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4.20.2014

Book Cover for a Cli Fi Novel: Which is Best?

Cli Fi, or Climate Fiction, is rapidly becoming a widely accepted term to designate a new genre of books dealing with Climate Change but not only: many elements taken together – like the demographic explosion, growing income inequality, urbanization and the rapid industrialization of the Third World – contribute to threaten our survival on Earth.

Personally, I am convinced that things will get from bad to worse in about 200 years and go kaput in 600 years, if we don’t do anything about it.

And that’s the worst of it: because it is a relatively slow process, a lot of us don’t feel the urgency and even deny that the process is going on. Result: on a political level things are moving at a snail’s pace and the end of the world could really sneak upon us in 600 years!

The involvement of literature in the Climate Change debate is growing, and one UK academic, Dr. Adeline Johns-Putra recently noted that in the past eight years, at least 150 novels dealing in one way or another with the likely future collapse of humanity have been published, fifty of them pure "cli-fi" (I blogged about it here).

In this regard,I had an interesting email exchange with Dan Bloom, the man who coined the term back in 2008, and he quoted to me something  Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature at the University of Surrey in the UK told him:


''I think climate change fiction (or 'cli-fi') has, in just a few years, moved beyond simplistic apocalypse scenarios to engage intelligently with questions of science and policy (Kim Stanley Robinson's Science in the Capital trilogy) and environmental justice (for example, Barbara Kingsolver and Paolo Bacigalupi, in very different ways). By making us 'live' both the devastating impacts of climate change and ways of dealing with these, these novels can't help but intervene in the ongoing debate on climate change policies.''

 I love that: "these novels can't help but intervene in the ongoing debate on climate change policies"...Makes me happy, I certainly hope my Forever Young will be viewed that way, I conceive of it as a contribution to the debate though my main objective always remains one of a story teller at heart!

 I am working on the cover of my cli-fi/sci-fi book Forever Young, the draft is finished, fully edited – the book will be soon published, it’s time to finalize the cover. 

And I need your help, dear reader. 

This is a difficult challenge, there are no established norms for the covers of Cli-Fi novels... Consider the variety, from specific disaster images like New York submerged in water (the cover of Nathaniel Rich's novel Odds against Tomorrow) to the bucolic charm of Barbara Kingsolver's novel (about a monarch butterfly invasion).

What do you think of those two book covers? I’ve set up a poll below where you can answer, voting for your favorite.

Version 1, through a porthole:


Version 2, the full woman:



Why a woman instead of space ships and distant planets as is the norm for science fiction? 

Because space travel is not the point of the book. One particular woman is – she’s a major character, her name is Alice. She’s young and beautiful, warm-hearted and very, very independent. One of my beta readers, Bob Rector, who also happens to be a hugely talented writer (he just published Unthinkable Consequences that is fast becoming a best seller), quite literally fell in love with her and asked me to put her on the cover.

So I did a portrait of her, here it is:


To help you decide which cover is best, here’s a quick word about the book:

Forever Young, a serialized novel in 4 episodes, is set 200 years from now, in a world divided between the ultra rich, the One Percent, who live in gated communities and the others who don’t and suffer the full onslaught of pollution and Climate Change. One Percenters  are the only ones who can afford all the advances of technology, in particular the exclusive Age Prevention Program (APP), whose members wear special Life Watches that enable them to expand their life span to the genetic maximum of some 140 years and look young till the day they die.

The novel interweaves several plot lines; the first, a love triangle between Alice, a young Swiss nurse, beautiful and independent, Lizzie, a talented golf player, the descendant of the mythical Tiger Woods, and Jamie, an ambitious reporter who works for the World and US Post, an amalgam of the Huffington Post and the New York Times. 


The second covers the rising threat to life on earth, as humanity is headed for extinction; there are only two options, both reserved to One Percenters: one, escape to another world, a pristine exoplanet a thousand light years away; the other, retreat to Antarctica, the last virgin continent. 

The third follows the murderous attempts of one determined 99 Percenter, a retired Blue Beret who has served all his life in the United Nations Peace-keeping Forces and is hell-bent on carving a place for himself in the Age Prevention Program.

And here’s the poll:
Which Cover for FOREVER YOUNG do you prefer?
  
pollcode.com free polls 

Please vote, let me know what you think in the comments below (not on the pollcode site, I may miss it there). To show my gratitude for your help, I'll send an advance copy of the book (digital - pdf) to the three best and most useful comments (lottery drawn if there are too many!).

Again, many thanks for the help!

