From Noa's Ark to Superstorm Sandy - The Rise and Rise of CliFi

23/10/2013 15:10 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

CliFi reads the sign at central London's Foyles book shop, pointing to a temptingly inviting stack of Climate Fact and Fiction books, a vivid testimony to the meteoric rise of the relatively new genre.

With writers such Michael Crichton (State of Fear), Hamish MacDonald (Finitude) and Ian McEwan (Solar) embracing the genre, CliFi is no longer on the fringe of popular culture but securely rooted at the heart of literary mainstream.

Some titles are part of UK's secondary school curriculum setting young minds wondering, not just about global warming and climate change but human behaviour, ethics and duty.

I mention the term CliFi to an avid reader of fourteen and her face lights up. She loved Oisin Mcgann's Small Minded Giants so much, it sparked a keen interest in the environment as well as an unquenchable thirst for the genre. 'It's not just about dystopia and futuristic man induced destruction of planet earth', she explains excitedly, 'it's about human behaviour and there is always a gripping story line.' A notion backed by activist Dan Bloom, the man believed to have coined the phraze CliFi, short for climate fiction. 'While most news reports say the CliFi are

novels set in the present, near or distant future' he explains, 'CliFi can actually also

be set in the past'.

I speak to the eternally optimistic environmental campaigner about the gripping genre, James Lovelock's impact and Russell Crow's new CliFi movie set in biblical times (Noah's ark and that flood..)

Q What writings within the CliFi genre have made an impression on you and why?

A Two writers in the UK have published CliFi books that have made a particular impression on me, Hamish MacDonald published "Finitude" in 2010 and Tony White published "Shackleton Man's Goes South" in 2013 through the Science Museum in London, with a free download worldwide (and White's book is notable because it is one of

the few CliFi novels to set the location in Antarctica, rather than the usual settings of USA, Canada, Britain and other nations in northern Europe)

I read Barbara Kingsolver's "Flight Behavior" this past summer and found it to be one of the best examples so far of CliFi literature. In addition, I read Nathaniel Rich's "Odds Against Tomorrow" set in a kind of Superstorm Sandy Hurricane Flood in

Manhattan in the near future, perhaps 2020 or so. Rich's novel was

written in a comical and satiric way but he also went deep into what

CliFi is all about.

Q CliFi is not dedicated to doom and gloom warnings of climate change but

concerns humans' overall impact on the planet as a whole, Is it right

to say that some writings within the genre even question some experts' stand global warming?

A Yes, good point. I am myself an optimist and see CliFi novels as giving hope to readers, although if a writer goes into the doom and gloom stuff that is okay too. All POV

are okay for CliFi, even climate denialists can write climate denial

CliFi novels sure. But most CliFi novels are written as expressions

of concern and hope, and that's good But yes it is right to say that

some CliFi novels like STATE OF FEAR by Michael Chricton (dead now,

author of Jurassic Park books too) question the scientific consensus

that climate change is happening, and hat is okay too. CliFi, like Sci

fi genre, is open to all writers, or all nations, or all ideological

backgrounds, sure.

I myself believe climate change is real and that global warming is

very real, so I myself hope that CliFi novels can help raise the

alarm, that's my goal with CliFi, however, i am open to all kinds of

CliFi books, both pro-AGW and anti-AGW.

Q How did you get involved with CliFi?

A I am a longtime campaigner and media


I'm a self-taught climate activist since 2006 when a

series of articles about climate change appeared in the British media,

mostly the Guardian and several interviews with James Lovelock turned

me into one of his American students. He's my hero and my teacher in

all things about climate.

Since 2006, I was trying to find a way to use art or literature to help raise the

alarm about the perils of unchecked and unmitigated climate change,

and I read several essays about how literature fan help in this way.

One was by British author Robert Macfarlaine in 2005 titled "The

Burning Question" and the other was a similar essay on the same theme

of art and literature as alarm bells about climate issues by Bill

McKibben in the USA in Grist magazine, also in 2005. In 2008, I

started using the CliFi term informally on my blog about possible Cli

Fi movies, calling "The Day AFter Tomorrow" a good example of a CliFi

movie and of course, to come up with the term , I really did not coin

a new term I merely borrowed the sci fi term and rhyming sounds to

create the CliFi term. So I do not call myself the coiner of the Cli

fi term. I am just working now in my mid-60s as a popularizer of the

term. But I did not coin it.

I just borrowed the sci fi meme. Nothing really new about it, except that it

changes the discussion from sci fi to CliFi, which I consider to be

equally important, even more, as a literary genre. I live in Taiwan

and blog 24/7 about climate issues, in the hope of making a small

difference in a PR kind of way. But I am not a scientist, I have no

science background, and I am not affiliated with any group or

organization or university. I am a self-styled CliFi advocate. And I

am not a novelist either. My goal is to encourage real novelists and

short story writes to write CliFi novels and for the media to start

reporting on the term and their books.

Q Wikipedia tells us that CliFi film and books can also be set in the

past, are there any existing books/films

that you think should have 'CliFi added to their back cover blurb?

A Hollywood director Darren Aronosky of BLack

Swan fame will release a CliFi movie next March 2014 titled "Noah"

starring Russell Crowe and Emma Watson and Anthony Hopkins, and set in

the Old World of the Bible some 5000 years ago. About the flood, yes

that flood. So this movie, filmed in Iceland and in parts of New York

when superstorm Sandy was hitting the area, will be a CliFi movie set

in the past. Bruce Sterling wrote a very good CliFi short story set

1000 years ago in the past titled "Master of the Aviary" and he knows

of my CliFi work now and while most news reports say the CliFi are

novels set in the present or near or distant future, CliFi can also

be set in the past too, sure.

Q For those completely new to CliFi, what would you recommend as must

read books within this genre ?

A Tony White's "Shackleton's Man Goes South" and Hamish

MacDonald's "Finitude" and "Flight Behavior" and "Odds Against

Tomorrow" as above. Ian McEwan's  "Solar" was also a CliFi novel,

although I did not care for it that much, it was too much of a

throw-away comic satire, in my view. But he is a great writer, sure.