Sunday, April 30, 2017

With this genre, Earth just might survive (or not)

With this genre, Earth just might survive (or not)

by Vomisa Caasi

A literary genre can be a showcase for just about anything these days it seems. SFF novels will take you through all kind of fantasy worlds and science fiction sagas. Chick-Lit features strong female protagonists with stories that appeal to women in search of novels with strong female characters. Lab-lit deals with scientists and lab technicians working in, you guessed it, modern scientific, psychology or sociology labs. And a relative new genre dubbed solarpunk envisions positive, optimistic futures using solar power to transform the world into a more equal and sustainable place.

Now comes cli-fi, a rising new literary genre for the 21st century that has been slowly gaining traction among literary critics, authors and readers. Short for ''climate change fiction,'' cli-fi has a Wikipendia page and a dedicated website now and publishers (and Hollywood producers) are paying attention. With this genre, Earth just might survive, or not, depending on how the stories go.
Some of utopian, some are dystopian, and some are just plain page-turners of the cli-fi kind.

There's even a website and a portal for cli-fi now, titled The Cli-Fi Report, at

The genre has no founder and no spokesman, and there's no school of cli-fi and no cli-fi canon. It's write as you write and read as you read. Nobody owns the genre and nobody controls it. A publicist for the genre does spend an inordinate amount of time doing PR chores and connecting with media sites and reporters. But he mostly keeps a low profile and let's the genre speak for itself.

"The purpose of cli-fi is two-fold," says a spokesman online. "One, it's a platform for writers around the world to use to place their stories about global warming and climate change, from whatever point of view they choose to tell them. And two, it's a place for readers and literary critics to congregate and absorb what the writes are creating."

"With this new genre, might it just save the Earth and future generations of humans? No genre can save the Earth, and however man-made global warming plays out, it's far beyond what any novel or movie can do," the spokesman adds. " 
So no, cli-fi is not going to save the Earth. But the stories that are being told and that will be told in the next 100 years might very well help us prepare for what is coming down the road. It's that vital, it's that important. It's not an escapist genre, and it's not for distraction or entertainment. It's a dead serious literary genre with a high calling, and how it plays out over the next few dozen decades will be a vital link in our relationship to the future. If we survive beyond the next 500 years, that is."

''As more and more publishers and Hollywood producers pick up cli-fi novels for publication and adaptation to movies, the rising new genre may very well play an important role in helping prepare future generations for what's coming as the Earth warms beyond its limits and beyond 400 parts of million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," the spokesman says. "Then again, cli-fi just might go nowhere and lead nowhere. If we as a species are doomed, then no literary genre is going to save us. But art and literature can help raise the alarm and prepare us for what's coming for our descendants 30 generations from now."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Why doesn't the new editor of the NYT Climate Desk push to have her top brass allow her to start capitalizing the word "EARTH"? In this memo, even top EDITOR of NYT lowercases it as "earth." How can he be so wrong?

Why doesn't the new editor of the NYT Climate Desk push to have her top brass allow her to start capitalizing the word "EARTH"? In this memo, even top EDITOR of NYT lowercases it as "earth." How can he be so wrong?


Hannah Fairfield is now Leading Climate Coverage at the NYT which still sadly lowercases the word "earth" and will continue to do so until enough people raise their voices to Hannah, Dean, Matt and Joe  to get them to start capitalizing it.

See this example of how they lowercase the name of the planet we live on: -- The subject has taken on more urgency as the earth’s temperature continues to break records and a new political leadership in Washington appears poised to make sweeping changes to policies meant to limit carbon emissions.

It should be (get me write): The subject has taken on more urgency as the Earth’s temperature continues to break records and a new political leadership in Washington appears poised to make sweeping changes to policies meant to limit carbon emissions.
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Alaskan native Hannah Fairfield, above, is now leading The Times’s climate coverage. Read more in this note from Dean Baquet, Joe Kahn and Matt Purdy where they lowercase the word "earth" when it SHOULD BE Capital E "Earth".....

“No topic is more vital than climate change and covering it requires drive, creativity and more than a little bit of specialized knowledge. We are thrilled to announce that we found an editor with all those qualities – and more – to lead our climate coverage: Hannah Fairfield.

Besides leadership skills that have impressed everyone in the Washington bureau and the graphics department, Hannah has tremendous visual storytelling power that is vital to telling the story of the havoc wreaked by climate change. ...... She grew up in Alaska, where the effects of rising temperatures are real and measurable, and she has two master’s degrees from Columbia, one in journalism and the other in environmental science, with a thesis in geochemistry.

Hannah has assembled and now leads a team of reporters and editors to cover the science of the globe’s changing climate and its political, economic, technological and social and CULTURAL and LITERARY consequences of cli-fi novels and movies.

The coverage will range from the work of scientists to the decisions of CEOs to the struggles of people living with rising seas and deepening drought.

