Thursday, September 20, 2018

Marc DiPaolo's new academic study of ''Climate Fiction from the Inklings to Game of Thrones''

AN INTERVIEW WITH Professor Marc DiPaolo, author of

Climate Fiction from the Inklings to Game of Thrones''


DAN BLOOM: Who is your intended audience for this book?

MARC DIPAOLO: I’ve found that more and more genre fans and informed general readers are interested in the serious
academic study of popular culture and contemporary politics. The last book I wrote, War, Politics and
(2011), sold very well for an academic title, and seems to have been read by as many
impulse buyers as cultural studies scholars. Knowing this, I’ve tried to make this book an engaging read
for anyone interested in literature, film, television, comics, religion, politics, science, ecology, and
feminism – and not necessarily in that order. Obviously, I write to get respect as an academic, but I also
write from my heart for myself – and in the hopes that I might get my family members to read more
than a page or two of it. (In fairness, mom read four or more drafts of it during the five years I spent
working on it.)

2. You teach in Oklahoma and book published by SUNY press in new York. Did u have an agent or how
did SUNY get hold of book. Who was your editor there?

I went to SUNY Geneseo as an undergraduate, so I have a soft spot for anything SUNY. It was the perfect
press for me because they respected my academic freedom and didn’t reign in my efforts to blend sober
academic criticism with passionate environmental activism.

3. What kind of book promotion and pr publicity will you do for the book? Radio interviews, newspaper
interviews, podcasts, tv interviews, blog interviews, religion websites, climate activist websites, literary
websites like lithub, Chicago Review of Books, nytimes, BBC, TOR website, locusmagazine, ? More?

I’ve been interviewed by Cris Alvarez for his podcast “The Art and Design of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Mystery
and Horror,” by Frederic Murray for SWOSU’s BookGrowl, and by Umapagan Ampikaipakan on BFM
radios’ “Bookmark,” and I will be on Rev. Paul John Roach’s “World Spirituality” program in February. I
have some hopes of catching Stephen Colbert’s attention since he is discussed in the book, is a Catholic,
and a Tolkien fan and notable portions of the book are about Tolkien and Catholic environmental
thinking. Beyond that, I’m not too savvy about knowing how to bring my book mainstream attention.
Thankfully, the $30 softcover just came out, so it will be more available for the general public than the
$95 hardcover marketed for college libraries.
4. Your book is a kind of movies and literary "call to action" about climate change in 2018, 2019. Can u
explain how you came to this concept for a book like this, both academic and activist?
I’m a native New Yorker who moved to Oklahoma about ten years ago. I’ve loved many things about
living in this state and I’ve made so many wonderful friends, but the omnipresence of climate change
denial and the frequency of man-made earthquakes alarmed me right away. After all, it is no accident
that most of the individuals that Trump appointed to powerful government positions specifically to gut
environmental regulations and climate science research hailed from this state. The part of me that likes
to flee from this kind of dispiriting reality looked to science fiction and fantasy for escape, and a few
years back I immersed myself in the Middle-earth books, the Narnia series, and Game of Thrones.
Amusingly, if I was looking for escape from my pollution phobia, I had chosen EXACTLY the wrong books
to read! By the time I was finished with the three sagas, I decided that they were all stealth
environmental allegories with a lot to say about the very real 21 st century world I was living in. Once I
started thinking in these terms, I sought out books that I assumed were part of the same broad genre.
(At the time, I didn’t know it had a name.) I read the MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood, Philip
Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, and Octavia Butler’s Parable
books. I was consistently amazed by how well all of these books thematically linked together whether
they were science fiction or fantasy, written by religious authors or agnostics, and were deliberate
ecological narratives or (somewhat) unintentional works of climate fiction. Once I knew what books
formed this interconnected canon, and once I saw direct parallels between the heroes and villains of
these works of fiction and real-world figures, all I needed to do was find my methodology and my thesis.
It was a rewarding and somewhat unexpected journey.

