Thanks to TeleRead and NPR, ‘Cli-fi’ is now an official literary term
May 28, 2013 | 12:00 pm
By Dan Bloom
A little more than a year ago, I wrote a piece for TeleRead that was headlined, ‘‘Cli-fi ebook to launch on Earth Day in April.” The article was about a cli-fi novel by Tulsa writer Jim Laughter titled
In the year since his novel hit the book-ordering sites, it sold 271 copies nationwide, which just goes to show that selling e-books, especially dystopian novels about polar cities in Alaska, is not an easy thing. Still, it was worth the effort, and both Jim and I learned a lot about book marketing in the process.
I used the term “cli-fi” in the headline and in the text of the article as well, because in 2007 I coined the term as a subgenre of sci-fi, and I used it in all of the press releases for Jim’s book. The media never picked up on the term, however, until April 2013—a year later, more or less—when both NPR and The Christian Science Monitor did major stories about “cli-fi” as a new literary term. Both news sites received massive Twitter responses, and cli-fi took off in both the blogosphere and the Web.
Not one story—neither the NPR radio show nor the Monitor‘s rewrite of the NPR story, almost word for word—mentioned my role in coining the term. What’s more, none of the blogs or tweets that picked up the stories bothered to find out where the term originally came from. It was seemingly well enough for Scott Simon to bless the new term on NPR, and for the Monitor to second his approval.
When I wrote to Angela Evancie, the NPR reporter who did the five-minute radio program (which, by the way, aired nationwide from coast to coast, and worldwide via NPR’s website), and asked why she didn’t take the time to contact me, since my digital fingerprints were all over “cli-fi” as a new term, she replied that she had indeed Googled the term—and found my name and earlier work coining it—but felt that it wasn’t germane to her reporting. And so she left my name out of the story.
Fair enough. It was her call, and I respect that. The positive end result of all this is that the term “cli-fi” is now out there for all to see and discuss; it doesn’t really matter who coined the term, or when. Essentially, it’s just a sidebar to a good NPR story that went viral, and for that I am grateful. The word is out!
Looking over the comments that appeared beneath my TeleRead piece from a year ago, it’s interesting to see how some of my readers here did not like the term at all, and said so.
One man wrote:
“Cli-fi—What a stupid stupid concept … completely stupid and has no chance of catching on except among a small climate nutter clique.”
Another commenter said:
”I have to admit that that the term ‘Cli-Fi’ seems rather silly and unnecessary to me. On the other hand, people can make up whatever terms they want. It’s harmless and it will either enter general use or it won’t. Climate change is science. So any future projection of climate change falls easily under the existing Science Fiction label. Ignorant people, however, tend to think that the term ‘Science Fiction’ means ‘made up weird stuff’ rather than fiction based on projections of current science into the future. My guess is that the ‘Cli-Fi’ proponents are hoping to seem more serious and don’t want to be tarred with the baggage that comes with the ‘Sci-Fi’ label.”
There were more comments, to and fro, pro and con. But that was then, and this is now. NPR has since embraced the term, and cli-fi seems here to stay as a new genre—or subgenre—of sci-fi, or maybe even as an entirely new literary category. Time will tell.
What I like about the cli-fi term is that it can serve as a convenient way to find novels about climate change in both brick-and-mortar bookstores and from e-retailers. Already, Amazon lists cli-fi as a genre in its book search data, and you only need to type in the words for a book search at Amazon and you will be taken to cli-fi books. Thanks to TeleRead in 2012 and NPR in 2013, cli-fi has made the grade.
Will it stick? That’s up to readers, both inside and outside the science fiction community. We shall see.
Dan Bloom is a freelance newspaper reporter based in Taiwan.