“No more clocks that strike 13 and starships to Mars. We need to save the earth first.” – Dan Bloom, 2014
I was thirteen when I saw my first climate fiction (a.k.a. ‘cli-fi’) film, although I didn’t have that name for it then. The Day After Tomorrow told the story of Jake Gyllenhaal in a wet t-shirt running away from an apocalyptic-like tsunami. I don’t remember a lot after that, although I was thirteen – and it was Jake Gyllenhaal.
It’s not surprising to find that there’s a lot more to the literary genre than this. Popularised by cli-fi advocate Dan Bloom, ‘cli-fi’ can be explained as fiction that explores issues surrounding climate change and global warming. Some call it a subgenre of sci-fi, while others argue that it can stand independently as its own genre. Despite this contention of form, the cli-fi genre is catching on – and it’s about time.
As recognition of the cli-fi field is still relatively new, its definition and parameters are still somewhat blurred. If you are thinking of writing/reading a cli-fi text, or if you are just plain interested, here are the four common misconceptions to be aware of:
Misconception #1: Cli-fi texts need to be set in the future.
Debunked: While most cli-fi films and novels are set in the future, they don’t need to be restricted to this setting. In fact, Darren Aronofsky’s recent biblical blockbuster Noah has been categorised as a cli-fi film. Past, present or future, the presence of a climate change theme carries more weight than its historical tense.
Misconception #2: Cli-fi texts are always dystopian.
Debunked: Despite the abundance of dystopian cli-fi texts, it is possible – albeit rare – for the genre to include utopian settings. Another cli-fi variety is for a text to sit in the middle ground between a dystopian and utopian setting, presenting a climate-related problem as well as a potential solution.
Misconception #3: Climate change needs to be the overarching focus of cli-fi texts.
Debunked: Contrary to what I first took from The Day After Tomorrow, climate change does not necessarily need to be the main focus of a cli-fi narrative. Some writers touch on climate change and global warming only lightly, or use it as a backdrop to their story.
Misconception #4: Cli-fi writers need to support the science of climate change.
Debunked: Ok, so this is a tricky one. While it feels intuitive for cli-fi writers to be environmentalists, this is not always the case. In fact, some cli-fi novelists are self-proclaimed climate change sceptics, such as Michael Crichton. Crichton’s 2004 novel called State of Fear went so far as to be labelled by one critic as “pure porn for global warming deniers”.
Instead of clarifying cli-fi, debunking these common misconceptions may have only made it harder to define the genre. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Whatever we want to classify it as, cli-fi is fiction that explores and addresses our current environmental anxieties. And we need to see more of it.
Writers, Bloom believes, play a crucial role in communicating experiences and emotion in a way that scientific jargon cannot. Part of his aim is to “… inspire, with the term, that writer somewhere in the world who is perhaps right now working on this very important book.”
Take note of this, Needle in the Hay-ers, when writing your submissions for the upcoming Climate Fiction Award. You can promote the movement or join the Twitter conversation by using the hashtag (#clifi).