Tuesday, April 21, 2020

FROM THE NY TIMES -- 2020: The Year You Finally Read a Cli-Fi Novel About, What Else, Climate Change


2020: The Year You Finally Read a Cli-Fi Novel About, What Else, Climate Change

Here is a series of in-depth interviews with climate leaders from literary activist Dan Bloom to Naomi Klein and Rhiana Gunn-Wright to William Nordhaus, interrogating just how they see the precarious climate future of the planet — and just how hopeful they think we should all be about avoiding catastrophic warming. (Unfortunately, very few are hopeful.)

 Indian-born Brooklyn novelist Amitav Ghosh became something beyond the renowned author of Sea of Poppies — perhaps the most penetrating cultural critic of a new age defined by climate change and the strange, inadequate, and often self-deluding ways we process its transformations in our storytelling. His new novel, Gun Island, is a cli-fi epic, one that fulfills many of the failings and missed opportunities he identified in the dizzying essay.

You wrote The Great Derangement in 2016, diagnosing a broad failure in literature, but also in our political culture, to face up to this story that we were all living in and yet unable to really process properly. Putting aside for a moment the subject of climate change itself and the changing nature of climate politics, how do you see climate storytelling (cli-fi) having changed since you wrote that book?

I think since 2016 there’s been a dramatic change in cli-fi. How often did you see a book about climate fiction in The New York Times Book Review? Or The New York Review of Books. Almost never. They were just treated as marginal. I do think that Richard Powers’s cli-fi novel Overstory was a major turning point — not just because it is a great book, which it is, but because it was taken seriously by the literary mainstream.

What do you think explains that?
I think in part it’s just his own personal reputation. But it’s not just that. Because if you look at the response to Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, it’s quite instructive.

And she’s a giant, too.
By the time The Overstory was published the ground had somewhat seriously shifted.

So what did change? Is it because the public has learned to think of cli-fi novels and movies as a front-and-center story, rather than a fringe concern?
Going back to 2016 and Bernie Sanders saying right then that this is a major existential crisis, and then that voice being amplified. Extinction Rebellion has been a very major turning point. The rise of the cli-fi genre has been a very major turning point.

Perhaps you prefer reading to escape reality, not confront it. But if the 50th anniversary of Earth Day has inspired you to decide that now’s the time to pick up a cli-fi novel about climate change, we’re here to help you find the right one for you.

For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, The New York Times brought you The Greenhouse, a five-part digital event series on climate change. We hope you joined us on our next live video call this Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, where an editor at the Times Book Review named  Gal Beckerman discussed this listicle.


The Drowned World
by J.G. Ballard
cli-fi fiction
With its vision of a London swamped by the rising Thames River and a warming planet leading to an urban landscape of lush tropical foliage, Ballard’s dystopian cli-fi fantasy — written in 1962 — laid the groundwork for generations of climate-change fiction to come. The book imagines the dawning of a new geologic age like the one environmentalists now call the Anthropocene, with resulting changes to a broad swath of plant and animal species, humans very much among them.
The plot involves a looter who refuses to leave London even as the water grows hotter, and an expedition of scientists trying to determine whether civilization might someday take root again. “But the main action is in the deeper reaches of the mind,” Kingsley Amis wrote in a 1963 review of the book for The Observer, “the main merit the extraordinary imaginative power with which whatever inhabits these reaches is externalized in concrete form. The book blazes with images, striking in themselves and yet continuously meaningful.”


The Wall
by John Lanchester
cli-fi fiction
Lanchester’s novel, published in 2019, elegantly and chillingly imagines how current political attitudes might play out as the repercussions of climate change grow more severe. With sea levels rising and extreme weather events increasingly common, an island nation that closely resembles Britain has built a concrete wall around its entire perimeter to hold back both the water and the desperate tide of refugees from harder-hit areas.
The narrator, Joseph Kavanagh, has embarked on his mandatory two-year service as a “Defender,” guarding a section of the wall against outsiders even as he falls in love and mulls in restrained language about what the future will bring. That includes the threat of invasion, as a government official tells the Defenders at a pivotal moment: “The shelter blew away, the waters rose to the higher ground, the ground baked, the crops died, the ledge crumbled, the well dried up. The safety was an illusion. … The Others are coming.”


Salvage the Bones
by Jesmyn Ward
cli-fi fiction
Set in the days leading up to and immediately after Hurricane Katrina, this National Book Award-winning novel follows a black family in Mississippi as it prepares for, and recovers from, disaster. Esch, a pregnant teenager, is at the center of the story. A fierce, mythology-loving young woman, she’s quick to connect the events of her own life with those of the Greeks.
For all the devastation at its core, this is an insistently hopeful book. As our reviewer put it: “Like every good myth, at its heart, the book is salvific; it wants to teach you how to wait out the storm and swim to safety.”



