Wednesday, July 26, 2017

With 'Ready Player One,' director Steven Spielberg takes stab at his first-ever 'cli-fi' movie

Ernest Cline’s popular teen novel "Ready Player One" has been adapted into a Hollywood cli-fi movie by Steven Spielberg and it's due to worldwide release in April of 2018. So you gotta wait a few months or more before you can enter the theater and watch it. But for the time being, know that this movie may be Spielberg's first foray into climate-fiction scenarios, also known as cli-fi.

Released as a trailer, this preview shot comes from early in the film, and sees Wade Watts (Mr. Tye Sheridan) in his junkyard hideout hooked up into the video game VR world of the OASIS, escaping from the drudgery of living in a dinky, towered trailer with his aunt in the grim future of 2045. In the original novel, the date was 2044, and the setting was Oklahoma.

Now the setting is Columbus, Ohio. Hollywood changes things for attract more eyeballs and ticket sales. They're good at it.

Says one film critic: "While 'changes -- most notably the fact that Wade isn’t an overweight teenager whose only exercise in the poverty-ridden 'stacks' he lives in is using a bike to charge the batteries for his OASIS headset, perhaps hinting that at least some aspects of the novel's wish-fulfillment in Wade’s journey might be trimmed from the film — what's readily apparent is the fact that the world of pop culture references and brand allusions is alive and well in Spielberg's version of the movie."

A brief plot summary of the novel, as described by its author. In 2045, the material world is a hellish dystopia, for various reasons: "The ongoing energy crisis. Catastrophic climate change. Widespread famine, poverty, and disease. Half a dozen wars," Ernest Cline writes.

So as you can see from the PR trailer here, climate change, while not the main theme of the movie, sets the scenario on fire, and this is surely a Spielbergian stab at being relevant in today's Age of Cli-Fi.

Cli-Fi Doesn’t Have to Be Sci-Fi - an interview with cli-fi novelist Ashley Shelby, conducted by literary critic Amy Brady

Burning Worlds column for month of JULY 2017 at the Chicago Review of Books        

Cli-Fi Doesn’t Have to Be Sci-Fi

Midwest author Ashley Shelby explores climate change denial in a new cli-fi novel titled 'South Pole Station' in an interview with literary critic Amy Brady in New York city

5 EARLIER columns on cli-fi by Amy Brady here --

INAUGURAL COLUMN that started things off here:


EXCERPT: text by Amy Brady (c) 2017

Amy starts off:

Climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” carries certain connotations among readers and critics alike. Most associate the genre with “sci-fi” and therefore sci-fi’s most recognizable tropes: post-apocalyptic worlds, non-human (or once-human) characters, futuristic technology. But what if we expand the genre’s definition to works that address issues of climate change in the here-and-now, in worlds that aren’t speculative or futuristic at all, but rather, unnervingly familiar?

What we would find are some of the most urgent, funny, and beautifully written works in contemporary fiction. Case in point: Ashley Shelby’s South Pole Station. This touching and at times laugh-out-loud funny novel introduces us to Cooper Gosling, a painter who’s struggling in the aftermath of family tragedy. She grew up listening to her father tell stories about Antarctica’s greatest explorers, and now that she’s thirty and uncertain what to do with her life, she decides to set out on an adventure of her own. She signs up with an artist colony that piggy-backs on a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research team’s trip to South Pole, and proceeds to spend a dark and freezing year among not only fellow artists, but climate scientists.

Much to everyone’s chagrin, a climate change denier is in the mix, and as Cooper’s story unfolds, so does a rivalry between the believers and the non-believer. The novel is rife with fascinating and piercingly funny dialogue about the meaning of the scientific method, the importance of NSF funding, and how both art and science can lend insight into the workings of the universe. Much of the book was informed by Shelby’s own research—she is also a journalist who covered the Exxon Valdez litigation for the Nation and the author of a work of nonfiction about a devastating flood in 1997 in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

In this interview, we discussed what she learned as an environmental journalist, her thoughts on writers’ ability to get people thinking about climate change, and what it was like to spend so much time in the heads of climate change deniers as she wrote her latest novel.

Amy Brady: I’m not usually a fan of questions about inspiration, but South Pole Station defies so many literary hallmarks with its stark setting, lack of thriller plot (despite being set in Antarctica), and passages about the NSF’s funding priorities that somehow manage to be both funny and fascnating. So I have to ask, where in the heck did this novel come from?  

