Monday, September 10, 2018

How ''Cli-Fi'' Came to Be What It Is Today: the backstory


How ''Cli-Fi'' Came to Be What It Is Today: the backstory

by staff writer, The New York Stroller
Webposted: October 8, 2018

NEW YORK -- When my editor in New York asked me to fly 17 hours overseas to interview Dan Bloom about his role in coining and promoting the rising new literary genre of cli-fi, his nickname for the longer literary term of ''climate fiction,'' I asked why I couldn't just interview him by phone and email.

"I want you to see him face-to-face for our readers and catch a glimpse of his life as an American climate activist half way around the world," she told me. "Try to find out what makes him tick. Spend a few days talking with him. Who is this guy?"

So it's a long flight sitting in a cramped seat in a crowded 747 from New York. I slept, I had a few drinks, I read some of the news articles and tweets online about cli-fi, and then after landing I had another 5-hour train ride through the rural countryside to Bloom's tiny one-room studio apartment on the 5th floor of a non-descript 8-story building seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I was a bit disoriented and tired after the long jumbo jet flight and train ride, so I checked in to my hotel first and had a good sleep to try to counter the jet lag. My brain was not made for flying, but it was my assignment and I'm a loyal reporter. 

I met Bloom, who will turn 70 next year, the next morning in his cluttered studio apartment, and after chatting a bit over coffee, he suggested we go up to the 8th floor rooftop terrace  where there was an outdoor sofa to sit on and view a set of majestic 9,000-foot mountain peaks in the distant panorama. It was a fine sunny day, not a cloud in sight. Bloom told me that on some days in the cold of winter, he can see snow on those distant peaks when the skies are clear.

He's almost 70, but he gives off the energy of someone in his 50s.

Dan is an interesting guy. He has no assets and owns nothing. He lives on monthly $300 dollars social security checks that are deposited directly into his local overseas bank account. As for his love life, he said he has been involved romantically in a long series of monogamous relationships since his teens, with women in France, Israel, Japan, Italy, and Alaska, he said, but he never really settled down and owns nothing but a small smart phone that he uses to check his email and Twitter feeds. 

''I don't own a computer, never have," he says. "I'm a bit of a modern-day neo-Luddite. I never have used Skype or Zoom or teleconferencing. I'm not comfortable on those platforms. I do all my cli-fi PR work via my Gmail account and with Twitter on my phone screen. It's like science fiction for me. Who knew global communication with fellow climate activists could be so easy with just a phone screen in your hand?"

I watched Bloom do a sample tweet on his screen, sending it into the ethersphere, holding the phone with his right hand and typing letters one by one with his left index finger.

"I like typing one letter at a time," he told me, looking up and smiling. It makes me slow down and choose my thoughts better, carefully."

So I had to ask right away. Where did the cli-fi term come from, and how and why and when, and why does he now spend all his time, seven days a week, no days off and no vacations for the last 12 years, doing his PR  lobbying shtick for a simple 5-letter literary term that has, since NPR's five-minute radio segment about cli-fi on April 20, 2013, caught the world's media attention.

"Actually, most people have not heard of the cli-fi term yet," he said. "Maybe 99 percent of the population does not know the word yet. Even in English-speaking nations such as the U.S., the UK, Australia and Canada, most people don't know what the new term means and have never seen it in print. So I still have a lot of work to do, even in retirement, even in my 70s. It's a never-ending, yet rewarding, struggle to push the term into public awareness and try to make it stick. Give me another 20 more years."

Bloom had a heart attack in 2009, and spent a week in an ICU department getting a heart stent. Coupled with diabeties type 2, adult-onset diabetes, Dan told me that while he feels fine -- ''mahvelous,'' he said, smiling. And in conversation, face to face, Bloom is  always smiling. I'm not sure why he is always smiling, but  a smile always lights up his face. It's weird. 

For a guy working with doomsday and climate change issues on a daily basis 365 days a year, I ask him why his personality is always apparently so upbeat and full of a face that's  always wearing a smile.

