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.

Apocalypse bloom

When American literary critic Amy Brady began pondering on her Twitter feed in late 2016 if the new genre of cli-fi was a legitimate literary genre or just a passing fancy, the seeds were planted for her to launch a dedicated cli-fi literary column in the Chicago Review of Books, edited by Adam Morgan and titled "Burning Worlds."

The monthly column launched on February 7, 2017 and has had six iterations so far, with more to come.

In the first column, Brady, a versatile and graceful columnist, set the tone for readers, writing: "Burning Worlds" is a new monthly column dedicated to examining important trends in climate change fiction, or "cli-fi."

"It astonishes to think just how long humans have known that the Earth is getting warmer," Brady noted in her introduction, adding: "The term "global warming" didn’t enter public consciousness until the 1970s, but scientists have studied our planet’s natural greenhouse effect since at least the 1820s. In 1896, a Swedish chemist named Svante Arrheniussome concluded that human activity (like coal burning) contributed to the effect, warming the planet further.

"And yet, here we find ourselves in 2017, still wrestling with manmade climate change like it's a new phenomenon. Why have we not acted sooner? The answer may lie in what [Brooklyn] author Amitav Ghosh calls humanity’s ''great derangement": our inability to perceive the enormity of the catastrophe that awaits us.

"That's where fiction writers come in," Brady said.

"For years, authors have been writing 'climate change fiction', or 'cli-fi,' a genre of literature that imagines the past, present, and future effects of climate change. Their work crosses literary boundaries in terms of style and content, landing on shelves marked sci-fi and literary fiction.
"Perhaps you’ve read one of the classics: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake or Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain.

Then there’s Ian McEwan’s Solar and J. G. Ballard’s 1965 novel The Burning World, from which this column derives its name. Each of these novels -- like others in the genre -- help us to "see" possible futures lived out on a burning, drowning, or dying planet.

Here at the Review, we feel it's time to give cli-fi more attention. To that end, we bring you "Burning Worlds," a new monthly column dedicated to examining what’s hot (sorry) in cli-fi. It'll feature interviews, reviews, and analyses of the genre with the hope of generating a larger conversation about climate change and why imagined depictions of the phenomenon are vital to the literary community -- and beyond."

The tone of the column was set and Brady dug in, interviewing Kim Stanley Robinson for her second column, 11 cli-fi writers for her third column, UMass scholar Malcolm Sen for her fourth column and cli-fi novelist Aaron Thier for her fifth column. Her sixth column was a profile and interview of Jesus Carrasco, a novelist from Spain.

As a result of her cli-fi column in Chicago, Brady has been invited to appear on several podcasts and contribute articles to the Yale Climate Connections website. In addition, several other literary critics and academics have taken note of her column and mentioned it in their own columns.

So "Burning Worlds" has taken off, and Amy Brady is leading the way...


About Amy Brady

Amy Brady is Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books and Deputy Publisher of Guernica Magazine. Her writing has appeared in The Village Voice, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Rebecca Onion at SLATE asks in regards to Climate Change Doomsday articles in the media: WHAT GOOD IS FEAR? PLENTY OF GOOD, she says!

What Good Is Fear?

As we face down the existential threat of climate change, it’s worth considering how fear of nuclear war has spurred humanity into action.