''Can Cli-Fi Turn the Tide?'' Readers and Literary Critics Want to Know!

Can Cli-Fi Turn the Tide?

by staff writers with agencies and blogs   

This is a scary time in terms of global warming for the planet. Earth’s biosphere is under stress from a myriad of human causes. Climate scientists have reached consensus about the existential threat of human-induced global warming. While the entire biosphere is under siege, many believe that the oceans are the canary in the coal mine. Recent scientific surveys report that more than 70% of the Great Barrier Reef’s shallow water corals north of Port Douglas are now dead; 29% died from bleaching in 2016 alone.

These findings paint a grim picture for the oceans and the world. Still, the U.S. remains hopelessly embroiled in political debate over scientific facts that are accepted by almost all climate experts around the globe. Why? And how do we break the deadlock?

Scientific and environmental advocacy groups are certainly crucial to sway public opinion, and they continue to present the evidence. But polls have shown that too many Americans remain utterly entrenched in their beliefs on this issue, ignoring arguments to the contrary. A growing movement within fiction-writing circles hopes to shift hearts and minds in ways that rational debate simply hasn’t been able to achieve. The emerging literary genre of “climate fiction” (also known as “cli-fi”)  features authors like Ashley Shelby and Meg Little Reilly and James Bradley who are channeling their imaginations to portray the potential future of an Earth ravaged by climate change.

Renowned mainstream writers like Barbara Kingsolver (Flight Behavior) and Margaret Atwood (Oryx and Crake) have contributed novels that strike a chord with readers, affecting them on a visceral level that rational scientific argument simply hasn’t yet been able to duplicate.

Can fiction of this kind succeed where raw, unadorned facts have failed to convince so many Americans? I don’t honestly know. But I do believe in the power of story, of imagination, to move us. So do many, many fiction writers across many genres. Climate change is daunting when it acidifies our oceans, destroys ancient reefs, melts polar ice, and leads to relentless sea level rise that threatens to swallow coastal cities. Let’s hope that cli-fi novels and movies can succeed. Are we doomed, doomed? Let's hope not.

Monday, July 24, 2017

CLADE by James Bradley reviewed by Marc Hudson, and a great review it is! BRAVO!

Book Review: ''Clade'' – superior #climate fiction #clifi


When – not if, but when – I reread James Bradley’s wonderful set of linked short stories, ‘Clade,’ I will be on the lookout for two things; his references to the seasons, and his imagery of flight (in every sense).
These short stories, which follow one family from about now, through roughly beyond the middle of the century, have the thread of climate change and its impacts running through them.  Contra Amitav Ghosh’s excellent ‘The Great Derangement,’ there are novelists willing and able to take on the big question of the 21st century (and the 22nd, should we get that far) – what will the world look like as the Holocene unravels/is unravelled by our actions and inactions over the last 70 years (see this from today).
The opening story starts, sensibly enough, in Antarctica, as a young scientist (Adam – the name may be overegging the pudding a bit?) takes samples and waits to hear from his artist wife in Sydney as to the latest bout of IVF.  Spoiler alert – it works, they have a child, called Summer.  And things go on, as they do.
The stories are linked, sometimes obliquely (think Hemingway’s Men without Women), sometimes clearly.  There is the obligatory pandemic, handled well, and other stories musing on bees, teenagers, astronomy, cancer and more.  Bradley knows what he is doing, as he dips in and out of lives. Sometimes the climate impacts are direct (as superstorm) sometimes they can almost be ignored as inconveniences (no more coffee).  Smells, tastes, memory, it all weaves together, as we follow Adam, Ellie, Summer and others through the decades.
“She nods, the spiced sweetness of the honey still burning in her nostrils. There is something fascinating about the idea of a substance that changes with the seasons in this way, a reminder of a time when the planet still moved in its own cycles.” (p118)
And these seasons (or lack of them) go beyond ‘permanent global summertime’.
“With the videos selected and sequenced, she turns to the other elements of the installation, allowing the project to absorb her, working long hours into the night. It is always striking to her how often these periods of creativity seem to be connected to the advent of spring, the strange timelessness of the warm evenings, although whether this is innate, a tic in the chemistry of her brain, or a habit ingrained during her time as a student, those formative years when the most intense periods inevitably coincided with the sudden explosion of spring, is unclear to her.” (p133)
This brings up two thoughts for me – I should re-read Julian Rathbone’s Trajectories, and I need to read some William Calvin…
If you had to quibble, you’d say that Clade (the word means  “a group of organisms believed to comprise all the evolutionary descendants of a common ancestor” occasionally falls into the ‘cosy catastrophe’ [warning: link to tvtropes] category – a term Brian Aldiss used to describe John Wyndham’s seminal novels, such as The Chrysalids, The Day of the Triffids and so on.  But that really would be a quibble – this is a very good book, one that can be read for the beauty of its descriptions, its well-drawn characters, or (as I am reading) as part of an exploration of the burgeoning sub-genre of ‘cli-fi’.