New York 2140
by Kim Stanley Robinson
cli-fi fiction
It can be easy to forget that the island of Manhattan is just that, an island — but as rising waters encroach on coastal lands everywhere, life in the city has the potential to change dramatically. Robinson’s cli-fi novel, published in 2017, envisions a financial district with canals in place of streets and an uptown crowded with skyscrapers as the wealthy move to higher ground.
A thought experiment with an ensemble cast, the novel is less concerned with a conventional plot than with showing a slice of life across various classes, with particular attention to the workings of the economy and other social systems. Maybe the most remarkable feature of the story is how little it imagines life changing, despite the drastically revised landscape: The building super works on repairing submerged apartments, the police inspector looks for missing squatters and the hedge funder bets on mortgages that are (literally) under water.


by Jenny Offill
cli-fi fiction
Lizzie, the narrator of Offill’s cli-fi  novel, is a mother who’s juggling fears on multiple levels: concern for her brother, a recovering addict; financial worries; and general apprehension about the direction of the world. This taxonomy might feel familiar to many readers: How can you reconcile your personal, daily inconveniences with the fear that the world as we know it is ending?
Our reviewer pointed out the book’s narrative dilemma, asking: “What happens when the horror of climate change gets lodged so deep under our skin we can’t escape it any longer? What happens when an author manages to translate this horror from an abstraction to a gripping tale of immediate particulars?”
Ultimately, this slim cli-fi novella is an “attempt to tell a story about climate change that carries the same visceral force as our private emotional dramas — that is, in fact, inseparable from them.”


The Madaddam Trilogy
by Margaret Atwood
cli-fi fiction
Atwood’s terrifying, though often very funny, cli-fi series imagines the societal, economic and biological fallout from an ecological disaster right down to glowing rabbits, labs with names like the RejoovenEsense Compound and pseudo-foods called ChickieNobs.
“Oryx and Crake,” the first book, focuses on a character named Snowman, who makes his way as one of the last remaining humans in a post-pandemic world. “The Year of the Flood,” the next novel, essentially retells that story from other perspectives, giving Snowman’s backstory, set against the backdrop of the arrival of a disaster long feared by a religious cult. And as our reviewer wrote of “MaddAddam,” the finale: It “lights a fire from the fears of our age, then douses it with hope for the planet’s survival. But that survival may not include us.”


The Fifth Season
by N.K. Jemisin
cli-fi fiction
This fantasy cli-fi novel, the first in Jemisin’s astonishing Broken Earth trilogy, imagines social collapse going hand-in-hand with geologic catastrophe on a planet as violent as the people who inhabit it. With the world’s single supercontinent in the process of dividing, and climate change wrought by vast clouds of volcanic ash, the ruling elites work to subjugate a minority population that has some ability to influence planetary events.
In The Times, the science writer Annalee Newitz praised the book for exploring a science that is “oddly neglected in science fiction: the geophysics of exoplanets. Though we have plenty of stories about the physics of space travel and the biology of alien life, very few authors tackle the actual rocky, gassy, molten stuff that planets are made of. Jemisin does it brilliantly, crafting a tale that is both intensely moving and scientifically complex.” The book was the first by an African-American writer to win the Hugo Award for best novel, but not the last: Each of its sequels also won, making Jemisin the first author ever to win the Hugo for every book in a trilogy.


The Overstory
by Richard Powers
cli-fi fiction
Trees are the real heroes of this Pulitzer Prize-winning cli-fi novel, a series of interconnected stories that follow characters from 1800s New York to the timber wars of the Pacific Northwest. Whether it’s an immigrant family staking its new life on the American chestnut or an 11-year-old coder who has an unfortunate encounter with a Spanish oak, humans’ connections to trees make up the emotional core of this book.
As our our reviewer, Barbara Kingsolver, wrote of Powers: “Using the tools of story, he pulls readers heart-first into a perspective so much longer-lived and more subtly developed than the human purview that we gain glimpses of a vast, primordial sensibility, while watching our own kind get whittled down to size.”


Flight Behavior
by Barbara Kingsolver
cli-fi fiction
The sudden, unusual appearance of monarch butterflies rattles a rural Tennessee farm town, and a rift soon opens up in the community: Religious residents see the insect swarms as a sign from God, while others are drawn toward scientific explanations. Dellarobia, a young mother in an unhappy marriage, is one of the latter. When an entomologist comes to town to study the butterflies, he hires Dellarobia to work alongside him, offering her a chance to expand and improve her life.
Kingsolver, who was a scientist before she began writing novels, seamlessly weaves together the story of a biological aberration and a woman’s coming of age in this powerful cli-fi novel.


