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Over the summer, when I was trying to relax and not think about the global pandemic, I picked up a book that had been on my list for a while: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. Toward the end of the book, he introduced to me a new emerging genre of fiction called Cli-Fi, or Climate Fiction. A genre whose name I hadn't heard before despite having read several recent novels that would fall under the heading.

 

The Uninhabitable EarthThe Uninhabitable Earth is not a book of die warnings; it is a book of dire facts. Wallace-Wells is a reporter, not a scientist, and not even a science reporter. The book is as if he were researching any other topic, bringing together reported incidents and expert analysis and presenting the clear truth of the matter. And the clear truth of climate change is increasingly, even if we meet the various accords and international agreements that no one seems inclined to ignore, change has happened. From here on out, it is just about mitigating the severity of climate change, not preventing it.

 

He introduces Cli-Fi as an example of how culture reflects the world around us. Fantasy fiction emerged in the early twentieth century, as science and exploration took magic out of the world and replaced it with facts. Science fiction emerged as a the space race turned the public attention toward the stars. So too, now that climate disasters and emergencies are a terribly regular part of our lives, they become setting for our fiction. Upon reading this new genre, my mind wheeled back to so many books I've read, an increasing number over the past five years, that would qualify.

 

New York 2140Wallace-Wells is quick to point out that while climate fiction tends to speculative, it tends not to broadcast centuries into the future. It is, what some call, "five minutes into the future." The fiction tends to look at what is happening now, and what might happen ten, fifty, one hundred years ahead. An excellent example of this is New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, set a century from now in which New York City has been permanently flooded by extreme rising sea levels, creating a Venice-like metropolis where people live on the higher floors of skyscrapers.

 

The Windup GirlMaybe the first example I can remember of this genre was 2009's The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. A more extreme version of the genre, it is set in the Thailand of a distant future in which most nations have dissolved, replaced by mega corporations who control food production and therefore population. Biohacking is common, and long lost seed banks are the buried treasure that all executives hope to find and plunder. It is a dark, grimy, visceral, hard future to live in, let alone visit, and a book that has stuck with me.

 

The Disaster TouristRecent works like Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun have started to spin the genre more. In this Korean satire, the focus is on a travel agency specializing in tourism to destinations devastated by disaster and climate change. Much like Cli-Fi itself, rather than confront the realities and responsibilities of what is happening, this world has just folded it into the entertainment of the privileged masses

 

Marrow ThievesThe GG award winning Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline is an example of the genre through an Indigenous, Canadian and Young Adult lens. In a world ravished by climate change, all people except First Nations, have lost the ability to dream. While the book is as much a metaphor for the genocide of First Nations peoples that was committed in the past, it is also a reminder that climate change has and will continue to produce displaced peoples, refugees, and genocides.

 

Mad Max Fury RoadIt's not just written fiction that has started to reflect climate change as a setting or an adversary. In the 1970s, Logan's Run and Soylent Green were climate change affected worlds even if they didn't use that terminology to describe their dystopia. By the 1980s, Mad Max was roaming a desolate wasteland brought about by car-culture created climate change. In the mid nineties, Kevin Costner floated across a flooded earth in Waterworld.

 

SnowpiercerAnd in the new millennium, perhaps the most famous of the Cli-Fi movies, The Day After Tomorrow saw Jake Gyllenhaal seek shelter in the New York Public Library when New York freezes over into a glacier. More recent films that have used Climate Change as their push to adventure include Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, and my personal favourite Snowpiercer from Parasite writer/director Bong Joon-ho, in which the remains of humanity cross a frozen world on a super-train. Even Pixar has entered Cli-Fi, while introducing us to the lovable Wall-e.

 

Climate change isn't going anywhere, and it seems like Cli-Fi isn't either. While in the past we might have escaped to Narnia or any number of strange, new worlds, this genre keeps our feet planted on increasingly disappearing earth. For libraries who might be interested in identifying more books of this genre, and growing this new collection, we've put together Slist 43859 to get you started. 

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Fictionally Yours,

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