Cli-fi novels and movies will not and cannot spur us into taking action on fighting climate change: we are doomed, doomed

Curious, empathetic, compassionate. That’s what we should be as human beings, no?

I’m thinking of that today because as Emily Dropkin has written in a very good essay titled “Climate Change and the Human Imagination,” we need clifi novels and movies about global warming from many different perspectives more than ever now.

What we need are climate change novels and movies that remind us viscerally, emotionally, of the truth of runaway climate change and its possible future impacts on humanity in the future, and even now. What we need from climate fiction and climate movies is empathy.

Yes, it would be nice if empathy made the world go around, but sadly it doesn’t, not yet. We are hardwired as a species to be ruthless, brutal and cruel, and in between the cracks some of us have found ways to be empathetic and caring. As climate change perplexes both scientists and novelists, it’s time to sit down and start writing. If you’re a novelist, do it. Don’t wait. If you’re a Hollywood screenwriter or director or a producer, do it: make that clifi movie now. We need dozens of them to turn the tide. Now is the time to write, direct, produce and release: novels, movies, poems, stage plays, musicals, operas, comics.

We need clifi novels and movies in order to consider future perspectives that could spark greater climate consciousness and action. Aha, there it is, the key word: action.

But it needs to be said that no clifi novel or movie is going to impact any reader or viewer into taking action on climate change. Novels and movies are just window dressing, weekend entertainments, HBO specials, Netflix distractions, Hulu hullabaloos. Clifi is just another entertainment vehicle, another way to distract us, to make us forget the reality we want so much to forget.

So when Emily Dropkin suggests that we need novels and movies that can spur us into action on climate change, she is wrong. Novels and movies won’t change a thing. Never did, never will. ”Uncle Tom’s Cabin” didn’t stop slavery or improve the lives of African-Americans. ”Silent Spring” didn’t improve the environment. “The Day After Tomorrow” in 2004 didn’t help alert people to the risks and dangers of global warming.

The tragic truth is that we are not prepared, we will never be prepared, and in the final analysis, we are dooomed, doomed. Not now, and not in 100 years, and not for another 500 years at least. Thirty more generations of men and women will live and die before the End Days finally come, due to our inability to stop global warming impact events. The New York magazine reporter David Wallace-Wells understood this very well when he published his now-viral doomsday eulogy for the human species. He was brave to do so, to probe the facts and report the truth. David Roberts at Vox was brave to applaud Wallace-Wells, as was Susan Matthews at Slate and Ken Drum at Mother Jones.

Everyone else just caved. They couldn’t take the truth staring at them from the text on the page, or the pixels on the screen. But David Wallace-Wells was right, and most of the climate change community of scholars and academics and pundits were wrong to cave and say magazine piece was dangerous and counterproductive.
No, it was a very productive article. It made us stand up and pay attention. Sure, we can write clifi novels and make clifi movies — and we will, we will: this is the Century of CliFi, for the next 100 years — but nothing will come of our creative endeavors. Books do not spur people into action on climate change.
Only the mother of all global warming impact events will do this and by then it will be too late. Margaret Atwood said that in an interview a few years ago. She knows.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

"All sci-fi will be cli-fi" (Cat Sparks said) while James Bradley said ""Sci-fi is about technology, cli-fi is about fixing economics"

CliFi panel

Some interesting tweets and comments this week from recent Australia writters conference with Cat Sparks, James Bradley and many more at the New South Wales Writers Center conference....

