Saturday, March 18, 2017

How to wake up people with climate change novels: a SOAPBOX oped written for Publishers Weekly in March 2017

How to wake up people
with climate fiction novels

A literary blogger finds inspiration in 'cli-fi'

by Dan Bloom

[Literary blogger Dan Bloom edits The Cli-Fi Report at]

When New York literary critic Amy Brady announced on Twitter in
February that she was "thrilled to debut my new [monthly] column
"Burning Worlds" at @chicagorevbooks where I'll be discussing all
things #clifi," I was happy to hear the news.

Her March column
featured an interview with Kim Stanley Robinson about
his new ''utopian climate change fiction'' novel "New York 2140."

In her first column, she explained: ''Here at the Chicago Review of
Books, we feel it's time to give cli-fi more attention...  It'll
feature interviews, reviews, and analyses of the genre with the hope
of generating a larger conversation about climate change and why
imagined depictions of the phenomenon are vital to the literary
community — and beyond."


I've been blogging about cli-fi for several years and here's some background. The 'cli-fi' term came to me several years ago as I was thinking of ways to raise public awareness of novels and movies about climate change issues. I toyed with using such terms as ''clima-fic'' or ''climfic'' 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, beginning on April 20, 2013 when NPR did a five-minute radio segment about it, interviewing novelists Nathaniel Rich and Barbara Kingsolver. The NPR segment marked the beginning of the new genre's global outreach and popularity among academics, literary critics, journalists -- and headline writers.
Now in my late 60s, I am looking to literature and movies to help convince my  people about the ominous implications of carbon emissions.
I'm actually  looking for something like the '' On the Beach '' of climate change. I'm looking for a novelist who can tell a story that has the power of Nevil Shute's 1957 novel ''On the Beach,'' so that it might shock people into global warming awareness.
I  became an environmentalist while studying at Tufts University in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, I even tried to find a literary agent for a novel I  had written about a huge flood that submerges New York City. After I sent the pitch in,  the agent, Al Zuckerman, politely said my novel wasn't good enough to publish and told me not to quit my day job.

Fast forward to 2017. I am now waiting with anticipation to read the new novel from Robinson titled '' New York 2140'' about a half- submerged Manhattan under the waters of rising global sea levels .
The book just might be the next phenomenon in the cli-fi genre.
As a blogger, I'm committed to promoting the idea that well-told stories are and will be critical to raise awareness about the implications of climate change. With this in mind, 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.
But I don't write cli-fi novels. Instead, I want to read them.
Prior to the NPR report in 2013, 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 in a short tweet mentioning "cli-fi."
 Of course, I readily acknowledge and applaud the broader genres of science fiction and ecolit, epitomized by such titles as Edward Abbey's ''The Monkey Wrench Gang,'' Barbara Kingsolver's ''Flight Behavior'' and Paolo Bacigalupi's ''The Water Knife.''
For my part, I like to think of cli-fi as modern subgenre of science fiction.
Words matter. If we can integrate a new phrase in our  literary language, then maybe novelists can help increase public awareness of possible future global warming  impact events. And, maybe, just maybe, even in the Age of Trump, we as a nation will have the political will to slow that process down.

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