Parable of the Sower
by Octavia Butler
cli-fi fiction
It’s 2024 California and the situation is dire: Water is scarce, communities are walled off and a pill called “pyro” gives immense pleasure to people who start fires. As one character puts it: “People have changed the climate of the world. Now they’re waiting for the old days to come back.”
This 1993 classic is composed of diary entries by an African-American teenager, Lauren, who’s determined to make her way in this new world. The daughter of a Baptist minister, she develops her own belief system, Earthseed, and has “hyperempathy,” which causes her to experience other people’s pain and pleasure as if it were her own. Eventually, she’s forced to flee her home and head north, accompanied by a group of survivors who rally behind her vision for a better world.



The Great Derangement
by Amitav Ghosh
 Amitavji gets right to the heart of the matter.
The interesting contribution of this book, which comes out of a series of lectures Ghosh delivered at the University of Chicago in 2015, is his indictment of the New York Times gatekeepers and culture-makers. To make climate change the theme or setting of a cli-fi novel, Ghosh writes, is “to court eviction from the mansion in which serious fiction has long been in residence.”
His bigger point is that we need a change of narrative. But to do this means that those who make our narratives need to lead the way, to bring their talents of storytelling to bear on what is, he writes, no less than an “existential danger.”


Can cli-fi feature movies with solid storytelling elements, have a long-lasting personal impact on viewers?

Can cli-fi feature movies with solid storytelling elements, have a long-lasting personal impact on viewers?


''Hi Dan,'' the email begins...

''I hope this email reaches you well in this strange time of global uncertainty, I hope you and your loved ones are managing to stay safe and active.''

Thank you for reading my email. I'm a graduate student studying Film and Television. 

I've been working in the film industry for many years (and for the largest part, in the production unti for a film company) and I decided to go back to graduate school to focus my skills towards producing films and television. I  will tell you why below:

As well as improving my knowledge of the film industry, I want to use my masters degree as a way to learn about and understand cli-fi films. I had been so affected earlier in my life by documentaries such as Cowspiracy and An Inconvenient Truth ...but my passion for filmmaking and storytelling has always been in fiction.

I want to understand if it's possible for fictional films with powerful storytelling to have the same lasting impact on audience members and indeed society as a whole as documentaries can.

I want to understand what it is in a documentary that shifts understanding (presumably the undeniable truth) and if we can recreate this on an emotional level in fictional storytelling movies (is empathy strong enough to stay with an audience member long enough for them to want to change their attitudes towards our climate?).

My dissertation  will be focused on the very subject and I was wondering if you or your colleagues in the ''cli-fi community'' might have a spare few minutes to talk to me about your understanding of the genre so far.

I came across "The Cli-Fi Report" early on in my research and it would be useful for me to speak to the person -- you! --  who has spent so much time promoting and monitoring the cli-fi term. I would love to get your thoughts on this thesis: do you feel that the cli-fi genre has matured over the past few years - as we are beginning to develop a deeper scientific understanding of our impact on the planet, if you feel our stories on screen are becoming more focused towards these issues as opposed to the generic apocalypse disaster movie.

After reading your article on the Filipino feature film Taklub directed by Mr. Mendoza in Manila I'd also love to know if you have heard of Cli-Fi films or TV shows having a long term, lasting affect on a community and it's behavior towards the environment. It would be great to chat with you on a video call, or via an email interview, whichever you prefer and may have time for. Either would be very much appreciated.  

Sending you well wishes from a locked down place where it feels like our own disaster contagion movie is unfolding! ''


So, readers here: Any thoughts of your own to add here? Please comment below or email me directly. Privacy will be respected. Thanks. -- Dan Bloom at The  Cli-Fi Report

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Peter Brennan's cli-fi novel ''Iceapelago'' is reaching out to readers worldwide from it's publication base in Ireland

