‘CLI-FI’ comes of age

WITH CLI­MATE CHANGE FIC­TION, NOVELISTS AIM FOR “RAD­I­CAL EM­PA­THY”

The Nation - - LIVING IT UP -

AS ALARM bells over global warm­ing ring louder, au­thors are in­creas­ingly turn­ing to cli­mate change fic­tion to drama­tise 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 slow-mov­ing and in­tensely place-based,” says 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 adds.

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 says.

“The His­tory of Bees”, which con­jures up a world with­out bees where hu­mans have to hand-pol­li­nate trees, be­came a global best seller, 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 dis­cussed her nov­els at this week’s Frank­furt book fair, the world’s largest pub­lish­ing event where cli­mate change fic­tion fea­tured promi­nently.

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

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

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

“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, de­scribes 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 Tai­wan-based Bloom adds that 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 notes, fuelling “a hunger to read cli-fi nov­els”.

But like any good novel, he stresses, cli-fi sto­ries should at their core “be good sto­ry­telling, full of emo­tion and mem­o­rable char­ac­ters.”

Bar­bara King­solver’s “Flight Be­hav­iour” (2012), about the sud­den ar­rival of huge flocks of monarch but­ter­flies in a Ten­nessee for­est, and Mar­garet At­wood’s dystopian “Mad­dAd­dam” tril­ogy count among the must-reads of the genre.

“Lit­er­ary crit­ics are tak­ing the genre se­ri­ous now,” Bloom said. “We have en­tered the age of cli-fi.”

When done right, cli-fi nov­els can suc­ceed where “bor­ing” news­pa­per ar­ti­cles and sci­en­tific re­ports fall short, Bloom says.

“They can serve 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.”

Univer­sity lec­turer Rush agrees. Cli­mate fic­tion “can be the spark that leads to plan­e­tary po­lit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion,” she says.

Vis­i­tors are pic­tured at the Frank­furt Book Fair in Frank­furt am Main, western Ger­many.

“The His­tory of Bees” by Nor­we­gian nov­el­ist Maja Lunde, which con­jures up a world with­out bees where hu­mans have to hand-pol­li­nate trees, be­came a global best seller, shift­ing over a mil­lion copies and trans­lated into over 30 lan­guages.

Bar­bara King­solver’s “Flight Be­hav­iour” about the sud­den ar­rival of huge flocks of monarch but­ter­flies in a Ten­nessee for­est, and Mar­garet At­wood’s dystopian “Mad­dAd­dam” tril­ogy count among the must-reads of the “cli-fi” genre.

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