive private schools in Manhattan, I went to Dartmouth for 4 years.''
 
END OF CONVERSATION, slightly edited for amplification and clarification purposes. 

Novelist and literary critic Liz Jensen on why "cli-fi" matters now more than ever

Novelist and literary critic Liz Jensen on why "cli-fi" matters now more than ever

Full 2500- word text on her website here:

Lizjensen.com/our-house-our-fire-our-fiction/

Thursday, February 21, 2019

What are we to make of this current literary moment in the Anthropocene? Liz Jensen offers us a cultural prism to peer into.

''Verdens forfattere har fundet genren, der moder klimakrisen," is how a Danish newspaper recently introduced a new literary essay by Liz Jensen about how novels are tackling the global climate crisis.

The English translation might look something like this: "Novelists are responding to the climate crisis in a variety of ways."

What Jensen was getting at was this: A new literary genre that's been dubbed ''cli-fi'' is rising to meet the challenge of runaway climate change."


"If climate change challenges the imagination by demanding that we re-frame our relationship to the entire world, then that shift of perception calls for powerful new stories, and powerful new ways of telling them," Jensen says.

She adds: "So, since we are famously a storytelling species, how have the fiction writers of the Anthropocene tackled the rolling catastrophe of a world heading for four degrees of warming in the lifetime of any baby born today?"

Her answer: "The ancient Chinese curse ‘may you live in interesting times’ has found its moment,
and the moment has found its genre: cli-fi."

Jensen, the author of 8 novels herself, including globally-acclaimed "Rapture," notes that Amitav Ghosh’s new novel ''Gun Island'' is joining a veritable ocean of literature rising to the occasion of our times, while older works such as Maggie Gee’s startlingly prophetic 1998 novel ''The Ice People'' are being rediscovered, thanks in part to the increasing surge in interest in the planet’s predicament, and the fictions it engenders.

In her oped, written in English and translated also into Danish, Jensen mentions a timely joke:

''Two planets meet in space. One is green and blue and healthy; the other is
pale and chocking and sick.''

''The healthy planet looks at the sick one sand says. 'Oh, I had that disease once. It’s called Mankind. But don’t worry: it goes away all by itself'.”

Many of our direst scientific predictions have come measurably true, Jensen says, noting how in the form of melting glaciers and ice-caps, bleached coral reefs, warmer oceans, unprecedented species extinction, extreme weather events, disappearing
shorelines and destabilized seasons, the future has become easier to picture.

"Indeed, we can take a highly-educated guess at what it will resemble: a faster-moving, uncannier and more furious version of the
 present."Jensen writes.

And in this context, she says, the literary genre of ''climate fiction'' is becoming the new realism, and evolving fast.

She mentions how Jeff Vandermeer’s ''Southern Reach trilogy'' (the first volume of which, ''Annihilation,'' became a haunting film), explored the notion of the natural world developing a hive mind with its own colonizing agenda.

She also points to Kim Stanley Robinson’s cli-fi novel ''New York 2140,'' whose huge cast of characters ''duck, dive and thrive'' in a semi-drowned Manhattan, adding that the novel,has been hailed as a pioneer of the emerging sub-genre dubbed ''solarpunk,'' whichcelebrates the notion that whatever fine mess we have gotten us into, our ingenuity and adaptability might just see us through.

Much ''cli-fi'' is inevitably preoccupied with water: not enough of it, or too much, Jensen, who has read widely in the genre, observes.

Rising seas are the backdrops in Sophie Mackintosh’s unsettling
dystopia ''The Water Cure,'' Paolo Bacigalupi’s ''Drowned Cities'' and the
inundated New York of Nathaniel Rich’s ''Odds Against Tomorrow,'' Jensen notes.

While Britain is far from being a flat country, that has not stopped the British  writer John Lanchester from flooding its shores in his new  novel ''The Wall,'' which Jensen says represents his first foray into ''climate fiction.''

''The Wall'' conveys what Martin Luther King once called “the fierce urgency of now” with eloquence and panache, Jensen says, while noting that the book intelligently explores some of the challenges and ethical dilemmas and injustices that the planet’s youngest humans have already begun to face.

So what are we to make of this current moment in the Anthropocene?

