Friday, September 29, 2017

Dan Bloom to speak at online 'cli-fi' symposium in 2018: a preview of his remarks


For me, the best of ''cli-fi'' does two things: it delivers a powerful and emotional story and it pushes the reader to wake up to the existential threat that man-made global warming poses to future generations. So good cli-fi is both a great read and a call to action, either direct or indirect. If it doesn’t wake us up, it’s just escapist entertainment. I am not interested anymore in escapism.

As Rebecca Evans put in a recent academic paper:

''Environmentalism has an intimate relationship to extrapolation; the basic project of sustainability requires at least an imaginative extension into the future one hopes to sustain. Often, this link is eagerly supplied by environmental narrative; as Brent Bellamy and Imre Szeman put it, “ecology in general has become so closely linked to narratives of the future that even to draw attention to this link between the environment and what-is-yet-to-come can seem beside the point or even tautological.”1 In the shadow of the still-unfolding event of global warming, cli-fi, or climate change fiction, has emerged as a touchstone in climate change discourse, a genre that seems capable of anticipating and articulating future prospects of a warming world.''

Energetically promoted by a global community of novelists, literary critics, book reviewers and bloggers,  the term “cli-fi” has begun to garner a great deal of critical and popular attention, with more and more texts referred to as cli-fi and that label gaining more and more credence. Cli-fi has been hailed for making otherwise-difficult-to-interpret data about the future legible to its audience; as an influential article about the genre published in Dissent in 2013 argues, by “translating graphs and scientific jargon into experience and emotion,” works of cli-fi help to “refashion myths for our age.” In other words, cli-fi is often claimed as a privileged genre for fashioning environmental futures.

 But what is cli-fi?  As Evans says: "Cli-fi is not in fact a coherent genre but rather a literary preoccupation with climate futures that draws from a wide range of popular genres. The critical response to cli-fi has thus far generically flattened the term, emphasizing its association with the realistic literary strategies commonly associated with scientific knowledge while excluding other genres. Yet a more nuanced account of cli-fi’s generic constitution reveals new aspects of the relationship between cli-fi and ecological futurity. Indeed, cli-fi’s use of multiple genres is an integral part of the way it narratively conjures the future."

So there is work to be done over the coming decades, as more and more novelists pen cli-fi novels and as more and more Hollywood producers adapt these novels for the silver screen. In fact, the power of cinema to impact viewers visually with actors and color and sound, using the magic of movies to tell a story, sometimes can eclipse the power of literature to impact readers. Think of the novel by Nevil Shute in 1957, titled ON THE BEACH, and how the 1959 movie in Hollywood reached even more people and with even more impact.

So there is a growing role for the power of cli-fi cinema to play a role in the coming decades. Hollywood producer Marshall Herskovitz is a strong proponent of cli-fi movies within the studio system, and even though he had trouble getting his own cli-fi projects greenlighted by the powers that be in Tinseltown, he remains convinced there is a future for cli-fi in the cinema world.

Last fall, in October 2017, a new cli-fi movie from Hollywood titled GEOSTORM was released worldwide, and the director, Dean Devlin, was fully aware that his labor of love was a cli-fi film and told me so in an email.

In the film, after an unprecedented series of natural disasters threatens the Earth, the world’s leaders come together to create an intricate network of satellites to control the global climate and keep everyone safe. But something goes wrong — the system built to protect the Earth attacks it, and it’s a race against the clock to uncover the real threat before a worldwide geostorm wipes out everything…and everyone along with it.

Welcome to GEOSTORM, perhaps the most important cli-fi movie of 2017. Did you see it?

''Geostorm'' starred Gerard Butler Abbie Cornish, Daniel Wu, among others, with Oscar nominees Ed Harris and Andy Garcia.

An edge-of-your-seat, heart-pounding ride for movie audiences who enjoy a ticking-clock mystery rife with conspiracy and wrapped in pure escapist fare of epic proportions, ''Geostorm'' had it all: from blistering underground infernos to desert-freezing ice storms and everything in between.

Devlin said that the idea for the story originated when his daughter, then six, asked him to explain climate change. “In the simplest way, she asked me, ‘Why can’t we just build a machine that fixes it?’ That sparked all these ideas in my mind about what would happen if we did build just such a machine. And what if something went horribly wrong? That became the ‘what if’ story—what if we wait too long to deal with extreme climate change? What if we don’t? What if we could create this amazing machine to control the weather around the entire planet? And what would we do if it went rogue?”

As the story unfolds in the film, two years have passed since the complex web of interconnected satellites—dubbed ''Dutch Boy''—went online. The years have been tranquil ones, until now. Unexplained malfunctions in the highly sophisticated system are now causing, rather than preventing, deadly weather patterns never before seen by mankind: ice and snow in the deserts of Afghanistan, smoldering under the streets of Hong Kong, and cyclones in India, to name a few.
Dutch Boy is out of control, wreaking havoc across the globe.

“Dean has a mindset that comes from working on big epics like ‘Independence Day,’ so when he put his mind to the subject of global warming, he came up with a timely twist on the genre classic by setting it against the backdrop of a political thriller and filling it with unnatural natural disasters,” said producer David Ellison. “In other words, within our story, the science is sound—it’s the people controlling it who are the problem.”

“For me, entertainment should be just that—entertaining—and not necessarily hit you over the head with a message,” Devlin said. “But I also feel that science fiction works better, has more of an impact, when you have something to say. Hopefully, we’ll take audiences on a roller coaster ride across the planet and off into space, and leave them having had a fantastic time, and maybe just a bit more curious about the world around them.”

So with the advent of more and more cli-fi novels, we are also seeing the rise of more and more cli-fi movies from Hollywood and elsewhere, even indies, and the future looks good for cli-fi as a genre to serve as both a wake up call and a form on mass entertainment. Thought-provoking cinema might help turn the tables.

Stay tuned. Stay awake. Stay woke.

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