How and why ‘Sci-fi’ gave birth to ‘Cli-fi’

Cli-fiSci-fi has had a long run as a modern literary genre, and it’s been fun, far-reaching and mind-expanding. Not to mention spacy, too. And clocks that strike “13” and trips to Mars and beyond. I grew up on sci-fi and I love it. Books and movies, short stories, too. Long live, sci-fi.

Oh, and did I mention, sci-fi is also ground-breaking and Earth-shaking. Its many writerly practitioners, from David Brin to Ursula Le Guin, and hundreds (thousands) more, worldwide, rock! There’s a great sci-fi website, too, run by Annalee Newitz — io9.com.

But there’s a new kid on the literary block and she’s called Cli-fi. Rather than look outward at the stars and the cosmos, cli-fi looks inward, at our warming planet, this third rock from the sun, a planet in trouble.

For more examples and information SEE:
http://clifibooks.com
http://pcillu101.blogspot.com

Margaret Atwood does not write cli-fi per se, but her trilogy ending with ”Madaaddam” gets close. She doesn’t call her novels cli-fi, though, preferring the term of “speculative fiction.” Some cli-fi writers today: Nathaniel Rich, Barbara Kingsolver, Ian McEwan and hundreds more, many of them with cli-fi novels coming out in 2014 and 2015. The newly emerging genre is rising, as Rodge Glass said in the Guardian.

Scott Thill calls cli-fi ”a critical prism”. He’s writing an ebook on this prism right now.

Joe Follansbee is writing a cli-fi novel now. So it Yaron Glazer. Mary Woodbuy wrote one last year. Richard Diefenbeck, Jr., just released his cli-fi ebook on Kindle. Sarah Holding in London has one out now, too. The global cli-fi community online is growing and their books are coming out in both print and as ebooks.

So if you’re a writer, looking to write a cli-fi novel, where do you begin? And do you plan it for an ebook platform or a print paperback? Or both?

How do you create a climate themed novel that might perhaps have an impact on readers, the kind of impact that Neville Shute’s “On the Beach” had on the nuclear bomb question long ago? Remember those fears?

Come 2014, you sit down and start writing. Make a resolution. Do it your way. Join the growing cli-fi community of writers in North America and Europe.

You will go where your imagination takes you. You will study the facts on the ground and in the air. You will tailor your novel for a “Day After Tomorrow” post-Hollywood world, for a readership like the community that reads Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.”

Mostly, you tell a riveting story. You create a world, and you put your own cast of characters in that world to both entertain and inform readers. Cli-fi is not just a marketing buzzword. It’s a genre that seeks impact. It already has a hashtag on Twitter — #clifi — and the community of writers and would-be writers is growing week by week. I get emails every day from potential cli-fi novelists wanting to know more about the genre (I tell them to Google or Wiki it).

The world is on fire. C02 emissions are out of control. The PPM of carbon dioxide is now over 400 and climbing. That’s parts per million, science-talk.

Cli-fi is not SF, but it owes a lot to the earlier genre. Maybe, as some say, cli-fi is a subgenre of sci-fi and that’s cool, too.

Cli-fi does not have set rules or an agenda. Novelists and short stories writers can go where their imagination takes them. Climate skeptics can write cli-fi novels, too. Sure. The community is open to all. Worldwide.

Have you read a cli-fi novel recently? If not, you soon will.

Cli-fi is where art meets science, where data meets emotions, and where science meets art, too. It’s a storyteller’s template, and it’s time has come. Over the next 100 years, cli-fi as a genre will bloom and blosson. Hopefully, it will also have an impact.

A film reviewer in Florida, Roger Moore, in writing about a new sci-fi movie titled “The Last Days on Mars,” didn’t really cotton to the the storyline and concluded: “[The movie shows] how starved of new ideas sci-fi cinema is.”

Don’t let this happen to cli-fi. Rather than being starved for ideas, it has a long, long future ahead in our warming world. As either a reader or a writer, embrace it. This is our destiny.

14 Comments on How and why ‘Sci-fi’ gave birth to ‘Cli-fi’

  1. Almost every story that I’m currently working on involves climate change in one way or another. But I’ll d-mned if I’ll ever let any of it be classified as clifi. It isn’t a subgenre of SF, just another marketing ploy and an abomination that deserves to die a quick and permanent death.

