Novelists aim for ‘rad­i­cal em­pa­thy’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

FRANK­FURT AM MAIN — As alarm bells over global warm­ing ring louder, au­thors are in­creas­ingly turn­ing to cli­mate change fic­tion to dra­ma­tize the cat­a­strophic ef­fects of droughts, hur­ri­canes and floods — and in­spire ac­tion.

Dubbed “cli-fi”, the genre has seen an ex­plo­sion in pop­u­lar­ity in re­cent years as en­vi­ron­men­tal changes sweep the globe and tales of a planet in tur­moil ap­pear less like science fic­tion and a lot more real.

“Cli­mate change is slow­mov­ing and in­tensely place­based,” said US lit­er­ary ex­pert El­iz­a­beth Rush, a lec­turer at Brown Uni­ver­sity.

“It is dif­fi­cult for us to no­tice these things in our day-to-day lives,” she said.

But with cli­mate fic­tion, “you can imag­ine be­ing a per­son whom flood or drought dis­places, and with that imag­i­na­tive stance can come rad­i­cal em­pa­thy”.

For Nor­we­gian novelist Maja Lunde it started with a doc­u­men­tary about colony col­lapse dis­or­der, the mys­te­ri­ous die-off of bees that has sparked in­ter­na­tional con­cern.

“I had an epiphany: This is what I want to write about,” Lunde said.

The His­tory of Bees, which con­jures up a world with­out bees where hu­mans have to hand-pol­li­nate trees, be­came a global best­seller, shift­ing over a mil­lion copies and trans­lated into more than 30 lan­guages.

Sens­ing that she “wasn’t done yet with this topic”, Lunde has set out to write a quar­tet of cli­mate change nov­els. The sec­ond book, Blue deals with a short­age of wa­ter and was pub­lished in Nor­way last year.

Lunde will dis­cuss her nov­els at this week’s Frank­furt book fair, the world’s largest pub­lish­ing event where cli­mate change fic­tion is ex­pected to fea­ture promi­nently.

“I think we will see more of these books in the years to come,” Lunde said.

“Peo­ple are car­ing about cli­mate change more and more ... and au­thors write about what makes them scared.”

UN cli­mate re­port

The lat­est UN cli­mate re­port, which warned on Mon­day that dras­tic changes were needed to pre­vent Earth from hurtling to­ward an un­liv­able rise in tem­per­a­ture, showed that the sit­u­a­tion was “get­ting worse”, Lunde said.

“But we can still do a lot,” she added. “We can all do some­thing. I ab­so­lutely think that cli­mate change fic­tion can change minds.”

US free­lance jour­nal­ist Dan Bloom, cred­ited with coin­ing the term “cli-fi” in 2010, de­scribed the genre as a lit­er­ary cousin of sci-fi, but less es­capist and “based on re­al­ity and real science”.

The ear­li­est ex­am­ples date back decades with JG Bal­lard’s 1962 novel The Drowned World, where melt­ing ice caps have par­tially sub­merged an aban­doned Lon­don, con­sid­ered a clas­sic of the genre.

But Bloom said cli-fi was “made for the 21st Cen­tury”.

“Here we are: Floods, heat­waves, wa­ter short­ages, cli­mate refugees . ... Clifi in­vented it­self.”

This year’s un­usu­ally hot sum­mer, when ex­treme wild­fires rav­aged parts of Europe and Cal­i­for­nia, has made the pub­lic even more aware of cli­mate events linked to global warm­ing, Bloom said, fu­el­ing “a hunger to read cli-fi nov­els”.

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