Her team will draw together reporters covering climate change and its implication now working on a variety of desks. She will expand the group to enhance its explanatory, investigative and visual skills and to give our coverage a global reach and by including the rise of the new genre of cli-fi in literature and movies.

With Hannah’s appointment, we aim to build on what has already been dominant coverage of climate change and to establish The Times as a guide to readers on this most important issue.

The subject has taken on more urgency as the earth’s temperature continues to break records and a new political leadership in Washington appears poised to make sweeping changes to policies meant to limit carbon emissions.

Dean, Joe and Matt”

That's Dean Baquet, Matt Purdy and Joe Kahn. Come on, guys, get with it! EARTH should be capitalized now. Wake up!

14 cli-fi books about climate change's worst case scenarios

For Earth Day 2017, the another cool website posts another ''cli-fi'' listicle on 15 of the best ''cli-fi'' novels of recent years, from Bacigalupi to Atwood to Ballard and 11 more:

14 cli-fi books about climate change's worst case scenarios

Your 2017 ''Earth Day'' reading list

Today is Earth Day 2017, an occasion used to highlight environmental awareness and the state of our planet’s health. Climate change has become a major focus in recent decades, and while 120 nations across the world ratified the Paris Agreement at COP21 a year ago, significant challenges remain in the years and decades to come. Which is to say that to think about climate science is to think seriously and passionately about the future.

Of course one group that keeps a close eye on what the future might hold for civilization are climate change fiction authors. For decades, they have used the idea of a changing climate in their stories, extrapolating the latest scientific evidence into tale of how humanity is coping (or not) with rising sea levels and temperatures.

We’ve collected eight stories that explore climate science and what the future could hold for us.

The MaddAddam trilogy, Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is getting a lot of attention post-Trump election for her 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale and its TV adaptation, but it would be a mistake to overlook her MaddAddam novels: Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam. In the critically acclaimed cli-fi trilogy, Atwood follows the survivors of a biological catastrophe in a post apocalyptic future. The novels tracks several characters as they witness the end of the world, with rising sea levels and environmental degradation a major factor. Over the three books, she addresses how her characters cope with existing in a radically changed world, and the steps they must take to rebuild civilization once again.

The Windup Girl and The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi

Over the course of his career, Paolo Bacigalupi focused on environmental issues, especially in his novels. The Windup Girl is a particularly chilling take on what the future could hold. Set centuries in the future, the oceans have risen and fossil fuels depleted, all while plagues and mutated invasive species cause widespread famine across the world. The book follows several characters in a futuristic Thailand. They struggle to survive in a world defined by genetic engineering and cutthroat businessmen who will stop at nothing to make a profit. The Water Knife takes place closer to the present, but presents a future that’s no less dire. Climate change has ravaged the American southwest. The novel’s characters seek something even more valuable than gold: the rights to control the region’s water supply. In both novels, Bacigalupi points to economic inequality as a huge contributing factor for the changes that destroyed the climate.
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California, Edan Lepucki

Edan Lepucki’s debut cli-fi California was more of literary take on climate change than some of the other selections on this list, though it shares an interest in the lengths people will go to survive when civilization begins to collapse. Cal and Frida have escaped into the woods following the general destruction of society from a mix of economic and climate upheavals. They etch out a living by themselves. When Frida discovers that she’s pregnant, they seek out shelter with a nearby settlement, only to find that the closed-knit community is rife with paranoia and secrets. Lepucki’s novel looks back at some of the earliest tropes in American literature to show that the communities that people take refuge in can be just as dangerous as the world they offer protection against.

The Drowned World J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard’s 1962 cli-fi novel is considered one of the best examples of early climate change fiction. The polar ice caps have melted and submerged much of the Northern hemisphere. As a biologist in London sets off on a mapping expedition, Ballard uses the novel to explore the unconscious impulses of humanity’s survivors. As the world regresses, so to do its inhabitants. The morals that held society together disintegrate, and civilization unravels.

The Broken Earth trilogy, N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin’s books are some of the most original and eye-opening fantasies being published today, and these books have a particularly vibrant take on survival. Jemisin’s world goes through cycles of catastrophes that upend humanity each time. The stress of the continual shifts leads to an oppressed people known as orogenes — mutated, or maybe just magical — who can use their powers to alter the planet, for better or worse. Jemisin investigates the alienation of her characters, and explores how society reacts when constantly bombarded by trauma. 

New York 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson

We recently reviewed Kim Stanley Robinson’s new cli-fi novel, and New York 2140 is book that likely paints the most realistic climate change scenario. Set over 120 years in the future, the inhabitants of New York City’s MetLife Tower make their way through life amidst rising tides. While it’s an optimistic and even funny novel, he uses the book to lay out the connections between unfettered capitalism and a warming climate, and warns that unless society-changing fixes are made, we will live with the consequences.

