Sci-Fi, Cli-Fi, We All Cry: the End Is Nigh

Guest blog: Unlike sci-fi, cli-fi writing for movie scripts and novels comes primarily from a place of warning rather than discovery

Last month I noted here at TheWrap how two stories at NPR and the Christian Science Monitor catapulted the emerging literary and movie marketing term "cli-fi" (a term I coined in this very blog as short for climate-change fiction) into the American news cycle while social media came alive with tweets and status updates about the genre. 

A few weeks later, the term landed at two major British newspapers, the Guardian and the Financial Times.

In the Guardian, British author Rodge Glass issued a "global warning" about what he termed "the rise of cli-fi" — noting that ''unlike most science fiction, novels about climate change focus on an immediate and intense threat rather than discovery."

Also read: The Next Big Genre: 'Cli-Fi' — Climate Fiction, in Which 'Mad Max' Meets 'The Road'

Glass said that ''engaging with this subject in [movies and novels] increases debate about the issue; finely constructed, intricate narratives help us broaden our understanding and explore imagined futures, encouraging us to think about the kind of world we want to live in. This can often seem difficult in our 24-hour news-on-loop society where the consequences of climate change may appear to be everywhere, but intelligent discussion of it often seems to be nowhere.''

British author Gregory Norminton put it well in a recent anthology on the subject of climate-fiction, writing: "Global warming is a predicament, not a story. Narrative only comes in our response to that predicament."

Unlike sci-fi, cli-fi writing for movie scripts and novels comes primarily from a place of warning rather than discovery, according to Glass.

''There are no spaceships hovering in the sky; no clocks striking 13," he wrote. "On the contrary, many of the horrors described seem oddly familiar.''

Also read: In a Warming World, 'Cli-Fi' Is Here to Stay

After reading the Glass piece, I emailed Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature at the University of Surrey in the U.K., and asked what she thought of the new term.

She told me: ''I think climate-change fiction has, in just a few years, moved beyond simplistic apocalypse scenarios to engage intelligently with questions of science and policy (author Kim Stanley Robinson's 'Science in the Capital' trilogy) and environmental justice (for example, authors Barbara Kingsolver and Paolo Bacigalupi, in very different ways). By making us 'live' both the devastating impacts of climate change and ways of dealing with these, these novels intervene in the ongoing debate on climate change policies.''

I also reached out to Adam Trexler, an independent scholar from the U.K who now resides in Oregon and has written extensively about climate fiction. He has an academic book coming out in 2014 titled "Anthropocene Fictions" from the University of Virgina Press.

When I asked him about the purpose of cli-fi novels, he told me: "Climate-change literature may warn about the dangers of disastrous global warming, adding to the climate debate. Its more important function is to help us understand what it means to live in an era when climate change is already upon us, when its disastrous effects are accumulating, and when we seem unable to address it in any comprehensive way."

Trexler cited a list of major authors who have written climate-fiction including Kingsolver, Doris Lessing, JG Ballard, Will Self, TC Boyle, Jonathan Franzen, Maggie Gee and Jeanette Winterson.

He has also compiled a bibliography of over 300 climate change novels, adding, "Of course there are science fiction novels, too, both simplistic and highly sophisticated," citing works by Kim Stanley Robinson and Bacigalupi.

So for both Hollywood marketing mavens and New York and London publishers — and writers around the world — cli-fi is here to stay, and the term could prove useful as both a PR tool and a genre-stretching label.

I am sure Isaac Asimov would approve.