by staff writers and agencies

An informal email interview with Peter Brennan

 "Iceapelago is a new word for a new world, a plot-driven climate change thriller: a new cli-fi (climate fiction) genre. It describes a country – in this case the island of Ireland – with ice-covered seas and lands, multiple small islands and where winter has come to stay forever."
''Iceapelago'' is a new word for a new world.
In fact, according to the Irish novelist Peter Brennan who coined the term and then wrote a cli-fi novel with that word as the title -- "Iceapelago" -- it describes a country -– in this case the island of Ireland in the distant future –- with ice covered seas and lands, multiple small islands and tundra winter conditions.
So yes, his novel "Iceapelago" is a climate change thriller: a new sub-genre of cli-fi..
Brennan tells this blog: "Iceapelago is formed after tsunamis destroyed the Irish landscape. Rising sea levels and winter ice conditions force the humans who survive to adapt. The first migrants are Artic foxes. These dramatic events are related through the experiences of Norwegian scientists, an Irish inventor, academics and researchers from several countries, the crew of a research vessel, mountain guides, pilots, hill walkers and tourists, and Prime Ministers. All witness or play a part in the creation of Iceapelago.''
In the novel, there are three separate but interconnected story lines take place at some time in the distant future.
''You will visit many locations: the Masters at Augusta, the British embassy in Dublin, Faro de Fuencaliente, Pico Bejenado, Roque de los Muchachos, Galway City, Ilulissat, Tasiilaq, the Johan Petersen Glacier, the Eriador Seamount, Oslo, Merrion Street (Dublin), Barlovento, the QM2 and Cobh," Brennan, 67, says.
Although his novel is fiction, and "Iceapelago" is an author's imagination gone wild, Brennan hopes his story will never become fact.
Dr Brennan has a good background for writing this kind of novel. He tells me:
"Having written many research reports on climate change and the low carbon economy and three non-fiction books, I assumed the task of writing a novel on a topic I was familiar with would be easy. I was wrong. But I did get somethings right initially. In the first phase of writing, intermittently over a year or so, I did my best to create the main characters, their environments and to weave the elements of a dramatic plot. But this was all done in a bit of a vacuum as I had not experienced the places where the action takes place.''
''I visited the first location, La Palma, the least known of the Canary Islands, with my wife Margaret in January 2019. It is a hillwalker’s paradise. We walked all the trails and visited the villages and sites that feature in Iceapelago. We witnessed the skylines, volcanic dykes, lava paths, and changing weather patterns. In the book, Spanish research students doing summer vacation work discover the first signs of volcanic activity in an area hitherto dormant. This triggers an international response. The 8km ridge of the Caldera de Taburiente that dominates the centre of the island explodes with dire consequences, not just for the local population.''
The second storyline takes place in Greenland, says Brennan, where scientists working in the Summit Station – 3,000 metres atop the ice sheet  – undertake tests to determine the flow of surface meltwater as it cascades through the glacier’s crevasses and sub-surface lakes to sea level. An innovative tracking device is used. They find evidence of the rapid pace of melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet: a tipping point and a direct threat to the nations of the North Atlantic.
''My research trip in July 2019 involved taking eight flights, including two by helicopter. If La Palma’s scenery was stunning, Greenland’s vast and changing landscape defies description. I flew over the top of the Ice Sheet and photographed seas of melting ice. I took several escorted tours around the glacier graveyard close to Ilulissat on the west coast and inside the Arctic Circle. I also travelled to Tasiilaq on the east coast: a small isolated inuit community also surrounded by melting glaciers. It was unseasonably warm at 18 degrees.  I rate the Arctic much higher as a place to visit in terms of scenery and raw beauty than the Antarctic that I had the good fortune to experience in 2016.''
''I could not travel to the Eriador Seamount at the edge of Ireland’s Continental Shelf, the scene of the third story, but thanks to the Marine Institute I spent several hours on their research vessel talking about the ship’s routines, procedures and its marine research activity. Based in Galway Harbour, the RV Celtic Explorer is a state-of-the-art resource. I hope the huge commitment of its crew comes across in the chapters of Iceapelago that cover the disruption of the Gulf Stream and the impact of its collapse on the countries that benefit from its moderating influence on our Irish weather.''
''I spent four months writing up and integrating the three story lines and developing the characters and their narrative. I also re-wrote every chapter; re-cast and polished the dialogue; and dropped lots of background information that got in the way of readers’ understanding of the characters and the plot itself.''
''This book was my first work of fiction. It was inspired by my long interest over twenty years in climate change policy and climate science. While doing my day job, I am writing the sequel: Iceapelago – tentatively titled ''The Aftermath.''
"I have two ambitions for 'Iceapelago', Brennan concluded. "That readers will better appreciate the value of nature and the threats to the global environment. Secondly, that someone will see its potential as a film. No harm in being ambitious!
So to sum up the book's story arc:
Young Spanish researchers detect seismic tremors on the dormant Caldera de Taburiente on La Palma (Canary Islands).
Scientists atop the Greenland Ice Sheet seek to measure the flow of meltwater.
A manned submersible off Ireland’s Continental Shelf finds early signs of underground volcanic activity.
The stories are interconnected.
One thread binds them all.
''Cli-fi'' turns into fact.
An informal email interview with Peter Brennan

DAN BLOOM TO PETER BRENNAN: "I'm a big admirer of people who ''coin'' new words. What was the process by which you came up
with ''iceapelago''? Did it come to you before you started writing the book, during, or after you
completed it and were looking for a title?