Post scriptum. Just as I closed this post, I came across an article in the New York Times Magazine, about the amazing "Uncivilization" festival organized in the UK by the Dark Mountain Project led by British author Paul Kingsnorth (see here). 



His vision of a future "global collapse" is close to the one I envision in Forever Young - a future that will come slowly but inexorably and that you have to live with...like Alice and her friends. Yes, there is a good reason why the sky above Alice is blood red, or alternatively, why she is plunged in a frightening sick-greenish world...
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4.17.2014

Interview with the Father of Cli Fi: How this New Genre Was Born is Revealed


American climate activist Dan Bloom 
visiting a local university in Taiwan  to
do some research on climate change issues
My blog post about Climate Fiction, a "hot new genre" (here) led me to "virtually" meet  Dan Bloom, the journalist and “green” activist who coined the term "Cli Fi". I was very happy to meet him, he's a fascinating and somewhat explosive person, a Tufts graduate who's worked in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan (where he now lives). And he's agreed to answer a few of my questions here.

Claude: Dan, you coined the term Climate Fiction, cli-fi for short, back in 2008. When did the term start to catch on?
Dan: The term was modelled after sci-fi, of course, and at first it didn’t really catch on, not until 2013 when NPR did the first big media story on the cli-fi genre (see here ).
Claude: I took a look at that article, it has a great title “So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created a New Literary genre?” and a striking introduction mentioning a best-selling cli-fi novel, as you can see on this screen shot:


Dan: Yes, and now the term is fast becoming a buzzword in the media, culminating in the recent article in the New York Times about using cli-fi in the classrooms to teach American students how to handle the challenge of global warming (see here ).
Claude: Yes, that’s how my attention was drawn to it, from reading it in the New York Times. I noticed the story was picked up by others as well, including Sadie Mason-Smith on the Melville House website (here). And now, according to the UN's IPCC latest report on Climate Change, climate warming is fast getting worse because too many countries have dragged their feet for too many years (see here ) So there’s a definite need for Climate Change activism! I'd like to find out how the idea of "cli fi" ever occurred to you. Why did you coin the term?
Dan: I have been an independent deep-green climate activist since 2006 when the big earth-shaking IPCC report on climate came out and it was that IPCC report and the accompanying news media articles about the report that woke me up.
Claude: So your concern for global warming and its consequences is relatively new?
Dan: Yes. Before then, I was not thinking very much about climate issues. But I woke up in 2006. Not being a scientist, there was not much I could do to join the debate about climate change and global warming.
Claude: What was your “wake-up” moment?
Dan:  A 2008 blog post by New York Times science reporter Andrew C. Revkin on his "Dot Earth" sustainability blog. That’s what did it. He mentioned how artists and novelists can use "the arts" to communicate climate issues to a broad public. That made me think what I could do, if anything, to add to that concept of art and literature as tools of communication.
Claude: So, concretely, what was your next step?