Area X Trilogy, Jeff Vandermeer

If you’re looking for something a bit more horrifying (as if these futures aren’t terrifying enough) look no further than Jeff Vandermeer’s climate change fiction novels Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance. The Area X trilogy blends a changing world and climate with otherworldly and outright unexplainable horror. A large portion of the southern coast is abruptly cut off by a barrier, allowing the regions it contains to revert to pristine wilderness. Subsequent expeditions to the territory reveal a strange and hostile world that’s slightly wrong. Vandermeer uses the novels to analyze how we adapt to strange new surroundings.

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Like Bacigalupi’s cli-fi The Water Knife, Claire Vaye Watkins sets her cli-fi novel in an American southwest that’s been ravaged by drought. The region’s remaining inhabitants —Mojavs — are prevented from escaping to better homes by armed vigilantes and an uncaring government. A pair of survivors, Luz and Ray, get by in one of the governmental settlements, and when they discover an abandoned child, they are moved to escape their broken and violent home to find a better home.

For Earth Day 2017, the Verge website posts another ''cli-fi'' listicle on 15 of the best ''cli-fi'' novels of recent years, from Bacigalupi to Atwood to Ballard and 11 more

For Earth Day 2017, the Verge website posts another ''cli-fi'' listicle on 15 of the best ''cli-fi'' novels of recent years, from Bacigalupi to Atwood to Ballard and 11 more

Friday, April 21, 2017

5 Cli-Fi Books Everyone’s Reading

5 Cli-Fi Books Everyone’s Reading

Get onto the latest reading trend – climate fiction

Nick Robins reviews "The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable" by Amitav Ghosh

Nick Robins reviews "The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable" by Amitav Ghosh

KEY QUOTE: ''Of course, this omission of climate from the world of the novel is not complete. Indeed, there are the beginnings of a new trend in climate fiction (cli-fi). '' SEE BELOW

According to Indian-American writer Amitav Ghosh, the global literary world has failed to respond to the existential threat of climate change. His starting point is clear: “the climate crisis is…a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination.” Known for his great historical novels (notably the recent Ibis trilogy), in this book Ghosh reflects on his own craft and finds writers complicit in the continuing concealment of global warming.

This short and punchy book is made up of three loosely connected essays. The first focuses on Ghosh’s core concern of literary fiction. He then turns to another great narrative tradition, that of history, and the way in which climate change forces us to rethink our past. The final section focuses on ways to embolden our political response.

For Ghosh, the modern novel is stuck in a rut where Nature is seen as forever passive, a mere backdrop for human drama. What climate change does, he argues, is to dispel this illusion and restore a vital agency to Nature. Ghosh’s own experience in his ancestral Bengal, with its shifting rivers and floods, makes him conclude that the land “is demonstrably alive” and “is itself a protagonist”. For him, the great peculiarity of the modern age is the belief that the planet is inert. Like C.P. Snow in his earlier identification of industrial society divided into two cultures – one scientific and the other artistic – Ghosh also sees a fundamental rupture, with Nature consigned to sciences, forever off limits to the world of culture.

Of course, this omission of climate from the world of the novel is not complete. Indeed, there are the beginnings of a new trend in climate fiction (cli-fi).

