Written in March 2017 For Publishers Weekly ''SOAPBOX''
How to wake up people
with climate fiction novels
A climate activist finds inspiration in 'cli-fi '
by Dan Bloom
March 15, 20917
[The writer edits The Cli-Fi Report.]
The 'cli-fi' term came to me several years ago as I was thinking of
ways to raise awareness of novels and movies about climate change
issues. I toyed with using such terms as ''clima-fic'' or ''climf-ic''
or ''cli-fic,'' for the longer term of "climate fiction." But I wanted
an even shorter term that could fit easily into newspaper and magazine
headlines. So using the rhyming sounds of ''sci-fi,'' I decided to go
with the short, simple -to-say and simple-to-write "cli-fi". And the
short term caught on worldwide, slowly, beginning on April 20, 2013
when NPR radio did a five-minute radio segment about the term,
interviewing novelists Nathaniel Rich and Barbara Kingsolver. That was
the beginning of its global outreach and popularity among academics,
literary critics, journalists and headline writers.
Now approaching the end of my life, I am looking to literature to help
convince my fellow human beings about the ominous implications of
I'm actually looking for something like the '' On the Beach '' of
climate change . I’m looking for somebody somewhere in the world who
can tell a story that has the power of Nevil Shute's 1957 novel ''On
the Beach'' so it shocks people into global warming awareness.
I became an environmentalist while studying at Tufts University in
the late 1960s. Later, while on the West Coast and living in a commune
in Oregon, I read ''Ecotopia,'' Ernest Callenbach’s novel about an
attempt to create a green utopia on the West Coast. In 1980, I even
tried to find a literary agent for a novel I wanted to write about a
huge flood that submerges New York City based on a newspaper story I
read in Boston. I wrote three chapters and sent the pitch in.
The agent, Al Zuckeman of Writers House, kindly and politely told me not to quit my day job.
As far as I'm concerned, cli-fi needs character-driven stories. It
shouldn't be propaganda novels.
A good story, I feel,
will have the potential to attract not only climate activists, but
also some of the undecided global warming deniers . The whole point is
to reach people with emotions, not just preach to the choir.
Next up, and I am waiting with anticipation to read it when it comes out,
is the forthcoming novel from the Hugo Award-winning science fiction
novelist Kim Stanley Robinson. Due in mid- March, '' New York 2140 ''
half- submerges Manhattan under the waters of the rising global ea
“Every street became a canal,” explains the promotional blurb for the
novel . “Every skyscraper an island.” How will the city’s residents —
the lower and upper classes, quite literally — cope?
The book just might be the next phenomenon in the cli-fi genre .
I am now committed to promoting the idea that well-told stories are
and will be critical to raise awareness about the implications of
climate change. Unpaid and unaffiliated, I have devoted the last
several years to contacting writers, editors and literary agents
worldwide, hoping to draw attention to the notion of cli-fi.
I'm basically a PR guy. Passionate. Energized. Determined.
I don't write cli-fi novels. I want to read them.
Prior to the NPR story, the concept of a genre for speculative climate
fiction found some initial social media traction in 2011 when it was
endorsed on Twitter by Margaret Atwood, whose popular trilogy, capped
by ''MaddAddam'' in 2013, dealt with a corrupt anti-environmentalist.
Of course, I readily acknowledge and applaud the broader genres of
science fiction and eco-fiction, epitomized by such titles as Edward
Abbey's ''The Monkey Wrench Gang,'' Barbara Kingsolver's ''Flight
Behavior'' and Paolo Bacigalupi's ''The Water Knife.''
But I also like
to think of cli-fi as an independent, stand-alone genre, mostly
restricted to those works of fiction that consider the specific
problem of human-made global warming.
If we can integrate a new phrase in our language,
literature and awareness --- ''cli-fi,'' a subgenre of science fiction
-- then maybe we can increase the prominence of the idea of "Climate
Change" in our national consciousness. And, maybe, just maybe we as a
nation can have the political will to slow that process down.
What kind of lunatic would set out to introduce a new word into the
language? Perhaps the ultimate in windmill jousting, only a fool would
set out on such an impossible task.