PETER: At school I listened attentively as my geography teacher taught us about archipelagos and
the moderating effects of the Gulf Stream on Ireland’s climate. Through my recent research
I found climate scientists reluctant, at least in public, to speculate as to what might happen
if the melting of Greenland Ice Sheet caused the Gulf Stream to collapse: as happened some
20,000 years ago. As my basic plot focuses on this dramatic tipping point I came up with the
word ‘Iceapelago’ - as defined in the top of the book’s cover page - shortly after I started
As the weeks and months went by I couldn’t think of a better title to describe the
new world of frozen lands and islands that result when my three stories come to a dramatic
conclusion. I am proud of my new word that now runs to ten pages on Google!

Q2: How are going about promoting and publicizing the novel? Twitter, Facebook, TV interviews,
radio interviews, bookstore signings, university lectures in Ireland, BBC interview, Guardian interview?

PETER: I am a total novice to the world of social media, marketing and PR for books. I was advised
before I published that having a professionally-designed internet site was essential: I am
glad I heeded this counsel. I used a London based PR firm to send out a press release about
the book across the globe but, honestly, I only got a handful of responses. I am using my
wide network in Ireland to promote ''Iceapelago,'' but with bookshops closed due to Covid-19 I
am having to rely more on social media. The ‘Irish Times’ carried an article as did
www.writing.ie. I am trying to get interviews with radio shows that feature new authors.

Outside Ireland, I am using Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to highlight the 5*+ reviews I
have received from Readers Favorite and will continue with social media as I have a few
more reviews in the pipeline.

Q3: Have there been any nibbles yet for foreign language translations rights, or for a movie deal

PETER: I asked a close personal friend who is in the film business to read ''Iceapelago'' to assess its
potential on the big screen. Like most others who reviewed the book he agreed it would
make a great movie. There was a big ‘However’, however.

Because there is no stellar (Tom
Hanks-like) central character and as the plot is not aimed at Middle America, Netflix is
unlikely to spend US$100 million to produce a movie.

I need an investor to fund the development of a screen play based on the book. I live in hope that someday I will make it to Hollywood!

Early days to be considering foreign language translation rights or indeed an audio version.

Q4: Who is your book aimed at primarily, in terms of age of readers, kinds of readers, climate
activists, climate denialists, countries in Europe, North America, Australia, and island nations worldwide?
PETER: As climate change is discussed by school children, grandparents and everyone in between,
''Iceapelago'' should, in theory at least, be attractive to a large audience regardless of their
location and age-bracket. However, I do recognise that ''Iceapelago'' is a dystopian thriller so
the target readership is, in reality, quite small. 

Sam Stea's new cli-fi novel THE EDGE OF ELSEWHERE

''Cli-fi,' and climate change converge in a thrilling cli-fi novel seeking to rediscover Earth’s beauty in wthe ake of disaster 



Bridging the generational and cultural divide, physician Sam Stea’s new clif-i novel imagines new solutions to the greatest global crisis of our time: climate change. “The Edge of Elsewhere” (PUB DATE: Sept. 8, 2020), is a thrilling climate-fiction adventure that follows refugees from the not-too-distant future in a race against time. 

In a world reeling from ecological collapse, Miss Abbey Lane’s waking life is a bleak routine. Between protecting her asthmatic older brother, Paul, and scouring gloomy ruins of  Princeton with her best friend, Max, Abbey’s world couldn’t be more different from the technicolor eden she imagines in her dreams. But after discovering an old scientific notebook in the ruins of Princeton University, the trio find themselves in a world and a time they could never have imagined: New York City, 1971. There, they rediscover the beauty of the natural world, and meet a tragic music legend whose fate may hold the key to Earth's destiny.

Born from his experience in the health care industry and his passion for literature, film, and music, Stea crafts an earnest coming-of-age story about the resilience of the human spirit in the wake of the most extreme circumstances.

[ See also SAM's earlier novel: https://www.reimagine2079.com/ ]

“The Edge of Elsewhere”
Sam Stea | Sept. 8, 2020 | Cli-Fi
Paperback | 978-1733135931 | US$20 | Hardcover | 9781733135917  | US$30 

SAM STEA is a practicing physician, proud husband, and father of a wonderful son and daughter. Some time ago, Stea took a simple and deliberate step back from the complexities of life to see himself in a much bigger picture, within a context of past and future, within the balance of the human species with nature, and with what is truly lasting beyond one's own years.
His great hope is that others in health care, physicians, nurses, therapists of all kinds, scientists and administrators, and young people everywhere will join him in his fight to better inform the public that climate change is the greatest imminent health challenge humanity has yet to face. 

