Know Your Dystopias: Cli-Fi
Posted on Monday, April 23, 2018
Societal upheaval caused by environmental changes is not a new subject for speculative fiction, but as concerns over climate change increase there is a parallel increase in dystopian novels about it. The label “Cli-Fi” has been adopted for these explorations of the consequences of climate change. This subgenre imagines how the predicted and unpredictable effects of climate change will alter our maps, our systems of governance, social customs and methods of survival. These stories are dystopian in a literal sense — they are the flip side of utopian dreams. It turns out that the industrial revolution and the subsequent technological advances that have made amazing improvements in our lives come at a cost — oops! What follows is a sampling of some of the best writing in this fast-growing genre.
In “The History of Bees” Maja Lunde approaches the pace and scale of climatic changes by taking the reader through the past, present and future of three generations of beekeepers. In the future people must hand-paint pollen onto fruit trees because there are no more bees to pollinate them. Sadly, that detail isn’t science fiction. It is already starting to happen, and Walmart just filed a patent for robotic bees.
Connections between people, familial and otherwise, ground the story of global climate collapse in “Clade.” While Adam Leith spends a Summer in Antarctica doing research, his partner is at home in Australia awaiting the results of In Vitro Fertilization treatment. The treatment results in a child, and as she grows up devastating episodes from climate collapse accumulate, and this family grapples with a changing world.
Water rights are an integral part of the history of the American Southwest. In “The Water Knife” Paolo Bacigalupi imagines a near-future southwest decimated by drought where the fight for water rights is a ruthless process of political maneuvering and violence. Water dictates the balance of power here, and rumors of something that might shift that balance pull the main characters into the middle of a region-wide fight.
“Gold Fame Citrus” is also set in the drought stricken Southwest. Here enormous sand dunes cover entire towns and most of the population has been evacuated. Ex model Luz and AWOL soldier Ray are taking refuge in an abandoned Los Angeles mansion when they rescue a toddler from a gang and flee for what they hope are literally greener pastures.
Our brave new world might not just be a dry, thirsty wasteland. We could also be drowning in rising seas. In “New York 2140” Kim Stanley Robinson writes about life in a partially submerged Manhattan where each skyscraper has become an island. When two inhabitants of a particular skyscraper disappear a diverse mix of its residents come together to figure out what happened.
Jeff Vandermeer’s “Borne” and “The Strange Bird” take place in a world where wars, environmental devastation, and science run amok have left the small remaining human population stuck in survival mode. Monsters equally terrifying and wondrous rule a devastated city and the humans are only left with vague memories of a time before it was like this.
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