It’s not often that a story about climate change goes viral, but last week, David Wallace-Wells’ New York story “The Uninhabitable Earth” did. (It even claimed the distinction of being most-read-of-all-time article on the magazine’s website.) The piece, which is an assessment of how bad things could get if we don’t curb greenhouse gas emissions, also prompted a huge conversation about whether its “worst case scenario” framing was too scary to be helpful in spreading the climate message. Some argued that the deep terror the article inspires would be paralyzing, not productive, invoking psychologists who found that fear froze up their research subjects. Others parried: “Social scientists are forever testing how individuals respond to various messages in lab conditions, in the short-term, but the dynamics that matter most on climate are social and long-term,” Vox’s David Roberts wrote. “It may be that there are social dynamics that require some fear and paralysis before a collective breakthrough.”
Rebecca Onion Rebecca Onion
Rebecca Onion is a Slate staff writer and the author of Innocent Experiments
This is an excellent point, and one that can be adjudicated using history. We’ve managed to live for decades with another existential fear: the threat of nuclear war. What can years and years of atom bomb terror teach us about how the existential fear of mass death and societal collapse might affect our ability to respond to climate change? And why did atomic culture thrive, producing hundreds of books, movies, essays, and songs, while climate change has struggled for attention—Wallace-Wells’ barnburner aside?
I asked Spencer Weart, historian of science and author of Nuclear Fear: A History of Images (1989) and The Rise of Nuclear Fear (an update published in 2012), if he could help me think through the comparison. Besides those books, which are jam-packed with examples of the many novels, movies, essays, television shows, and video games produced in response to the advent of atomic weapons and nuclear power, Weart has also written The Discovery of Global Warming, putting him in a fine position to comment.
Weart was dubious about the scientific accuracy of Wallace-Wells’ article—several scientists have been, which is why Wallace-Wells later released an annotated version of his story for others to assess, a somewhat unprecedented move. Given that we spoke just as that updated version was published, and Weart had not had a chance to see it, I will not adjudicate his factual concerns.
But Weart was willing to speak in favor of the piece’s rhetorical style. “There’s this widespread idea that it’s dangerous and counterproductive to elicit fears,” he said. “But I don’t think the history of nuclear fears supports that.” Instead, Weart has found that in some cases the terror associated with Cold War nuclear capabilities, felt throughout culture and at the highest levels of government, did help mitigate nuclear threats. At other times, though, the dread of nuclear war has prompted increased defensiveness and an unhealthy concentration of power.
Psychologists have studied how the existence of nuclear weapons changes people’s worldview for the past 70 years, but when I asked Weart whether he thought these findings might be transferrable to the psychology of climate change, he was skeptical. “Much less so than you would think,” he said. What is perhaps more useful is to think through how the threat of nuclear weapons has activated people’s fear and inspired action, and consider how this could apply to climate change.
One of the main differences between the two cases is that stories related to climate change have failed to tap into deep-seated pre-existing terrors. Nuclear fear doesn’t have that problem—it draws on a number of extremely potent tropes. As Weart put it: “the mysteries of the universe, the mad scientist, the apocalyptic end of the world.” During the Cold War, people living in the grip of nuclear fear often reported feeling like they were being carried away by something ancient and inexorable. In The Rise of Nuclear Fear, Weart cites a widely reprinted 1945 editorial, Norman Cousins’ “Modern Man is Obsolete,” which described this new terror as a resurgence of an atavistic anxiety: “It is a primitive fear, the fear of the unknown, the fear of forces man can neither channel or comprehend. This fear is not new; in its classical form it is the fear of irrational death. But overnight it has become intensified, magnified. It has burst out of the subconscious and into the conscious.” The primal nature of nuclear fear amplified its potency: Everyone could picture the impending apocalypse.
So far, Weart argues, climate change lacks a visceral image of the worst-case scenario. “What we actually see with [public awareness of] global warming is some kind of a bloodless Manhattan, with water up to a certain level,” he told me. It’s not very scary-looking. And the prominence of the Arctic and Antarctic in coverage of warming hasn’t done us any favors. “The most common imagery of global warming, which you see everywhere and has become iconic, is the collapsing glacier with bits of ice flowing into the ocean,” said Weart. “That has no psychological history. It’s not like giant radioactive Godzilla monsters, which have a history going back to witchcraft.” Weart suggests that the imagery of the flood, with its biblical resonances, could possibly anchor climate change in one of our most durable myths, but people-free diagrams of flooded city streets don’t tap into that potential.
Nuclear fear also benefits from our bias toward individual stories. In his essay, Wallace-Wells cites Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, in which Ghosh argues that because climate change is about social fate, not individual agency, it’s hard to narrativize. Nuclear war, unlike climate change, has often been imagined as the opposite—it is a tragic story of individual folly. A person who creates or deploys nuclear weapons, Weart writes in The Rise of Nuclear Fear, is on the brink of becoming a murderer, but also on the brink of committing suicide. The story of the scientists who unleash the atom on the world harks back to the trope of the wizard, witch, or shaman, who meddles with the occult to become more powerful. It’s a permutation of the Faust story, and it’s both recognizable and useful.
Nuclear fear offered another familiar figure for 20th-century novelists and screenwriters to play with: the warmonger whose feckless ego dooms us all. This is why the idea of Trump’s wee fingers on the nuclear button is so scary. We understand that we’ve concentrated world-changing power in these weapons, and that that our governmental and social structures don’t guard us from the possibility that a single deranged person—or a small clique of determined maniacs—could end everything. Climate sins, on the other hand, are sins of omission, not commission: much less dramatic to witness, much more difficult to villainize, and much easier to ignore.
The split-second nature of nuclear war, in which you could be fine one minute and ashes the next, also amplifies nuclear terror. With climate change, Weart said, bad effects are “projected into some future beyond our time. Whereas with nuclear war, it was something that could literally happen tomorrow.” Novelist and doomsayer Philip Wylie, who often worked with nuclear themes, underscored this with an exclamation point in the title of his 1954 book called Tomorrow!—which compared the fates of two cities hit by bombs. Imagery like photos of the “shadows” left by victims in Hiroshima show how nuclear fear is the fear of (as Cousins put it) “irrational death,” which can strike at a moment’s notice. The immediacy makes it a priority.
Nuclear fear, Weart told me, could be useful in influencing decision-makers, even when it was exaggerated. Look at Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, a 1957 book (and 1959 movie) in which the last survivors of a nuclear war, the residents of Australia, wait for the inevitable southward drift of fallout to kill them. “People understood at the time that this was fiction,” Weart said, but the drama of the situation lingered nonetheless. “When the Cuban Missile Crisis came along [in 1962], we have it on the record that both Kennedy and Khrushchev said [privately], ‘This could be the end of humanity if we don’t get a rein on this.’ ” The atmosphere of apocalyptic fear may have helped resolve the situation without conflict. During our second big wave of nuclear fear, in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan watched the TV movie The Day After in the White House. Apparently, it depressed him for days, and his biographer Edmund Morris thought the viewing experience might have pushed him to pursue a policy of strategic defense rather than deterrence.
Weart argues nuclear fears may have “intensified suspicion and hostility on both sides” during the Cold War. Drawing on work by Garry Wills, Weart writes that nuclear terror facilitated the creation of a national security state, and the expansion of presidential powers “far beyond anything imagined in the original Constitution.” Unlike in the case of climate change, where a campaign of disinformation has obscured scientists’ message of danger, people on the right and the left “agreed that nuclear war was terrifying,” as Weart put it to me. But that fear didn’t always lead to positive outcomes.
This history warns us that existential alarm, even if it does prompt action, has diverse results. Our current president seems entirely unbothered by climate change, which makes it tempting to think that ringing alarm bells could force citizens to insist on positive action. But in the case of the nuclear, that feeling of fear was only the beginning. In some cases, it prompted leaders to do the right thing. In others, leaders used the people’s panic to expand their own power. Critics of the “securitization” of climate change echo this warning, noting that if the military is in charge of planning our response to warming, the outcome might not be good.
It seems that in both cases, the answer to the question “Is fear helpful?” is a resounding (and unsatisfying, save perhaps to historians!) “It’s complicated.” It depends on what the fear yields. And it depends on what you are trying to achieve.