Dan: One day while I was doing some PR for a climate-themed book by Jim Laughter, a Tulsa, Oklahoma author, for his novel titled Polar City Red set in Alaska in 2075 (the book came out in 2012, see here ) I hit on the cli fi term I had coined in 2008 to describe Hollywood movies focused on major environmental change like The Day After Tomorrow. I decided to inject the cli fi term as part of my press release about Jim Laughter's Alaska novel. So I sent out some press releases to book reviewers and I called his novel a ''cli fi thriller'' and slowly the term took on a life of its own. A few newspapers and blogs used the term in talking about Jim's novel, but nothing more, although one newspaper in North America reviewed it.
Claude: Yes, a major newspaper too! I noticed that the New York Times has described his book as “a thought experiment that might prod people out of their comfort zone on climate.”
Dan: Right. And, in spite of relatively slow sales for that book, I didn't give up and tried to keep the cli fi term alive with many blog posts and by leaving a large digital footprint on the internet, so that if any reporter googled the cli fi term, hundreds of items would show up in the Google search list.
Claude: And on Wikipedia. You can read about it here. But what was the turning point?
Dan: It came in late 2012, when a climate scientist in Atlanta, Georgia named Judith Curry got interested. She is not only a dedicated scientist with a keen interest in the science of climate change but also a woman with a deep appreciation of the humanities and the arts. So she did a big post on her ''CLIMATE  ETC'' blog; it’s a very popular blog and she gets 300 to 500 comments on each post – the post about cli-fi novels she titled simply "Cli fi" (see here)
Dr. Judith Curry
Claude: She opens her post by noting that cli-fi is a “fledgling new genre in literature”. Then she immediately mentions Michael Crichton’s blockbuster State of Fear, a 2004 techno thriller against the backdrop of global warming. However it got panned  apparently because of gross scientific errors. She argues that a climate scientist could however pen such a techno thriller without losing his reputation and she cites Rex Fleming .
Dan:  Cli fi as a genre was certainly ‘fledgling’ back in December 2012. But Dr Curry herself changed that. She makes a list of about 20 or so cli fi novels, including big names like Clive Cussler, Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver. And she included Jim Laughter's Polar City Red and used my press release term of calling it a "cli fi thriller". That led four months later to NPR interviewing Dr Curry for its CLI FI radio program announcing that a new literary genre had arrived. I had sent dozens of press releases to the NPR book department email address about the cli fi concept, but the station never replied to any of my appeals for an interview or a radio show about the new genre.
Claude: Par for the course, I suppose that was rather discouraging…Of course, Dr. Curry is a big shot at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Dan: She heads the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences since 2002.
Claude: Isn’t she also a rather controversial figure? There is this interesting article in the Scientific American that calls her a “climate heretic” who has “turned on her colleagues”. But that article was written in 2010 and is now probably reflecting an outdated position in the American scientific community. I rather like her position on the latest Climate Change report from the UN: she welcomes the idea of putting the Climate Change discussion behind us and focusing on the needed survival strategies rather than pursue mitigation or curbing measures… What is your take on this?
Dan: I read Dr Curry's blog posts regularly and keep in touch with her by email from time to time, too. I deeply respect and admire the kind of scientist (and humanist) she is. She's one of my teachers now, too.The world needs more scientists like her, who are not afraid to speak their minds and even join the debate from different sides of the table. And I am so glad she blogged about cli fi novels back in December 2012. Her post led to all this today.
Claude: You mean the interest shown by NPR?
Dan: Yes. So imagine my surprise one day in April 2013 when I see via my daily Google search for cli fi news that NPR did the story! I immediately set about doing all I could as a PR operative and a climate activist and a literary theorist to push the cli fi meme uphill, using the NPR link as the wake-up alarm. I wrote to the Guardian and asked if they could do a cli fi story for British readers. They did. I wrote to the Financial Times in the UK and asked my contacts there if they could do a cli fi story, and they did. Alison Flood, the Guardian's book critic, did a blog post on "why cli-fi is here to stay".
Claude: Wow, I’m impressed!
Dan: At first most media never responded to me, or even answered my email pitches. But they did line up, one by one, to add to the ''cli fi genre is rising'' chorus, from Britain to Australia. I kept up the PR blitz, contacting every media outlet I could.  The New Yorker magazine followed the Brits, as did Dissent magazine last summer. There was something in the air I think, but my PR campaign was crucial. I then spent time lobbying the New York Times to report the cli fi news, and I contacted 12 reporters and met up with 6 months of rejections and emails that read "sorry not interested." But in January 2014 I found one Times reporter I knew from earlier contacts ten years ago and I emailed him. And three months later his New York Times article came out worldwide not just in the U.S print edition and on the newspaper's popular website, but also via the New York Times News Service which syndicated the article to over 400 newspapers worldwide, from Italy to France to Japan to Sweden.
Claude: So the New York Times article, the one I noticed, was a major turning point.
Dan: It was. Now I am focusing my media contacts on the Associated Press and Reuters News Service for wire stories about the cli-fi genre. And Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist who has a keen interest in climate change issues, told me he will write a Sunday column soon about his take on the power of cli-fi literature to serve as a wake-up call. So things are happening.