For media interviews about the novel, Dr Stea can discuss:
  • His career as a physician and environmental activist, how the two are similar, and where their paths diverge
  • How climate change has blurred the lines between science-fiction and reality
  • The importance of climate awareness and steps individuals can take to further this awareness
  • How climate crisis is also a health care crisis and the role health care providers play
  • The impact of the medical industry on the environment, and the extreme and unethical detachment of physicians and nurses from the issue
  • The process of writing his cli-fI novel and how all demographics can relate to its messages and themes

An Interview with

  1. What inspired you to write “The Edge of Elsewhere”? 

“The Edge of Elsewhere” was inspired by my need to lend my hand to the climate crisis, which I see as the greatest health issue of the 21st century. With my busy medical practice, I cannot serve as an effective climate activist. But I can write. In my free time, I write. And I know the power of a good story. 

  1. How has your work as a physician informed you as a writer?

Each patient is locked in their own story. I don’t know the end, but I can, I hope, impart something to them — call it wisdom or simply keeping them human along with myself along the way. But to see them rise from the ashes! That is something. A patient getting a long-awaited transplant. Or someone recovering from critical illness. The hope and despair, frailty and strength — these simple things I see in them inspired me to write this book. It is mostly written for them, my patients. 

  1. What role do you think health care providers should play in addressing the climate crisis? 

Health care providers need to lead us out of this climate mess. We must serve as the bridge between the hard climate scienctists and the public. We still retain the public’s trust — for now.  I cannot understand this disconnect and cognitive dissonance. Not acknowledging the climate crisis for what it is, a growing existential threat to human health and survival, goes against everything physicians have sworn to uphold.


Friday, April 17, 2020

THE DISAPPEARING SHORE, a cli-fi novella by Roberta Park (and an interesting Toronto bakery backstory)

THE DISAPEARRING SHORE, a cli-fi novella by Roberta Park (and an interesting Toronto bakery backstory)

I recently received an email from a Canadian novelist named Roberta Park in Toronto, author of a new cli-fi novella titled "The Disappearing Shore.''

"We are at an extraordinary point in human history, and my eco-lit tale addresses the fears and responsibility we must face," she told me. She sent me a copy of her novel and I am reading it now. I also noticed on her blog website that she knows the story of ''Moishe'' in Jewish storytelling (https://robertapark.wordpress.com/2020/04/02/the-unheeded-witness/) where she writes:

''We first learn of Moishe the Beadle in “Night”, Elie Wiesel’s memoir of the Holocaust. Moishe was young Eliezer’s religious teacher in their Transylvanian town of Sighet. His title, beadle indicated his role as caretaker of the Hasidic shtiebel (house of prayer). Despite being poor and an immigrant himself, he imparted a striving, questioning commitment to Judaism in his pupil, a stance echoed in “Night” and Wiesel’s life itself.''

You can read her entire blog post about Moishe here: https://robertapark.wordpress.com/2020/04/02/the-unheeded-witness/

GIiven her intersest in Jewish storytelling, I asked her in a subsequent email if she was Jewish, and she replied" "No, I'm not Jewish but I grew up in a largely Jewish neighbourhood in Toronto. And the best part-time job that I had a a teenager in high school was in a Jewish bakery there. I love Yiddish. In fact, my favorite all time joke is from a Yiddish dictionary."

Tell me more I asked: What's your favorite word in Yiddish?

Just to get things started in our email chat, she replied: "My favorite Yiddish word is 'shmegegge'."

I asked if the bakery where she had  part-time job during her high school days was still there.

"Yes, the bakery is still operating. It's called Steeles Bakery in North York, where I grew up. I did counter service where I learned about kimmel rye, challah, big twister bagels, rugelach, hamantaschen, these big flat pastries called 'flying saucers,' babka  mandelbrot, and big slabs of cheesecake sold by the pound. Their bagels were good but they were not Montreal style (which rule and are the best in the world). There are only a handful of places in Toronto where you can get Montreal style bagels -- one place is called Nu where they use wood to heat the oven."

I love hearing stories like this, so in this time of slowing down during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to keep our conversation going. Roberta Clark obliged and didn't miss a beat.

"As workers here, even part-time workers, we were able to help ourselves to the 'merchandise' at Steeles, and it was the first time I had unsalted butter. So much better on a bagel," she told me.

''I wasn't raised WASP. My mother was Czech, she came to Canada at a young age and at home she served Old World dishes like sliced cucumber with sour cream and paprika, noodles with butter and poppy seeds, and palacinkes (like blintzes). Desserts often featured marzipan, hazelnuts and poppy seeds. All very Eastern European.''

