Burning Worlds column for month of JULY 2017 at the Chicago Review of Books
Cli-Fi Doesn’t Have to Be Sci-Fi
5 EARLIER columns on cli-fi by Amy Brady here --
INAUGURAL COLUMN that started things off here:
EXCERPT: text by Amy Brady (c) 2017
Amy starts off:
Climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” carries certain connotations among readers and critics alike. Most associate the genre with “sci-fi” and therefore sci-fi’s most recognizable tropes: post-apocalyptic worlds, non-human (or once-human) characters, futuristic technology. But what if we expand the genre’s definition to works that address issues of climate change in the here-and-now, in worlds that aren’t speculative or futuristic at all, but rather, unnervingly familiar?
What we would find are some of the most urgent, funny, and beautifully written works in contemporary fiction. Case in point: Ashley Shelby’s South Pole Station. This touching and at times laugh-out-loud funny novel introduces us to Cooper Gosling, a painter who’s struggling in the aftermath of family tragedy. She grew up listening to her father tell stories about Antarctica’s greatest explorers, and now that she’s thirty and uncertain what to do with her life, she decides to set out on an adventure of her own. She signs up with an artist colony that piggy-backs on a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research team’s trip to South Pole, and proceeds to spend a dark and freezing year among not only fellow artists, but climate scientists.
Much to everyone’s chagrin, a climate change denier is in the mix, and as Cooper’s story unfolds, so does a rivalry between the believers and the non-believer. The novel is rife with fascinating and piercingly funny dialogue about the meaning of the scientific method, the importance of NSF funding, and how both art and science can lend insight into the workings of the universe. Much of the book was informed by Shelby’s own research—she is also a journalist who covered the Exxon Valdez litigation for the Nation and the author of a work of nonfiction about a devastating flood in 1997 in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
In this interview, we discussed what she learned as an environmental journalist, her thoughts on writers’ ability to get people thinking about climate change, and what it was like to spend so much time in the heads of climate change deniers as she wrote her latest novel.
Amy Brady: I’m not usually a fan of questions about inspiration, but South Pole Station defies so many literary hallmarks with its stark setting, lack of thriller plot (despite being set in Antarctica), and passages about the NSF’s funding priorities that somehow manage to be both funny and fascnating. So I have to ask, where in the heck did this novel come from?