Nicholas Kristof
Claude: They sure are! I’m looking forward to Kristof’s piece, I think he’s a remarkable columnist and I totally agree with the concept that climate fiction can serve as a much needed wake-up call. We need to go beyond sterile discussions about who or what is responsible for global warming and do something about it because one thing’s certain: it’s happening! Is that why the idea of cli-fi occurred to you?
Dan: Yes, as a climate activist but also as a literary activist…My major at Tufts University in the 1960s was French literature and I spent a year in Paris in 1969 absorbing the culture and drinking the coffee -- I felt that a new literary term for climate-themed novels might help serve as a wake-up call for the future humankind faces now. Besides, I've always loved words and word games and crossword puzzles and sci-fi. I grew up with sci-fi novels in the 1950s and 1960s. I am a big sci-fi fan. So one day, my imagination just jumped over the fence and told to make a new word and call it cli-fi and see what happens. I like to see what happens. So I did it.
Claude: So are you a writer in pectore?
Dan: No, I am not a novelist or a short story writer or a screenplay scriptwriter. I don't have those kind of writerly skills. I am just a climate activist, first, and a lifelong reader of novels, second.
Claude: I gather that Margaret Atwood was an early supporter, though she calls her own novels “speculative fiction” rather than cli-fi -- while at the same time fully supporting your creation of the cli fi genre for whoever wants to work in it.
Margaret Atwood (Author page on Amazon)
Dan:  Exactly. Margaret Atwood has written three op-eds applauding the creation of the new genre that has been dubbed cli fi, one was published in the Canada Living magazine, one was published in the Huffington Post and another was published in the Financial Times recently in London. And she has often tweeted and retweeted cli fi news links to her 450,000 followers!
Claude: That’s a lot of followers on Twitter!
Dan: So yes, Ms Atwood has been instrumental in helping to popularize the cli-fi genre, come what may. I consider her my teacher, although we have never met. My other two teachers in the cli fi project are James Lovelock, whose ideas about the Earth being a kind of Gaia goddess that needs to be respected and protected or it's curtains for the human race, and Andrew Revkin who runs the Dot Earth blog at the New York Times and which I have followed since its inception.
Claude: Okay, now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What is your definition of Climate Fiction?
Dan: First of all, I want to make it clear: the term I created is "cli-fi" which stands for climate fiction, of course, CLImate FIction with caps and lowercase letters, and I never use the term "climate fiction." My PR work is not about "climate fiction" but about "cli-fi."
Claude: I hyphenate the term by analogy with sci-fi, but I notice you don’t…
Dan:  So I want to use the term "cli fi" only in this interview and I also only use cli fi in my press releases. Why? As a lifelong journalist and PR guy, I know the power of headline buzzwords to serve as signposts along the road. So cli fi is a signpost and a wake-up call. The term "climate fiction" has been used for a long time, and I never coined that term. I just took it and tried to transform the longer version into a kind of code word and I thought of calling it "cli fi." So let's just talk about cli fi and leave "climate fiction" for scholars and professors to discuss. The New York Times article about cli fi just mentioned the term once in the entire 1000-word story, and not in the headline at all. 
Claude: I put it in the title of my blog!
Dan: Good! I was hoping for a headline mention of cli fi in the NYT, but in the PR business one cannot control how headlines are written or even how news articles are written. But the Times article was very important and for one special reason: cli fi has now been mentioned in the newspaper of record, The New York Times. That's a first. This is the beginning. There is no stopping the rise of cli fi novels now.
Claude: What hopes do you have for the genre? What do you expect to achieve through it?
Dan: My hope is that cli fi will serve to bring together novelists and editors and literary agents and publishers -- and readers! -- as we explore the role of novelists in the ongoing debates over climate change and global warming. My hope is that the news media will start reviewing cli fi novels as cli fi novels, and stop calling them science fiction novels.
Claude: You don’t consider cli-fi as a subgenre of science fiction?
Dan: As I see things now, after several years of working on this project and getting a lot of feedback from readers and writers in both the sci-fi community and the growing cli fi community, cli fi is not a subgenre of sci-fi but a genre of its own. And sci-fi novels can also focus on climate change and still be classified as sci-fi novels, if that is how the novelists themselves want it and how literary critics see it. But at the same time, I now see cli fi as a separate genre that has attracted its own community of writers and readers worldwide. And sci-fi and cli fi are not competing genres at all; they complement each other, and they are, in a way, sister genres. I love sci-fi, and always have. 
Claude: Me too. I consider Aldous Huxley and Orwell among the greatest writers of the 20th century...
Dan: Now I am trying to popularize cli fi, too. I believe we are on the same page, sci-fi writers and cli fi writers. But one thing needs to be pointed out: While cli fi is usually filled with the moral implications of climate change issues, sci-fi is usually filled with the intention of exploring the possibilities of science and its relationship to humankind. So that is where cli fi and sci-fi go in different directions, and both genres are valid and useful.
Claude: Yes, both are useful and I love both! But what sort of future do you see for cli fi?
Dan: My hope is that a modern Nevil Shute will arise, male or female, in any country in any language, to write and publish a climate-themed cli fi novel with the same power as Shute's 1957 novel On The Beach which served as a wake-up call about nuclear war and nuclear winter. And the movie was important, too.
Claude: The Next Big Novel that will shake society should be in “cli fi”!
Dan: Right! So I am looking for the Nevil Shute of cli fi. And to do this, I am quietly setting up what I call the international Nevil Shute Climate-Themed Novel Award to be first awarded in 2020 for the best cli fi novel in the previous ten years and to repeat the award every ten years internationally and awarding a prize of $1 million to the winner.
Claude: Hey, I’m going to candidate my soon-to-be published Forever Young! Though I must admit that cli fi is only one element, there are other things in it like the demographic explosion and growing income inequality…
Dan: Why not? You and many more writers, that’s what I’d like to see. I am now in the fundraising process of this new project, an offshoot of my cli fi PR work. I am looking for sponsors and a committee of judges to honor these kinds of cli fi novels. And I hope to see the "Nevils" -- as I am dubbing the awards -- keep going for 100 years, awarded every ten years for a total of ten times. And if the awards committee in 2120 wants to keep the awards going for another 100 years, I will nod yes from the grave. Literature matters. Words matter. Novels and movies made from novels can wake people up. The world is still asleep. We are facing the potential end of the human race. Wake up, world!
Claude: An impressive project! What else have you got up your sleeve?
Dan: Another thing I am working on is this: I am trying to find a reporter in New York or London who covers the book industry to find out if they can do a print newspaper or online story about how literary agents and everyone in the publishing industry view the rise of cli fi as a new genre and if they plan to use the term in future book titles or book covers. Raising the media profile worldwide of the cli fi genre is now my life's work. And then I die. This is my way of giving back to a world that has given me so much. I go out every day to my PR office not to make money but to make a difference. I was educated to think of life this way, and now in my mid-60s, I have found a way to express myself on my own terms. I am not doing this cli fi work for myself or to benefit from it in any way. I do not want money or fame. I like to work quietly in the background and I find the internet a very pleasant place to hang my sign: "Dan Bloom, climate activist - no fees charged."
Claude: Dan, that’s wonderful and I wish you every possible success in this most worthwhile cause. Thank you so much for joining me here and telling us about your dreams and your plans. 