Ghosh himself cites a range of English-language writers who have engaged powerfully with global warming, notably Margaret Atwood, J.G. Ballard, Barbara Kingsolver and Ian McEwan. Ballard’s 1962 novel, The Drowned World, is perhaps the most spectacular, as it set out the terrifying impact on the human mind of runaway climate change decades before the issue had hit the headlines. In Kingsolver’s deeply moving Flight Behaviour, the monarch butterfly becomes a key character in a world where “sensible seasons had come undone.”
Yet the invisibility of climate change in the vast bulk of novels speaks to two deeper and more fundamental fault lines. The first is the cultural turning in literature away from collective experience – the kind of engagement that produced works such as John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. In the 20th century, the rupture caused by the combination of brute capitalism and empire not only prompted a literary outpouring, but also stimulated efforts to reconnect literature with the world of the dispossessed. For the Bengali poet and novelist Rabindranath Tagore, this meant building from scratch an international university at Santiniketan and then seeking to drive rural reconstruction at nearby Sriniketan.
Just as problematic is the second fault line, which lies deep within our human psychology. As George Marshall and Per Espen Stoknes have argued in their insightful books on how we think about climate change, the conventional way we conceive of global warming is fundamentally at odds with what motivates us. We are driven by things that are urgent and close by, but climate change is continually presented as distant in time and space. Add to this the wilful mischief of the climate deniers, the obscure language of climate science and a visual framing in terms of telegenic polar bears, and it is perhaps no surprise that novelists have stayed silent.
In light of all this, a question that Ghosh does not ask but that now seems pressing is, what would it take to produce climate literature with the equivalent cultural impact of earlier classics? Who will write the novel that encapsulates the generational breaking of climate change similar to Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons in 19th-century Russia? Likewise, what will inspire the invention of a polemical morality tale about climate change as universal as George Orwell’s Animal Farm? We can easily imagine a tale of heroic struggle against fossil fuel infrastructure as passionate as Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. (‘A Farewell to Fossils’, perhaps?) But it has yet to be written. Equally, we still lack a compassionate account of the loss felt by coal communities as their industry collapses, which could historically bookend Emile Zola’s great novel of coal mining, Germinal.
The place where we should perhaps look for this literature is in Asia. Ranging beyond the narrow world of the novel, Ghosh uses the essays on history and politics to trace the centrality of Asia to the climate crisis. Here the shadow of empire looms large. Of course, it was the nations of Europe and North America that first used coal and then oil on an industrial scale, in the process building up an ‘ecological debt’ to the rest of humanity. But it was in China that coal was first used widely, and in Burma that oil first became commercialised, creating the foundations for one of the world’s largest multinationals, Burmah-Shell. What prevented these first forays from flourishing, according to Ghosh, was imperial exploitation.
This delayed the great acceleration in Asia’s emissions, which not only is now creating an “airpocalypse” across the cities of China and India, but also has become the major driver of global carbon emissions. In addition, Ghosh’s Bengali heritage makes him particularly alert to Asia’s acute vulnerability to climate shocks. Nearly half the world’s people depend on the Himalayas for water – a source that is now threatened by the melting of its glaciers. The partial inundation of just one island in Bangladesh has led to the displacement of more than half a million people.
For Asia, this creates a painful lesson. Just as its populations embark on the path of resource-intensive industrialisation, they learn that “the patterns of life that modernity engenders can only be practised by a small minority.” More than this, the prevailing logic of unfettered market freedom is wholly unsuited to solving this crisis. As Ghosh writes, “at exactly the time when it has become clear that global warming is in every sense a collective predicament, humanity finds itself in the thrall of a dominant culture in which the idea of the collective has been exiled from politics, economics and literature alike.”
This conundrum creates the need for a fresh ethical strategy, not just for the likes of China and India, but for the world as a whole. Here, Ghosh turns to religion as a source of inspiration. He praises Pope Francis’s Laudato si for the way in which it draws on a faith tradition that far predates the carbon economy to first challenge the idea of infinite growth and then insist that “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach.”
The Great Derangement is clearly not Ghosh’s final word on the clash of climate and culture. By urging us to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, he points the way to a resurgent literature that builds a new kinship with the rest of creation. In this way, we can begin what a character in The Drowned World foretold: the “careful preparation for a radically new environment, with its own internal landscape and logic, where old categories of thought would merely be an encumbrance”.
Nick Robins is co-director of the United Nations Environment Programme’s inquiry into the design of a sustainable financial system, author of The Corporation that Changed the World: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational, and a Resurgence Trustee.

one of the best classroom curriculums for teaching cli-fi novels I have ever seen.

one of the best classroom curriculums for teaching cli-fi novels I have ever seen.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Climate-change in these 3 novels is even more terrifying than in real life: Rajat Chaudhuri explains

Climate-change in these 3 novels is even more terrifying than in real life

Fiction-writers can do a better job of convincing us that cataclysms are coming, writes Rajat Chaudhuri in India     