"It's my DNA I think, since I was a kid," he says, adding:  "I'm certainly not a 'normal' person, what a normal person. In France I'd be normal person, and I speak French fluently and have loved French literary culture since I was 18, but in America, I never really fit in. That's why I left in 1991. I met a Japanese woman in Alaska that year, fell madly in love and flew to Tokyo to be with her. I sold my car, left my apartment in Juneau and made a new life for myself in Japan." 
"The cli-fi term, its coinage, came to me as a result of my never following the rules of a normal life," Dan said. "I was always moving around, I was always on the sidelines, quiet and low-key. I never had a career. I never was interested in getting married, but I'be always had children in my life, nephews, nieces, friends' children and neighbor's kids. I'm still a kid at heart myself. There could be a bit of the Peter Pan syndrome in me. But I love the innocence and playfulness of children. They keep me sane and playful, too."
"I never made any serious money, never had much of a regular yearly income, I've always been mostly an invisible luftmensch,'' he added.  ''That's Yiddish for a man with his head always in the clouds. A dreamer, a daydreamer, an idea man. If you look at my life, you might think I'm one big lifelong fail. But no, I've had a very good and interesting life, and I consider myself a roaring success, although a bit on the eccentric and non-disciplained side."
 "There are many ways to live," he said. "I chose the road little travelled, less travelled, maybe never-travelled. I've loved every single
 day. There must be something wrong with me. But no, I'm kidding, I'm just a normal average everyday American gadfly with a nose for news and an ingrained sense for PR. I had great teachers and mentors early in my life, great parents and brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. I come from a very sweet Jewish family. I'm lucky in that. I wasn't born with a silverspoon like some of trust fund friends. But I was born with a silver heart, thanks for my family, and that has made all the difference. I owe everything to the people who created me, going back generations, people in America and Poland and Russia. That's why I care so much about the 'iffy' fate of future generations 500 years from now when the Climapocalypse comes. Maybe 30 generations from now. I'm worried for them, not for myself. That's why I do this cli-fi PR work. It gives deep, sustained meaning to my life."
''And then I'll be dead, soon enough, gone with the cosmic wind. It's been a good ride. Absolutely no regrets. 70 orbits around the Sun. Who knew?"
For this, I flew half-way around the world? Whatever, it was fun to meet this guy.

But I still don't know how he came up with the cli-fi coinage. He said he coined it first for press release for a sci-fi writer friend in Texas who had written a cli-fi novel in 2011 about a domed "polar city" in Alaska set in 2085 and titled "Polar City Red."

That's how cli-fi got its media start, in a series of press releases to support a sci-fi novel Bloom commissioned from Tulsa writer Jim Laughter. Stranger things have happened I guess.

"It's not as if I just sat down and came up with a new literary term out of the blue, no," Bloom said. "I was writing press releases to support the publication of a novel I had commissioned as part of my climate activist literary work,in 2010 and 2011. It just happened to be coined by pure chance. I needed a term for Jim's novel. 'Cli-fi' just appeared in my PR  mind as a redo of the sci-fi term. I liked it and started using it. A lot. Somehow, for reasons even I cannot really understand, it caught on. Life is like that. I think it was a term whose time was coming. It was in the air. I just plucked it out of the air, zeroed in on its rhyming resonance with sci-fi. It turned out to be an entirely new genre. I also liked the way it sounded when spoken on radio shows and podcasts with a strong 'klai' hard 'clye' like 'eye'sound. That was the clincher for me, the way it sounded when spoken. It sounded strong, brazen, prophetic. I was hooked."
For more about the Cli-Fi backstory, see ''The Cli-Fi Report'' at



From the Cli-Fi archives:


''Cool Idea of the Day: 'Cli-Fi' Book Display''

August 23, 2013 SHELF AWARNESS files

During this "sweltering British summer" 2013, Foyles bookstore in London "did something that was a long time coming: It set up a dedicated 'cli-fi' table with a simple yet eye-catching sign promoting fiction and nonfiction books with climate themes," TeleRead in the USA reported.

Among the books displayed were:

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring,
James Lovelock's The Revenge of Gaia,
Stephen Emmott's 10 Billion,
J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World,
John Christopher's The Death of Grass,
Joe Dunthorne's Wild Abandon,
Liz Jensen's The Rapture,
Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior 
Ian McEwan's Solar.


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