''hat tip'' to Australian Twitterer Adeline Teoh:


Adeline Teoh (张美鍊)‏ @witmol
"Sci-fi is about technology, cli-fi is about fixing economics" - said James Bradley at @cityoftongues #nswwc

Adeline Teoh (张美鍊)‏ @witmol
"All sci-fi will be cli-fi" - said Cat Sparks at @catsparx #nswwc

Adeline Teoh (张美鍊) (@witmol) also tweeted at 5:45 PM on Sat, Jul 22, 2017:
"Sci-fi has done a shit job at saving the future. Genre taint scuttled it" - @catsparx #nswwc

"People just haven't realised that we're all writing anthropocene fiction" - said James Bradley @cityoftongues #nswwc

"Post-apocalyptic fiction is a kind of contempt pornography... but I still like it." - said @catsparx #nswwc



I am in Sydney, I’m on at NSW Speculative Fiction Festival. I’m chairing a panel on

‘The Future we Deserve: From sci fi to cli fi’,

featuring Daniel Findlay, Cat Sparks and James Bradley, and festival runs all day on 22 July at the NSW Writers’ Centre in Rozelle.
CliFi panel



If you've ever flown into Sydney, Australia from overseas at night while looking out the window of your 747, you might this Australian pop folksong titled "Have You Ever Seen Sydney From a 747 at Night?"
It's an infectious little tune sung by a some tall Australians, and since this blog post is about the rise of a new literary genre dubbed ''cli-fi'' in Australia, I thought this might be a nice musical way of getting into the mood.
Recently the New South Wales Writers Centre in Australia set up a winter writer's conference and featured a panel titled "From Sci-fi to Cli-Fi: the Future We Deserve." Some interesting Twitter tweets and comments from noted novelists and literary critics Cat Sparks and James Bradley added some nice sparks to the conference.
Freelance writer and magazine editor Adeline Teoh attended the conference and took notes by hand in her notebook during the panel discussion, she said, and later put some of the comments by Bradley and Sparks on her Twitter feed. The tone and grace of the comments by the two novelists was wonderful to behold, and what they offered was food for thought.
''Sci-fi is about technology, cli-fi is about fixing economics," Bradley, the author of the cli-fi novel "Clade," said on the panel. That is an interesting concept and deserves some more discussion and amplification (and clarification) later on, and not just in Australia but in other literary circles around the world, from Canada to Berlin. New York and San Francisco, too.
Cat Sparks, author of the cli-fi novel "Lotus Blue," really surprised when she told the conference during her turn on the panel: "All sci-fi will be cli-fi" [in the future].
Both comment by Bradley and Sparks were explosive and no doubt sparked more conversations in the local pubs after the event concluded. How their remarks will be seen and reported overseas in London and New York will be interesting to see. I loved what they said, and as I said above, it is good food for thought.

Sparks, who is doing a PhD thesis on sci-fi and cli-fi, also said: "Sci-fi has done a shite job at saving the future. Genre taint scuttled it."

There were more comments from the stage.

"People just haven't realized that we're all writing anthropocene fiction," Bradley told the audience.
And Sparks noted: "Post-apocalyptic fiction is a kind of contempt pornography... but I still like it."
So there you have it. A well-attended literary conference in Australia featured a post-modern panel discussing post-modern literary theory, and the result was explosive and eye-opening. How sci-fi novelists and literary critics (and cli-fi novelists and literary critics) will react to the comments heard on the panel is anyone's guess. But time will tell.
Cli-fi marches on.

Friday, July 21, 2017

This 5 minute explainer video by Charlie Johnson is about cli-fi

This 5 minute video by Charlie Johnson on cli-fi is here --

When Charlie Johnson decided to create a five-minute ''explainer'' video about the popular movie "The Day After Tomorrow," he delved into the trailer archives of several Hollywood films and relied on a five-part ''Yale Climate Connections'' series of articles about Hollywood and cli-fi, written by George Washington University creative writing professor Michael Svoboda.

The video he made has been titled "The Day After Tomrrow: Why Cli-Fi Matters" and it can be seen here on Youtube. The video narration offers viewers a brief analysis of the 2004 climate-themed movie ''The Day After Tomorrow'' and why Hollywood disaster movies and ''Cli-Fi'' in general matter for what Charlie refers to as ''climate action.''
A very good magazine cover story from 2004 and titled "Surveying the Impact: The Day After Tomorrow," via a pdf link about the movie is listed here.

Charlie's video is short and to the point, and he speaks directly to how cli-fi movies in the past and in the future can influence and impact the raging debate worldwide over what do to about runaway global warming and climate change. Countless newspaper and magazine articles are now debating the issues from all points of view and this Youtube video concept is a good way to explain things with film clips in living color. Somehow seeing these clips while listening to Charlie's observant narration makes for a very good ''visual.''

Not everything has to be in text these days. Sometimes, a well-produced video explainer can go a long way to reaching a wide audience worldwide. I certainly hope so in this case.