“Out at sea, beyond the grey stone bulwarks of the port, zigzags of lightning electrocuted the water, bringing poltergeist winds that sucked random objects up to whirl and dump. Passionate gusts punched at the sails of struggling boats and then headed inland, flattening corn, uprooting trees, smashing hop silos and storage barns, whisking up torn rubbish sacks that pirouetted in the sky like the ghostly spirits of retail folly.”
This is how Liz Jensen draws us into the world of paraplegic therapist Gabrielle Fox and psychotic teenage patient Bethany Krall in her eco-apocalyptic climate change novel, The Rapture.
What imaginative powers does it take to write plausibly about the unthinkable? Does it require a sorcerer’s occult energies, to translate the looming threats of climate change into prose that will grip the reader’s imagination, leaving her a changed person perhaps? Beyond the internal cinema and the soft afterglow that quality fiction offers, isn’t a revision in the way we observe and engage with the world also a desirable quality of a good book?
Confined for years on a regulation diet of what has been labeled “literary fiction”, I have lately been sampling a smorgasbord of eco-dystopian and, more specifically, climate fiction (cli-fi) works. Besides helping to sharpen my perspective about man-made threats to the planet, these readings have also provided pleasant satisfaction.
The books I am talking about also made me aware that the genius of their authors lies in a combination of vivid imagination, a willingness to bridge the nature/culture divide and an eagerness to experiment for the sake of telling the most urgent stories of our times. In creating these works, they have not flinched from employing specialised vocabulary or language.
Language, in fact, that is marked by edginess and novelty in one author, preparing us for the “prodigious happenings” of a book, darkly humorous and peppered with scientific jargon in another, brooding and melancholic in a third. These techniques, between them, have helped to impart characteristic flavours – a blend of urgency, despondency, vulnerability, pessimism and even a cold-hearted cynicism that suits cli-fi.
Here is Ian McEwan in Solar writing about his flawed Nobel Laureate character Michael Beard, whose patents on artificial photosynthesis could provide a source of clean energy and hence tackle climate change. The scientific vocabulary pours out at ease, mingling effortlessly in an acid bath of satire. The cynical Beard is attracted to an immigration officer at Heathrow and fantasises her working with him:
“…working with and for him, living for and with him and his vision of a world cleansed and cooled and energised by photovoltaics, by concentrated solar power, above all by his own artificial photosynthesis, and by systems centralised or distributed and grid-tied. He would teach her all he knew about thin film, heliostats, feed-in tariffs. She would be efficient in hours; out of them, generous, athletic, with low tastes.”
“What is it about climate change that the mention of it should lead to banishment from the preserves of serious fiction?” asks Amitav Ghosh near the beginning of his semi-scholarly work on the subject, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. This is an important question for me, not just because I have been a climate activist telling industry to mend its ways, but also because I had been writing a novel about environmental disaster where global warming has a role to play.
It is strange that no one has asked this question before, for surely there is no good reason that literature, whose business, as Ghosh rightly points out, is the “imagining of possibilities”, should shy away from engaging with the greatest challenge that life on earth faces today.
Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, another book which takes climate change head-on, has a plot revolving around climate induced disruption of the migration patters of the monarch butterfly. This fascinating description of roosting monarchs overwintering in the Appalachia is from Kingsolver’s book:
“The density of butterflies in the air now gave her a sense of being underwater, plunged into a deep pond among bright fishes. They filled the sky. Out across the valley, the air itself glowed golden. Every tree on the far mountainside was covered with trembling flame, and that, of course, was butterflies.”   
Let us dig a little deeper into three novels.

Solar, Ian McEwan

McEwan’s Solar is the story of the Nobel-winning physicist Michael Beard, whose best days are behind him. A dazzling work of satire, this novel uses the character of the cynical, philandering professor to show how runaway ambition can ruin the best laid plans for a better world – in this case a world running on clean energy, freed of greenhouse gas emissions and the climate demon.
But inner demons refuse to quit as the celebrated discoverer of the Beard-Einstein conflation meanders in and out of affairs and marriages while getting assigned to head the National Centre for Renewable Energy in Reading. There is a storm brewing in his personal life because his fifth wife Patrice has started an affair with an obnoxious builder named Tarpin, but Beard still loves her.
At the Centre, Beard meets the brilliant researcher Tom Aldous, whose gangling, big-boned features and a mind bristling with ideas has more than passing resemblance with the polymath novelist and acclaimed master of dystopia, Aldous Huxley. It is interesting to remember here that the novelist Huxley, in his Science and Literature, was one of those who had engaged with CP Snow’s Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution and had himself written a memorable novel that blurs the science/literature or nature/culture divide.
McEwan’s Aldous has path-breaking ideas for clean energy, including the quadruple-helix wind turbine, which the Centre takes up, but his other passion soon brings him in direct conflict with Beard, leading to disastrous consequences, and a train of incidents that keep the plot on the boil.
Meanwhile the professor and a group of climate-conscious artists are taken on a junket to the Arctic to watch global warming in action for themselves on the island of Spitsbergen, where, “just ten miles away, was a dramatically retreating glacier whose sheer blue cliffs regularly calved mansion-sized blocks of ice onto the shore of the fjord.”
In a characteristic satire-laced tone that helps expose the shadow-boxing and inherent cynicism of a consumer culture, the author slips in an aside about the carbon offset for the trip – how the “guilty discharge of carbon dioxide from twenty return flights and snowmobile rides and sixty hot meals a day served in polar conditions would be offset by planting three thousand trees in Venezuela as soon as a site could be identified and local officials bribed.”
The Arctic trip has its own darkly humorous interludes, including one where Beard almost loses his penis to frostbite and a funny and allegorical boot room story, which seems to be a comment on how human beings have destroyed the environment by not following rules.
On his return from the Arctic, Beard gets sucked into a vortex of events from which only vengefulness and cunning can save his skin.
A few years later, in a hilarious twist, the gluttonous, overweight professor falls foul of postmoderns, gets labelled a neo-Nazi and eugenicist by the media, and loses his job at the Centre. But Beard has other irons in the fire. He now owns a series of patents on clean energy from artificial photosynthesis and believes “planetary stupidity was his business”. He has been wooing investors and setting up a clean energy prototype plant in New Mexico, while becoming the unwilling father of a child with his lover, Melissa.
Just as human ambition has taken nature for granted, exploiting the planet’s limited resources to the hilt, bringing upon itself the climate crisis, so too in the end it is for the reader to discover how and if the demon of Beard’s ambition and the ghosts of his past come to haunt his pet project.
In Solar, McEwan’s scintillating prose and the flawed brilliance of his Nobel laureate character are conflated into a powerful message about the seriousness of the climate crisis and how humans may be ill-equipped to find a way out of the pit they have dug themselves into. Looking down at the urban sprawl of London from his plane window Beard muses, “We appeared, at this height, like a spreading lichen, a ravaging bloom of algae, a mould enveloping a soft fruit – we were such a wild success. Up there with the spores!”

Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior is set in a rural mountain community of Appalachia, far removed from the London of McEwan’s Solar. What is common though to all three books under discussion is that they communicate what Ghosh describes as “a more specific sense of the accelerating changes in our environment”.
The flame-haired Dellarobia Turnbow, mother of two, out on a tryst with a paramour up in the mountains, spies something magical. The “vision”, which soon turns out to be a giant colony of roosting monarch butterflies, will have profound influences on the life of the community of Feathertown in general and on her in particular.
Dellarobia’s family and her in-laws Bear and Hester live on the same sheep rearing farm in Feathertown, Tennessee. They are hard-up, and her in-laws are planning to invite the Money Tree company to clear the forested hillside where the monarchs have settled. But it is not an easy decision and soon church, family and outsiders are caught up in a conflict of interests and ideals pitting faith and concern for the natural environment against economic interest and survival.
Kingsolver’s prose is exquisitely crafted, richly observed, ringing with the sounds and smells of the Turnbow farm, their family life and the forested hills. Asked about her appreciation of the natural world, which is a distinctive feature of her works, the author has said that “it arose in part because I grew up running wild in the woods with little adult supervision …”.
There is a conscious effort in her fiction to foreground the frugal lifestyle of her principal characters, to avoid brand fetish, and to problematise the wave of consumerism fuelled by sweatshop labour sweeping across the world. Dellarobia, her friend Dovey and her simpleton husband Cub, driven by their limited means, shop at used garment stores and count their pennies while buying gifts for Christmas. These lengthy shopping scenes could be a little tedious for the story-seeking reader but they do well to strengthen the idealistic scaffolding of a way of life whose carbon footprint, as a clueless environment activist discovers while trying to instruct Dellarobia, is much smaller than that of average city folk.
With the arrival of the butterflies, their Mexican winter habitat destroyed by climate-change-induced deluge and mudslides, come eco-tourists, activists, miracle-seekers, TV crew and most importantly the entomologist Ovid Byron. Byron, who is an acclaimed expert on monarch butterflies, camps in the Turnbow farm, studying the reasons for their change in flight behaviour.
When he recruits Dellarobia to assist him, instilling in her a new confidence, she is smitten by the handsome scientist. Just like the butterflies, a displaced Mexican family appears at Dellarobia’s doorstep with their little daughter. In one of the most moving scenes in the book, the little girl Josefina explains that her father was a tourist guide for those who wanted to see the roosting monarcas. Because of the deluge (triggered by climate change) in their Mexican hometown, the butterflies stopped coming and they lost their livelihood:
“‘If you don’t mind my asking, why didn’t you stay there?’ Dellarobia asked.
‘No more. It’s gone.’
Dellarobia leaned forward, hands pressed between her knees, strangely dreading what might come next. Miracle or not, this thing on the mountain was a gift. To herself in particular, she’d dared to imagine. Not once had she considered it might have been stolen from someone else.
‘Do you mean the butterflies stopped coming?” she asked. “Or just the tourists stopped coming?’
‘Everything is gone!’ the girl cried, in obvious distress.
‘The water was coming and the mud was coming on everything…Un diluvio.’
…Josefina nodded soberly, her body shrinking into the sofa. ‘Corrimiento de tierras.’ The mother lifted the girl onto her lap, folding both arms around her protectively.
…They all sat quietly for a long time. Dellarobia had ridden out prayer meetings aplenty, but had no idea what to say to a family that had lost their world, including the mountain under their feet and the butterflies of the air.” 
Just before a harsh winter creeps over Feathertown and the gorgeous monarchs are threatened by extinction a doleful Ovid asks Dellarobia, “What was the use of saving a world that has no soul left in it?”
Will the butterflies survive the freezing temperatures? Will the hard-working community be able to withstand the onslaught of a weather system gone berserk? This breathtakingly crafted novel, which cradles an entire world within itself, will reveal it all in the final pages. But there are already some hints at the beginning:
“Dellarobia couldn’t remember a sadder-looking November. The trees had lost their leaves early in the unrelenting rain. After a brief fling with colouration they dropped their tresses in clumps like a chemo patient losing her hair. A few maroon bouquets of blackberry leaves still hung on, but the blue asters had gone to white fluff and the world seemed drained.”
The facility with which authors like Barbara Kingsolver and Liz Jensen portray the improbabilities of climate-related catastrophe is worthy of note. In their handling of “narrative leaps” and their engaging with the “unthinkable”, these works stand tall, effortlessly blurring the artificial boundaries between “genre” and “literary” fiction.

