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

23/10/2013 15:10 | Updated 23 January 2014

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.