I look forward to comments from my blog readers: has anyone read a cli fi novel recently? If you have, or know something about the genre that has not been covered here, please share!


Dan Bloom BIO:

Dan Bloom grew up in the Boston area, attended Tufts University where he majored in modern literature and minored in French, and has spent his adult life working as a newspaper reporter, editor and blogger in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan. He is now dedicating his life to promoting the new
literary genre of cli fi and working on it 24/7 from his "office" in a small internet cafe in southern Taiwan (as Dan does not own a computer and never has, describing himself as a Neo-Luddite.)

For readers or media people worldwide who want to contact him, his email at the internet cafe is danbloom@gmail.com and he welcomes all inquiries and in all languages. For more information, visit Dan Bloom’s bog, CLI FI CENTRAL, click here


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4.13.2014

Climate Fiction: A Hot New Genre?

Is climate fiction really a hot new genre (no pun intended)?

Something remarkable has happened. When American colleges start to use climate fiction to teach how to prepare for the coming climate crisis, expect writers to sit up and listen - especially science fiction writers. The New York Times recently reported on it (see here) saying classes focus on a "heavy dose of the mushrooming subgenre of speculative fiction known as climate fiction, or cli-fi, novels like Odds Against Tomorrow, by Nathaniel Rich, and Solar, by Ian McEwan."

Further down in the article, more cli-fi books are mentioned, among them Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior, Daniel Kramb's From Here, Hamish MacDonald's Finitude, Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, Saci Lloyd's The Carbon Diaries 2015 and more recently The Carbon Diaries 2017 (a British YA book).

Wow! I sat up and listened since my soon to be released Forever Young looked like it might fit the genre. 

Checking around on the Net, I visited Wikipedia's definition (see here) and discovered that the earliest climate fiction book was The Drowned World published back in 1962 by J.G. Ballard (though it wasn't Climate Change in this case but solar warming). Here's the first edition (nice cover!):



I gathered  a slew of interesting articles (see below) and checked Goodreads. I found a whole page there dedicated to so-called "popular climate fiction books" (39 titles so far):



Take note: climate fiction has attracted big best-selling writers like Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood (who famously tweeted about it), Clive Cussler and Barbara Kingsolver. They have all jumped into the subgenre and some as early as 2009 (in Atwood's case).

The blogosphere is awash with posts (see below) and there's one book selling website set up by a British Columbia  "micropress", the Moon Willow Press, with a green conscience; take a look at their home page:


This site gives an interesting definition of climate fiction: 
"a genre of literature, film and other media that involves climate change fiction, which may be speculative, literary or science fiction". 