The Rapture, Liz Jensen

In Jensen’s The Rapture, the paraplegic wheelchair-bound art therapist Gabrielle Fox is given charge of Bethany Krall – a damaged psychotic teenager who has murdered her mother with a screwdriver plunged into the eye. Bethany, who has been suffering from death delusion, is confined to the Oxsmith Adolescent Secure Psychiatric Hospital in the coastal town of Hadport, England, where she is administered electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) interspersed with sessions of art during which she creates cryptic images predicting global warming doomsday.
Jensen, who has said that “more and more, I feel that climate is the only thing worth writing about”, is a master storyteller. A quality buttressed by her psychological insights, bringing to life two complex characters, who stick with you long after you have finished the book.
At its heart a cli-fi novel, The Rapture, set in the near future, begins by pointing out the weather:
“That summer, the summer all rules began to change, June seemed to last a thousand years. The temperatures were merciless: thirty-eight, thirty-nine then forty in the shade. It was heat to die in, to go nuts in, or to spawn. Old folk collapsed, dogs were cooked alive in cars, lovers couldn’t keep their hands off each other.”
Within a few pages, the reader is introduced to Gabrielle Fox, who has lost the use of her legs after a car crash which killed her lover and her unborn child. The first interactions between the wheel-chair bound Gabrielle and Bethany are fraught with tension. The green gum chewing seventeen-year-old, with scars and cigarette burns all over her arms, is known to be dangerous.
Soon enough the young girl’s clairvoyance and uncanny ability to predict disaster comes to light. Without having an inkling about Gabrielle’s past, she tells her about her accident and later about her sexual relation with the physicist and turbulence expert Frazer Melville, who appears on the scene. After sessions of ECT which she seems to thrive on, – “give me the volts,” she says – Bethany begins to predict a string of natural disasters, including a deadly earthquake in Istanbul and a cyclone that flattens Rio, taking out the statue of Christ the Redeemer.
“I can see stuff happening before it happens,” says Bethany, “I feel it. Atoms popping about. Vibrations in your blood. These huge fucking wounds. The planet in meltdown…”
While Gabrielle’s boss makes light of these predictions even though they all come true, Frazer looks for scientific explanations, statistical probabilities and clues in Van Gogh’s last paintings.
In The Great Derangement, Ghosh has shown, quoting different authors, how the word “uncanny”, which “recurs frequently in translations of Freud and Heidegger”, best approximates the feelings evoked by the freakish events triggered by climate change. It is no surprise that Bethany’s pinpoint accurate predictions of cyclones and earthquakes transmit a similar feeling of uncanny to the reader, as it does to her therapist, Gabrielle.
In a virtuoso feat of characterisation, Jensen has created this eerily clairvoyant child as if to communicate the uncanny essence of climate disasters. “Bethany’s pain is planet-shaped and planet-sized,” writes a therapist in his report and indeed it seems as though the tortured planet is communicating through the damaged child.
Gabrielle, meanwhile, sets forth to find out more about Bethany’s evangelist father Leonard, a Faith Waver, who preaches the eschatological concept of Rapture, which says that true believers will be carried away to heaven while the world will descend into seven years of Tribulation or End Times. Predictably enough, she has noticed Bethany talking about End Times and The Rapture, but the girl warns her that it will happen soon and they will all be drowned, so she has to help her escape.
The story now springs forward at a brisk pace as Frazer, studying Bethany’s drawings, links her prophesies with sea bed methane hydrate mining operations which could go horribly wrong. As the real dangers of methane leaks – methane being a very powerful greenhouse gas – submarine landslides and runaway global warming dawn upon the physicist and a small group of scientists and activists, there is very little time to convince anyone that the end may really be near. Nor is there any way to get Bethany to pinpoint the location of the seabed drilling rig which might trigger the catastrophe, because Frazer, Gabrielle and her charge are on the run from the police.
Near the end of this mind-bending novel, Bethany meets Harish Modak, a Calcutta-born world-renowned Planetarian who has decided not to have children and who doesn’t believe humans will last forever. She says:
“‘I agree with Professor M here,’ grins Bethany, ‘The world sucks. Humans suck. We don’t deserve to live. None of us. Let something else take over the planet…’” 
Before spectacular events unfold and the uncanny sweeps across the final pages, this then is the footnote that the “mad” teenager leaves for civilisation, having seen through its hypocrisies. A footnote echoed and developed in the thoughts of her therapist, who laments:
“How is it that we, the inventors of devices that fly across oceans, hurtle to other planets, burrow underground, and kill from a distance; we, the atom-splitters, the antibiotic-discoverers, the computer-modelers, the artificial-heart-implanters, the creators of GM crops and ski-slopes in Dubai have failed to see five minutes beyond our own lifetimes.”   
Rajat Chaudhuri is a Charles Wallace Trust, Korean Arts Council-InKo and Hawthornden Castle fellow. He has advocated on climate change issues at the United Nations and has recently finished writing his fourth work of fiction about environmental disaster

Showmances, quidditch, and cli-fi: new words enter UK dictionary for 2017

Showmances, quidditch, and cli-fi: new words enter UK dictionary

by staff writer and agencies

NOTE: The words described here were
added to Oxford Dictionaries, which focuses on current English, and not the Oxford English Dictionary, which is a historical dictionary that contains only words that are considered
English language. Many of those words have existed for
1,000 years. 

