Thursday, August 30, 2018

With cli-fi, novelists in 2018 are aiming for 'radical empathy' -- an AFP wire story from Germany

With climate change fiction, novelists aim for 'radical empathy'

by Michelle Fitzpatrick in Germany, for AFP news agency (600 words)

OCTOBER 10, 2018 --- GERMANY -- As alarm bells over global warming ring louder, authors are increasingly turning to climate change fiction to dramatise the catastrophic effects of droughts, hurricanes and floods -- and inspire action.
Dubbed "cli-fi", the genre has seen an explosion in popularity in recent years as environmental changes sweep the globe and tales of a planet in turmoil appear less like science fiction and a lot more real.
"Climate change is slow-moving and intensely place-based," said creative nonfiction author Elizabeth Rush, a lecturer at Brown University in the USA and author of "Rising."
"It is difficult for us to notice these things in our day-to-day lives," she told AFP.
But with climate fiction, "you can imagine being a person whom flood or drought displaces, and with that imaginative stance can come radical empathy."
For Norwegian novelist Maja Lunde it started with a documentary about colony collapse disorder, the mysterious die-off of bees that has sparked international concern.
"I had an epiphany: this is what I want to write about," Lunde told AFP.
"The History of Bees", which conjures up a world without bees where humans have to hand-pollinate trees, became a global bestseller, selling over 1 million copies worldwide and translated into more than 30 languages rlound the globe.
Sensing that she "wasn't done yet with this topic", Lunde has set out to write a quartet of climate change novels. The second book, "Blue" deals with a shortage of water and was published in Norway last year.
Lunde discussed her novels at the October 2018 Frankfurt book fair, the world's largest publishing event where cli-fi is expected to feature prominently.
"I think we will see more of these books in the years to come," Lunde said.
"People are caring about climate change more and more... and authors write about what makes them scared."
The latest UN IPCC climate report, which warned that drastic changes were needed to prevent Earth from hurtling towards an unlivable rise in temperature, showed that the situation was "getting worse", Lunde said.
"But we can still do a lot," she added. "We can all do something. I absolutely think that climate change fiction can change minds."
 'The age of cli-fi'
American climate activist and literary PR blogger Dan Bloom, credited with coining the term "cli-fi" in 2010, described the genre as a literary cousin of sci-fi, but less escapist and "based on reality and real science".
The earliest examples of cli-fi date back decades with Britishh sci-fi writer J.G. Ballard's 1962 novel "The Drowned World", where melting ice caps have partially submerged an abandoned London, considered a classic of the genre.
But Bloom, 70, said cli-fi was "made for the 21st Century".
"Here we are: floods, heatwaves, water shortages, climate refugees," he told AFP, "I didn't invent cli-fi. Cli-fi invented itself."
This year's unusually hot summer, when extreme wildfires ravaged parts of Europe and California, has made the public even more aware of climate events linked to global warming, Bloom said, fuelling "a hunger to read cli-fi novels".
But like any good novel, he stressed, cli-fi stories should at their core "be good storytelling, full of emotion and memorable characters."
Barbara Kingsolver's "Flight Behaviour" (2012), about the sudden arrival of huge flocks of monarch butterflies in a Tennessee forest, and Margaret Atwood's dystopian MaddAddam trilogy count among the must-reads of the genre.
When done right, cli-fi novels can succeed where "boring" newspaper articles and scientific reports fall short, Bloom said.
''Tbe Cli-Fi Report'':
"They can serve to help make readers more conscious of what's at stake as the world warms degree by degree. These novels can be wake-up calls, a cri de coeur."
Author Rush agreed.

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