Interview with Cli-Fi author Cat Sparks
Go, Cat, go!
Cat Sparks is 50-something author, editor and artist whose earlier employment included being a media monitor, a political and archaeological photographer, a graphic designer, a Fiction Editor of Cosmos Magazine and a Manager of Agog! Press. She’s in the final throes of a PhD in climate change fiction. Her short story collection The Bride Price was published in 2013. Her debut sci fi novel, Lotus Blue, will be published by Talos Press in February 2017.
When Jane asked Cat to explain what exactly Cli Fi is, she replied, in part:
Cli Fi is a label coined by an American climate activist and blogger in 2008. ...
No singular concept, influence or idea connects all climate fiction. It did not emerge from any specific literary movement or school of thought, however [it should not] be considered a subgenre of science fiction. [According to Dan Bloom, who runs the Cli-Fi Report at cli-fi-net, cli fi was never part of sci fi and never will be.]
In the early 20th century the eco-catastrophe emerged as a literary sub-genre, with examples such as George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides (1954), J.G. Ballard’s 1960s drowned world disaster sequence and Brian Aldiss’s Hothouse (1962).
But not all climate change stories are dystopias or post apocalypses — or even classifiable as science fiction, for example, see Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour or Kathryn Heyman’s Floodline. This is why cli-fi can be said to stand as a genre of its own. Australian novelist and critic James Bradley suggests that cli-fi “Deals with expressions of deep and pervasive transformations of the world and ourselves...”
I’ve been attracted to post apocalypse narratives since I was a kid. Something about the aesthetics of wastelands and blasted cityscapes, nature creeping back to reclaim fractured territory, civilization stripped back to its bones. Post apocalypse is a broad and well-studied category when it comes to fiction, so I narrowed my focus to climate fiction — The field began expanding almost from the moment I took an interest in it. I started off studying YA material, but eventually changed tack for various reasons and now I’m examining three identified vectors of short cli-fi .
Many novels incorporating climate change use it as a backdrop against which to set familiar narratives. ..
"Do you think Cli Fi is making an important contribution to the human response to climate change?" Jane asked. "Or is the dystopian aspect of it just making people feel overwhelmed? "
Cli-fi definitely has a part to play. In my eyes the argument that art should be beholden to nothing and no one breaks down when it comes to a situation as dire as this one, where the one planet in the universe known for certain to harbor life is under threat of being rendered uninhabitable.
There’s plenty of data available to explain what’s at stake with global climate. Articles, websites, government reports, books, television, radio, podcasts explain the science and the threats, but data doesn’t seem to be enough. The process has well and truly started. As I wrote this response, an uncharacteristically vicious storm had been ripping my backyard to shreds.
Neuroscientists and biologists explain that human brains aren’t wired to respond easily to large, slow-moving threats, that we suffer from “loss aversion”, which means we’re more afraid of losing what we want in the short-term than surmounting obstacles in the distance, that climate change, despite occurring at faster rates than predicted, is happening far too slowly to get our attention.
It’s important to keep the conversation going as we adjust to crazy unseasonal weather events and all the other elements besides. In a few years all non-historical mimetic fiction might end up classifiable as cli-fi to some degree.
.....Art has the power of becoming personal. Different media speaks to different people in different ways. Art encourages people to think and feel.....
A cli-fi writer has said: “You can never properly predict the future as it really turns out. So you are doing something a little different when you write cli-fi. You are trying to take a different perspective on now.”
Is the cli fi genre separate and independent from Science Fiction?
At first this idea that cli-fi is separate and a stand alone genre and not connected to sci fi at all, as many of its practicioners believe, did annoy me at first but it’s more complicated than that. Both utopian and dystopian literature are regarded in some quarters as being altogether separate genres from SF and, as I mentioned above, there is an argument for Cli Fi to be considered as a genre of its own. Having said that, [almost none] of the cli-fi I’ve read is could be classifiable as science fiction.
Perhaps we no longer have the luxury of looking inward in a world into which humanity is pumping climate-warming carbon dioxide 10 times faster than at any point in the past 66 million years. Perhaps this explains why so many so-called “literary” writers have been borrowing our well-worn genre traditions: Margaret Atwood, Colson Whitehead, Cormac McCarthy, Claire Vey Watkins, Lionel Shriver.