I'm listening, I'm listening.

"Something I noticed early on at the bakery in North York was that regular customers would frequently order by saying to the clerks in a particular manner of speaking: 'You'll give me a kimmel rye sliced and 6 challah buns.' Initially, I found it a bit off-putting -- almost like they were issuing an order -- but I soon realized that it was just a different way of asking."

'The bakery was in a small neighborhood mall with a Daiters Grocery store. I can't remember if the mall was open on Saturdays. It wasn't an Orthodox neighbourhood, so it probably was. But I remember only working Sundays -- maybe it just down to scheduling."

One last note and our online chat was almost over: "The owner of the bakery was a man named Norm Gardner who I see now on Wikipedia served 10 years in the Canadian Forces. He was a great boss, and went on to a career in city and provincial politics."

Roberta Park in Canada has a cli-fi novella out now titled THE DISAPPEARNG SHORE

From our mailbox today:
Hi Dan, I just came across your site and blog post requesting recommendations for cli-fi authors and books.

It just so happens that I have a novella for you to look at - "The Disappearing Shore" by Roberta Park (me!) .....I have included a link below for you to download the ebook for free.

Here's the description:

What if we are already past the point of no return?

This enigmatic three-part novella imagines what might happen if the nice environmentalist next door finally snapped and started telling the truth—the real truth about his overwhelming guilt, rage, and fear. As the story unfolds, others break their silence in a desperate bid to save their corner of the world from the recklessness that has led us here.

From the confessions of today’s unlikely heroes — full of candour and dark humour — The Disappearing Shore depicts a much different tomorrow, and the struggle of those determined to continue the human story.

We are at an extraordinary point in human history, and this eco-lit tale by Roberta Park addresses the fears and responsibility we must face.


It's a very quick read, and dips into black humour from time to time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

When Margaret Atwood speaks, the world listens

When Margaret Atwood speaks, the world listens

Edited here by Dan Bloom, 10 plagues observer

 ''Things are worse in my books,'' Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood told 30-something CBC radio interviewer Tom Power via Zoom from her home Toronto, insisting to the producer and his global radio audience worldwide that "we'll get through this pandemic as we have before."

Despite being known for her celebrated dystopian novels, Atwood's outlook on the crisis remains optimistic.
Atwood is revered for her speculative fiction, which, for decades, has helped readers understand the world we're living in and where we may be headed. Now, with the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-20 pandemic, her perspective is even more compelling. In a recent 14-minute power chat with Power, she said, among other things, that  she doesn't see our current world health crisis -- "The Virus that will be televised" as some pundits have put it -- as being all doom and gloom.

"Things are worse in my books," Atwood said from her home in Toronto where she's self-isolating with her younger sister, Ruth.
"For younger people who have never experienced this, it must seem like the end of the world or something."

For Atwood, who's on her 80th orbit around the Sun and in good health, her perspective on the global pandemic isn't unique to her as an author: it's ''generational.''

"People of my age, in that generation, a lot of people [have previously had to self-isolate at times in our lives]," said Atwood.

"If you grew up at a time when there were a lot of diseases that didn't have vaccines, you're used to quarantines. You remember the scarlet fever, the polio, the TB, the measles. What else? Typhoid. Diphtheria. Those kill people," she said.

"So it's not that unfamiliar, but for younger people who have never experienced this, it must seem like the end of the world or something."

Atwood said she recalls her own parents talking to her about the deadly so-called ''Spanish flu'' pandemic, which spread throughout the world from 1918 to 1920, and affected an estimated 500 million people.

"My mum's entire family had it in 1919. Her dad was a country doctor in Nova Scotia and she said the whole family had it: five kids, two parents," Atwood told Power. "They all survived, but a lot of it is luck."

''It has been done. It can be done.''

While there's been a lot of speculation about what the world will look like after the pandemic is over, Atwood hopes we'll rethink the status quo --  for instance, where our essential supplies are manufactured.

The U.S. government recently ordered the medical device manufacturer 3M to sever the critical supply chain of U.S.-made N95 masks to Canada until a deal was finally finalized to ship millions of masks north of the border.

"Is it really a good idea to have essential supplies made in another country?" asked Atwood. "Do we have enough basics? Do we have enough essential food? How long can we hold out?"

"This again is pretty familiar to people who went through World War II because there was rationing and there was a way of distributing goods so that people couldn't hoard. Is that coming down the pike towards us? Not yet, I wouldn't think, but just remember, it has been done. It can be done."

When it comes to how Canadians are and have been responding to the pandemic, Atwood says she thinks we're "being quite aware."
"You will notice a great rise in the appreciation for health-care workers. They're very much on the frontlines and I think we've tended to just take it for granted, our health-care system. But I don't think we're taking it for granted anymore."