5. Noahs ark 2012 magic lifeboats for the wealthy. Can you tell me more about this chapter?
There has been a trend in recent blockbuster action movies to provide the main villain with an ecological
reason to fire off his doomsday device. While Dr. Evil was willing to launch nukes just to make some
money – he was blackmailing the world to pay him one-hundred-million-dollars – Thanos planned to use
the Infinity Gauntlet to vaporize one half of the population of the universe because he’s a Malthusian.
Villains like Marvel’s Thanos are showing up in novels such as Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and
Dan Brown’s Inferno, as well as popcorn fare like Aquaman and Kingsmen: The Secret Service. In these
particular stories, the ecoterrorist who sets himself up to choose who lives and who dies is the one
causing the disaster. In contrast, in the movies 2012 and Snowpiercer, the rich businessmen who see the
apocalypse coming didn’t cause it with a doomsday device, but they were only concerned with saving
themselves; they made arks and fortified bullet trains to keep them and their rich friends safe while they
let the poor of the world die. In that chapter, I ask the question: “To what extent is this kind of thing
already happening in the real world?” As I look for answers, I consider the potential fate of the Maldives,
Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, Exxon’s recently-exposed campaigns of climate denial (even as they have
reportedly made plans for higher sea levels in their oil rig designs), and other journalistic data that make
these films seem more like documentaries than works of speculative fiction.
6. Do you see snowpiercer as cli-fi movie or sci-fi movie or new kind of hybrid? Explain
I also discuss Snowpiercer in a chapter about the religious imagery that fascist rulers cloak themselves in
as they take away people’s freedom, steal natural resources, and create harems for themselves. I had
some trouble threading the needle when it comes to making distinctions between fantasy, science
fiction, climate fiction, speculative fiction, and so on. To a degree, since my desire is to break down walls
between academic disciplines, religious sects, high and low culture, and the sacred and the profane, I
don’t worry too much about where one genre ends and another begins. After all, I’m in cultural studies
and can theoretically teach in any of the following academic departments: Literature, Communication,
Film Studies, Religious Studies, Honors, etc
Still … this section of the book may best answer this question, as well as a couple of those below…(Note:
When I copy and paste out of a PDF, some security measure sometimes deletes letters and creates typos
that aren’t in the book)
Since climate fiction—or everything fiction—straddles multiple genres, genre
criticism terminology is important to clarify as well. When the real‑world issues of the
wages of pollution are depicted as taking place in a reality much like our own, but the
story itself is a narrative conceit, the work is climate fiction but not speculative fiction.
When these issues that touch us in our reality are dramatized as taking place in Westeros,
Panem, Middle‑earth, or other such invented worlds, the climate fiction is taking place
within the realm of a speculative fiction narrative, but we have the right to draw several
notable parallels between the events taking place in these fictional worlds and the ones
unfolding in our own. It is also possible to find works of climate fiction by climate
change deniers—with the late Michael Crichton’s State of Fear (2004) being the most
notable work by the world’s most famous climate change denier. However, most works
in this vein accept the truth of climate change and consider its ramifications in a series
of “what if” scenarios. This does not always mean that a well‑meaning environmentalist
cli‑fi writer will always get the climate science right—The Day After Tomorrow has often
been ridiculed for its bad science and good intentions—or offer a solution that climate
change activists would approve of—for example, the defeatist and improbable plan to
abandon the Earth in Interstellar.
Returning to the issue of terminology: several of Lewis’s fantasy novels set in the
land of Narnia may be considered speculative fiction because they featured worlds that
he designed, but they are also climate fiction because of their apocalyptic ecological
concerns. Notably, the Narnia novels are not science fiction. However, Lewis also wrote
The Space Trilogy (aka The Ransom Trilogy), a series of Christian science fiction novels.
These books are also treated as works of climate fiction in this study, with book three,
That Hideous Strength, a frequent touchstone.
Whether the climate fiction narrative in question is “secular” or “religious,” or
whether the original book or the filmed adaptation is the focus of analysis, the multimedia
cli‑fi text provides rich fodder for discussion in these environmentally troubled times.
The goal of this book is to show how these popular franchises are recognized (or not
recognized) by the broader public as climate fiction narratives offering critical moral
instruction on the urgency of conservation. The moral urgency of these stories may be
underpinned by overt or covert Christian ethics, a Native American spirituality, or by
a species of secular humanism, but the shared interest in saving our forests and saving
our planet transcends ideological differences and bridges gaps between science fiction and
fantasy texts. Each of these narratives offers up—almost like a musical refrain—images
of trees being destroyed: cut down, burned to the ground, or devoured by monsters.
None of the authors of these works support the mass destruction of trees. The
Christians, atheists, and agnostics who penned these works all agree that we need to put aside
our cultural differences and transcend our personal, socioeconomic circumstances to work
together to save our environment. These stories show us how