"Historians will look back on this era and note its defining paradox: that while the public imagination was increasingly occupied with the dangers ahead, those in power were either in active denial, busy plotting how best to profit from a range of oncoming disasters, indifferent, or -- at best -- doing far too little, far too late.," Jensen, looking into her crystal ball, predicts.

''But those same historians may also note that today´s storytellers, inspired by solid science and the evidence of their own eyes, have begun to reclaim the power of the prophets and seers of past ages by resuming their almost forgotten role as the cognitive avant-garde," she adds.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

REVIEW - "The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming" (Tim Duggan Books), by David-Wallace-Wells


"The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming" (Tim Duggan Books), by David-Wallace-Wells.


The science is clear: Massive fossil fuel use by humans is raising temperatures in the oceans and air, the seas are rising, and we aren't building nearly enough green energy to slow the process.

But does preaching global doom inspire change, or just resignation?

 The worth of "The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming" by David Wallace-Wells hinges on that question.

"The Uninhabitable Earth" originated as a long essay for New York magazine in 2017, and the book repeats the same formula.

Wallace-Wells argues that it is past time to be very afraid about the devastation that humans and ecosystems will suffer.

Some scientists criticized the extreme tone of the magazine piece, but David Archer, a respected climate expert at the University of Chicago, said then that Wallace-Wells "is not wrong, wildly misleading, or out of bounds of the discussion we should be having about climate change."

But if the book is justified in discussing worst-case scenarios, Wallace-Wells repeatedly confuses the message by bouncing between alarm and caution.

There's the title, yet soon we're told that "it is unlikely that climate change will render the planet truly uninhabitable."

 He writes that the Syrian civil war was "inflamed by climate change and drought," but later adds that scientists say it is "not exactly fair to say the conflict is the result of warming."

Books should also have deeper narratives than magazine pieces, and "The Uninhabitable Earth" doesn't.

Wallace-Wells speculates about climate doomsday from every possible angle, but says little about the tremendous global progress in reducing wind or solar power costs.

A single wonky chapter on the benefits, costs and challenges of bringing a green energy revolution to New York City would have been welcome, and timely.

Generals motivate troops by searching for ways to win, not by telling everyone they are doomed to die.

The book suffers from unnecessary hyperbole, too.

Wallace-Wells loses credibility with claims that "global warming has improbably compressed into two generations the entire story of human civilization" and that three or more degrees of warming "would unleash suffering beyond anything that humans have ever experienced through many millennia." WHAT THE FUCK?

One wonders where Wallace-Wells places the Bubonic plague and deaths from malaria, typhoid, AIDS, starvation, war, the Holocaust and the like.

Yet the time to slow climate change is running out, so perhaps the tone of "The Uninhabitable Earth" is a necessary response. If the book inspires a new generation of climate activists, more power to Wallace-Wells.

================

"


But does preaching global doom inspire change, or just resignation?

 The worth of the book hinges on that question.

The book originated as a long essay for New York magazine in 2017, and the book repeats the same formula.



While the book is justified in discussing worst-case scenarios, Wallace-Wells repeatedly confuses the message by bouncing between alarm and caution.

There's the title, yet soon we're told that "it is unlikely that climate change will render the planet truly uninhabitable."

 He writes that the Syrian civil war was "inflamed by climate change and drought," but later adds that scientists say it is "not exactly fair to say the conflict is the result of warming."

Books should also have deeper narratives than magazine pieces, and "The Uninhabitable Earth" doesn't.

Wallace-Wells speculates about climate doomsday from every possible angle, but says little about the tremendous global progress in reducing wind or solar power costs.

A single wonky chapter on the benefits, costs and challenges of bringing a green energy revolution to New York City would have been welcome, and timely.

Generals motivate troops by searching for ways to win, not by telling everyone they are doomed to die.

The book suffers from unnecessary hyperbole, too.

Wallace-Wells loses credibility with claims that "global warming has improbably compressed into two generations the entire story of human civilization" and that three or more degrees of warming "would unleash suffering beyond anything that humans have ever experienced through many millennia."

One wonders where Wallace-Wells places the Bubonic plague and deaths from malaria, typhoid, AIDS, starvation, war, the Holocaust and the like.