So here we are moving away from the idea that it may be a "subgenre" of science fiction. It is also described as "bendable...not necessarily set in the future nor always apocalyptic", and Barbara Kinsolver's Flight Behavior is given as an example (the setting for this present-day story is the explosive invasion of Monarch butterflies into the Appalachian Mountains). 

There is at least one blog fully dedicated to climate fiction  set up by Dan Bloom, a journalist and writer who invented the term back in 2007 (on his blog and in an article in Vice Magazine) - the term was picked up again by reporter Scott Thill in 2010 in Wired.  

Here's the homepage of Dan Bloom's Cli Fi Central blog (to visit, click here):


The news reported on that page is of some 6,000 "cli fi" fans meeting in...2058 to discuss climate change! Yes, a little bit of irony doesn't hurt (but only 6,000? That's a depressingly small number...) 

Climate fiction is still very new and evolving. Dan Bloom acknowledges this and last summer summed it up neatly in this article about the origins of cli-fi and where it's going, see here. He notes that cli-fi has recently drawn two stars who met and talked about it at the 2013 Kingston WritersFest: Margaret Atwood on her way to a likely Nobel Prize in Literature and Nathaniel Rich, "a freshman Manhattan newcomer" who's fast spreading the word about "climapocalypse" to his (30's) generation.

The news about climate fiction took off when the National Public Radio (NPR) and the Christian Science Monitor used the term - the story then rebounded on the UK Guardian in May 2013 (see Rodge Glass' article here), and it was picked up by newspaper columnists in Turkey, Sweden, Lithuania, Spain and Italy. Yes, going global! 

The Guardian article got 139 comments, with most approving the birth of a new genre and some objecting that a new term was not needed. The best comment in my view comes from someone calling himself "Keyserling":

"It's apparent that "cli-fi" is nothing new, we just have a new buzz-word to describe it. I don't like the term (my mind associates it with "clitoris fiction", of the appalling Fifty Shades type). But we do need a new genre.

As the world knowingly embraces climate destruction, and we reap the whirlwind, islands will be lost, coastlines, then streets and cities flooded. Continents may perhaps become lethal or altogether uninhabitable, and eventually, a much reduced mankind may be reduced to living in polar colonies, or on space platforms orbiting our once abundant planet.

As that happens - like a global, inevitable, unstoppable, slow motion car crash - authors will more fully focus on the actual decay and destruction around them, and their observational fiction may not neatly slot into the overcrowded dystopian / apocalyptic / post-apocalyptic genres, alongside Planet of the Apes, Level 7, or The Day of the Triffids, et al.

So yeah, a new genre, to reflect new times. O brave new world!"



And another writer, Joe Follansbee, has come up with "6 rules" for writing climate fiction on his blog; briefly put, climate change has to be the "driving narrative" and it's not to be confused with a weather event (say a tornado) which is short-term. We are speaking here of long-term climate trends that affect humanity's future.

But the latest United Nations report on climate change has put a new twist on it: it's no longer an "exceptional event" that would demand it be stopped but something that humanity has to learn to live with. See this illuminating article in The Atlantic. The idea is that all is not lost, we can adapt to a warming world. 

That seems to put paid to Climate Change as a primary source of high suspense for climate fiction!

I would argue that the demographic explosion, the overwhelming trend towards urbanization and growing socioeconomic inequality are beginning to look like better candidates for suspense - or at least they look like very credible sources of social tension and recurring human-created disasters (e.g. displacement and extinction of species, recurring local wars, smog-caused health emergencies, refugee crises and population displacements, spikes in food prices leading to famines etc etc). 

Add to the mix natural disasters like floods, earthquakes or tsunamis, and an already fragilized socio-political situation could easily get out of hand. 

That is a much more likely future than the one posited by Climate Change alone. That is the future I see in my upcoming book, Forever Young - set 200 years from now. Why 200 years? Because I don't believe things will come to a head all that soon. People always cry foul and use biblical language to warn humanity of impending doom - a doom that never comes on schedule. Which is why 200 years seemed like a reasonable lapse of time...

And Climate Fiction as a subgenre? I'm not sure it's headed anywhere...What is very striking is that as a subgenre, it hasn't developed a recognizable style of book covers. Take a look above at the Goodreads bookshelf. Or take a look at the book covers you find on the Cli-Fi Books site, here are a couple, chosen at random:



Clara Hume's novel takes the reader "through apocalytpic American after climate change and other ecological disasters have greatly altered the planet":


But you wouldn't guess that from the cover, would you?

