We've Got Hollywood Covered

In a Warming World, ‘Cli-Fi’ Is Here to Stay

Guest blog: For now, most cli-fi movies and novels are just old-fashioned yarns, so there's nothing to be afraid of — but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that climate chaos is going to have a chilling impact on the entire planet


More than a year ago, I wrote a blog post here headlined "The Next Big Genre: 'Cli-Fi' — Climate Fiction, in Which 'Mad Max' Meets 'The Road'" — and now comes NPR and the Christian Science Monitor with two very good trend-spotting stories about, yes, "cli-fi." It takes some time for the mainstream media to catch up.

"Forget missions to Mars, and start thinking about mass migrations of 'climate refugees' north to Alaska," I wrote at the time, noting that science fiction in Hollywood has a long history and dates way back.

Russia adapted Polish writer Stanisław Lem's 1961 sci-fi novel ''Solaris" for the big screen in 1972, and Hollywood adapted it in 2002 with Steven Soderbergh directing and George Clooney. From "Soylent Green" in 1973 to "The Day After Tomorrow" in 2004, movies also began to venture into a new genre of science fiction that is now being hailed as "cli-fi" by the mainstream media.

This is a good development.

If "cli-fi" as a new literary term is on Scott Simon's mind at NPR, that's a good thing. The five-minute NPR clip featured sound bytes from cli-fi authors Nathaniel Rich and Barbara Kingsolver and quoted climate scientist Judith Curry, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, as saying, ''When novelists tackle climate change in their writing, they reach people in a way that scientists can't.''

"You know, scientists and other people are trying to get their message across about various aspects of the climate change issue," Curry told Angela Evancie of NPR. "And it seems like fiction is an untapped way of doing this — a way of smuggling some serious topics into the consciousness of readers who may not be following the science."

Curry began assembling a list of cli-fi novels last December and included a recent book that this blogger produced and packaged, "Polar City Red" by Jim Laughter. Curry wrote on her blog that she first saw a renewed interest in cli-fi with Michael Crichton's 2004 novel, ''State of Fear,'' which is about eco-terrorists, and "Flight Behavior'' by Kingsolver.

Husna Haq at the Christian Science Monitor says: "We're fascinated by this emerging genre, and if one cli-fi writer is on the mark, we’ll be seeing a lot more of it in coming years." True enough. But it remains to be seen if the cli-fi label will stick or be supplanted by another name.

Imagine cli-fi novels and movies that are a cross between Mel Gibson's "Mad Max" franchise and Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Road."

Is cli-fi literature science? No. For now, most cli-fi movies and novels are just old-fashioned yarns, so there's nothing to be afraid of. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that climate chaos is going to have a direct — and chilling — impact on the entire planet, especially on the Lower 48 in coming centuries. The time to prepare is now.

NPR put it this way: “Over the past decade, more and more writers have begun to set their novels and short stories in worlds, not unlike our own, where the Earth's systems are noticeably off-kilter. The genre has come to be called climate fiction — 'cli-fi,' for short.”

And NPR was right, of course, and judging from the huge play the show received online after the program aired in mid-April, a lot of people are concerned about climate issues. But one thing both NPR and the Monitor neglected to mention as who first coined the ''cli-fi'' term and when.

It was me. Right here at TheWrap.


Dan Bloom is a freelance writer based in Asia since 1991. During a five-year stint in Tokyo, he covered the triumphs (and occasional failures) of Hollywood movies in Japan and interviewed American actors passing through Tokyo on film promotion tours, including Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Kevin Costner.