To mark the Global Strike for Climate, and next week's School Strike for Climate, today we're publishing a piece about clifi from Wellington writer Tim Jones:
We are living in a climate and ecological emergency. In fact, large parts of the world have been living in a climate and ecological emergency for a long time through no fault of their own, but now “developed” countries and cities around the world are acknowledging that fact, including the city I live in, Wellington.
Earth’s climate is changing in the way scientists have been predicting for many decades, but with shocking speed. Twined around the climate emergency is the ecological emergency that means we are in the middle of a sixth mass extinction.
Indigenous movements around the world from Hawai’i to Ihumātao continue to confront the colonial, capitalist narrative that has marginalised them and marginalised the land. Groups including School Strike 4 Climate and Extinction Rebellion are also using direct action to break the political deadlock on climate action.
Writers are reacting too, to the extent that a newly-defined genre of fiction, climate fiction (clifi for short) is drawing attention from critics and academics.
Fiction about climate change and its consequences isn’t new. I was ten years old when I read my first climate fiction novel: The Drowned World by J G Ballard, published in 1964. (Ballard’s early novels had somehow made it into the Intermediate section of Invercargill Public Library!)
The Drowned World is at once an example of Ballard’s intense, disturbing fictions of loss and displacement, and very clearly climate fiction. In a future London, largely abandoned due to global warming, scientists map the strange life-forms of the flooded lagoon. Ballard being Ballard, his favourite characters head south into heat and personal oblivion instead of north to more habitable climes.
For a long time after that, when I read what would now be classed as adult climate fiction, it was by international authors: Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupa, Octavia Butler, Sarah Hall, Richard Powers, Kim Stanley Robinson. Some of these authors are categorised as literary fiction authors, others as science fiction authors.
This reflects the fact that climate fiction crosses genre boundaries: it can be fiction for children, young adults, or adults; it can be literary fiction, science fiction, or historical fiction. The climate crisis is large enough that responses to it cross and blend genres.
The publication history of my climate fiction novella Where We Land reflects this rapidly changing landscape. An earlier version of the novella was published in ebook format as Landfall in 2015 by Wellington speculative fiction publisher Paper Road Press in 2015, and subsequently anthologised in Shortcuts: Track 1. (Paper Road Press has some really exciting books on the way!)
In 2019, a revised edition of the novella was published as Where We Land by The Cuba Press in its new novella line. The Cuba Press publishes many types of books, including general fiction - but not specifically science fiction. In four years, my story of climate refugees and how a very near-future New Zealand responds has crossed from science fiction into general fiction.
The first New Zealand climate fiction novel I recall reading was The Aviator by Gareth Renowden. Subsequently, authors such as Katherine Dewar, Brannavan Gnanalingam, Karen Healey, James McNaughton, Jeff Murray and Philip Temple have written very varied novels in the field - some set in the present day, others in the near-to-medium future.
I’ve started a list of NZ climate fiction on Goodreads, but it is in great need of care and attention - please add other climate fiction books from Aotearoa that you know of!
As Jeff Murray makes very clear, climate change has radically changed our future already: most of us just haven’t caught up with that yet. To quote his eloquent essay in The Spinoff: “I mourn for the lightly populated, beach easy country we have, but it is already a ghost. We need a new story.”
I believe we need many new stories.
- Tim Jones is a fiction writer, poet, and editor. He is the author of two collections of short fiction, four collections of poetry plus a chapbook, one novel , and one novella. His latest book is climate fiction (cli-fi) novella Where We Land (The Cuba Press, 2019).