7. Many pundits have said GoT is about climate change. Do you agree? In what way?
I end the book with Game of Thrones because I see so many threads in climate fiction leading up to this
story. The Wall across Westeros and the Wildling refugees being left to die speaks both to the cli-fi
genre convention of “magic lifeboats” as well as the Syrian and Puerto Rican refugee crisis and the
entire MAGA ethos. (And the “magic lifeboat” metaphor will work especially well in the event that we
see Cersei Lannister holed up in the Red Keep as she lets everyone else be eaten by ice zombies.) The
book series is as inspired by Narnia and Lord of the Rings as it is by I Claudius, Earthsea, Richard III, The
Cat People, V, and even the original Star Trek.
From F&S (with some possible typos…)
Initially, Martin seemed reluctant to grant the climate change interpretation of his books credence or
own that climate change concerns were a primary motivating force in his writing the Westeros books.
Consequently, during a question‑and‑answer session for fans at Dymock’s Literary Luncheon in Sydney,
Australia, in 2013, he said, “Like Tolkien I do not write allegory, at least not intentionally. . . . [I]f I really
wanted to write about climate change in the 21st century, I’d write a novel about climate change in the
21st century.” More recently, the liberal Democrat and frequent critic of the Trump administration has
embraced the interpretation. In a 2014 interview with Al‑Jazeera America, he said that his work has
tremendous contemporary relevance because climate change is “ultimately a threat to the entire world.
But people are using it as a political football instead of . . . [getting] together.”

8. Does the reader have to be a believing practicing Christian to get the most out of the book, or is it also
geared for non Christians around the world who follow Buddhism or Shinto or Hinduism or Islam?
The book is very concerned with British and American literature and popular fiction, and many of my
friends in ASLE and MELUS will be annoyed that it doesn’t have more of a world-literature component.
That is my shortcoming. I grew up in the 80s when multiculturalism was Mr. T and George Peppard in an
attack helicopter together smoking cigars. I remain a work in progress. Still…
I grew up fairly centrist/center-right but I had a political awakening reading, of all things, the National
Review canon of literature. Jane Austen (of all people) introduced me to feminism, superhero comics
taught me about civil rights and to question the doctrine of humanitarian interventionism, the Victorian
gentleman adventurer Doctor Who taught me to be an environmentalist, and C.S. Lewis rescued me
from Opus Dei Catholicism and pushed me towards liberal Catholicism. Reading Lewis is supposedly a
safe prospect for American Republicans and Dominionist Christians, but the man’s work is filled with
subversive sentiments about animal rights, environmentalism, birth control, and homosexuality. His
sentiments would be insufficiently liberal for anyone who grew up listening to punk rock and reading
Anais Nin, but I grew up with the A-Team and Ronald Reagan, so a center-left Christian like Lewis was a
revolutionary figure for suburban, Generation X Marc DiPaolo. Meanwhile, as heretical as Lewis’
thoughts may seem, he couches them in very thoughtful, legitimate lay theology, so he represents an
authentically Christian school of thought. Nobody seems to know this about him. He disgusts most
liberals I know who have no time for his piety, his occasional male chauvinism, or his frequent
Orientalism. Meanwhile, his evangelical readers seem to have not read any of his most assumption-
questioning texts. Tolkien is in much the same boat (though some people are old enough to remember
way back when he was loved by hippies during Vietnam). The recent Peter Jackson films did yeoman
work convincing the world that Tolkien was a proto-neoconservative and he became of darling of the
alt-right. My book is an attempt to correct these assumptions about the Inklings and note that these
anti-fascist Christians are a better ideological fit with contemporary ecofeminists and cli-fi writers than
their biggest, far-right-wing fans of the moment – especially Tolkien fan Steve Bannon – want to paint
them as being. I’m not saying that Atwood and Ursula Le Guin would necessarily get along with Tolkien
and Lewis at a dinner party, but they’d all get along better with one another than they would with Steve

