Thursday, April 6, 2017

Brian Burt's Blog: Acknowledging the Muse - Posts Tagged "cli-fi"

Brian Burt's Blog: Acknowledging the Muse - Posts Tagged "cli-fi"

 Cli-Fi or Just Sci-Fi, and Why?

by Brian Burt

 SF writers have always drawn inspiration from emerging scientific
trends and developments, especially those that spark popular
controversy. It's not surprising, then, that quite a few writers have
set recent novels in worlds turned upside down - or at least sideways
- by global warming. My own first novel, Aquarius Rising: In the Tears
of God, has climate change as its central theme, and enough books and
authors have used global warming as a story driver that media sources
like NPR proclaim a new literary genre called "climate fiction" or
"cli-fi" (see So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created A New
Literary Genre?).

This has prompted many speculative fiction veterans
to sigh, roll their eyes, and point out (with muted disdain) that this
is nothing new: SF has a rich history of tackling environmental
themes, and "cli-fi" is at best a loose subcategory of classic science

I definitely see why the SF community bristles at the implication that
this style of fiction represents something completely new. Great SF
writers have indeed explored the territory that includes climate
change, environmental disaster, and ecological imbalance for decades
and have found fertile ground there. (Fertile for the writers'
imaginations; perhaps not so fertile for the story's characters who
may be left wandering through parched and barren hellscapes.) As I
mentioned in a prior post, Frank Herbert's Dune series is a perfect
example. Kim Stanley Robinson has mined this rich story vein
brilliantly for years. And I still remember being mesmerized by Ursula
Le Guin's The Word for World is Forest.

So, for SF fans, this is nothing new. What's changed, then (besides
the melting polar ice, rising seas, violent weather patterns, and mean
Earth temperature)? I'd say two major factors contributed to the
emergence of "cli-fi" in the public eye. First, the evidence for
global warming has become dramatically visible to people in their
everyday lives. Extreme weather events and the nearly unanimous
consensus of climate scientists have gradually shifted popular
perception of this issue. Even the deniers grudgingly admit that
something is happening, although they might argue about the root
causes. Second, the theme of climate change has begun appearing in the
work of acclaimed "mainstream" literary fiction writers like Barbara
Kingsolver, Ian McEwan, and Margaret Atwood, to name a few. Although
this rankles some SF folks who feel that we're treated like
"second-class literary citizens," the reality is that mainstream
literary writers carry more weight with many media sources.

New genre or simply newly recognized SF sub-genre, this can be a
positive development for writers of speculative fiction with a passion
for environmental themes. And, for those of us who also feel
impassioned about environmental causes, it's a win-win. I believe
fiction can communicate messages (like "we're mortgaging our planet's
future for short-term economic gain") in ways that are more visceral
than nonfiction books addressing similar concerns. Facts can move the
mind, but fiction can move the spirit. Fiction writing is not
activism... but infusing core beliefs into a story can make that tale
more vivid and thought-provoking if it's not done in a preachy,
heavy-handed way.

Is it really cli-fi or just good ol' sci-fi? Ultimately, I don't care,
as long as readers enjoy the books and consider the implications.

has a proud history of presenting cautionary tales about possible
dystopian futures, and I for one think that just might help humanity
avoid them!

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