Climate science and cli-fi – where data intersects with art, an Oped by Cat Sparks in Australia, author of her debut cli-fi novel LOTUS BLUE
CAT SPARKS WEBSITE: https://catsparks.net/
Cat Sparks was fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine from 2010-2016. She managed Agog! Press, an Australian independent press that produced ten anthologies of new speculative fiction from 2002-2008. She’s known for her award-winning editing, writing, graphic design and photography.
Cat was born in Sydney and has traveled through Europe, the Middle East, Indonesia, the South Pacific, Mexico, North America and China. Her adventures so far have included winning a trip to Paris in a Bulletin Magazine photography competition; being appointed official photographer for two NSW Premiers and working as dig photographer on three archaeological expeditions to Jordan.
A graduate of the inaugural Clarion South Writers’ Workshop, she was a Writers of the Future prize winner in 2004. She has edited five anthologies of speculative fiction and sixty-five of her short stories have been published since the turn of the millennium.
Cat has received a total of nineteen Aurealis and Ditmar awards for writing, editing and art including the Peter McNamara Conveners Award 2004, for services to Australia’s speculative fiction industry. She was the convenor of the Aurealis Awards horror division in 2006, a judge in the anthologies and collected work category in 2009 and the short SF division in 2013.
An active member of Science Fiction Writers of America, her fiction is represented by Jill Grinberg Literary Management, New York.
Her short story collection The Bride Price was published by Ticonderoga Publications in May, 2013. The book was nominated for an Aurealis Award and won the Ditmar for Best Collected Work in 2014.
Her story ‘All the Love in the World’ was reprinted in Hartwell and Kramer’s Years Best Science Fiction, Volume 16.
In January 2012 she was one of 12 students chosen to participate in Margaret Atwood’s The Time Machine Doorway workshop as part of the Key West Literary Seminar Yet Another World: literature of the future. Her participation was funded by an Australia Council emerging writers grant.
She is currently studying for a Doctorate of Philosophy – Media, Culture and Creative Arts through Curtin University.
Her debut novel, Lotus Blue, will be published by Talos Press in March 2017.
2016 was the hottest year in the modern temperature record. Climate change is a long-term issue on a massive scale – from shrinking glaciers, changes in rainfall patterns, severe heat waves and other irreversible conditions. The worldwide scientific community has issued warnings for years about the present and future impacts of climate change linked to fossil fuel use.
Earth faces unprecedented challenges caused by human agency, yet here we stand, like a deer in headlights, knowing something big and bad is coming, too dazzled to do anything to stop it.
Science fiction has long been the literature that speculates on scientific change while reflecting contemporary societal concerns.
Climate change is happening now, and we need a literature of now to address its issues.
As glaciers melt, corals bleach, typhoons kill and forest fires rage, a new genre called cli-fi has emerged as a subgenre of science fiction to stand out on its own. Cli-fi focuses on anthropogenic climate change rather than natural unstoppable ecological catastrophes, such as supervolcanos, solar flares or large, Earth impacting meteorites. And most importantly, climate fiction uses real scientific data to translate climate change from the abstract to the cultural, enabling readers to vicariously experience threats and effects they might be expected to encounter across their own lifetimes.
Cli-fi highlights the hard-impacting economic and interpersonal realities of climate change. It encourages us to understand that climate change is a problem we have brought upon ourselves and that changes to our economic and energy systems are required if we are to survive it.
Cli-fi straddles genre boundaries: science fiction, utopia, dystopia, fantasy, thriller, romance, mimetic fiction, nature writing, and the literary, from fast-paced thrillers, to inward looking present day narratives.
Climate change is emerging as a set of philosophical and existentialist problems as well as physical challenges. It is yet to receive the crisis response and treatment it deserves from world leaders.
Storytelling has the power to give climate change a human focus by translating complex and evolving scientific concepts into tales reimagining human interactions with the world. Non-didactic, people-centric narratives stressing the social aspects of climate change as much as the technical and scientific encourage societal long-term thinking about the power and potential of clean energy. Cli-fi's growing popularity proves that we desire narratives showing how we might adapt to a changing world as ice melts and seas rise. Stories appealing to social ethics, questioning established hierarchies, and addressing our responsibility for fashioning an ecologically sustainable future.
The coming decades will see problems of increasing complexity, such as permanent political and social instability, dangerous weather, food and water insecurity, and an increase in displaced persons as more and more land is swallowed by the sea. Cli-fi tackles these topics, detailing the practical domestic implications of carbon rationing and renewable energy, and exploring how practical changes might be implemented across ordinary lives. Some cli-fi stories investigate nascent technologies and their integration into business and culture, questioning how far our growing dependence on technology might end up detrimentally estranging us from nature. The topics are wide ranging, and use topical, political and scientific bases, ensuring that while it feels like fiction, it is applicable to current events and daily life.
While much realist and literary fiction continues to focus inwards on individual identities and challenges, cli-fi takes on the task of envisioning physical and cultural landscapes facing uncertainty through processes of transformation and adaptation. Cli-fi forms a bridge connecting scientific information with people preparing to face an uncertain future the past can no longer be relied upon to guide us through.
Art possess inherent empathetic value. Entwined with technological and social change, cli-fi functions as a universally understandable language while serving as a catalyst for forging new trans-disciplinary alliances, shifting debates and values, inspiring and motivating legal and institutional action, opening hearts and minds to new ways of thinking, encouraging resilience, resistance and resolve while continuing to imagine possible futures.
More than anything, we must learn from these possible cli-fi futures, rooted in what we scientifically know today -- if we actually believe such futures might conceivably come to pass. Based on the science, those futures are closer than we think.
Cat Sparks, author of the upcoming cli-fi novel Lotus Blue, available from Talos Press, an imprint of Skyhorse, in March 2017.