  2. Climate fiction isn’t exactly a new idea; what about Noah’s Ark?

  3. I don’t mind reading climate change in fiction — I might even seek it out in some cases. But here is my promise: books marketed under the Cli-Fi label will be passed over for something else. It is a silly term — worse than Sci-Fi. And that sounds to me like a person with development disabilities trying to say science fiction but failing. Just call it Climate Ficton.

  4. It’s io9.COM, not io9.net.

  5. Then there’s the “Syfy” channel which used to be the SciFi channel. At least this isn’t turning boys into boyz.

  6. @Nate re ”Climate fiction isn’t exactly a new idea; what about Noah’s Ark?” Good point and true. The cli fi genre is not new. Darren Aronosky the Hollywood director of Black Swan, etc, is making a cli fi movie now called NOAH about that ark and that flood and a guy called Noah, set 5000 years ago. So you are right: cli fi is not a new idea at all. and just to clarify to other commenters here: pro and con — cli fi is not a marketing term, it was not created by marketing people to sell books or movies. it is an authentic literary genre in its own right and it comprises cli fi novels and movies that can be both pro AGW or anti-AGW, from Michael Chricton’s climate change denialism to Nathaniel Rich’s prescient prognosis in Against the Odds.

  7. Hey Dan, thanks for mentioning my novel-in-progress! I have my own working definition of “climate fiction.” To be called “climate fiction,” climate change must be a driving force behind the narrative. In other words, without climate change, the story would fall apart or be far less interesting. Imagine taking space travel out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It would become an ordinary allegory of transfiguration, never achieving the impact of the film, with its amazing images evoking the metamorphosis of humanity. Or take the story of Noah. Without the flood, he’s just another–to use a modern term–wacko survivalist bent on putting his family through hell. God’s intervention via a really bad rainstorm tests Noah in a far more compelling way and reveals something about the human heart, the goal for every novelist.

  8. Well, given that there has been no change in global air temperatures for eighteen years, despite a steady rise in CO2 levels, it’s becoming clear that the most fantastic cli-fi of all is in the reports produced by the IPCC.

  9. Christopher Nolan’s New Cli-Fi Teaser has been Released and Peter Sinclair at ”Climate Denial Crock of the Week” writes: ”I’ve written about the emerging literature of Climate themed science fiction – Cli Fi.
    If you liked Memento, Inception, or the Dark Knight – this may be of interest. Christopher Nolan’s new movie has, at least tangentially, a climate theme.”

    WhatCulture writes:

    ”Needless to say, one of the most anticipated films of 2014 will be Christopher Nolan’s newest movie, Interstellar. It’s not only his first original project since 2010′s Inception, but is also the first film the director has made since ending his astronomically successful Dark Knight trilogy last year.”

  10. @Jon Jermey: And NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies says that 9 of the 10 warmest years since 1880 were in 2000-2011. Do you think that’s a trend or a statistical anomaly? Their graphs show that there’s been about 1F increase in mean global temperature.

    http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2011-temps.html

  11. I still hate ‘cli-fi’ as a name. I’m sure these new genres get invented because certain writers still feel uneasy with the notion they’re writing science-fiction, a genre treated quite shabbily by the wider literary world. Rejoice in your sci-fi credentials!

  12. I’m beginning to wonder if cli-fi was coined under a “Boy Named Sue” mentality and that it’s silly named is supposed to toughen if up or make it standout more.

  13. I am trying to figure out how cli-fi is not science fiction? Is it a distinct sub-genre? Absolutely, but trying to then take it out of science fiction all together would be like trying to take space opera out of science fiction.

  14. @Steph B, Greg M. and MarylandBill, re yr good comments pro and con cli fi: when new literary terms appear in any culture, it often takes time to make them stick. Even the sci fi term took about 50 years to catch on and be accepted by literary critics. So my guess is that cli fi will also take a long time to catch on, and it won’t happen overnight. So all your comments are good and appreciated. If the term fits the culture, and the warming world we live in now, cli fi as a lit genre or subgenre — whatever — will stick. If it does not fit, in the long run, it will disappear. Cli fi is not anti-SF. It comes directly out of sci fi. So in many ways, the two terms are sister terms. What matters even more is what novelists write, the content itself, not the label or marketing term the publishers give it. Content is first.

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