9. Margaret Atwood figures prominently in your book too. She says she does not write sci-fi but
speculative fiction. Do you agree with her pov or if not in what way disagree?

I think Atwood is more concerned about the connotations of these terms than the definitions, per se. If
– in the minds of most casual observers – “sci-fi” is a male-dominated genre about fighting cool battles
in space and is somewhat juvenile in tone then no wonder it isn’t a label she is in a hurry to self-apply.
Personally, I would argue that a case could be made to place either label upon her work.
Atwood has three main sources of import to my book. First of all, she appears as one of the thinkers
who helped define and popularize the genre of cli-fi, and her descriptions of “cli-fi” and climate change
as best understood as “everything change” help set up the whole book in the introduction. (Someone
named Dan Bloom also gets a shout-out.)
I also discuss The Handmaid’s Tale and MaddAddam as key cli-fi texts, show their relationship to the
works of the Inklings, discuss them as ecofeminist texts, and consider the ways in which they could be
regarded as “documentaries” about modern America as much as they could be read as works of
speculative fiction.
Finally, Atwood’s thoughts on the relationship between fascism and far-right-wing Christianity, and her
discussion of the significance of Thoreau as an important American thinker and patriot in need of
widespread rediscovery are deeply significant to the book. Those themes are at the heart of its
meditation on competing cultural narratives and the role of religion in American politics.

10. Cli-fi is a new literary and movie term for novels and movies about climate themes. A nickname
shortening of climate fiction. How did you first hear of the nickname and does it fit in with the themes
and visions of your book?
I had discovered several key works of cli-fi by accident before I had even heard the term cli-fi. I knew I
wanted to write about all of these texts, but I didn’t know how to justify including such diverse texts in
one book. After all, I had wanted to examine both films and books, works from Britain and the Americas,
and works of science fiction and fantasy. While the humanities are becoming more interdisciplinary in
theory, in actual practice, many academic publishers like to know who they are marketing to (“Is this
book film studies or political science or…?”) and many course offerings at universities are still fairly
traditional and organized by national literatures and specific time periods and literary movements. I was
worried I was sunk. I was on the verge of calling the selection of franchises I wanted to examine the
“Don’t Cut Down Trees!” multimedia canon – or “Lorax-Lit” – when my friend Christopher Gonzalez,
Director of the Latinx Center at Utah State University, sent me an article from the Chronicle of Higher
Education about cli-fi’s growing role in English Departments. He knew it would be a good source for me,
but I don’t think he realized how key a favor he did me, casually sharing this life-saving text on my
facebook page. Now I knew I wasn’t smoking something, and the book was suddenly viable. I mean, I
suppose I might have found it all out eventually, but maybe not. At the very least, Chris saved me a LOT
of time and hand-wringing introducing me to the term “cli-fi.” (Thanks, Chris!) Also, my friend William
Murphy, a historian at SUNY Oswego, was the one who helped me make sense of Tolkien’s Silmarillion.
(Thanks, Bill!) It takes a village of friends, fans, and academics on facebook to write a book like this.


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