​This blog
able to get a comment from the Oxford English Dictionary as an upda

In an emailed statement Oxford Dictionaries explained,
Our dictionaries aim to describe how language is used, rather than prescribe how it should be used! We use various methods to track and monitor real language use both online and in print, so once there is sufficient evidence that a word is being used by a wide range of sources, it’ll be on our radar.

When the Oxford English Dictionary in Britain made a list of new words it was accepting into its chambers for 2017, J.K. Rowling's ''Harry Potter'' novels had its "quidditch term accepted,
along with "latte art," "floordrobe," "snoozefest" and ''cli-fi." Words matter, and the editors of this British dictionary in London like to bring in new words every year.

Quiddich, a fantasy sport played in the magical Harry Potter franchise, along with words like "showmance" and "Twitter storm"  were among over 40 new additions in the latest update of the Oxford Dictionary. The non-magical iteration of Quiddich has been around for a little over 10 years, originating at Middlebury College in Vermont, and is played with broomsticks held between the legs.

"Cli-Fi"  refers to a new genre of fiction exploring issues around climate change and global warming, and is modelled after its hypernym ''sci-fi.," according to the dictionary's editors.

If learning these new words leaves you a little tired,  perk yourself up with a latte, perhaps even bearing illustrations? Such warming images are called "latter art"  and are created by carefully pouring steamed milk onto the drink's surface. Should you desire a more refreshing, and less aesthetically pleasing, caffeine boost, perhaps you'd find an "Arnold Palmer" more appealing: this refers to a drink of iced tea mixed with lemonade, and is named after the late American golfer.

International fans of football (or soccer, to those reading this in North America) will be glad to hear that the sport has scored two new words in the dictionary's latest update: "vanishing spray" and "rabona."  Vanishing spray is a type of spray used to make a temporary -- and vanishing -- marker on the field, particularly in preparation for a free kick. The word rabona refers to a move in football, in which "a player strikes the ball with their kicking leg crossed behind the other leg." Got that?

This football word has made its way into English from Argentinian Spanish, where it appears in the phrases ''hacerse la rabona'' and ''hacer la rabona'' meaning
to play truant."  Its connection to football is believed to arise from the phrase's use in the Argentinian football magazine El Grafico in 1948, in which a cartoon depicting the player Ricardo Infante (who had recently performed what would later be termed a rabona) was captioned ''el infante que se hizo la rabona''  -- ''the child who plays truant." However, this anecdote remains unconfirmed, so the truth of the rabon's origins is still a bit of a mystery.

Another contribution from the sports arena is a word referring to a game played with broomsticks firmly clamped between legs: "quidditch." Once a fantasy sport played up in the air in the Harry Potter books, quidditch has been translated for the Muggle world with feet planted on the ground, and hopefully with fewer bones lost.

Showmance?  This new word refers to a romantic relationship between movie and television show co-stars, but often a mere showmance contrived for the sake of publicity.

Another term that made the cut this year is "grimdark," a word used to describe a genre of fiction "characterized by disturbing, violent, or bleak subject matter and a dystopian setting." Such works often take place at or after "TEOTWAWKI" (short for "the end of the world as we know it"). A bit grim, a bit dark.
Though perhaps not as bleak as a grimdark novel, works of cli-fi are quite serious. The cli-fi term, the dictionary editors say, is modelled after its hypernym sci-fi.
Weird weather has given us two new words, too: "firenado" and "megaquake." Then there's a new term dubbed "seasteading" (via homesteading) which means establishing permanent settlements at sea.

A rather sad word admitted into the Oxford dictionary this year is "denisovan," which stands for those species that have disappeared from the Earth now forever. Apparently, this was the name of an extinct species of human, whose remains were discovered in 2008. The species was named after the cave where the discovery took place -- the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of south-western Siberia.

The above words were
added to Oxford Dictionaries, which focuses on current English, and not the Oxford English Dictionary, which is a historical dictionary that contains only words that are considered
English language. Many of those words have existed for
1,000 years. 

​This reporter
were able to get a comment from the Oxford English Dictionary as an upda

In an emailed statement Oxford Dictionaries explained,
Our dictionaries aim to describe how language is used, rather than prescribe how it should be used! We use various methods to track and monitor real language use both online and in print, so once there is sufficient evidence that a word is being used by a wide range of sources, it’ll be on our radar.

​And there you have it. The 2017 edition of the dictionary has had a banner year, with new words coming in from all four corners of the globe.​