Cli-fi has moved from what was once a fringe concept to what is now a very marketable literary genre

VIDEO UPDATE: This 5 minute video by Charlie Jefferson on cli-fi is here --

After a glacially-slow start in April 2013 when NPR ran a five-minute radio segment produced by Angela Evancie about ''the rise of a hot new genre'' that she dubbed "cli-fi"


to Professor Jennifer Hamilton's recent pronouncement on an Australian website that "Cli-fi" has moved from what was once a fringe concept to what is now a very marketable genre of modern fiction, cli-fi has arrived.

There's no stopping its rise worldwide now. It's in the air, and even the early naysayers who were skeptical about adding a new literary subgenre to traditional science fiction's many subgenres are coming on board now.

This is good for writers, for publishers and for readers. Cli-fi is here to stay, and most importantly, to make a difference. While Nevil Shute's 1957 pulp fiction novel about nuclear war and nuclear winter "On The Beach" was a very public warning about the dangers of nukes being used by military powers around the world, so too will future cli-fi novels, as yet unwritten, warn future generations of the dangers and risks of runaway global warming and unstoppable climate change. When will this new Nevil Shute arise and in what country will he or she reside? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, there is only good news for fans of cli-fi and for academics stuyding the genre. Jennifer Hamilton put in this way: "In a fictional sense, solarpunk sits across the table from "cli-fi". In recent years, the term cli-fi has moved from a fringe concept to a marketable genre of fiction. Coined in the first instance by a PR guy in Taiwan, it has grown so big that scholarly researchers are now able to produce studies of the genre's conventions. In addition, new novels and short story collections are now published in this gernre category each year."

Almost daily now, mentions of cli-fi appear online in book reviews, academic papers and magazine essays. A recent mention noted: "One could argue we live in the golden age of literary dystopia, with the resurgence in popularity of classics like George Orwell's '1984' and Margaret Atwood's 'Maddaddam trilogy,' as well as the emerging genre of cli-fi -- speculative fiction set in a place of environmental devastation."

There's even a Hollywood listing now of favorite cli-fi movies at the popular imdb website, headlined "Best Cli-Fi or Climate Change Movie Climax."

Film producer Dean Devlin has produced a new cli-fi movie titled "Geostorm" starring Gerard Butler and it's due for worldwide release in October this fall.

It's true, a summer intern at the New Yorker magazine wrote in a blog post in 2014 that while "cli-fi was an interesting new genre term to think about, it probably won't last as a literary term." Well, that was 2014 and now it's 2017, and cli-fi is on a roll. The New Yorker was wrong when it wrote: ''These books have been labelled 'cli-fi' but chances are that the name won't stick."

Fat chance.

So as we approach the last few years of this second decade of the 21st century, and as 2018 and 2019 move toward 2020, bookmark "cli-fi" on your computer and get ready for more and more novels using this genre as a global platform. It's written on the wind. We are here.