Ghastly weather: What ''Frankenstein'' can tell us about climate change and over 200+ 'cli-fi' novels since then....
Boyd Tonkin is a writer, journalist and critic
The age of 'cli-fi'Now, 200 years after her world-shaking summer, the art that responds to human-made environmental peril may have more to learn from Shelley than from her aristocratic ally.
At least since J. G. Ballard published his great twin tales of planetary catastrophe in the early 1960s (The Drowned World and The Burning World, later retitled The Drought), climate-change fiction has spread like livid algae across a stagnant pool. “Cli-fi”, as the critic Dan Bloom called it, now stretches across 200-odd titles – from early visions such as Arthur Herzog’s Heat to the ecological precision of Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour and the exuberant end-time speculation of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks.
Even before the hard news came in about greenhouse gas emissions, weather-driven apocalypse had long lost its novelty. In Mary Shelley’s spirit of excitement and enchantment, writers and other green-minded artists may now need to recalibrate their instruments of warning and prophecy.
A couple of years before Ian McEwan published Solar – his bold bid in 2010 to do exactly that – he told me in an interview about the limits of disaster narratives. “We’ve had so many dystopias that we’re brain-dead in that direction,” the novelist argued. Instead, climate change called for fiercer, nimbler forms of art. “It’s got to be fascinating, in the way that gossip is. It’s got to be about ourselves. Maybe it needs an Animal Farm. Maybe it needs an allegory. But if you’re going in that direction, you need a lot of wit.”