Monday, October 8, 2018

International Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany opens this week to global fanfare with ''cli-fi'' in the news, too

by Tom Metcalfe / 

The Frankfurt book fair this week kicked off its most politically-charged edition in years, shining a spotlight on everything from ''cli-fi'' to feminism and free speech.

The book fair features 7,000 exhibitors from over 100 countries.
This year's event will also encourage the book publishing industry to think creatively about the rising new literary genre of cli-fi.
Dan Bloom, an American journalist and climate activist who coined the cli-fi term back in 2010, attended the fair this year in Frankfurt via 3-D hologram technology, spoke with reporters in Germany about the rising new literary genre and what it holds for the future of publishing.
"With a series of wildfires this past summer in Greece and Sweden and Portugal and California, newspaper headlines and TV reports around the world in 2018 have made the public more aware of climate events linked to global warming. This awareness translates to a hunger to read cli-fi novels about  climate change dramas via good emotion-charged storytelling, like novels by Maja Lunde or Barbara Kingsolver ("Flight Behavior") or T.C. Boyle ("A  Friend of the Earth," popular now in translations in France, Germany and Italy). ''
"And with the recent IPCC climate report released this month, runaway climate change risks are on everyone's mind now. Cli-fi novels will start appearing in French, German , Swedish, Spanish and many other languages now. It's a global literary genre. I have been waiting for this day for a long, long time. ''
"I predict the Frankfurt book fair will become a major venue for foreign rights transactions for cli-fi novels in several languages, not just English and German, with literary agents, acquiring editors and marketing people getting heavily involved. Cli-fi  is in the air now. Margaret Atwood tweets about it. Literary critics are taking the portmanteau genre seriously now. We have entered the Age of Cli-Fi."

Asked to explain the origins of cli-fi term, Bloom's hologram said: "Cli-fi is a colloquial nickname for the longer, more formal genre term of 'climate fiction'. Cli-fi novels can take place in the past, the present and the future, the near future and the distant future. They should not be preachy or lecturing to readers. They should be storytelling pure and simple. Family dramas, love stories, psychological tales, and full of emotion and memorable characters.''

When asked what impact these stories can have on readers' attitudes and understanding of global warming and its consequences, the 70-year-old literary activist said:
"This this is a key element of cli-fi novels. They can serve, through powerful and emotive storytelling, to help make readers more conscious of what's at stake as the world warms degree by degree. These novels can be wake up calls, a cri de coeur, an alarm bell, a warning flare."

Bloom's 3-D hologram replied to a reporter's questions in English, German and French, translated here for global blog readers:

- When did you coin the term?

I first coined the term in 2010 in a press release for a novel titled Polar City Red that I was promoting as a PR consultant for the author in Texas. Margaret Atwood tweeted about the climate themed book and called it a "cli-fi thriller" in 2011 on her Twitter feed that goes to 1 million readers. That Tweet got the ball rolling. It was the first high-profile Tweet  heard around the world. Then in April 2013 the NPR radio network in the USA did a 5 minute radio segment about cli-fi. The NPR link went viral via social media and marked cli-fi's
rise to literary prominence. However, most people around the world, especially in non- English speaking countries, have never heard of the term yet or seen the word in print. It's  still early days. 

What was it that made you think these kinds of stories needed their own label?

I came to coin the cli-fi term for two reasons: I'm a climate activist of the literary kind. And I felt that climate change was such a huge and dramatic existential issue that it cried out for a literary genre of its own. That was my feeling then, and still is. 

- What is your definition of "cli-fi"? What are some of the earliest examples of cli-fi?
My definition is any novel that uses climate change as the main theme of the story or uses it as a background element in the story the author is telling.
Early cli-fi, Jules Verne in 1880s , British writer JG Ballard in 1962, USA writer Arthur Herzog 1977, a novel titled Heat. Australian writer George Turner in 1987, "The sea and Summer".
In Europe Antti Tutoamen'd The Healer from Finland. In France "Aqua TM" by Jean-Marc Germany Iljya Trojanow, his novel titled "EisTau."

- The term "cli-fi" immediately makes you think of "sci-fi", but does cli-fi have to be more "real" and less speculative in talking about the future?
Yes, cli-fi is a literary cousin of sci-fi. The difference between them is that sci-fi is more speculative and escapist and entertainment oriented, while cli-fi is based on reality and real science.

What sets it apart from science fiction? [*See the above answer.]

- Cli-fi novels are increasingly appearing on the bestseller charts. How do you explain the surge in popularity?
 Cli-fi was made for the 21st Century. And here we are: floods, heat waves, wildfires, droughts, water wars, climate refugees, a major city in South Africa , Capetown, facing water shortages. I didn't invent cli-fi. Cli-fi invented itself.  Publishers and literary agents have responded.

- What role can cli-fi books play in influencing attitudes to our changing environment?
They can help give readers an emotional release to vent their fears and anxieties about global warming. They are about empathy. That's what good storytelling can do.

What can they offer that scientific texts or newspaper articles can't.
Newspaper articles about climate change use scientific charts, and government statistics and long-winded opinion pieces and op-ed commentaries. Boring, in my opinion, boring. Cli-fi  novels  go to the heart, to our feelings, to our anxieties.

- For newcomers to the new literary genre, what would be your top 3 recommendations?
"Flight Behavior" and
"EisTau," in German and translated to English now as "The Lamentations of Zeno" and
"Acqua (TM)" by Jean-Marc Ligny
And what is your own personal favourite?"

Polar City Red" by Jim Laughter in USA, published in 2012. That novel started the entire cli-fi thing going."

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