How and Why I created the expression "Cli-Fi" as a subgenre of SF
1,440 words....... 8,500 characters
by Dan Bloom at The Cli-Fi Report at www.cli-fi.net
Before I begin this brief introduction to the new genre of cli-fi, a subgenre of SF, I want to emphasize that I created the cli fi expression not so much as a literary genre to compete with other literary genres, but rather as a PR tool, a media term, a way for newspapers and websites to signal to readers and book reviewers that climate themes in modern novels deserve a special mention. So I created cli fi as a way for literary critics and journalists to talk about novels of the Anthropocene.
I didn't create cli fi for novelists. They don't need categories or labels for their works. Even SF novelists don't need the SF label. Genre expressions are just marketing terms, good for selling books. Cli fi was created for literary critics, book reviewers, book editors, publicity departments, advertising directors. It is a "key word," a media attention getter, to attract eyeballs (and readers).
SF novelists tell stories. They've been doing this for over a hundred years and will continue telling stories for another 500 years.
Cli fi novelists have now joined the literary circus. Their stories focus on the possible repercussions of unchecked runaway global warming. It's a good subgenre of SF and will be for the next 500 years, too.
Now for some background details: The 'cli-fi' name came to me in 2008 as I was thinking of ways to raise awareness of novels and movies about climate-change issues. I originally thought of using such terms as ''clima-fic'' or ''clim-fic'' or ''cli-fic'' for the longer term of "climate fiction" (novels embedded with global warming stories).
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 worldwide first in English-speaking nations, beginning on April 20, 2013 when American radio network NPR aired a five-minute radio segment about ''cli-fi'' novels, interviewing Nathaniel Rich who wrote "Odds Against Tomorrow" (now translated into French) and Barbara Kingsolver who wrote "Flight Behavior" (also translated into French).
That radio broadcast was the beginning of this new literary term's global outreach and popularity among academics, literary critics, journalists and headline writers in over a dozen nations, including non-English-speaking nations France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Spain and Brazil.
Cli-fi is a subgenre of SF and SF writers in many countries worldwide have used climate change themes in their eco-narratives, among them Yann Quero and Jean-Marc Ligny in France, and Jean-Louis Trudel in Canada.
To learn more about how SF writers were looking at the popularity of the cli-fi term in literary circles, I asked David Brin and Kim Stanley Robinson how they felt about the term. They both told me that they liked the expression but felt that it was best to treat it as a subgenre of SF and not as a separate genre.
By promoting the cli-fi term as a subgengre of SF along literary critics worldwide in newspapers and magazines, I was able to locate SF writers who were already using climate themes in their short stories and novels. From them I learned that cli-fi in SF novels had a long history, going back to Jules Verne, Arthur Herzog, J.G. Ballard and Jean-Marc Ligny's "Aqua (TM)" trilogy.
It has not been a completely smooth roa
d in getting the cli-fi term accepted by literary critics in Anglophone nations or in France and other European nations, but slowly the expression caught on.
SF novelist Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel "New York 2140" (published in America in March 2017) is a good example of the cli-fi subgenre catching on among writers peering into the future of a global warming world.
Wikipedia on its English-language page describes ''cli-fi'' this way: Climate fiction, or climate change fiction, popularly abbreviated as cli-fi (modelled after the assonance of "sci-fi") is literature that deals with climate change and global warming. Works of cli-fi may take place in the world as we know it or in the near or distant future. This body of literature has been discussed by a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, and Literary Hub , among other international media outlets [including Le Monde and Liberation in France].
We are a world now divided bitterly over climate change issues.
Novels and movies can serve to wake people up in ways that politics and ideology cannot.
And I believe if the world does not wake up soon about the pressing climate change issues we face now, future generations of humans will be 'doomed, doomed' — within 500 years. I can ''see'' that far ahead. Will 'cli-fi' save the planet? No. But at least it might help prepare us for what's coming in future centuries. I like to think long term.
I'm not worried about the next 100 or 200 years. It's the chidlren born 30 generations from now that I'm worried about. I have a deep wellspring of empathy for future generations. I care about the world then. Today, no problem, life is wonderful. We'll be okay. Our children and grandchildren will be okay. I am not an alarmist. It's people living in the year 2500 A.D. that I am thinking about. That's what cli-fi means for me.
My idea of a genre for speculative climate fiction as a subgenre of SF found some traction in 2011 when it was endorsed in a tweet on Twitter by Margaret Atwood, the Canadian novelist whose SF trilogy, ending with MaddAddam (2013), dealt with a corrupt anti-environmentalist. I acknowledge and applaud the genre of eco-fiction, popularized during the rise of the American environmental movement in the 1970s and epitomized by such titles as Edward Abbeys The Monkey Wrench Gang and, in 2013, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.
There are examples of cli-fi in France as far back as Jules Verne, who imagined — in the 1860s — a future Paris struggling with a big drop in temperatures. That was a plot point in Verne’s “lost” novel Paris in the Twentieth Century, which went unpublished until 1994.
Given the speed with which the phrase “climate change” (which actually dates back at least 50 years) has overtaken the
global environmental discussion in recent years, it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s been a surge in books that could be called cli-fi. Among them are Marcel Theroux’s Far North (2009), which the Washington Post called “the first great cautionary fable of climate change”; Ian McEwan’s Solar (2010), which won a UK literary award for comic fiction; and Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow (2014), which imagines New York City flooded by a colossal hurricane.
These are all examples of quality fiction that happen to take climate change as a shared theme. As far as I’m concerned,
cli-fi needs character-driven stories. It shouldn’t be propaganda novels.”
A good cli-fi story will have the potential to attract not only climate activists, but also some of the climate deniers: The whole point is to reach people with emotions, not just preach to the choir.
The new novel from the Hugo Award-winning SF legend Kim Stanley Robinson, published in March, New York 2140 ,submerges the Manhattan under the water of the rising sea levels. Robinson's PR team put it this way:“Every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island. How will the city’s residents—the lower and upper classes, quite literally—cope?''
I'd like to end my short introduction to cli-fi with a few bullet points. What is cli-fi? Think of it in these ways"
( • ) A call to arms. A cri de coeur. A warning flare. A wake up call. All these things.
( • ) If there is to be a future, and there must, then cli-fi will tell
the story, in a thousand different ways.
( • ) With Cli-Fi, there can be no shirking of responsibility, and such novels can deliver the goods. With strong moral imperatives.
( • ) We don't know what the future holds 30 generations from now. But cli-fi can help us get there.
( • ) In the not too distant future, cli-fi will make an impact. You are the storytellers. Tell your stories.
( • ) From here to eternity is not a distance that can be measured. And cli-fi is not a measuring stick and has no agenda. Other than to tell a good, measured yarn.