The Emerging Speculative Genre Of “Cli Fi”

climate fiction

Is environmental change poised to thrust us into new worlds? NPR writes:

Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow is the latest in what seems to be an emerging literary genre. Over the past decade, more and more writers have begun to set their novels and short stories in worlds, not unlike our own, where the Earth’s systems are noticeably off-kilter. The genre has come to be called climate fiction — “cli-fi,” for short.

“I think we need a new type of novel to address a new type of reality,” says Rich, “which is that we’re headed toward something terrifying and large and transformative. And it’s the novelist’s job to try to understand, what is that doing to us?” As far as Rich is concerned, climate change itself is a foregone conclusion. The story — the suspense, the romance — is in how we deal with it.

Of course, science fiction with an environmental bent has been around since the 1960s (think J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World). But while sci-fi usually takes place in a dystopian future, cli-fi happens in a dystopian present.

Judith Curry, professor and chair of Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, began assembling a list of cli-fi stories a few months ago. She says she first saw a renewed interest in climate change fiction with Michael Crichton’s 2004 novel, State of Fear, which is about ecoterrorists. Then came such books as Solar by Ian McEwan and Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.

8 Comments on "The Emerging Speculative Genre Of “Cli Fi”"

    • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness | Jun 4, 2013 at 12:19 pm |

      I did a typography of nature overcoming civilized artifacts for my photography class at university; flowering weeds coming up through the sidewalk, trashcan diving squirrels. Their defiant resilience resonates with my own contrary nature.

      Though meek in its beginnings, the generative power of life (also known as love) is the most powerful force in this world. Despite all of the depredations of this culture, despite all of its ecocidal hate, Life endures. Someday vines will overtake the skyscrapers. What could be more subversive?

      • Matt Staggs | Jun 4, 2013 at 12:32 pm |

        I’m cautiously optimistic about our ability to tackle our self-inflicted environmental woes, but I think it’s going to take a lot of DIY kitchen tinkering and small group innovation. The oil companies and other disaster profiteers won’t let go until the bitter end. It may very well be an underground of gene-hackers, solar power advocates and back-to-the-land modern pioneers who pull their communities (note: I used “their” instead of “our” – some of us may be fucked already) out of the mire. I should also add here that much of why I did that “greenpunk” thing was out of pure irritation with Steampunk and its fetishization/glorification of the squalor and grinding poverty of the early industrial era, as well as demonstrate how unbelievably easy it was to inflict yet another spurious subgenre into the memetic environment.

  1. Thad McKraken | Jun 4, 2013 at 10:52 am |

    Ahhh man, when I read cli-fi I thought that was going to involve clits and now I’m disappointed.

  2. Simon Valentine | Jun 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm |

    damn i should have quit my day job to do the writing i’ve had in mind
    damn damn damn

  3. BuzzCoastin | Jun 4, 2013 at 7:59 pm |

    Since Sputnik and the satellites,
    the planet is enclosed in a man made environment that ends “Nature”
    and turns the globe into a repertory theater to be programmed.

    McLuhan, Cliché to Archetype, 1970

  4. Ron Chandler | Jun 5, 2013 at 11:59 am |

    The first cli-fi book? J. G. Ballard’s ‘The Drowned World’ written
    around the late sixties to early seventies. Made a profound impression
    on me, but hey, he wrote Crash, The Atrocity Exhibition, and Empire Of
    the Sun….

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