Do you see any pattern in the design of these covers? Personally, I don't. They're nice covers, often with a retro charm (like Clara Hume's), but there is surprisingly little or no reference to a doomed or threatening future, which is the least you would expect.

What do you think? I tend to believe that climate fiction might possibly merge into the "hard science fiction" genre (see here) which is based on scientific accuracy, i.e. on the best informed guess about where we are headed...At least "hard" sci fi covers have a distinct sci-fi flavor, see here for an early book in the genre:

First edition (published in 1970)
But the latest best-seller in the genre, Hugh Howey's WOOL, certainly sports a rather bizarre cover that is a radical departure of the "classic" science fiction genre:

 
So it looks like the reverse might be happening: "hard" science fiction is merging into climate fiction... 

Perhaps this is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Some people are convinced that climate change is "the hottest thing in science fiction", as Dave Burdick put it (see here, on Grist) and he reports the interesting observation made by Csicery-Ronay, an English professor at DePauw University in Indiana and co-editor of the journal Science Fiction Studies: "Cli-fi is getting some interest from folks who are not necessarily interested in science fiction."

I'm very happy to hear that. Because climate fiction is not a silly fantasy. Because the whole point of it is to make us think seriously about the future of humanity and where we're going...

One thing's for sure: climate fiction sells as it attracts more and more people beyond strict science fiction fans. An example? Knopf's recent acquisition of Paolo Bacigalupi's new novel The Water Knife, to be released next year, see here (before that he was with a small press). Following on his success with the Windup Girl (200,000 copies sold), the editor at Knopf is convince his new novel is set to attract a "cross over audience" beyond Bacigalupi's "core readers".

Also, more and more books are written in this genre. “It’s a definite trend,” says UK academic Adeline Johns-Putra, chair of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment in the UK and Ireland. Until the 1990s, she says, only a handful of novels mentioning climate change were published. Over the past eight years alone, however, at least 150 have made it into print, including at least 50 in which it is a central theme. (for more on this, you can get it here).

The book that has stirred the most recent interest is Odds Against Tomorrow by US novelist Nathaniel Rich, describing a storm that devastates New York City. He wrote this some 8 months before Sandy struck New York and he was the first surprised (!).


Hey, are you ready for climate fiction? I know I am!

Related articles:


My latest news: WANT A PRINTED COPY OF "CRIMSON CLOUDS? Go over to the Straight from the Library website and make a comment! Your name will be drawn from a lottery and I'll send to your home a printed copy...Click here (Offer limited to residents of the United States)


READ THE REVIEW by Librarian Judith:  This book is not your everyday romance book--instead it's a story of second chances, of mature love and failings, and carries with it the theme--and fear-- of "too late." It reads more like "women's fiction" than romance. Is it "too late" for Robert to follow his childhood dream of painting? Is it "too late" for Robert and Kay to have a life together? Is it "too late" for them to find some common ground in a marriage that for twenty years have been living all but separate lives? Is the love they still share not only "too late" but enough to salvage this relationship? 

Ms. Nougat does a wonderful job at reeling the reader in and making her care what happens to these two characters, even while said reader wants to just shake them both at times and tell them to "stop it right now." They each want to regain what they had in the early days of marriage but each are equally sure that their needs are the most important ones. The author takes these two through an unconventional (especially in the terms of romance writing) journey as they seek to regain what they have lost. It's told through alternating points of view so we get some of the story from each of them, which is interesting to see. I am definitely interested in reading more of this author's work---I like the way she writes.
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4.10.2014

When a Novelist Defies All Conventions: "The Blazing World"

Siri Hustvetd's latest novel, The Blazing World, defies all conventions about novel writing. Its format is quite literally like no other novel ever written (that I know of), which is why I bought it and read it. I love it when someone has the courage to break down all the rules. It's wonderful to find yourself in unknown, undiscovered territory. Very refreshing.

The Blazing World is a novel different in both form and structure. To begin with, it presents itself like non-fiction. It pretends to be the work of an "editor" who has put together a biography/portrait of a recently deceased contempory artist, Harriet Burden. The (fictitious) editor uses, as is always done in this kind of work, testimonials from art critics, family and friends and extracts from the artist's personal diary.

This format enables the author to tell Harriet Burden's story from various points of views. I was struck by the novelist's remarkable ability to change "voice" and convincingly draw a highly sensitive portrait, as Harriet is differently perceived by the people who knew her.