As for how she's occupying herself in quarantine, Atwood says she's been writing, gardening and baking bread.

"I don't think of it as a dark time," she said. "Writers are isolated most of the time anyway. So it's not that much of a change for me."

When this blogger sent a brief message to Atwood by email, wishing her a "Happy Easter and a Happy Passover 2020," adding a note at the end to 'Stay Safe!" and mentioning the mythical ''10 plagues'' recounted every year during the family Seder, Atwood, who is not Jewish but grew up with Jewish people in Toronto and at graduate school at Harvard and knows more about the culture than most  people do, didn't miss a beat in her reply, and with her trademark humor quipped: ''No frogs yet.  :D  You too...''

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

A 1997 sci-fi novel titled "2020" by Hamutal Shabtai ''predicted'' today's COVID-19 pandemic, and with a happy ending...


An Israeli sci-fi novel titled "2020" by Hamutal Shabtai in 1997 predicted today's COVID-19 pandemic

by Dan Bloom, staff writer

"Science fiction tales about near-future dystopias and plagues and such tend to lean toward the lurid, in order to chill us with dire warnings we then strive to prevent. Hamutal Shabtai's novel '2020' strikes an especially vivid chord, an alarm about all the fine things we might lose, if fear makes us turn on one another."

That was acclaimed American science fiction novelist David Brin in California commenting on renewed international literary interest in a 1997 sci-fi novel from Israeli psychiatrist Hamutal Shabtai. Some 23 years ago, she imagined what we are all seeing all around us now, although her vision was a sci-fi tale and set what at the time she wrote the book was the distant future.

Fast forward to 2020 and Neta Halperin, a literary critic in the leftwing Israeli newspaper Haaretz, leads off with a headline: ''The Coronavirus Novel: An Israeli Author Wrote a Book on the 2020 Pandemic 23 Years Ago" accompanied by a subheadline that reads:  ''In her science fiction novel ‘2020’ published in 1997, an Israeli author described a global pandemic much like the coronavirus. Now she explains why she went there and how she managed to get things so right.''

"Indeed, '2020,' the novel that Shabtai published in 1997 (with Keter Press, in Hebrew only now with no translation available in English), about a virus that threatens to doom humanity to extinction wasn’t on anybody’s radar then. She certainly never imagined how prescient her book would prove to be," writes Halperin in Israel, who interviewed Shabtai over the phone.
“The Chinese are behaving very much in keeping with my script. The similarity is remarkable,” Shabtai, 64, told her. “It began with television reports about villages in China where people are smashing the roads so no one can come into the village. I thought, that’s just like in my book, places cutting themselves off... That’s where it started.”
Science fiction is popular in Israel.
An anthology of short stories titled ''Zion's Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature" edited by Sheldon Teitelbaum and Emanuel Lottem in 2018, did well in its English edition.
Valerie Frankel, author of an upcoming academic study on Jewish science fiction, said of the sci-fi short story anthology: “It’s an amazing achievement -- so many different voices from so many Israeli subcultures. You really feel like you’re exploring the country and hearing all its perspectives. Israel’s like nowhere else in the world.”
Teitelbaum told this reporter this week: "Contrary to popular opinion, science fiction almost never predicts the future accurately, nor does it purport to. The genre is invariably about the present as projected through the prims of thousands of scenarios. Israeli author Chamutal Shabtai’s novel '2020' a one-off for the ages. Published 23 years ago, the book posits a deadly plague that starts off in New York, engulfs the world, and quickly makes any intimate encounter deadly. Needless to say, this doesn’t bode well for the human race.''
Halperin writes that global interest in Shabtai's book has revived recently, even before the current COVID-19 virus emerged as a pandemic, although there is still no English-language translation available for readers in the Anglophone world to read. (It's a 600-page novel.) With the surge of interest in the book and the media attention it has attracted, Halperin notes. Keter has issued a new edition in Hebrew, which is also available for purchase in digital form in Hebrew.
Corona-lit just might become a new genre in the 2020s and 30s.

Meanwhile, the author herself tells this blogger:

''Dear Mr. Bloom,
Thank you very much for your e-mail, and for writing about "2020".
As for the media interest in my novel worldwide -- well, nothing could make me happier!  The book was originally situated in New York, and I envisioned it as a global situation. Naturally, my wish for my book is to reach as many readers as possible, around the globe. This is especially true for countries who were badly afflicted  by the Corona Plague. In those places people would be able to identify easily with the personal experience and the overall atmosphere in the novel, which consist of fear, suspicion, helplessness, and loneliness. They would also find some consolation in the happy ending... "