From the start, you are told that she has recently shaken the New York art scene, putting on highly successful shows using male artists as "screens" or pseudonyms for her work. She has used three artists, two unknowns and one well-known, for this bizarre project that she has called "maskings" - a project intended to "prove" that one's perception of the art one sees is governed by one's knowledge of the artist. In particular, she wants to show that art made by a man sells better than art made by a woman; that there is a diffuse gender bias in the art world. Harriet Burden's art  had never attained prominence when it was shown under her own name but now it suddenly achieves success simply because it is seen by the public as the work of a man.

Harriet Burden's plans go awry when Rune, the third artist who is a celebrity in his own right, refuses to reveal that she is the author of the show. He takes on all the critical acclaim, leaving her in the dirt. She smarts from the injustice and as a reader, you smart along with her - which shows how effective the author's writing is.

No spoilers and I won't give out more of the plot, except to say that the story is practically known from the start. That's another peculiarity of this novel: there is next to no suspense. You know from the first page that Harriet is dead and you know very soon what happens to the man who betrayed her (the third artist in her "maskings" project).

So why do you keep reading? Because of the superb writing of course, and because of something else too. Questions are asked that you never thought of asking. The book is filled with gems - insights into life and art and the human condition. The sort of thing that gives you arresting moments of self-revelation and a deeper understanding of the world around you. 

Here's a few quotes to give you an idea:
  • "...it is not what is said that makes us who we are. More often, it is what remains unspoken" (this came up in connection with Harriet's upbringing and difficult relationship with her father);
  • "It is my time, and I will not let them take it away from me. The Greeks knew that the mask in the theater was not a disguise but a means of revelation. And now that I have started, I can feel the winds behind me...(Harriet, commenting on her "maskings" project);
  • "Mostly, the art business has been about men. And when it has been about women, it has often been about correcting past oversights. It is interesting that not all, but many women were celebrated only when their days as desirable sexual objects had passed."
  • "Human beings are the only animals who kill for ideas."
  • "Celebrity is life in the third person."
I actually underlined the book 51 times. That (for me) is something of a record and a good indication of how much I enjoyed it (lucky I read the digital version, if it had been the printed one, it would have looked very messy indeed).

Is there anything wrong with this novel? 

Yes, for anyone looking for suspense. There is none. 

And yes, there's a little too much about art, perception and gender. To a large extent - you're warned! - this is a feminist book. Harriet Burden makes a lot of allusions to philosophers in her diaries, allusions that would get lost or misunderstood without (very academic) footnotes. So you find yourself reading the footnotes. Actually, there's a certain, perverse pleasure in reading them but at times, it does become a little too much. And perhaps, while the footnotes make sense in a book that pretends to be non-fiction, they certainly detract from the pleasure of reading the book as a novel - in principle, a form that never has any footnotes (unless it's a classic for school use).

My conclusion? It is well worth reading and I highly recommend it. But it really isn't a novel as such - more an intellectual joy ride. I doubt that this book will spawn off many more books of the same type. The format is enticing but not easy to follow or reproduce.

However this total departure from the novel form is interesting inasmuch it seems to indicate that we may be reaching a certain degree of fatigue with the "standard" novel and the three act structure. We live in an age of experimentation. That is certainly what I did in Luna Rising (in Book One, I combined novel and play writing).  Many books lately are "cross-genre" and even "serialized" (broken up in bits like a TV series, making them easier to consume in our fast-paced, attention-squandering digital age). And of course we have fictionalized biographies and documentaries.

 So why not fictionalized non-fiction?

For more info, visit her website
For those curious about the author: she is the wife of Paul Auster and author of five internationally acclaimed novels, The Sorrows of an American, What I Loved, The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, The Blindfold, and The Summer Without Men, as well as nonfiction, notably Living, Thinking, Looking, a compendium of 32 essays about philosophy, memory and imagination. The same questions that animate The Blazing World recur here: How do we see, remember, and feel? How do we interact with other people? What does it mean to sleep, dream, and speak? What is "the self"?   

The Blazing World, just published (March 13, 2014) is available on Amazon here and Living, Thinking, Looking can be found here. Note that The Blazing World is expressedly called after Margaret Cavendish's own magnum opus (available here - yes, titles cannot be copyrighted!) 

Margaret Cavendish was a 17th century aristocrat and a brilliant scientist and philosopher who suffered from that fact that, being a woman, she wasn't taken seriously by anyone in her own time, though she corresponded with Descartes and Hobbes. Siri Hustvetd's main character, Harriet Burden, considers Cavendish as her idol and role model.

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-1673)

Blazing World was reviewed by the New York Times, see here, as well as in the following articles in the British press:
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